O Ye Shepherds, hear the Word of The Lord
F. Cundick, Luton
The application of the central idea in chapter 34 will have greater force if, first, we seek to grasp the scope of its contents. It belongs to the closing series of prophecies which bear a Messianic character. As one of "the most political of Ezekiel's prophecies", its simple imagery of a flock and shepherds expands into an allegory of the past history and future prospects of the nation.
First, in verses 1-10, the failure of the monarchy of Israel is outlined. By the term "shepherds" the prophet means the kings of Israel. They are charged with the sin of indulgence, "Ye eat the fat ... but ye feed not the flock", v. 3. This teaches the first vital principle of government. It must be in the interest of the governed. Afterwards, mention is made of neglect in five details, see v. 4. These charges reveal that misrule weakens the governed. Further comes tyranny, which was contrary to the spirit of the law, "ye shall not rule over one another with rigour". Lev. 25. 46. Government by oppression begets rebellion. Finally, they scattered the flock, Ezek. 34. 5-6. The kings were unable to resist the enemy invasions of the land and the removal of the people into exile. Misrule ends with loss of power. The selfish motives of the kings brought national disaster, and with it their own kingly privileges. Failures of modern governments in industrial, financial, and moral spheres may well be the outcome of the same principles.
Secondly, verses 11-16 announce Jehovah's intervention on behalf of His scattered flock. That this includes a work in and for Israel beyond the Church period is clear.
Thirdly, verses 17-22 refer to Jehovah's dealing with the oppression of the people by the aristocracy. The upper classes are confronted, those who lived in luxury, in wanton extravagance and selfishness, without regard for the sufferings of the poor.
Fourthly, verses 23-31 deal with the future prospects of the kingdom. Three subjects are considered, (i). The ideal ruler "over them", v. 23. He is called "Shepherd", a pre-eminent, unique shepherd to whom none other is comparable. The unity of the nation is implied by the term "one shepherd". The divisions of the kingdom will be healed when He comes, (ii). The "covenant of peace" made "with them", 34. 25-28. Israel's relationship with other peoples will be peaceable, (iii). "I will raise up for them a plantation of renown", v. 29 R.v. Palestine will become the garden of the whole earth. No longer will it be subject to famines and drought, but be clothed with a growth of luxuriance and beauty that will be Edenic in character.
In focussing attention upon the moral aspect of the chapter much is learned by the figure of Jehovah Himself shepherding His people. It illustrates the ministry which is so essential for the welfare of the flock of God in the present day.
1. He Delivers the Flock from Danger. He will seek out His sheep and "will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day"; v. 12. Sheep are needy, weak, foolish and timid creatures. Left to themselves they lose their way, and fall victims of both dangerous circumstances and enemies. In the "relationship discourse" in the Gospel of Matthew, the true shepherd-heart is described in the familiar words "How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?", Matt. 18. 12. Did not David slay "both the lion and the bear" to protect his father's sheep? Likewise the shepherd of the flock guards the sheep from dangers. The apostle Peter warned of Satan's tactics as a "roaring lion" to destroy the flock, an allusion, probably, to the Neronian persecutions of the church which had already commenced; see 1 Pet. 5. 8, 9. Paul warned the Ephesian elders of attacks upon the church, "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock", Acts. 20. 29. The true shepherd will ever seek to deliver the flock from dangers of this nature. Despite the waywardness of the sheep, his affection for them constrains him to act courageously.
2. He Preserves the Oneness of the Flock, "I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land", Ezek. 34. 13. Scattering the flock is the work of an enemy; Shepherd-love brings the sheep together. The Good Shepherd Himself said, "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock one shepherd", John 10. 16 r.v. The divisions of Israel were heart-rending for the godly saints of the past age. Why have not believers today learned the sad lessons of Israel's history? Why are the divisions of the Church perpetuated by the retention of names and practices which are so detrimental to its practical and spiritual unity?
