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The Parable of the Shepherd

Shakespeare’s play Hamlet contains a play within the play. Hamlet hopes the story will cause his unsuspecting uncle to betray himself, showing that he was complicit in the murder of the king. “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King” Hamlet declares.

Some of the prophets acted out parables for a similar reason. Jeremiah hid a linen belt in the crevice of a rock then dug it up after it rotted to show that God would ruin the pride of Judah and Jerusalem (Jer. 13:1–11). He bought a clay jar from a potter and then smashed it as a symbol of the disaster God would bring (Jer. 19:1–12). Ezekiel acted out the siege of Jerusalem and lay on one side for 390 days then on another for 40 days. He also lived on a daily ration of two pints of water and a half-pound of bread that had been baked over human excrement to symbolize the deprivation God’s people would suffer (Ezek. 4:1–17). Zechariah likewise acted out the role of a shepherd in two acts. First, he played the part of a good shepherd who was treated with contempt and rejected (vv. 7–14). Next, he took on the role of a foolish shepherd who deserts the flock.

The mention of 30 pieces of silver in v. 12 has caused some scholars to conclude that this parable ultimately points to Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah at His first advent. According to v. 13, this money was cast “to the potter at the house of the Lord.” Likewise, in his remorse, Judas threw the 30 pieces of silver paid to him by the religious leaders into the temple (Matt. 27:5). The religious leaders used the money to buy “the potter’s field,” a burial site for foreigners (Matt. 27:7).

Apply the Word

If you have wandered away from God, it is not too late for you to return. First Peter 2:25 calls Jesus the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul. He paid the price of your sin with His blood. Turn to Him today, and you will find welcome.

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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