Warning to All Shepherds

Ezekiel 34

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2018

Today, we come to a powerful chapter in Ezekiel.  It is a messianic chapter.  This chapter contains a prophecy of Jesus and it ends on a positive note with the Jews all regathered and in their land, living in peace and security, ruled by the Messiah.  It has a message to everyone in leadership.

This chapter gives us a picture of leadership.  It is the picture of a shepherd.  It was a common image in the ancient world.  Sheep are really dumb animals.  They cannot take care of themselves.  They are weak animals.  They do not have claws or sharp teeth.  They cannot run fast.  They cannot defend themselves.  They require constant care.  That is the job of shepherds.  They have complete control over the sheep.

Anyone entrusted with the care of people is a leader.  We need good leaders.  We need good leaders in small groups, in churches, in families, in communities, in business, in schools, in government and in the military. We will see what God says about leaders in this chapter.   This chapter shows us good leaders and bad leaders.  It shows us leadership at its best and at its worst.

Today, we want to do two things.  We want to look at what God said to Ezekiel and what He says to us today.  What want to look at what God says to Ezekiel and how it applies to us today.  What does the chapter say?  It has four main parts.

Summary of the Chapter

1) The indictment of the depraved kings (34:1-10).

God opposes some leaders. Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds (34:9-10 ESV).  Ezekiel has a word for them and it is a word of judgment (woe oracle).  Two times God tells the shepherds to hear the word of the Lord (34:7, 9).  In fact, he tells Ezekiel, “Son of man, prophesy AGAINST the shepherds of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:2 ESV).

Ezekiel gives us a picture of these rulers.  He gives us a picture of skinny, scrawny, sick, malnourished sheep and really fat shepherds.  They fed themselves and got fat but did not feed the sheep at all or take care of them. God says ten things about these shepherds.

  • SELFISH – They feed themselves (34:2). – Don’t care about other’s needs.
  • USE PEOPLE – They eat the fat and clothe themselves (34:3) – take advantage of them.
  • TAKE THE BEST FOR THEMSELVES – You slaughter the fatlings (34:3; cf. 34:18-19)
  • IGNORE NEEDS – The weak are not strengthened (34:4).  You do not feed the sheep (34:3)
  • DISREGARD PAINS – The sick are not healed (34:4).
  • CLOSE THEIR EYES TO THE HURTING – The broken not bound up (34:4)
  • DON’T CARE ABOUT PEOPLE – Those driven away are not brought back (34:4)
  • REFUSE TO HELP – The lost were not sought after (34:4)
  • HARSH/ANGRY – You rule with force and cruelty (34:4)
  • CARELESS – You allowed the sheep to be scattered (34:5)[1]

2) The involvement of the divine king (34:11-16).

Since the wicked shepherds were not doing their job, God intervenes and takes charge of the situation.  God steps in and does what the other shepherds did not do.  He becomes the Good Shepherd.  Jesus may have been thinking of this chapter when He called himself “the Good Shepherd.” God searches for the sheep.  He finds them.  He rescues them.  He brings them all back to the land of Israel and takes care of them.

3) The installment of the Davidic king (34:17-24)

The previous Davidic kings failed to do their job as a generalization.  This one will not fail.  God will rule forever through the Davidic Messiah.  There will be one shepherd on the earth.  In the past the Jews had many shepherds.  One would be in charge until he died and then another one would take over.  Now, they will just have one shepherd.

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. (34:20-22 NIV)

When he comes, there will be judgment.  He will not just judge the shepherds.  He will judge the sheep.  Here we have the perfect combination of compassion and judgment.  He finds all of the stray sheep which have wandered off into other countries and are sick and weak.  He takes care of them, heals them and brings them home but He also judges other sheep.

Will King David Reign as King Again?

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. (34:23-24 ESV)

In the future, we are told that David will reign over the Jews as a prince.  My servant David will be prince among them (34:24).  He is not called a king, just a prince but a few chapters later, he is called a king (melek). My servant David will be king over them (37:24).  This person is going to reign forever.  David my servant will be their prince FOREVER. (Ezekiel 37:25 NIV)

What does that mean?  Is this literal?  Will King David will be resurrected and will rule over Israel in the Millennium, as some Messianic Jews believe (so Frutchenbaum) or is this talking about the Messiah and not King David, as some of the ancient rabbis interpreted the passage.  The Jewish commentator Rashi says this is “a king [who will come] from his descendants.”[2]  Which view is correct?

Both are possible but the second view is correct. Jesus is called David, Israel’s greatest king, because He is the son of David and will reign on David’s throne.  This can be proven from Scripture.

