My price will be thirty pieces of silver.Zechariah 11:12
What does it mean, “My price will be thirty pieces of silver.” We know it as the price of betrayal, a result of this verse in its Scriptural context, but what is the background to this text? In Jewish terms at the time the value of payment that needed to be made for a man between twenty and sixty years of age to make a sacrifice at the temple was 50 pieces of silver. That wasn’t a debt but the cost of paying for an animal or a bird to sacrifice. The price a woman was to pay for a sacrificial offering was thirty pieces of silver. What is interesting is at the time of Christ’s sacrifice, the price paid for him was the price normally set for a woman’s sacrifice. However, of more importance related to the thirty pieces of silver was that same amount was the compensation paid for causing the death of someone’s slave (Exodus 21:32). It is ironic given this would be the price offered for the betrayal of Christ, the Servant of God. It seems we have an allusion both to the cost of the sacrifice and the value of the life which would become the one offered for the covering for sin.
The context of Zechariah 11:4-13 is directly relevant as the background to the reference in verse 12 from which this prophecy is taken. In verse eight we are told Zechariah got rid of the three shepherds over the flock. Most commentators think the three shepherds symbolise the leaders of Israel. Either as the chief priests, the elders and the scribes or as the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the teachers of the Law by Jesus’ time. The religious leaders of the day both in Zechariah’s time and in Christ’s are linked in this allusion.
Not only that but the significance of the naming of the two staffs which symbolised leadership are important as they are named in Zech 11:10 and 14. Favour relates to the condition of the people of Israel under the leadership of their religious leaders and Union is clearly symbolic of the political state of Israel and Judah, where the people lived under a divided kingdom. Either way the people were doomed and destined for judgement because of their own failure and the failure of their leaders. In Zechariah 11:8 the prophet refers sarcastically to the sum of money paid as his wages as a “handsome price” or a “magnificent sum”. This magnificent sum of money was the equivalent sum which was the reimbursement someone made to the owner for the loss of their slave. Here we have an allusion which ties together both aspects of the symbolism involved.
In the Old Testament the value of the 30 pieces of silver was measured in shekels, in the New Testament it was the denarius. One denarius was the equivalent of a day’s wages. So thirty denarius constituted a month’s wages. That was a meagre amount for Judas to demand for the betrayal of Christ which emphasises the allusion to the value placed on Christ as being no more than a slave. This amount was an insult both to the prophet Zechariah and to Christ in New Testament times.
It is not normal to put a price on someone’s head at death. That is unique, particularly an amount as specific as thirty pieces of silver. It is not something that human societies do these days. For me it brings back memories of the old Westerns – Wanted Dead or Alive – $500 or $1000. It was certainly not something practised in Jewish culture apart from the sale and purchase of slaves in the market place. This must surely be a one in a million chance for that particular price to be applied to a particular person at a particular point in time. No other in history has had the value placed on their life that was handed over for betraying the Christ. But let’s allow for the possibility that out of every thousand people there is one who would match that possibility of their life being valued at the same price (30 Denarius) at their death. Or even a month’s wages at their death. How many people have had any price put on their head at their death? It is just not something that is done very much at all, let alone the specific amount of 30 pieces of silver. I know of no other in history apart from Jesus Christ.
So we could set the probability for Zechariah’s prophecy at a one in a million chance easily. However, once again I wish to err on the conservative side. That said, I will opt for the probability of one chance in a thousand for this prophecy. Bear with me on this reduction of the probability for the moment; the significance will become clear at the end.
Thus “My price will be thirty pieces of silver” is assigned a probability factor of 1:1000