Zechariah 11:12–13 (NIV)
12 I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.
Thirty silver pieces? Isn’t that the price Judas got for Jesus? Is there a connection? We’ll need to see what this means in Zechariah first, to understand what Matthew 27:3-10 makes of it.
Zechariah was talking about Israel’s Shepherd. Shepherd was a metaphor for both the Lord who leads them from heaven and the anointed king who leads his flock on earth. But because they weren’t following their true Shepherd, the flock divided under two shepherds (Israel / Judah). The divided flock was then taken by the rulers of the nations, no longer under God’s “favour” (11:10).
“Pay me whatever you think I’m worth.” That’s a statement you hear when there’s been a falling out, when the job didn’t work out, when there’s a parting of the ways. The prophet makes this statement as God’s spokesman. The Shepherd of Israel is being dismissed, as if he has provided bad leadership that ended with the flock scattered in exile.
The temple is supposed to promote the worth-ship of God, but now we discover what they think he’s worth. For all those centuries of leadership, they’ll settle for thirty pieces of silver. It’s an insult that God won’t keep. They value God’s leadership no more than a payment for an artisan.
If this is their termination payment for their Shepherd, and God throws it to a potter, what will he get for his people? Little wonder he handed them over to foolish shepherds, self-serving leaders who have no understanding of his wise Law (11:16).
But that’s not how the chapter ends. He is not a worthless Shepherd. He commits to rescuing his flock from the worthless shepherds that rule them (11:17).
So, how does any of this relate to Judas? When God finally did send his Anointed — the son of David riding into the capital to save his people in fulfilment of God’s promise through Zechariah (Matthew 21:4-9) — there were still people who despised him. One of the twelve he had chosen, who had seen all he had done, treated him as a worthless leader.
But Judas didn’t set the price. Like a patron at a pawn shop with no idea of the value of what he had, Judas asked, “What will you give me in exchange for him?” It was the temple that set the price. The chief priests offered thirty pieces of silver to be rid of the one we know as their God-appointed shepherd, the king who would save his people from the worthless shepherds, restoring us into the reign of the true Shepherd (Matthew 26:15).
Then something tipped Judas over the edge. Something dawned on him — maybe the realization that the temple leaders he trusted were in league with the foolish shepherds that oppressed God’s flock, the power Pilate represented. That’s how Matthew tells it:
Matthew 27:1–5 (NIV)
1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2 So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
In a condemnation of their own actions, the temple leaders realize they cannot keep the money they have paid for his life (blood money, 27:6). Ironically, they give the money to a potter. Assuming the potter has removed the clay, his field would be suitable for little but burying people. So what they got in exchange for the anointed king God sent them was a field of death, a burial place where they could keep the unclean bones of foreigners like Roman soldiers.
That was the “handsome” price at which they valued God’s kingship over them (Zechariah 11:13). That’s the point Matthew makes: the price set on him by the people of Israel (Matthew 27:9).
It all comes down to what we think God’s leadership is worth. Would we trade the ruler God raised up for us for a burial plot, a post-apocalyptic patch of dried earth, a memorial to death? Or do we value him like no one else, as the one God has appointed to save his world into God’s reign, the only name given under heaven by which humanity can be rescued?