The bad shepherds and the Good Shepherd Ezekiel 34

Psalm 100 begins like this
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
This is just one of a dozen places in the Old Testament which describe God’s chosen people of Israel as his flock and God as the shepherd of Israel. That is the background to these prophecies in Ezekiel which pronounce God’s judgment on the leaders of Israel, the Kings and the Priests, who should have been shepherds over the people but had failed in their responsibilities.
The armies of Babylon invaded Israel and overran Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 597 BC. Over the next decade the Jews were taken into Exile and dispersed across the Babylonian Empire. Ezekiel was already in Babylon when he was prophesying around the same time as Jeremiah. He delivered 52 oracles, often using prophetic symbolism. Verbal messages from God were introduced by ‘the word of the Lord came to me’. Visions were introduced by ‘the hand of the Lord was upon me’. Chapters 1-32 of the Book of Ezekiel foretell God’s judgment in the Fall of Jerusalem which was recorded in Ezekiel 33:21-22. We are going to enjoy a handful of sermons from Chapters 33-48 which brought messages of hope to the Exiles.

God’s judgment had fallen on the nation of Israel in the shape of invasion and defeat, the destruction of the Temple and Exile to Babylon. The blame lay fairly and squarely on the Kings and Priests who had cosmically failed in their duties of taking care of Israel.
Ezekiel 34:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
The first part of this chapter spells out all the ways in which the Kings and Priests had failed to take care of the flock. To begin with, they had only taken care of themselves and not taken care of the nation. These bad shepherds had lived off the people instead of caring for them.
3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.
Shepherds had particular responsibilities for the sheep in their care and the leaders of Israel had failed in those duties in caring for the people.
4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.
A shepherd’s job was to take care of the weak and the sick and to look after the injured. Sheep being silly animals they tended to wander off and get lost and it was the shepherd’s job to search for the lost sheep and bring back the strays. The Kings and the Priests of Israel had not stopped the people from wandering away from God. They had not searched for the lost sheep and brought them back. Quite the reverse – too often it was actually the bad shepherds who had led the people astray. It was the kings who had made alliances with foreign nations and it was the priests who had led the people into worshipping foreign gods. Worse than that,
You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
The kings and the priests had exploited the people of Israel.
5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

God’s chosen people had wandered from him, and the leaders of Israel had failed to search for them and bring them back to God. Judgment had come down and the people had been taken into Exile. This was all the fault of the bad shepherds of Israel, and so God’s judgment will come down especially on them.
7 ‘ “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.

“I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.” God will bring a special judgment down on the leaders of Israel.
I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.
The kings and priests had not protected the faith of Israel. They had not taken care of the poor and needy. But God is a God of justice. – he will not let the sins of the bad shepherds go unpunished. They would be removed from their privileged roles. This is indeed what happened. Those who had been the Kings and the Priests of Israel were mostly wiped out during the Exile.
Lest we think that this prophecy is just a part of history from two and a half thousand years ago, we should recognize the warning to bad shepherds in every generation. The New Testament describes ministers and church leaders as shepherds of the flock. Sadly there are some church leaders today who exploit the flock and get rich at the expense of the flock. Some ministers fail in their duties to take care of the flock and bring healing to the flock. Some allow God’s people to be deceived by false teaching and devoured by wild animals even today. Some church leaders fail to seek out and save the lost sheep. These words of condemnation are as much for the bad shepherds in today’s church as they were then.
Yet in all of this there is a word of hope.
I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

The Kings and Priests of Israel had mostly been bad shepherds. But there will be one Shepherd who will be the Good Shepherd for God’s chosen people. David the Shepherd King had acknowledged the LORD God to be his Shepherd.
Psalm 23 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
The Lord who is the Good Shepherd provides for all the needs of his sheep.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

More than that, the good shepherd protects his sheep even through the greatest of dangers.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The bad shepherds had failed in their responsibilities and the people of Israel were reaping the consequences. But God himself promises to be the good shepherd which the flock needs.

11 ‘ “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.
The people of Israel were scattered in Exile. God would look after them where they were, wherever they found themselves. More than that, He would then bring them back from where they had been scattered.

I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.

So God would bring all his chosen people back to himself.
14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
God will provide for all his people’s needs and he will bring them healing.
15 I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.

God will be the good shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep and brings them home rejoicing. So many beautiful promises for the people of Israel languishing in Exile in Babylon. But there is a second note of judgment to come for others who had failed in their responsibilities.

I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Much of the blame for the Exile fell on the bad shepherds, the leaders of Israel. But some among the people of Israel were also guilty. Prophets like Isaiah and Amos say much more about the ways that rich people in Israel had shared in exploiting the poor and the widows and the orphans and the refugees. The sleek and strong in the flock had oppressed the weak and the powerless and the marginalised. Some had grown fat at the expense of others. So God is going to bring justice back to his chosen people and sort out the sheep and the goats.

17 ‘ “As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

The rich and powerful had oppressed the poor and needy and the God of justice would put that right again.
20 ‘ “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: see, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.
God would remove injustice from Israel. Again we should not imagine that these prophecies were only for Israel or only for those days. God is still the God of justice. God is still just as angry about greed and exploitation where the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. God will bring judgment once again, even in our generation. But he will also provide a Saviour, a new shepherd.
23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.
This doesn’t mean that the one shepherd will be great king David brought back to life. Rather it is a descendent of David who will reign on David’s throne and bring God’s justice to the people, as Isaiah also promised. The rest of the Ezekiel chapter 34 spells out the wonderful blessings God will give to his people in a new covenant. There will be peace and safety and security.

25 ‘ “I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety.

God will bless his people with all kinds of abundance.
26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land.

God will give his people safety and security and they will be free from any fears.
They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid.

Abundance will remove any fear of hunger or thirst.
29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.

In all of this, the greatest blessings will be all wrapped up in the unique relationship God’s chosen people will enjoy with their God.
30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.” ’

The people of Israel are his people. He is their God. God will send a descendent of David to be their Good Shepherd. And we can see how all of this fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus, and especially in Jesus’s words in John chapter 10 where Jesus himself claims to be the Good Shepherd. You may not have noticed before, but see how many of the things Jesus claims for himself were all actually foretold in Ezekiel 34.

John 10 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Jesus himself was the true shepherd of Israel, and the true sheep recognized him as their Messiah and Saviour.

7 Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus himself is the gate to eternal life. The bad shepherds who had come before him were thieves and robbers who had exploited the sheep. But Jesus was not like that.

11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Here indeed is how everybody can recognize that Jesus is not one of the bad shepherds, but is indeed the Good Shepherd, by his loving sacrifice on the cross.

14 ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep

As members of God’s flock all Christians know Jesus and he knows us, as just as closely as the Father and the Son know one another. This personal relationship we have with God is what eternal life is all about. And Jesus promises we are safe and secure in his care.

John 10 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.’

Jesus is indeed the good shepherd, great David’s greater Son. He brought all these blessings of peace and prosperity and security, just as they were foretold and promised in Ezekiel chapter 34, and so much more besides.

This entry was posted in Ezekiel.

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