And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? (Ezekiel 34:1-2)
Ezekiel the Prophet saw the final restoration of Israel (The climax of human history), and in his visions of chapter 34-39, He described events which would eventuate this reality in spite of much world opposition.
The vision of Ezekiel 34 seeks to offer a prophetic answer to the question, ‘what went wrong for Israel’? How did the chosen nation end up scattered and reproached from one end of the earth to the other, exiled and as a by-word among the nations?
The Prophet lays the blame squarely on the “Shepherds of Israel”, i.e. the Kings, and leaders of the nation.
The Kings and leaders of Israel were their shepherds. Israel is the flock of God. The King was to commit himself to knowing God’s Word, and to protect the worship and provide for the teaching of God’s Word. He was to root out idolatry in the land, that the people might be Holy.
But Ezekiel pronounces a “woe” unto the Shepherds of Israel. What was their primal offense? With few exceptions the Kings of Israel, and later Judah and Ephraim (the ten tribes) all lived for themselves and cared little for the flock of God. Very few of these Kings were like David at all.
Israel’s downfall began when Solomon put himself first, and led the nation into Idolatry by his sorry example of compromise with pagan wives. Solomon’s Son Rehoboam caused the schism which split the nation in two, by loading the already over taxed nation with more demands for revenue, just to show them “who is in charge”. These two both forgot that Israel was God’s flock, and not their own personal constituency.
The Kings of the break away ten tribes went astray from the beginning,erecting the abominable golden calves as a substitute for the true worship in the temple. Why did they do this? They were afraid of losing their numbers of people to the Southern Kingdom,Judah/Benjamin, which had the temple.Not one of the Kings of Ephraim were righteous.
Predictably most of the ten tribes descended into idolatry, until they were carried away into Assyrian captivity, never to be seen again.
One theme of the history of Israel, however, is the theme of the small remnant flock of Israel, kept and fed in the darkest times, by prophets raised up in such times, as an alternative to the faithless Shepherds. Elijah and Elisha are examples of this for the Northern Kingdom.
They were raised up, because the LORD is the true Shepherd, who will always set a table in the wilderness for His true flock, even if their own Shepherds prove faithless.
The Kingdom of Judah held out a little longer. They kept the true faith after the Northern Kingdom defected, having the temple, and at least 8 Kings who were true sons of David. Shepherds such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash (or Jehoash) Amaziah, Azariah (or Uzziah), Jothan, and Hezekiah, did seek the good of the flock, and sought to preserve true worship, and to fight idolatry to varying levels. Thus for a while Judah prospered after Ephraim perished.
But the Shepherds of Judah also included monsters such as Ahaz, Ammon, Jehoican and the evil Mannaseh. They destroyed the nation, leading her into idolatry, the worship of Moloch and other forms of faithfulness to the degree that the National banishment and exile warned of by Moses became inevitable.
And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone.(Deuteronomy 28:64)
It was the Shepherds of Israel that wrought the destruction, the Lord makes them responsible for the plight of the flock. Ezekiel had this vision, after the Babylonian captivity, but before the ultimate and two thousand-year long scattering of the flock of God, which has only recently (May,1948), begun to reverse.
Israel would come under the rule of other Shepherds, such as the Hasmoneans, and the Herods, and under the High Priesthoods of the corrupt Zaducean Caiphus family.On a lesser level, Pharisees, Essenes, and assorted other sects would become the “shepherds ” of Israel.These Shepherds also would plunder the flock, drive out the weak, diseased, and trample down the scant food, and drink afforded the Flock of Israel in the intra-testamental and New Testament period.
Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.(Ezekiel 37:3-5)
I have seen similar in the church, I know of “Shepherds” who have betrayed their own congregations, turning over their pulpits to deceivers and false prophets in order to fill the church with numbers, without any regard for the welfare of the flock.
I know of a long-established Evangelical church in Sweden, one of the largest evangelical churches in the whole country, whose Pastor and his wife announced,(After the fact) to the congregation, after twenty years, that they had converted to Catholicism!
I know of a Pastor who wanted to “modernize” the church he served, so he drove out the “Old” board members, and brought in youth to take their places, and painted the sanctuary black(like a night club) and brought in rock music, (Contemporary Christian of course), in order to bring in a younger crowd.
Ezekiel speaks of Shepherds ruling God’s flock with “Force and cruelty”. I know of a Word Faith /Pastor who screamed at his “congregation” when some balked at the change of theology and practice he was bringing in, “IF You don’t like what is going on around here, GET OUT!,There are a lot of other people out there who would want your seat!”. I have often wondered if he would have ever dreamed he would do such a thing when he was a young pastor many years earlier.
Unfortunately these kind of stories are all too familiar to many of God’s sheep.
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. (Ezekiel 34:11)
Notice the emphatic, “I, even I….”, the LORD himself is the true Shepherd of Israel, we see this clearly in the gospels.
Jesus, in John 9-10 revealed himself to an Israelite who had been healed of blindness, only to be kicked out of the Synagogue. The “Shepherds” at the time of Jesus, despised the people, who “knew not the law”,and treated them in the contempt that Ezekiel saw by vision. “This people who know not the law are cursed”, spat one of these “Shepherds” in John 7:49 .
But with tenderness and love, Jesus sought out the formerly blind, and revealed himself to Him, as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the Sheep.
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.(John 10:11)
Jesus also approached a backslidden son of Abraham, Zacceus, and invited himself over for dinner. When the masses were scandalized that He would go into the house of a Roman collaborator, Jesus reffered to Ezekiel’s vision, when he said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost”.
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.…(Ezekiel 34:11-12)
Ezekiel saw that the LORD himself would come to his own scattered flock, to regather them, and to heal them, and to deliver them from the scattering of the “Cloudy and dark day”.
When The good Shepherd is said to come and to save Israel from being scattered in the “Cloudy and dark day”, this is a reference to final gathering of the flock, in the time of the Tribulation.
Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Howl ye, Woe worth the day! For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.(Ezekiel 30:2-3)
Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand;A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.(Joel 2:1-2)
We will look at this deliverance of Israel in particular in the next installment.