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Israel’s False Shepherds


The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

God, the True Shepherd

11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

17 As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

25 I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. 26I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. 29I will provide for them a splendid vegetation so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations. 30They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord God. 31You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God.

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Eze 34:1-31. Reproof of the False Shepherds; Promise of the True and Good Shepherd.

Having in the thirty-third chapter laid down repentance as the necessary preliminary to happier times for the people, He now promises the removal of the false shepherds as preparatory to the raising up of the Good Shepherd.

2. Jer 23:1 and Zec 11:17 similarly make the removal of the false shepherds the preliminary to the interposition of Messiah the Good Shepherd in behalf of His people Israel. The "shepherds" are not prophets or priests, but rulers who sought in their government their own selfish ends, not the good of the people ruled. The term was appropriate, as David, the first king and the type of the true David (Eze 34:23, 24), was taken from being a shepherd (2Sa 5:2; Ps 78:70, 71); and the office, like that of a shepherd for his flock, is to guard and provide for his people. The choice of a shepherd for the first king was therefore designed to suggest this thought, just as Jesus' selection of fishermen for apostles was designed to remind them of their spiritual office of catching men (compare Isa 44:28; Jer 2:8; 3:15; 10:21; 23:1, 2).

3. fat—or, by differently pointing the Hebrew, "milk" [Septuagint]. Thus the repetition "fat" and "fed" is avoided: also the eating of "fat" would not probably be put before the "killing" of the sheep. The eating of sheep's or goats' milk as food (De 32:14; Pr 27:27) was unobjectionable, had not these shepherds milked them too often, and that without duly "feeding" them [Bochart], (Isa 56:11). The rulers levied exorbitant tributes.

kill … fed—kill the rich by false accusation so as to get possession of their property.

feed not … flock—take no care of the people (Joh 10:12).

4. The diseased—rather, those weak from the effects of "disease," as "strengthened" (that is, with due nourishment) requires [Grotius].

broken—that is, fractures from wounds inflicted by the wolf.

brought again … driven away—(Ex 23:4). Those "driven away" by the enemy into foreign lands through God's judgments are meant (Jer 23:3). A spiritual reformation of the state by the rulers would have turned away God's wrath, and "brought again" the exiles. The rulers are censured as chiefly guilty (though the people, too, were guilty), because they, who ought to have been foremost in checking the evil, promoted it.

neither … sought … lost—Contrast the Good Shepherd's love (Lu 15:4).

with force … ruled—(Ex 1:13, 14). With an Egyptian bondage. The very thing forbidden by the law they did (Le 25:43; compare 1Pe 5:3).

5. scattered, because … no shepherd—that is, none worthy of the name, though there were some called shepherds (1Ki 22:17; Mt 9:36). Compare Mt 26:31, where the sheep were scattered when the true Shepherd was smitten. God calls them "My sheep"; for they were not, as the shepherds treated them, their patrimony whereby to "feed themselves."

meat to all … beasts—They became a prey to the Syrians, Ammon, Moab, and Assyria.

6. every high hill—the scene of their idolatries sanctioned by the rulers.

search … seek—rather, "seek … search." The former is the part of the superior rulers to inquire after: to search out is the duty of the subordinate rulers [Junius].

10. I will require my flock—(Heb 13:17), rather, "I require," &c., for God already had begun to do so, punishing Zedekiah and the other princes severely (Jer 52:10).

11. I … will … search—doing that which the so-called shepherds had failed to do, I being the rightful owner of the flock.

12. in the day that he is amongin the midst of (Hebrew) His sheep that had been scattered. Referring to Messiah's second advent, when He shall be "the glory in the midst of Israel" (Zec 2:5).

in the cloudy … day—the day of the nation's calamity (Joe 2:2).

13. And I will bring them out from the people, &c.—(Eze 28:25; 36:24; 37:21, 22; Isa 65:9, 10; Jer 23:3).

14. good pasture—(Ps 23:2).

high mountains of Israel—In Eze 17:23; 20:40, the phrase is "the mountain of the height of Israel" in the singular number. The reason for the difference is: there Ezekiel spoke of the central seat of the kingdom, Mount Zion, where the people met for the worship of Jehovah; here he speaks of the kingdom of Israel at large, all the parts of which are regarded as possessing a moral elevation.

16. In contrast to the unfaithful shepherds (Eze 34:4). The several duties neglected by them I will faithfully discharge.

fat … strong—that is, those rendered wanton by prosperity (De 32:15; Jer 5:28), who use their strength to oppress the weak. Compare Eze 34:20, "the fat cattle" (Isa 10:16). The image is from fat cattle that wax refractory.

with judgment—that is, justice and equity, as contrasted with the "force" and "cruelty" with which the unfaithful shepherds ruled the flock (Eze 34:4).

