On Mt 27:9-10
Version Date: Aug 2, 2021
A prophecy predicting the betrayal of the Lord for 30 pieces of silver is mentioned in Mt 27:9-10. This article considers the source of the prophecy, the interpretation of Zec 11:12-13, the derivation of Mt 27:9-10 from Zec 11:12-13, and the relation of Jer 25 and Zec 11.
The Source of the Prophecy Mentioned in Mt 27:9-10
(Mt 27:9) τοτε επληρωθη το ρηθεν δια ιερεμιου του προφητου λεγοντος και ελαβον τα τριακοντα αργυρια την τιμην του τετιμημενου ον ετιμησαντο απο υιων ισραηλ
(Mt 27:10) και εδωκαν αυτα εις τον αγρον του κεραμεως καθα συνεταξεν μοι κυριος
In English, Mt 27:9-10 states, "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, 'And I took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one that was appraised, whom some of the sons of Israel appraised, and they gave them for the field of the potter, as the Lord appointed me.'" It is well known that the Scriptures were given in the form of a number of holy writings inspired by God. In time, people began to group together the writings of God's word and disseminate them in this form. The final result was the Bible, which contains all Scripture texts. Now men divided the text of the Bible into units (books), and eventually they divided the books into chapters and verses. Book, chapter, and verse divisions, as well as titles and subtitles, though not part of God's word, are useful additions to the text. These man-made additions are useful in spite of being imperfect and reflecting man's views and interpretation of God's word. As people divided into books the text of God's word, the Bible, there have been several opinions about how to name certain Old Testament books. In the Hebrew Bible, some books were named based on their first words, since the first words of a text were sometimes taken like the title of the text. In other Bible editions, these books were named differently. For example, Exodus is called שמות "Names" in the Hebrew Bible, because the text begins with ואלה שמות בני ישראל "and these are the names of the sons of Israel" (Ex 1:1). Notable in the Hebrew Bible is the fact that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah appear as a single unit called Ezra. It seems obvious that when this unit was named, the intent has not been to claim that Ezra is the author of Nehemiah but that the unit denotes a block of text that begins with Ezra. In this context, Mt 27:9-10 appears to point out to another unit that contains writings of two authors: the book of Zechariah. We can arrive to this conclusion as follows. The only Old Testament passage that fits the prophecy of Mt 27:9-10 is Zec 11:12-13. Since Mt 27:9 indicates that this prophecy came from Jeremiah, it would follow that the second part of the book of Zechariah is from Jeremiah. While the first eight chapters of this book are clearly from the prophet Zechariah (see Zec 1:1, 7, 7:1, 8), the remaining six chapters are considerably different. In view of Mt 27:9, it could be concluded that Zec 9-14 was authored by Jeremiah. Another fact that supports this view is that Jer 25 and Zec 11 have several remarkable similarities; in fact Zec 11 could be seen as continuing Jer 25. The similarities of these two passages will be examined later in this article. Now the fact that people have named "Zechariah" a unit of text that contains writings of Zechariah and writings of Jeremiah does not mean that this unit has to be renamed (though this could help eliminate some confusion). One could take the name of this book as denoting the unit of the Bible in which the writings of Zechariah are located, not a unit that contains exclusively the writings of Zechariah.
Interpreting Zec 11:12-13
Zec 11 is a passage that could remind one about the beginning of Ps 110:1: "The LORD said unto my Lord ... ". Zec 11 resembles Ps 110 in that it records things that God the Father spoke to God the Son. Since Zec 11 was written at a time when the Son was already the Shepherd of Israel, the words in Zec 11:4 instructing him to shepherd the people pointed to a change. As could be inferred, the change had to do with his coming into the world. The context of Zec 11:12-13 is the Lord annulling the old covenant (Zec 11:10).
(Zec 11:12) ואמר אליהם אם טוב בעיניכם הבו שכרי ואם לא חדלו וישקלו את שכרי שלשים כסף
(Zec 11:13) ויאמר יהוה אלי השליכהו אל היוצר אדר היקר אשר יקרתי מעליהם ואקחה שלשים הכסף ואשליך אתו בית יהוה אל היוצר
Translated, Zec 11:12-13 states, "And I said to them, 'If it is good in your eyes, pay my price, and if not, forbear.' And they weighed out my price, 30 pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, 'Throw it for the potter. It is for the field of the preciousness at which I was appraised by them.' And I took the 30 pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter." Note that אמר could be translated "he said" or "I said". In the context of the previous verses, "I said" fits. While שכרי "my price" could also be translated "my wages", note that "my wages" does not fit the context, since the passage does not present the speaker as an employee of the chief shepherds. That שכרי can be translated "my price" could be seen in Ex 22:15 (14), Jon 1:3, 1Ki 5:6 (20). As for אדר היקר "the field of the preciousness", the word אדר was translated "field"; see the article אדר for a proof of this meaning.
