Jesus’ sale price – why ‘thirty pieces of silver’?

Matthew’s is the only Gospel to specify the value of the fee paid to Judas Iscariot by the temple authorities for Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:14-15; 27:3, 9; contrast Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-5). As a former tax-man he was trained in accounts (Matthew 9:9)! And, since he wrote mainly for Jewish readers, he quoted some twenty or so Old Testament texts related to the Jesus story. Surprisingly, he attributed Matthew 27:9-10 to Jeremiah, although the quotation appears to be a paraphrase of Zechariah 11:12-13. So let’s first consider Zechariah’s wages of thirty pieces of silver.

  1. A rejected shepherd’s ‘severance pay’ (Zechariah 11:1-14)

Because ‘the shepherds’ of Israel were wicked (Zechariah 11:3, 5), the Lord told his prophet, ‘Become shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter’ (Zechariah 11:4-6; Jesus’ generation were slaughtered by the Romans, especially in 70 AD). ‘So I became the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered’ (Zechariah 11:7, as also did Jesus, John 10:11-18). But because ‘they … detested me’ (Zechariah 11:8), he resigned as their shepherd (Zechariah 11:9); covenant was broken and the national unity was shattered, Zechariah 11:14). ‘Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And … the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” – the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter’ (So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter’ Zechariah 11:10-14).

Jesus did not personally fling the money into the temple; Judas, the team treasurer, did it for him! ‘Judas …changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have betrayed innocent blood” … And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself’ (Matthew 17:3-5).

  1. Compensation for a maimed slave gored by an ox (Exodus 21:32)

‘If [an] ox gores a slave … the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.’ Significantly, Psalm 22:0, that graphically describes Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, includes the lines: ‘Many bulls encompass me; … they have pierced my hands and feet’; and: ‘You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen’ (Psalm 21:12, 16, 21). Appropriately, Judas repaid those silver shekels into God’s house, since Jesus was the willing bondservant of his Father.

  1. The donation to God’s treasury by a female devotee (Leviticus 27:1-4)

‘If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of … a female … shall be thirty shekels …of silver.’ Hannah is a poignant example of such devotion: ‘she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and … give to your servant a son then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life’ (1 Samuel 1:11). It was to his distressed mother that the boy Jesus said: ‘I must be in my Father’s house’ – a statement she ‘treasured up … in her heart’ (Luke 2:49-51). So, perhaps for her, ‘the penny dropped’ finally with the rattle of those silver coins on the temple floor. Here was payment of her vow to give her beloved son to the Lord.

  1. The purchase price of the dump for broken pottery (Matthew 17:6-8)

‘But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, … bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers … called the Field of Blood to this day.’  Now we can see the prophetic significance of Jeremiah – his smashed potter’s flask in the Valley of Slaughter (Matthew 17:19:1-13); the stubbornness of Israel visualised in the spoiled vessel of clay on the potter’s wheel (Matthew 17:18:1-12); and the ‘seventeen shekels of silver’ (hence his insertion of Zechariah’s ‘thirty’) to buy a field – like that Field of Blood in which Judas’s smashed corpse lay like shattered pottery (Acts 1:16-18).

* What a kaleidoscope of meaning was packed into that nefarious fee!

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