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Ezekiel 34:1 The word of Yahweh came to me saying- Ezekiel was a priest, and they were the shepherds of Israel whom he now condemns as a main reason why the Kingdom was not being established. So he was an appropriate person to be used to deliver the criticism.



Ezekiel 34:2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and tell them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep?- The leadership could have been criticized for many things, but the fundamental issue was selfishness; thinking of themselves and not others. The shepherds refer not only to the priests but to the entire leadership of the people.

 


Ezekiel 34:3 You eat the fat- This should have been given to God, under the Mosaic law (Lev. 3:17). They kept the best for themselves, and thereby were playing God. For the fat was to be 'eaten' by God in the Mosaic rituals. Yet Zech. 11:16 prophesied that God would raise up such shepherds who 'eat the fat' as punishment for Israel. These shepherds sinned of their own freewill, but God confirmed them in that way.

And you clothe yourself with the wool, you kill the fatlings; but you don’t feed the sheep- The situation sounds to be ongoing at Ezekiel's time. The priesthood was still profiting from the people rather than feeding them. This criticism of them would have caused many problems for Ezekiel; perhaps he was criticizing his own relatives.


Ezekiel 34:4 You haven’t strengthened the diseased- The same criticism could be levelled at the 'shepherds' of our times who drive out the spiritually weak rather than seeking to cure and strengthen them. The priests were only interested in what they could get out of people, rather than what they could do for them. The "diseased" [s.w. "sick"] were made diseased or sick by God in punishment for their sins (Mic. 6:13 s.w.). The idea is that those who were sick as a result of their punishments at the hands of the Babylonians should be strengthened by the priests. But they were ignored.

Neither have you healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up that which was broken- The binding up of the breach or break between God and His people was to be in the Messianic Kingdom (Is. 30:26; 61:1). But this was potentially possible at the restoration; if the shepherds led the people towards it.

Neither have you caused to return that which was driven away, neither have you sought that which was lost; but with force and with rigour you have ruled over them- Very much the language of God causing to return those driven away into captivity. It seems that after the first wave of captives were taken away to Babylon, they could have returned if the shepherds of Judah had acted rightly- those driven away could have returned. God's purpose is so open to our behaviour. Hence :5 "They were scattered because there was no shepherd". The scattering of the majority could have been averted by the spirituality of a minority. It must be so tragic for God to see all these potentials for salvation being wasted time and again. The fact He continues to set up all these potentials, when He sees them wasted multiple times, is testament to His love and passion for us. The shepherds of those in captivity didn't actually want them to return from exile because they personally were benefitted.


Ezekiel 34:5 They were scattered because there was no shepherd- The scattering of the flock was here directly blamed upon the shepherds / priesthood. 

And they became food to all the animals of the field and were scattered-  A reference to all the nations surrounding Israel. When we read of "all the animals of the field" in Genesis 1-3, I have elsewhere suggested that this refers specifically to all the animals within the eretz of greater Israel, the land promised to Abraham; for that is how the phrase is used here in Ez. 34:5. It clearly doesn't refer to all animals / nations on the planet. The focus of God is so intensely upon Israel and this is reflected in the language of the Bible. See on :6.


Ezekiel 34:6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill- This is very much the language of Israel worshipping idols upon the mountains and "every high hill" (Ez. 6:13; 20:28). Mountains and hills represent nations and peoples; because of this, they were made to wander amongst the nations and peoples. Their judgment was appropriate to their sin; for the practice of sin is really a living out of condemnation.

Yes, My sheep were scattered on all the surface of the earth; and there was none who searched or sought them- We would likely have condemned the shepherds for themselves committing idolatry. But that is never mentioned here; rather is the emphasis upon the fact that the shepherds didn't try to get Israel to repent and return to God. The lack of spiritual effort for others was the main source of their condemnation. The criticism that the shepherds fed themselves instead of the flock (:2,8) could even imply that the shepherds were not themselves idolaters, but their sin was that of spiritual selfishness.