To interpret the prophecy of Zec 11:12-13, it is necessary first to realize that God the Son remained God when he became a man. With respect to his human nature, he was on earth; with respect to his divine nature, he continued to be in heaven, as could be seen from οπου ειμι εγω "where I am" in Jn 7:34, 14:3, 17:24 and from ο ων εν τω ουρανω "who is in heaven" in the Byzantine version of Jn 3:13. In other words, when he came into the world as a man, God the Son did not stop holding all things together (Col 1:17) and carrying out his divine work from heaven. There was nobody who took over his responsibilities in heaven while he was on earth, for he was also in heaven; with respect to his human nature he was on earth, and with respect to his divine nature he was still in heaven. God can come to earth without leaving heaven. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he ascended with respect to his human nature; with respect to his divine nature, he was already there.
Considering Zec 11:12, the verse does not have אמר להם "I said to them" but אמר אליהם "I said to/towards them". God the Son, with respect to his divine nature, spoke these words indirectly to the religious leaders by means of Judas, who asked for money to betray Jesus (Mt 26:15). They had the option to accept the offer of Judas or to reject it, so the text has, אם טוב בעיניכם הבו שכרי ואם לא חדלו "if it is good in your eyes, pay my price, and if not, forbear." They accepted the offer of Judas, and so they paid him 30 pieces of silver (Zec 11:12, Mt 26:15) to deliver Jesus to them. Commonly, imperative forms of the verb יהב "to give" (translated here "to pay" due to the context of money) have an indirect object specified with the particle ל. However, there is no indirect object in הבו שכרי "pay my price". Note that the text does not have הבו לי שכרי "pay me my price", but הבו שכרי "pay my price". The absence of לי "to me" in הבו שכרי "pay my price" is consistent with the fact that the money were not paid to the Lord but to Judas. Considering also Zec 11:13, God the Son, with respect to his divine nature, was given the task to ensure that the 30 pieces of silver get to the potter. In the phrase אל היוצר "for the potter", which appears twice in Zec 11:13, the particle אל "to, towards" indicates that the money were not given directly to the potter. Therefore, the potter did not have to be present. In other words, the Lord arranged that the money be thrown into the temple with the intent that they should eventually get to the potter. The fulfillment of the fact that the money were to be thrown into the temple is mentioned in Mt 27:5.
Deriving Mt 27:9-10 from Zec 11:12-13
The beginning of Mt 27:9 has τοτε επληρωθη "then was fulfilled", in which the word τοτε "then" emphasizes the time when the field of the potter was purchased (Mt 27:7). So the focus in Mt 27:9-10 is on the fulfillment of the prophecy that the 30 pieces of silver for which Jesus was sold would be used to purchase the field of the potter. The prophecy of Jeremiah is not quoted word-for-word, but is stated in a form that could be inferred logically based on what Jeremiah had said. The manner in which the prophecy is stated stresses that one could have inferred what had happened by reasoning logically from the original form of the prophecy. The word λεγοντος "saying" that introduces the prophecy is taken as an indication that the focus is on what the prophet stated, not on how he stated it. The first part of the reference to Zec 11:12-13 is και ελαβον τα τριακοντα αργυρια "and I took the thirty pieces of silver". It corresponds word-for-word to ואקחה שלשים הכסף in Zec 11:13. Note that ελαβον can mean either "I took" (as in Jn 10:18) or "they took" (as in Jn 17:8), and many translations have "they took" in Mt 27:9. The translation "they took" also fits Zec 11:13. Indeed, since the subject of אקחה "I took" is God (namely, God the Son) and God commonly acts by means of people, "I took" implies "they took".
Note that την τιμην του τετιμημενου ον ετιμησαντο απο υιων ισραηλ "the price of the one that was appraised, whom some of the sons of Israel appraised" can be derived from אדר היקר אשר יקרתי מעליהם "the field of the preciousness at which I was appraised by them" in Zec 11:13. First, την τιμην "the price" corresponds to אדר היקר "the field of the preciousness", which is associated with the object of השליכהו "throw it", the antecedent of this object being שכרי "my price" from the previous verse. Moreover, του τετιμημενου "of the one that was appraised" corresponds to אשר יקרתי "at which I was appraised". As for απο υιων ισραηλ "by some of the sons of Israel", it expands the meaning of מעליהם "by them" by noting that it refers to some of the sons of Israel. That the passage is about the sons of Israel can be seen in Zec 11:14 and in the reference to the temple of Zec 11:13. Thus, the shepherds that detested the Lord (Zec 11:8) were leaders of the Israelites.
Mt 27:10 has, και εδωκαν αυτα εις τον αγρον του κεραμεως "and they gave them for the field of the potter." The plural number of the form εδωκαν "they gave" can be explained based on the fact that the Lord commonly acts by means of people. Zec 11:13 shows that the money were given to the potter in ואשליך אתו בית יהוה אל היוצר "and I threw them into the house of the LORD for the potter." That the money were given to purchase a field can be seen in אדר היקר אשר יקרתי מעליהם "the field of the preciousness at which I was appraised by them", in which אדר היקר "the field of the preciousness" stands for the amount of money for which the Lord was appraised, that is, the 30 pieces of silver. The implication is that there was a field that was acquired with the 30 pieces of silver. Since the money were given to the potter, it follows that the field was purchased from the potter. In other words, the 30 pieces of silver purchased the field of the potter. Now Mt 27:10 ends with καθα συνεταξεν μοι κυριος "as the Lord appointed me." This makes a reference to the beginning of Zec 11:13: ויאמר יהוה אלי השליכהו אל היוצר "And the LORD told me, 'Throw it for the potter.'"
