THE IDOL SHEPHERD
An amazingly detailed prophecy, rarely if ever discussed in
the Church of God, is found in Zechariah chapter 11.
God says in verses 15 to 17 that He will raise up an
"idol shepherd", of whom He describes at least twelve
separate characteristics by which to identify him.
15 And the Lord said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd.
16 For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces.
17 Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened.
Twelve identifying characteristics of the "idol shepherd":
1) The instruments of a foolish shepherd
What are the "instruments" of a foolish shepherd? What observable characteristics should one expect to see in a man who claims to represent God, to validate his credibility?
Surely a good shepherd in a spiritual sense would be a humble person, someone with a modest opinion of himself, someone who is easily accessible to brethren and most importantly, someone who quietly, but steadfastly, reflects God and teaches His Law.
On a physical level they would include a non-extravagant lifestyle; without doubt a standard of quality in all aspects of life, but no sign of covetousness or an abundance of wealth.
It is difficult to summarize the problematic and duplicitous life of Herbert W Armstrong.
Herbert Armstrong lived on 200.000 US dollars of God's tithes and offerings per year, plus expenses, in the 1970's, as stated in Stanley Rader's book "Against the Gates of Hell" (p221), an absolute fortune at the time (it still is!). He was chauffeured in a Rolls Royce and lived in homes filled with absolute opulence. This at a time when he was pleading with brethren to contribute more and more money, even to take out loans, for the sake of "the work".
Throughout his life, Herbert Armstrong was always seeking the company of the "high and mighty", both before and after he began his ministry. Delusions of grandeur are evident in many aspects of his conduct. In his writings he frequently exaggerates about himself, his family and his associates ("the best this in the state", "the best that in the country" etc, etc, even when in hospital he believed he was the favourite patient of most of its staff!! - Autobiography 1967, p60). The pages of Herbert Armstrong's Autobiography are filled with this attitude, an almost desperate ambition to be thought of as someone great. As the years progressed, he spent the majority of his time and effort trying to raise his stature in the eyes of the important people of this world, through visits, donations and expensive gifts. Some will defend this as "preaching the gospel", assuming that preaching the gospel is about taking funds from God's tithes and offerings to make large financial contributions to world leaders' charitable causes, a favour which they in turn reward by allowing a quick handshake, a brief chat and an opportunity to be photographed together. Throughout this period, Herbert Armstrong spent less and less time with ordinary people, becoming largely off limits to regular Church brethren.
Herbert Armstrong's unwillingness and failure to deal fairly and in a Christian manner with his son Garner Ted's shortcomings are legendary and undeniable. The damage done to the reputation of God's Church, both in the eyes of members as well as outsiders, is incalculable and inexcusable. Partiality in judgement is not something God speaks well of.
Although this only briefly touches on the enormity of the troublesome issues surrounding Herbert Armstrong's personality and ministry, clearly these are NOT the instruments of a wise shepherd. These are the instruments of a shepherd who gives God a bad name and takes His name in vain; in other words, as Scripture puts it, "the instruments of a foolish shepherd".
This is in total contrast with the humble, frugal and non-compromising lifestyle of John the Baptist, with whom Herbert Armstrong compared himself.
John the Baptist pointed out the sins of leaders in his time, leading to his early death. Herbert Armstrong on the other hand habitually cozied up to leaders with questionable track records and wrote flattering articles about them in Church publications to curry their favour.
2) I will raise up a shepherd
This is not talking about a Pope or a worldly religious leader, rather someone God called and raised up, someone who is a shepherd in His true Church.
3) Which shall not visit those that be cut off
Herbert Armstrong and Laodicean era ministers in general had (or have) little time for those disfellowshipped or suspended from the Church. Rather than the shepherd seek after the lost sheep, the poor sheep had better themselves find their shepherd, otherwise they were lost forever. Rather, many a minister has been witnessed gloating over someone they had "cut off".
4) Neither shall seek the young one
New brethren called by God into His Laodicean era Church were strongly discouraged from asking difficult questions that would challenge established Church explanations of Biblical events, doctrines and practices. Even though these people might have been chafing at the bit to learn, there was little room for growth within the established framework of "all things have been restored by the end time Elijah". Asking difficult questions was considered a challenge to the "Government of God". A "government problem" label would be rapidly affixed to such a person, regardless of the humility such a one might have displayed.
5) Nor heal that that is broken
Many brethren at the time of their calling are in some way broken. When entering God's Church they should be finding a haven; a place of spiritual, if not physical, healing. Instead, under Herbert Armstrong and his successors, they more often than not found themselves going "from the frying pan into the fire". God's Church in the Laodicean era became a Church of harshness, haughtiness and self righteousness.
6) Nor feed that that standeth still (or "Nor sustain those who are standing")
A Church era that has had "all things restored" or in other words has "need of nothing" is standing still. The ministers don't need to study, the members don't need to study; nothing in depth as was done by great scholars in the 1800s and early 1900s. All a person needs to do is just read the Church's publications and keep attending its services.
7) He shall eat the flesh of the fat
Herbert Armstrong became very wealthy living on God's tithes and offerings. This is an undeniable fact. He would have to have been the highest paid minister in the history of the Church of God. He certainly knew how to "eat the flesh of the fat".
