The Shepherd Rescues His Sheep
“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost…bring back the strayed…bind up the injured, and…strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice” (vv. 15–16).- Ezekiel 34:1–24
Leaders of God’s people are depicted throughout Scripture as bearing a particular responsibility for the spiritual condition of the covenant community. Jeremiah 50:6– 7, for example, attributes Judah’s abysmal relationship with the Lord to the shepherds’ failure to guide their sheep properly. James 3:1 warns potential teachers that they will be judged with greater strictness than other believers, and the reason for this can only be the influence teachers have for good or ill on the community.
Of course, those who sit under bad leaders will not get off scot-free before God. After all, in Adam we chose a world wherein false teachers would be possible. We also chose a fallen condition that, apart from divine grace, inclines us to love falsehood. Furthermore, a leader is not automatically accountable for his followers’ sins every time they wander. If he has done his job, he is in no sense to blame when people decide to follow their own lusts anyway (Ezek. 33:1–6). Still, poor spiritual leaders are responsible when their inattentiveness, faulty teaching, and other problems lead to sin in the covenant community.
Ezekiel makes these points in today’s passage. Borrowing from common ancient Near Eastern imagery that saw kings, priests, and other leaders as shepherds, the prophet condemns the leaders of Judah for not caring for their flock. Instead of teaching the pure Word of God, these shepherds were enriching themselves at the expense of the sheep (34:3–4), probably by giving comfort to people in their sin instead of charging them to repent. It is often easier to get a hearing by telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, and many old covenant authorities committed that error. False prophets taught according to what would help them succeed, not according to the Lord’s truth (Jer. 28).
This was a grave sin because God saw Israel—all the descendants of Jacob, whether in the northern kingdom of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah—as His flock. Thus, the Lord set Himself against those who had harmed His precious possession. God will not tolerate the abuse of those whom He loves, and so He promised the leaders of Ezekiel’s generation that He would remove them from their positions if they were to continue leading the people astray into idolatry and other sins (Ezek. 34:7–10). In so doing, the Lord would act in behalf of His people. Not only would He get rid of false spiritual leaders, but He would bring back into the sheepfold all of His sheep who had been led astray (vv. 11–24).
Today’s passages contains hints of the incarnation in its description of the Lord as the shepherd of Israel and its description of David as shepherd of Israel (Ezek. 34:15, 23). Our Creator was revealing that He and David—the chosen Messiah and Son of David—would be one and the same. God Himself would come in human flesh to redeem the lost sheep of Israel. This has been accomplished in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who will never lead us astray as we seek to follow His Word.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 21:1–9