One of the most basic rules of interpretation is to let the Bible interpret itself. The best commentary on Scripture is Scripture. Whenever you have an obscure passage, look for a parallel passage which might shed light on it and in this case we have one.  This passage in Jeremiah is a parallel passage to Ezekiel.  It is a perfect parallel.

Ezekiel and Jeremiah lived at the same time.  God gave Jeremiah the same message that He gave to Ezekiel.  Ezekiel ministered to the exiles in Babylon and Jeremiah to those who were left in Jerusalem.  Notice what Jeremiah says.

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.

3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. 5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.

6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. 7 “So then, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 8 but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.” (Jeremiah 23:1-8 NIV).

It talks about false shepherds who scatter the flock and are punished.  It talks about God regathering the sheep from all of the countries where they have been scattered, put them in their land, where they live in safety.  It also talks about a king reigning over them, who is the Messiah.  This king is not said to be David but a descendant of King David, though he is later called David in the book (Jeremiah 30:9).

God did not promise David that he would reign forever.  He told him that one of his descendants would reign forever.

11 When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’” (I Chronicles 17:1-4 NIV)

4) The initiation of the destined kingdom (34:25-31)

The sheep will enter the kingdom.  This will all take place in the Millennium.  It will be characterized by peace, blessing and security.  There will be a “covenant of peace” (34:25).  There will be “showers of blessing” (34:26).  The old hymn “Showers of Blessing,” which was written in the time of D. L. Moody, was taken from this chapter.  They will also have security.  They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid (34:28 ESV).  They will not be afraid of people and they will not be afraid of wild animals (lions, tigers and bears).

They can lie down in the wilderness and not be afraid of wild animals attacking them (34:25).  Ezekiel says, “the people will be secure in their land” (34:27 NIV).  That is not true today.  Israel is surrounded by enemies in the Middle East who hate them and are pledged to their destruction.  Some of them have nuclear weapons.

Preachers as Shepherds

How does this chapter apply today? Who were the shepherds?  They were kings.  Kings in the Ancient Near East were routinely called kings. Kings were called shepherds in Egypt.  They were called shepherds in Babylon.  They were called shepherds in Israel.   At the beginning of the chapter, we see bad shepherds.  At the end of the chapter, the bad kings are replaced by the good king Jesus.   He puts the bad kings out of business.

Shepherds in Ezekiel are kings but in the NT, pastors are called shepherds.  In fact, the Latin and Spanish word for shepherd is the word pastor. Jesus called believers sheep.  He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27 ESV).  He told the Apostle Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).  Peter must have gotten the point because, when he wrote I Peter, he told church leaders to do the same thing.

5 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (I Peter 5:1-5 ESV)

The Apostle Paul told church leaders to do this as well.  “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17 NIV).  What did he tell the elders?  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 NIV).

Jesus, Peter, and Paul all referred to church leaders as shepherds.  A pastor is a shepherd.  In this chapter, God says, “Behold, I am against the shepherds” (34:9-10 ESV).  Ezekiel 34 is the greatest indictment against pastors ever written.  This is a chapter that preachers hate. God says in this chapter, “I am against the pastors.”

That is strange to have God against the pastors or shepherds.  There are pastors in some churches today that God is against.  Jesus was against some preachers in his day.  Read Matthew 23.  The bad shepherds in Ezekiel’s day acted very much like some shepherds in the church today.

Three Signs of a Bad Shepherd

1) A bad shepherd is NEGLIGENT

Bad shepherds don’t care of the sheep.  We see that in this chapter of Ezekiel.  A bad shepherd does not feed the sheep when they are hungry (34:2).  A bad shepherd does not take care of the sheep when they are sick (34:4). A bad shepherd does not protect the sheep from danger or watch the sheep when they wander off (34:4, 6), which is what sheep do.  They are directionless.  How does this apply today

There is a crisis in the church today.  It is the crisis of biblical illiteracy.  Based on polls, we know that most Americans own a Bible.  Most Americans think highly of the Bible.  Most Americans believe the Bible.  They believe it; they just haven’t read it.  They don’t know what’s in it.

The sad fact is that this describes, not just people in the world.  It also describes many people in the church and some of them have been churches week after week for years.  Most Christians are malnourished because they are not getting fed on Sunday.  American Christians are malnourished spiritually.

Churches are full of Christians who are biblically illiterate.  Some have been sitting in the same church for forty years and they still do not know the Bible very well.  How does that happen?  There are many reasons but one reason is that the pastor is not feeding the sheep.  There is not a lot of feeding going on in many churches.  They entertain the sheep with jokes.  They pet the sheep and play with the sheep but they do not feed the sheep.