Ezekiel 34:7 Therefore you shepherds, hear the word of Yahweh- The following prophecy says that Yahweh will replace the shepherds with His own shepherding, manifest through His chosen individual shepherd. But we could deduce that this threat was also effectively an appeal to the shepherds to repent.


Ezekiel 34:8 As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, surely because My sheep became a prey, and My sheep became food to all the animals of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did My shepherds search for My sheep, but the shepherds fed themselves, and didn’t feed My sheep- See on :6 There was none who searched or sought them. Israel were given as a "prey" to the Gentiles because of their own sins (Ez. 7:21 s.w.); but here the shepherds are blamed for this. They could have 'stood in the gap' and stopped this judgment coming upon the people. But they didn't care for people; that quite simply is the crushing condemnation.


Ezekiel 34:9 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of Yahweh- This was an appeal for repentance so that the process of condemnation at the last day (explained on :10) need not happen.


Ezekiel 34:10 Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require My sheep at their hand- When did this happen? This surely suggests that those men will be resurrected and asked at the judgment what they did with the sheep. The pain and anger of God is because Israel were His sheep, and He had entrusted them to others to care for. As explained on Ez. 18:22, there will be a 'going through' of the sins of the rejected at judgment day. God will "require" the flock at the hand of the pastors of Ezekiel's day. The Hebrew word translated "require" has the sense of to search / enquire- which suggests a process of discussion during the judgment process.

And cause them to cease from feeding the sheep; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; and I will deliver My sheep from their mouth- The people in view are clearly the shepherds, but they are now likened to the mouth of the ravening beast who devoured them. They were therefore no better than Babylon, the devouring beast; indeed, they effectively were Babylon. Here we see the power of sins of omission; omitting to care for the flock made these people the same as Babylon. For nearly all the accusations against the shepherds in this chapter refer to sins of omission rather than commission.

 

That they may not be food for them- Omitting to feed the sheep meant that they were effectively devouring and eating the sheep. The implication of their laziness and sins of omission is here stated in powerful terms. We too need to think through the implications of our similar sins of omission.


Ezekiel 34:11 For thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I Myself, even I, will search for My sheep, and will seek them out- This chapter is full of connection with the language of the Lord Jesus as the shepherd of Israel in John 10. There was an intense manifestation of God in Jesus, as there is in all those who do the work of caring for His sheep. Likewise :15 "I myself will be the shepherd...". The terms of the new covenant which God promised a repentant Judah at the restoration included the promise of God shepherding them as a flock (Jer. 31:10). Such a shepherd could have been raised up then, but this didn't come about; and so the ultimate fulfilment is in the work of the Lord Jesus. This is the time when a Messiah figure could have 'shepherded in the strength of Yahweh' (Mic. 5:4 s.w.).


Ezekiel 34:12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock- The Lord’s teaching places a huge value on the importance of the individual- He is the unusual shepherd who will leave the 99 in the wilderness and go searching for the one lost sheep. Yet His parable of searching for one sheep is clearly based upon a similar one in Ezekiel 34, where we read that God [in His Son] will ‘seek out his flock’ (Ez. 34:12). Perhaps Jesus meant us to understand that for Him, one lost sheep is as good as the whole flock; so important is the individual to Him. He made no effort to start an organization; rather did He focus upon the conversion and radical transformation of a group of individuals. We were each uniquely created in order to manifest some specific aspect of the Father’s glory.

In the day that he is among his sheep- This is the intensity of 'God with us' in Christ; God Himself comes among us in order to bring us back to Him.