The Relation of Jer 25 and Zec 11
Jer 25 speaks about judgments caused by the sin of Israel and the sin of the other nations. It predicted judgments on the nations that were to be conquered by Babylon (Jer 25:9-11, 15-26) and judgments on Babylon itself (Jer 25:12-14, 26), where the judgments on Babylon had to come after a period of 70 years (Jer 25:12). During the time of Jeremiah, the Lord was beginning to bring destruction to Jerusalem (Jer 25:29). While the Scripture has predicted various troubles for Jerusalem, it mentions only two destructions of the city: the one carried out by the Babylonians and the one carried out by the Romans in A.D. 70. In Jer 25:29, speaking of Jerusalem, the Lord said, אנכי מחל להרע "I am beginning to destroy". Clearly, the passage is not speaking just about some major trouble. Since Jerusalem had had major troubles before and the Lord said "I am beginning", he was speaking about something else: the holy city was about to be destroyed for the first time in the history of Israel. The statement "I am beginning" could be taken as an indication that God was announcing that he would destroy the holy city in more than one occasion. So the passage following Jer 25:29 speaks about the other destruction of Jerusalem, the one carried out by the Romans.
When comparing Jer 25 with Zec 11, it is possible to find several similarities. Just as the Father speaks to the Son in Zec 11, he speaks also in Jer 25. The first person is used for the Son in both Jer 25:17 and Zec 11:7-15. Additionally, as could be seen in Jer 25:13, the one speaking was not Jeremiah himself, but the Lord. In this context, when God speaks to the speaker in Jer 25:15-16, it is once again an instance in which God the Father speaks to God the Son. Another similarity between Jer 25 and Zec 11 can be seen by comparing Zec 11:1-3 and Jer 25:34-38, and especially Jer 25:36 and Zec 11:3. In fact, Zec 11 could be seen as continuing Jer 25:34-38 by speaking about the circumstances of Jer 25:31.
(Jer 25:31) בא שאון עד קצה הארץ כי ריב ליהוה בגוים נשפט הוא לכל בשר הרשעים נתנם לחרב נאם יהוה
In English, "The clamor came even to the end of the land, because of the LORD's dispute among the peoples, that he had been judged to the satisfaction of all the flesh of the wicked. So he gave them to the sword, says the LORD." This verse is understood to predict the injustice carried out against the Lord Jesus when he was condemned, mistreated, and executed. All this pleased the fleshly desires of the wicked. To this injustice contributed not only inhabitants of the land but also Romans. The fact that the Roman soldiers had diverse ethnic backgrounds is consistent with the word "peoples" in Jer 25:31. Since Zec 11:1-3 corresponds to Jer 25:34-38, it can be seen how Zec 11:4-14 describes the circumstances of the injustice carried out against the Lord. Finally, it is not without significance that the Romans represented many peoples; this illustrates the fact that everyone has caused the death of the Lord. Since all have sinned and Jesus had to die to take away the sin of the world, every believer has caused the suffering and death of the Lord.
The translation above of Jer 25:31 could be explained as follows. The word ארץ could be translated "earth" or "land". In the context of the injustice carried out against the Lord, it must mean "land". The phrase ריב ליהוה indicates that the Lord had a dispute; various passages use the particle ל to introduce the person who had a dispute (De 19:17, 2Sa 15:2, Hos 4:1, 12:2 (3), Mi 6:2). The word נשפט is a niphal form. Its plain meaning is "was judged". The alternative view that נשפט speaks of God entering judgment with guilty persons has the drawback that the guilty are not introduced with את "with" or עם "with", but with the particle ל "for, to". The possibility that נשפט הוא לכל בשר הרשעים means "he was judged for the sake of all the wicked" does not fit the context, since the result of the judgment was the destruction of the wicked. Rather, נשפט הוא לכל בשר הרשעים means "he was judged to the satisfaction of all the flesh of the wicked." This fits the context and is consistent with the interpretation of the other passages in which the verb שפט is modified by a phrase involving the particle ל, namely, 1Sa 12:7, 2Ch 19:6, 1Ki 8:32, and 2Ch 6:23. Indeed, considering כי לא לאדם השפטו כי ליהוה in 2Ch 19:6, the meaning is "for ye do not judge to satisfy man but God." Moreover, אשפטה אתכם לפני יהוה in 1Sa 12:7 means not just "I will judge you before the LORD," but also "I will judge you to the satisfaction of the presence of the LORD." 1Ki 8:32 is similar to 2Ch 6:23; both verses indicate by the particle ל the purpose of judgment, to convict the guilty and vindicate the innocent, that is, to satisfy the expectation that the guilty are convicted and the innocent vindicated.