3. He Supplies the Flock zoith Suitable Pasture. "I will feed them in a good pasture . . . and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel", Ezek. 34. 14. Commenting on the words, bosko and poimaino, "feed", used in John 21. 15, 16, W. E. Vine writes, "The lesson to be learnt, as Trench points out, is that, in the spiritual care of God's children, the feeding of the flock from the word of God is the constant and regular necessity; it is to have the foremost place". The ministry given to Peter by the Risen Lord on the shore of the sea of Tiberias was duly discharged; and as Peter drew to the end of his days he exhorted his brethren to fulfil the same ministry, 1 Pet. 5. 2. "The health of the flock depends upon its food; poisoned food will undermine the health of the saints, while the faithful ministry of every phase of divine truth alone can build them up, and secure the prosperity of the assembly. To that end the ascended Lord has given gifts to men", W. Trew.
4. He Gives General Attention to the Flock. "I will cause them to lie down . . . and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick", Ezek. 34. 15, 16. Here are the ministries embraced in the meaning of the word "tend" used in the New Testament. The shepherd's lot is ceaseless labour. Well might Jacob say of his charge of Laban's flocks, "Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes", Gen. 31. 40. Times of rest ("lie down") are essential. The flock is not to be overdriven; see Gen. 33. 13. One wonders if some of the saints have time for private and personal communion with the Lord, when some assembly notices are read! Spiritual restoration ("bind up") of the fallen is required; see Gal 6. 1. Re-invigoration of soul for the faint ("strengthen") is included in this valuable service of love. In this connection notice should be given to the translation of the preposition en in 1 Peter 5. 1, namely "among", contrasting the thought with that conveyed by "domineering over", v. 3. "He is most truly 'over' the flock who is most 'among' it". This is no work of a "committee" which meets occasionally.
The Major Troubles of a Flock. The third section of the chapter, Ezek. 34. 17-22, deals with the injuries inflicted by members of a flock on each other.
1. Selfishness. "Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures?", v. 18. Frequently, the trampling of the rich upon the rights of the poor is denounced in the ministry of the prophets; e.g., Isa. 10.2; Amos 5. Those that had much desired more. This spirit, so opposite to the "mind" of our Lord, must not be entertained by the assembly of the saints. All ministries and privileges should be shielded from the vice of selfishness, with a magnanimity that gives attention to the good of another.
2. Inconsideration. "You must foul the residue (of waters) with your feet", Ezek. 34. 18. Utter callous disregard to keep the refreshing waters clear for others is condemned. The same people add to their selfishness vexation for others. A great difference would be known if the ministry of refreshment were given more attention. For instance, gatherings for ministry have been arranged, and saints from other districts have responded in fellowship, but never to be favoured with a return visit. This is a common complaint of the day. Again, servants will minister and expect an audience, and yet be poor listeners themselves. This is a nauseating attitude, giving place to the same spirit of criticism and dissatisfaction.
3. Intolerance. "Ye have thrust with side and with shoulder", v. 21. The weakest are pushed to the fence. The oppression of those who are disliked is a prevalent sin. The objection to one who is different; a dislike of the unlike does not promote the peace and welfare of the flock in general. Differences which arise through social status, education, habits and personality are best overcome by longsuffering, Eph. 4. 1, 2, and not by the spirit of resentfulness; "even Christ pleased not himself", Rom. 15. 3.
4. Victimization. "And pushed all the diseased with your horns", Ezek. 34. 21. The figure is clear as it is expressive. The upper classes thought it their prerogative to be injurious to the poor. They added affliction to affliction without concern for the straits of poverty. The spirit of Diotrephes, 3 John 9, is always deplorable; and whether it is expressed in violence or diplomacy, He who judges "between cattle and cattle", Ezek. 4. 17, will, sooner or later, intervene in righteous judgment. All spiritual and moral strength should be used to "bear the infirmities of the weak", Rom. 15. 1.