That are scattered abroad, so will I seek out My sheep; and I will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day- The cloudy and dark day was the day of judgment which came upon Judah, and which resulted in them being scattered into Babylon and Persia. The shepherd who was to deliver them and get them to return from the various places of their scattering was intended to be Cyrus. Is. 44:28 is crystal clear about this. God "says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure’, even saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built;’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid’". It was God's intention that Cyrus repent and become a proselyte, and Yahweh would then use him to save His people "out of all places where they have been scattered". The decree of Cyrus was addressed to "Whoever is left [of the Jews], in any place where he lives" (Ezra 1:4). "Cyrus" literally means "sun" and so contrasts with the cloudy and dark day. But Cyrus let the ball drop and didn't carry through the Divine purpose as he might have done and neither did the Jews respond as they should have done. Cyrus was Yahweh's anointed (Is. 45:1), and so the essence of these prophecies is to come true in the last days in the person of the Lord Jesus. We could say that the prophecies are transferred from Cyrus to the Lord Jesus.


Ezekiel 34:13 I 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 rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country- This 'causing' to go forth [AV] was by grace, because they had not met the required spiritual preconditions- in that they had not in fact cast away their idols (see on Ez. 20:6-8). And it was to be the same in the exodus from Babylon. This Divine 'causing to go forth' was by the Spirit, for those who left captivity did so because their minds were stirred up by the Spirit to do so, even though they were not spiritually qualified for the restoration (Ezra 1:5). They had been commanded to "go forth" from Babylon (Is. 52:11 s.w.) but it was God who caused them to do this by the grace of His Spirit's operation on their hearts. The same is true of our exodus from this world through the water of baptism. It is all of grace and confirmation of the smallest desire to do so; and so this causing to go forth was by God's "mighty hand" (Ez. 20:34 s.w.).


Ezekiel 34:14 I will feed them with good pasture; on the mountains of the height of Israel shall their fold be- A reference to Jerusalem or the temple mount? This was to be the source point of their teaching, the spiritual feeding which the shepherds / priests had failed to provide from the temple.

There shall they lie down in a good fold; on fat pasture shall they feed on the mountains of Israel- The restored Judah did live in a “fat” pasture land, but the fatness of the land was still given to the kings of Persia because of Judah’s spiritual weakness (Neh. 9:25,35-37). They could have broken free and in fact subsumed the surrounding empires and kingdoms into the restored kingdom of Judah.


Ezekiel 34:15 I Myself will be the shepherd of My sheep, and I will cause them to lie down, says the Lord Yahweh- See on :11. This is the language of the wealthy farmer exasperated with his shepherds who goes out into the field and himself shepherds the flock; remembering that shepherds were perceived in social terms as the lowest of the low. Recall how shepherds were despised in Egypt and it was better to say you were a cattle herder than a shepherd (Gen. 46:34). This going out into the fields by God Himself was reflected in His efforts to bring Judah back from Babylon, where they were sitting in captivity in Ezekiel's time. But the majority of them preferred to remain there. Despite such passionate effort from God, manifest through the extraordinary desire of Cyrus to restore them (see on :12). So many today prefer to remain in the Babylon of this world rather than coming out of captivity into the things of God's Kingdom- despite God's intense efforts for them through manipulating life situations for them to lead them to Him.


Ezekiel 34:16 I will seek that which was lost, and will cause to return that which was driven away. I will bind up that which was broken and will strengthen that which was sick: but the fat and the strong I will destroy; I will feed them in justice- The binding up of the breach or break between God and His people was to be in the Messianic Kingdom (Is. 30:26; 61:1). But this was potentially possible at the restoration; if the shepherds led the people towards it. The Divine shepherd would act quite differently to ordinary shepherds, who would focus upon the fat and strong and not destroy them, but rather accept that the broken and sick weren't worth the effort and were an acceptable loss. He would do exactly opposite.


