Ezekiel and the False Shepherds

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Ezekiel 34:11 – 30

God wants very much to bless; He takes no pleasure in cursing.  However, both blessing and cursing are part of how God dealt with Israel.  Both are elements in His covenant arrangement with His people.

Even though we as Christians are not under any of His covenants per se, God has not changed how He deals with His people.  Obedience is rewarded, disobedience carries with it unpleasant consequences for the believer.

Ezekiel’s prophecies and sermons were given with God’s covenants in view.  It might be helpful to understand those covenants as we proceed to look at Israel’s glorious future.

1.  A God of Covenants

(A)  The Abrahamic Covenant, Genesis 12:1-3

This covenant is really God’s declaration of how He wants to bless the world.  Through one man, Abram, God would establish a nation – Israel – and through that nation God would bless the entire world.  This is the covenant that is in focus from Genesis through Joshua.  The Hebrew people became a nation in Egypt, during their captivity.  Israel’s government was established at Mount Sinai, after they left Egypt.  They acquired their homeland after the conquest of Canaan, being led by Joshua.

(B)  The Mosaic Covenant, Exodus 20 – Numbers 9, Deuteronomy.

The covenant Moses and the people entered into with God was a detailed expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.  This one gave Israel it’s national constitution and its laws, both civil and religious.  This covenant, though, carried with it a caveat.  Incredible blessings would fall on Israel only so long as they lived up to their end of the covenant.  If, at any time in her history Israel rebelled and disobeyed the stipulations of the covenant, she would find herself a nation without a homeland.  That’s why she found herself in exile in Babylon.  God was faithful in how He dealt with His people.  He warned them in the covenant (Deuteronomy 27, 28) and He sent prophet after prophet to warn them.

(C)  The Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel 7:12 – 16

This covenant is a little different than the previous two.  Here, God promised David that one of his descendants would always – forever – sit on his throne.  It was to be an eternal throne in an eternal kingdom.  This is where the Jews get their concept of “Messiah.”  Each king was, in essence, their “messiah,” their “anointed ruler.”  But the Davidic covenant went a step further promising a “final son” of David who would rule over the world from David’s throne.

(D)  The New Covenant, Jeremiah 36, 2 Corinthians 3

A lot of Christians think the New Covenant was first mentioned by Jesus, and later by Paul, and is all about them.  That’s not entirely wrong, but when understood correctly the New Covenant takes on profound meaning.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:20  TNIV)

The New Covenant may have been established by the sacrifice of Jesus, but it was first announced by the prophet Jeremiah!

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”  (Jeremiah 31:31  TNIV)

This New covenant, by name, would take in parts of the Mosaic covenant and, instead of being recorded on stone or parchment, it would now be inscribed on the hearts of the people.  This New covenant though would be a great improvement over the other ones in all ways because now, for the very first time, all sins would be forgiven once and for all by the Messiah and the Spirit of God would be poured out all those who believe.

As Ezekiel preached, he always had these covenants in his view.  Because the people had not been faithful in respect to the Mosaic covenant, they would lose their homes and homeland and would be scattered among the nations.  This happened when Jerusalem finally fell.  The Israelites were now a people without a country.  But God didn’t want His people to think He was done with them and that it was all over!  In addition to dealing with them – exiling them temporarily – God promised to deal most severely with the nations surrounding Israel that had oppressed her.  We can see the results of this in history.

2.  Rotten shepherds

What was Israel’s biggest problem?  They were stiff necked and rebellious to be sure, but their biggest problem were the false shepherds that continually led them astray.

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? [5] So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  (Ezekiel 34:2, 5  TNIV)

No nation can survive long with leaders who don’t look out for the well-being of the people under their care.  It was all the worse for Israel given their divine origins.  Essentially the Israelites lost the land because of these false shepherds.  The sheep – the people – became lost, distracted souls looking for the light but finding only darkness.

