Bible Passage: Ezekiel 34:1-31
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?
3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.
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. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
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.
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 will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. a 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. 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.
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.
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 (Ezek. 34:1-31 NIB)
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
The story of humanity is one of being gathered and scattered. Adam and Eve, gathered in the garden, were effectively scattered when they were expelled from God’s presence in Genesis 3. Indeed, God’s judgement on those building the Tower of Babel was to scatter them (Genesis 11:8-9). Human kings, as shepherds, were intended to gather God’s people under his rule (2 Sam 7:7), but their failure (2 Kings 24:12-14) meant that God’s people were once again scattered into exile. Jesus correctly identifies them as like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). Identifying himself as the good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), and by implication God himself (Psalm 23:1), Jesus rules his church through his under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:2-4), and will one day come again in judgement (Matt 25:32). One day, as the church’s ultimate shepherd, he will gather his sheep to be with him in the new creation, and bring his covenant of peace with them to total fulfilment (Rev 7:17).
Brief note on context/key themes of book
Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about their failure under the Old Covenant, and the promise of the New (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things
God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness
his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed
only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.
Structure of the passage
The passage breaks down into 3 parts, where God is promising to provide the kind of shepherd that God’s people, citizens of a destroyed city (33:21), now require.
The need for a shepherd (1-10, 17-21)
The existing leaders of God’s people are exploitative and cruel – they are brutal in the same way that the Egyptians were in Egypt (Ex 1:13-14). As a result of this failure of kingship, God’s people have become scattered (5-6). Leaders of every sort who have abused God’s people will face judgement (10, 17-21).
The reality of a new shepherd (11-16, 20-24)
God himself commits to shepherd his people personally. He seeks and saves, cares and knows, in a remarkable passage that contains the words “I will” a total of 12 times. He will do this through his shepherd-servant-prince descended from David. This shepherd both saves and judges (22).
The blessings of the new shepherd (25-31)
Through this shepherd, God promises a covenant of peace (25). His people will be gathered to a place of safety (25, 27, 28). They will know his covenant blessing (26, compare Lev 26:4-13). And they will enjoy relationship with their God (30-31), the long-promised covenant fulfilment from Exodus 6:7.
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
Who are the bad shepherds and the fat sheep?
It seems that the bad shepherds refer to Judah’s kings, whose failure led to the exile (see, for example, Eze 1:2’s namecheck on Jehoiachin). The fat sheep appear to be the wider leaders of God’s people, who have used their position for their own advantage (e.g. Eze 11:1-3).
Summary of author’s main point
God will judge Israel’s faithless leaders and will himself shepherd his people through his servant-shepherd-prince descended from David, who will bring in a covenant of peace.
Aim/purpose for original audience
To delight in God as shepherd, and look for his servant-shepherd-prince and the covenant of peace he brings.
Aim/purpose for us today
To delight in God’s care, found supremely in Jesus God’s servant-shepherd-prince, and enter the covenant of peace which he died to establish.
Key area of application
Recognise the failure of human leadership, and discover the exceptional care of God in Jesus, the judging and saving shepherd. He will bring to completion his covenant of peace.