Ezekiel 34:17 As for you, O My flock, thus says the Lord Yahweh: See, I judge between sheep and sheep, the rams and the male goats- Surely the basis for the Lord's parable of His final judgment in Mt. 25:32. The focus seems to move away from the shepherds to another reason for the sad state of Israel's flock- the abuse of the poor majority by the minority of 'fat ones' amongst the flock, the goats. Zech. 11:11 in a restoration context speaks of the poor of the flock as the faithful ones; the false shepherds in Zechariah likewise have to be removed before the envisioned restoration of the Kingdom can happen. But they had been caused to stumble by others within the flock, according to the reasoning here in Ez. 34. The idea seems to be that the sheep will be divided and the fat, abusive ones taken out of the flock and placed together with the goats. It's as if this message in Ez. 34 foresees the likely objection of many: 'But I'm not a shepherd, so this doesn't apply to me'. The focus is now upon the ordinary sheep themselves who have deprived other sheep of spiritual food. So easily, the Lord's sheep are turned away from spiritual feeding by the actions of other sheep. They cease attending places of spiritual feeding, or are banned from attending them, by the behaviour of those who are apparently the best sheep. By so doing, those apparently fat, well fed sheep of :16 are declared to be goats... The connection with Mt. 25:32 suggests that this will be the same basis for judgment at the last day for all the Lord's people. The same issues are in view there as in Ez. 34- not visiting, not feeding, not clothing (Ez. 34:3) and not providing water.  

 


Ezekiel 34:18 Does it seem a small thing to you- The intention of the gripping passage in Ez. 16 was to convict Jerusalem of her sins (:2); because they considered their spiritual and literal prostitution "a small matter". The same word is used here in accusing the priesthood of considering it "a small matter" for the flock to have been ruined by them. This was the problem, as it is today- the real implications of attitudes and behaviour are not taken seriously. We fail to perceive how deeply we affect both God and man. Society makes us feel insignificant cogs, but we are not like that to God. This was the problem with Ezekiel's audience; they had a light hearted approach to eternal issues. To them, sin was a light thing (Ez. 8:17; 22:7). This was the role of the prophets, to convict people of the gravity of their sins and positions, and the consequences to come.

To have fed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the remainder of your pasture; to have drunk of the clear waters, but you must foul what remains with your feet?- It is a characteristic of those who reject the message of the Kingdom that they seek to stop others entering it as well (see on Lk. 11:52).


Ezekiel 34:19 As for My sheep, they eat that which you have trodden with your feet, and they drink that which you have fouled with your feet- To tread underfoot was to despise. The leadership had despised that which God wanted to feed them with and this in turn damaged it for the ordinary sheep.


Ezekiel 34:20 Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh to them: Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep- This judgment would be very different to how a human shepherd would judge; he would prefer the fat and reject the lean. But as noted on :16, the fat were to be destroyed. The "lean" or famished by famine are those referred to in Is. 17:4-6, the glory of Jacob who had been "made thin" [s.w. "lean"] would become the faithful, repentant remnant, "gleanings [that] will be left there, like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outermost branches of a fruitful tree".


Ezekiel 34:21 Because you thrust with side and with shoulder and push all the diseased with your horns, until you have scattered them abroad- The "diseased" or 'stricken' were those stricken by the Babylonian invasion (Jer. 14:17 s.w.). But these were not helped by the "fat", the wealthy leadership and priesthood. Instead they were pushed into captivity by the selfishness of the fat.


Ezekiel 34:22 Therefore will I save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep- But the rich, the fat among the exiles, still oppressed the lean or the poor (Neh. 5:1-19). And God's people continued to be a prey to the Gentiles. The intended prophetic scenario didn't come about at the time although it will in the last days.


Ezekiel 34:23 I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd- This Messianic figure was to be "the prince" of Ez. 40-48. Initially it was intended to be Cyrus (Is. 44:28), but then other possibilities arose, not least Zerubbabel. The system of shepherds, be it the priesthood or the royal family, was to be replaced by one singular shepherd after the pattern of David, although he would have assistants who were also after God's own heart- another way of saying they too would be like David, the man after God's own heart (Jer. 3:15; 1 Sam. 13:14).


Ezekiel 34:24 I, Yahweh, will be their God, and My servant David prince among them; I, Yahweh, have spoken it- The "Prince" of Ez. 40-48 could have been this shepherd figure who was to lead scattered Israel back from the Babylonian exile, and who initially could have been Cyrus (Is. 44:28).


