Click here for the reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16.
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel…” (Ezekiel 34:2).
“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.” (Ezekiel 34:17)
Ezekiel’s wonderful prophecy of the Lord God himself being His people’s shepherd is sandwiched between two harsh judgements. Neither the shepherds of Israel nor the sheep escape without blame. Neither the shepherds of Israel nor the sheep can boast of great virtue. To the shepherds Ezekiel is sent to say: “Should not the shepherds feed the sheep?” (Ezekiel 34:2) And against the sheep he asks: “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture?” (Ezekiel 34:18)
It is bad enough when the people are like sheep without a shepherd. But the situation in Ezekiel’s day was even worse. They had shepherds who were gorging themselves on the sheep. And the sheep themselves were living in arrogance and greed, with the strong taking advantage of the weak in every conceivable way.
The shepherds of Israel were those in positions of authority. Scripture speaks of the kings of Israel as shepherds. But the term can also be used more broadly for priests and other political authorities. And while authorities in two of the three estates are mentioned, it is proper to understand fathers and husbands too as shepherds of their own families. What had gone wrong in Israel during Ezekiel’s time is not unique to Israel. Authorities in society, in the church, and in families shirk responsibilities and duties all the time. And so the sheep suffer. Then, and now.
The history books of the Old Testament provide no shortage of examples. Wicked kings and faithless priests appear throughout the pages of Scripture. And the resultant damage to the flock of God’s people is amply recorded too. Only scan the prophets and you will see that as it went among the leaders so it became among the people. The sheep not only suffer from the neglect of the shepherds but learn to be just like them. Like father like son. Like king like people. Like priests like congregation.
Nevertheless, Ezekiel is not sent only to condemn the shepherds and the sheep and to warn against the abuse of authority. He is sent with a promise from the Lord God: “I myself will be the shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:15) The continual and repetitive use of the personal pronoun along with its emphatic repetition, “myself,” adds exclamation points to the Lord’s promises. The promise of being shepherd is attended with a whole constellation of functions that he will perform. Searching for (vs. 11), seeking (vs. 11), rescuing (vs. 12), bringing them out (vs. 13), gathering and bringing them in (vs. 13), feeding (vs. 13, 14, 16), making them lie down (vs. 15), binding up the injured (16), strengthening the weak (vs. 16), and destroying the strong (vs. 16) are all mentioned.
While Ezekiel 34’s promises certainly speak of the return from exile, it is evident from our Lord’s words in John 10 that He has come to deliver the sheep not just from Babylon but from eternal enemies. The return from exile is incomplete without the Lord’s incarnation, atonement, and resurrection. It is in His life and voice that the pasture of the flock is truly entered into. As the preacher prepares his sermon he will find plenty of comparisons and contrasts between exile and death, return and resurrection that will serve to magnify the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.