17. you, … my flock—passing from the rulers to the people.

cattle and cattle—rather, "sheep and sheep"; Margin, "small cattle," or "flocks of lambs and kids," that is, I judge between one class of citizens and another, so as to award what is right to each. He then defines the class about to be punitively "judged," namely, "the rams and he-goats," or "great he-goats" (compare Isa 14:9, Margin; Zec 10:3; Mt 25:32, 33). They answer to "the fat and strong," as opposed to the "sick" (Eze 34:16). The rich and ungodly of the people are meant, who imitated the bad rulers in oppressing their poorer brethren, as if it enhanced their own joys to trample on others' rights (Eze 34:18).

18, 19. Not content with appropriating to their own use the goods of others, they from mere wantonness spoiled what they did not use, so as to be of no use to the owners.

deep waters—that is, "limpid," as deep waters are generally clear. Grotius explains the image as referring to the usuries with which the rich ground the poor (Eze 22:12; Isa 24:2).

19. they eat—scantily.

they drink—sorrowfully.

20. fat … lean—the rich oppressors … the humble poor.

21. scattered them abroad—down to the time of the carrying away to Babylon [Grotius].

22. After the restoration from Babylon, the Jews were delivered in some degree from the oppression, not only of foreigners, but also of their own great people (Ne 5:1-19). The full and final fulfilment of this prophecy is future.

23. set up—that is, raise up by divine appointment; alluding to the declaration of God to David, "I will set up thy seed after thee" (2Sa 7:12); and, "Yet have I set My king on My holy hill of Zion" (Ps 2:6; compare Ac 2:30; 13:23).

one shepherd—literally, "a Shepherd, one": singularly and pre-eminently one: the only one of His kind, to whom none is comparable (So 5:10). The Lord Jesus refers to this prophecy (Joh 10:14), "I am THE Good Shepherd." Also "one" as uniting in one the heretofore divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and also "gathering together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and on earth" (Eph 1:10); thus healing worse breaches than that between Israel and Judah (Col 1:20). "God by Him reconciling all things unto Himself, whether things in earth or in heaven."

David—the antitypical David, Messiah, of the seed of David, which no other king after the captivity was: who was fully, what David was only in a degree, "the man after God's own heart." Also, David means beloved: Messiah was truly God's beloved Son (Isa 42:1; Mt 3:17). Shepherd means King, rather than religious instructor; in this pre-eminently He was the true David, who was the Shepherd King (Lu 1:32, 33). Messiah is called "David" in Isa 55:3, 4; Jer 30:9; Ho 3:5.

24. my servant—implying fitness for ruling in the name of God, not pursuing a self-chosen course, as other kings, but acting as the faithful administrator of the will of God; Messiah realized fully this character (Ps 40:7, 8; Isa 42:1; 49:3, 6; 53:11; Php 2:7), which David typically and partially represented (Ac 13:36); so He is the fittest person to wield the world scepter, abused by all the world kings (Da 2:34, 35, 44, 45).

25. covenant of peace … evil beasts … to cease … dwell safely—The original promise of the law (Le 26:6) shall be realized for the first time fully under Messiah (Isa 11:6-9; 35:9; Ho 2:18).

26. them and the places round about my hill—The Jews, and Zion, God's hill (Ps 2:6), are to be sources of blessing, not merely to themselves, but to the surrounding heathen (Isa 19:24; 56:6, 7; 60:3; Mic 5:7; Zec 8:13). The literal fulfilment is, however, the primary one, though the spiritual also is designed. In correspondence with the settled reign of righteousness internally, all is to be prosperity externally, fertilizing showers (according to the promise of the ancient covenant, Le 26:4; Ps 68:9; Mal 3:10), and productive trees and lands (Eze 34:27). Thus shall they realize the image of Eze 34:14; namely, a flock richly pastured by God Himself.

27. served themselves of them—availed themselves of their services, as if the Jews were their slaves (Jer 22:13; 25:14; compare Ge 15:13; Ex 1:14).

28. dwell safely—(Jer 23:6).

29. plant of renown—Messiah, the "Rod" and "Branch" (Isa 11:1), the "righteous Branch" (Jer 23:5), who shall obtain for them "renown." Fairbairn less probably translates, "A plantation for a name," that is, a flourishing condition, represented as a garden (alluding to Eden, Ge 2:8-11, with its various trees, good for food and pleasant to the sight), the planting of the Lord (Isa 60:21; 61:3), and an object of "renown" among the heathen.

31. ye my flock … are men—not merely an explanation of the image, as Jerome represents. But as God had promised many things which mere "men" could not expect to realize, He shows that it is not from man's might their realization is to be looked for, but from God, who would perform them for His covenant-people, "His flock" [Rosenmuller]. When we realize most our weakness and God's power and faithfulness to His covenant, we are in the fittest state for receiving His blessings.