8) Tear their claws in pieces
One of an animal's main sources of power is its claws (or a sheep's hooves), which are strengthened through use. However, like overbearing parents produce weak children, Herbert Armstrong and his successors have produced an abundance of spiritually weak brethren, barely capable of standing on their own spiritual feet. They are more often than not only able to quote what the Church puts in front of them. Outside of their own Church branch they are virtually ignorant of the most basic of matters and, more importantly, the Scriptures. The reason is that genuine, independent study is belittled. The "multitude of counselors" (Pr 11:14) that Christians are meant to consult are supposedly only found in one's own Church faction.
9) The idol shepherd
This shepherd occupies an office that makes him into an idol. Such an office, the Pastor-General, modeled on the Papacy (Stanley Rader, "Against the Gates of Hell", p244), never existed in the true Church of God before Herbert W Armstrong created it. Jesus Christ created a Church government structure with twelve men of equal rank under Himself. Under the Old Covenant, where there was from time to time one man in charge, THAT ONE MAN WAS A TYPE OF JESUS CHRIST. Moses was such a man, as was Joshua. Under the New Covenant this role is filled by Him to whom it belongs. What remains are the roles filled by the twelve tribal rulers, who in turn were over the twelve tribes. These roles under the New Covenant should be filled by twelve apostles over the twelve spiritual tribes, the Church. In the 1950s, Herbert Armstrong had a total change of heart regarding Church government, creating the office of Pastor General, thereby setting himself up as an idol, leading to him "as God, sitting in the Temple of God" (II Thes 2:4) and "giving out that himself was some great one" (Acts 8:9). Since HWA's death, numerous men in God's Church have likewise unwittingly taken upon themselves this same office of "the man of sin", as they seek to imitate their idol and continue this erroneous Church government doctrine.
(This topic is discussed more fully in the article "New Covenant Government")
In the final era of man where idol worship has taken unprecedented dimensions in the world, it was finally possible for Satan to place an idol over the Church, as God permitted him. In different times God has tested His people differently. This is the end time test for God's people; He is testing our loyalty to Him. In previous eras God's people were humble, unassuming quiet folk who just wanted to worship their Creator in peace, without drawing attention to themselves. In the end time we have movie stars, pop stars, sports stars, television stars and even religious stars. Lo and behold, having a "big man", a "star", an idol, in charge of the Church of God seems quite normal in times such as these.
Of course we say that we don't worship our leader, but we can't deny that we idolize him and an idol is a false god.
10) Leaveth the flock
Herbert Armstrong and his successors have left God's flock stranded, abandoned, in Laodicean limbo, neither hot nor cold, neither in God's Kingdom nor out, all to be the big, important, spiritual star rather than to humbly pursue the truth and what's best for God's sheep.
11) The sword shall be upon his arm.........his arm shall be clean dried up
A man's arm is his son as the arm is symbolic of strength. As a man loses his strength when he gets older, his son follows on in his footsteps.
Herbert Armstrong had two sons.
The eldest, Richard, was killed in a head on car accident at age 29 in 1958, after being violently thrown from the passenger seat. This event occurred within a short period of time after Herbert Armstrong's dramatic change of heart regarding Church government.
Herbert Armstrong's second son, Garner Ted, was, after decades of debauchery, finally put out of God's Church for good, not because of that debauchery, but for verbally, violently attacking and threatening his father. Garner Ted responded in kind with an almost perfectly executed plot organized through others that saw the State of California bring financial charges against the WCG and take over Pasadena headquarters Church property in Jan 1979, temporarily crippling the Church. Apparently father and son never spoke to each other again.
In his co-worker letter dated June 28, 1978, Herbert Armstrong in explaining his reasons for disfellowshipping his son said that "I would give my left arm" rather than cut off Garner Ted. Later in the same letter he said that "I would have given my right arm rather than having to do this".
Well and truly the "sword" was on Herbert Armstrong's "arm" (both of them), and was "clean dried up" (totally withered), leaving him not a son, but rather Joseph W Tkach to follow in his footsteps.
12) The sword shall be.........upon his right eye..........his right eye shall be utterly darkened
In a co-worker letter dated July 25, 1967, Herbert Armstrong made the following statement:
(Highlighting is mine)
And while I was writing the above, I was interrupted by a telephone call
from Mr. James Simpson, who drives my car (I stopped driving
after my right eye went out on me a few years ago). He was leaving to meet
Mr. Yehudi Menuhin, the world-famous violinist, and to bring him out to the
campus. Mr. Menuhin is giving a concert at the famed Hollywood Bowl.....
Surely this first sentence should make us tremble in light of Zech 11:17.
If "a few years ago" means around the year 1965, then
Herbert Armstrong was blind in his right eye for more than
20 years until his death!!
This might make a person think again about "If your right eye causes you to sin.............
Is this the end result of him not dealing with the sins in his life, his family and his teachings?
I have my sins and most will acknowledge that they have theirs. But one does have to
deal with these issues, repent, and as Christ said "Go, and sin no more".
Zechariah 12:2-8 continues at the same period in recent history, with the reestablishment of the land of Israel by the Jews after WWII, when their 2520 years of punishment had been completed and their "fortunes" swung 180 degrees.