Not every Israelite was rotten and rebellious, but the punishment was national.  Fortunately, the faithlessness of some cannot nullify the grace of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?  (Romans 3:3  TNIV)

The people were stuck in Babylon for the foreseeable future; there was nothing they could do about that.  But all was not lost!  God had not given up on Israel, and He HAS not given up on His people.  A faithful and just Shepherd will come – the Messiah – and will completely restore Israel’s fortunes and glory and the world will be blessed by her.

3.  What God will do for His sheep

(A)  He will search for them.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”  (Ezekiel 34:11  TNIV)

In the context of Ezekiel’s sermon, God will search out and find all the Israelites scattered among the nations.  He knows where they are and He will find them.  But there is a wonderfully comforting feeling you get from reading this verse, especially when we compare it to what Jesus said of Himself:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (Luke 19:10  TNIV)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (John 10:11  TNIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  (John 10:27  TNIV)

The good news is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He is looking for lost sheep.  As far as the exiles were concerned, even though they had been led astray by the false shepherds, they were responsible but God would seek them out and would lead them personally.  It’s good to know that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, has loving concern for people gone astray and who are willfully rebellious.  He never gives up!

(B)  He will rescue them.

As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.   (Ezekiel 34:12  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd doesn’t just stumble upon a lost sheep, He is out there actively searching for them and He will do whatever it takes to get hold of that sheep and save him.

God would find His people, wherever they were, and would restore them to their land no matter what.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15  TNIV)

(C)  He will bring them.

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.  (Ezekiel 34:13  TNIV)

Again, all this what God WILL DO for Israel.  It has yet to occur; it will happen in the future, when the Messiah comes in glory.  There is no way God is close to being finished with Israel!  It has a glorious future.

(D)  He will feed them.

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.   (Ezekiel 34:14  TNIV)

One day, in the future, all their needs will be met.  Hunger, food shortages, all the things that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time will be taken away.

As Christians we are able to enjoy a foretaste of this kind of divine provision today.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19  TNIV)

(E)  He will give them rest.

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  (Ezekiel 34:15  TNIV)

When the Messiah comes, there will be no more wandering around for Israel; no more threat of attack.  She will finally and forever be a nation at peace.

Thank God as Christians we have the promise of peace right now!  One of the benefits of a relationship with the Good Shepherd is an abiding peace.   It’s in us because it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and if you’re born again, then you are full of the Holy Spirit and you are able to access that supernatural peace any time you need it!

(F)  He will bind them (heal them).

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. 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.  (Ezekiel 34:16  TNIV)

God will restore the nation in every way and justice will finally prevail.

(G)  He will rule over them.

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.  I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.  (Ezekiel 34:23-24  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to the David covenant.  God would forever deliver Israel from all her enemies and distress.  No more poor, directionless leadership!  A final, Good Shepherd would come for His people:  the Messiah, whom Ezekiel refers to as “my servant David.”  Really, that’s another term for “a descendant of David.”

(H)  He will make them a blessing.

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.  (Ezekiel 34:26  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to an earlier covenant.  When Christ, the Good Shepherd, comes as Messiah, Israel will finally be the conduit of blessing she was always intended to be.  God will bless them and will make them a blessing to the whole world.

3.  A prelude to the Millennial Kingdom

The similarities between John 10 and Ezekiel 34 are so strong that it is obvious that Jesus had Ezekiel’s sermon in mind when He said, “I am the good shepherd.”  When Jesus spoke those words and gave the teaching in John 10, He was telling the Jews with discernment who He really was.  He was the Shepherd of whom Ezekiel spoke.

Spiritually, we may enjoy a full and satisfying relationship with the Good Shepherd today.  We don’t have to wait until the Millennium to have the Messiah reign in our hearts.    The promises made to Israel are real and awaiting fulfillment.  But we who are born again are already part of the Good Shepherd’s flock!  We know His voice.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd gave His life for us, the lost the sheep.  How will you respond?

 

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