I have been in some churches that preach the same thing every Sunday.  When I was first saved, I went to a church that preached John 3:16 every Sunday.  It is an important message but we were never taught the rest of the Bible.

If the sheep are not fed, they will not grow.  It is sad.  Some pastors even ridicule bible study as it is a waste of time or something that only Pharisees do.  They read I Corinthians 8:2 which says, “knowledge puffs up but love builds up” and conclude that knowledge is bad.  It only puffs people up.  Anti-intellectualism is common in churches all over the country.  Many famous preachers in the country teach this.

When the sheep are not taught the Word, they are also not given any help with their problems.  There are many sick sheep in churches who struggle with all kinds of things.  When the sheep or not fed or properly cared for, they scatter.  They either go to other churches.  They wander into other pastures or stop coming to church altogether.  The sheep in Ezekiel 34 ended up scattered.

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will feed My sheep,” not once but three times.  It is the only question that Jesus asked three times in a row. When we love a dog or cat, we feed it.  We take care of it.  Jesus did not say, “If you love my sheep, feed them.”  He said, “If you love ME, feed My sheep.”  This is not just a test of obedience for shepherds.  It is a TEST OF LOVE.  How many shepherds fail the test?  How many pass the test?  Jesus did not say, “If you love me, feed the hungry.”  He said, “If you love Me, feed My sheep.”

One of the jobs of the shepherd is not just to feed the sheep but to protect them.  If you do not protect them from danger, all you have done is to fatten them up before leading them to a wolf. In many churches today, the sheep are not warned.  They are not protected from danger.  They are never told about false teachers or false ministries that claim to be Christian but are completely unbiblical.  Many shepherds today just want to be positive.

2) A bad shepherd is SELFISH

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. (34:2-3 NIV).  God says that they “cared for themselves rather than for my flock” (34:8 NIV).

They exploit their followers. They fleece the flock.  They are in the ministry for personal gain.  A bad shepherd is only in the ministry for himself.

One website says that “The idea that many of us are in ministry for the sake of money is simply a myth.”[3]  The only problem is that the NT describes false teachers as greedy.

Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God FOR PROFIT. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (II Corinthians 2:17 NIV)

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their GREED these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (II Peter 3:1-3 NIV)

This is a second sign of a bad shepherd.  This person is selfish.  He is self-centered.  He likes to have the spotlight on him.  He loves to have the preeminence like Diotrophes (II John 9).  He is not focused on the sheep and their needs.

3) A bad shepherd is ABUSIVE

There have been many books recently written about spiritual abuse and it is a biblical topic.  Spiritual abuse comes right out of this chapter. We may have been hurt by a shepherd in the past.  We may have been in an abusive church before.  How do you know if your pastor is abusive?  This chapter shows us what abuse looks like.  One of the things God said about the bad shepherds was “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (34:4 NIV).

It is the opposite of compassion.  They were mean and cruel to the sheep.  Some pastors in the church are like this.  They rule the church like a dictator.  They have total control of the church over everything.  They are control freaks.  They have no accountability to anyone.  It is always dangerous when one man has too much power, because power corrupts.

They have other characteristics.  They are easily threatened by others and suspicious of their own sheep.  They do not trust anyone else.  They are arrogant.  They can never be questioned.  They are God’s anointed.  They are abusive pastors.  They are wolf-pastors.

The Catholic Church at one point in history said that only the priest is able to read the Bible.  I attended one Baptist church which said that only the pastor could interpret the Bible.  It was even written into the church constitution.  The sheep cannot read and interpret it for themselves.  It must be interpreted by the pastor.

Peter warned about people like this in ministry.  He said that we are not to lord it over those entrusted to us but are to be examples to the flock (I Peter 5:3). The shepherd is to protect the sheep and even put himself in danger to protect the sheep.  The bad shepherds in Ezekiel 34 put the sheep in danger.  They let them wander of and be eaten by wild animals.  Jesus the good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep.

[1]This basic outline with minor revisions comes from Ed Taylor. http://edtaylor.org/2016/01/11/10-signs-of-a-bad-spiritual-leader/

[2] https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16132#showrashi=true.  Kimchi (also known as Radak), another famous rabbi from that period said, “David is the Messiah who will arise from his seed in the time of salvation.”  Two of the most famous Jewish rabbis in the Middle Ages believed this was a reference to the Messiah.

[3] https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/in-the-line-of-fire/50632-the-myth-of-doing-ministry-to-get-rich

 

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