Ezekiel 34:25 I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause dangerous animals to cease out of the land; they shall dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods- This is the new covenant which was offered with the exiles at the restoration, seeing that they had broken the old covenant. The peace was peace with God. Wild animals, both literally and in terms of marauding nations, would never again threaten the people. They would be safe everywhere. Being safe in the desert and sleeping in the woods is language appropriate to sheep. They would no longer experience predators.


Ezekiel 34:26 I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing; I will cause the shower to come down in its season, there shall be showers of blessing- The implication is that a rebuilt temple in Zion would be the focus for blessings. Joel 2:23 and Hos. 6:3 use similar language in talking of the giving of the Spirit. The new covenant offered in Jer. 31 and Ez. 20 was to involve a new spirit, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit into the hearts of God's sinful people.


Ezekiel 34:27 The tree of the field shall yield its fruit and the earth shall yield its increase and they shall be secure in their land; and they shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them out of the hand of those who made slaves of them- The deliverance from Babylon was to be at the same time as dramatic fertility in the revived land of Israel. The returned exiles would dwell there securely- because Babylon would have destroyed one group of local nations, and then God Himself would destroy Babylon and her supporters as Jeremiah had made clear. This scenario didn't happen, but will do at the return of the Lord Jesus.


Ezekiel 34:28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, neither shall the animals of the earth devour them- This can only be really true in the last days, for after the restoration Israel continued to be a prey.

 

But they shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid- This is the situation predicted when Israel were faithful to the old covenant (Lev. 25:18,19; 26:5). But there is no mention in Ez. 34 of Israel repenting or living righteously; rather the emphasis is that God by pure grace shall go forth and regather His people and make a new covenant with them (:25)- a covenant of grace, whereby He saves them almost in spite of their disobedience. And this is the same new covenant made with us. On one hand, repentance and obedience are required; but on another hand, salvation under the new covenant is by grace alone. And I see no reconciliation between these two poles, at least not by any intellectual process or clever feat of exegesis. This is the mystery of grace and salvation which will have its final revelation at the day of judgment. Note that dwelling securely without fear is the situation developed in Ez. 38:8,11,14; the invasion led by the man Gog will happen after Israel have returned to the covenant. Any signs of an imminent invasion by a figure apparently answering to Gog must therefore be tempered by a recognition that such an invasion will happen after God's intervention in regathering His people and welcoming them into the new covenant blessings- a situation not currently seen in the land of Israel.


Ezekiel 34:29 I will raise up to them a plantation for renown, and they shall be no more consumed with famine in the land, neither bear the shame of the nations any more- Shame for sin is a major theme with Ezekiel. The days of shame would come to an end (Ez. 16:54; 34:29; 36:15; 39:26)- if Jerusalem accepted shame for her sins. But Ez. 44:13 says that the sins of the Jerusalem priesthood were such that in the restored temple, they would bear their shame in that they would never again minister in it. Likewise the Jewish priesthood who persecuted Jeremiah at this time were to bear a shame that would last for ever (Jer. 20:11). And yet the hope of Israel was that they would eternally be unashamed, world without end (Is. 45:17). The resolution of this may be in God's willingness to count them totally righteous by grace, upon their repentance. And Ezra "blushed" [s.w. "ashamed"] because of Israel's sins (Ezra 9:6), and Jeremiah at this time cast himself down in shame because of them (Jer. 3:25). This representative intercession for Judah had some effect. Just as the Lord Jesus bore the shame of Israel and all sinners on the cross (Is. 50:6), and yet because of that He would not be ashamed eternally (Is. 50:7). He was to become representative of the repentant Israel of God; for the same words are used of how they too would have unashamed faces eternally (Is. 54:4). But the Jerusalem priesthood refused to take shame, they were unashamed of their whoredoms (Jer. 3:3; 8:12). Ezekiel's appeal in Ez. 16 was so that they would recognize their sins, and be ashamed (Ez. 16:2). There was time for them to do so right up until they were led captive, in the final attempt to make them realize their shame. For when they went into captivity, then God intended that they would be "ashamed" (Jer. 22:22). The final vision of Ezekiel, of the potential that was possible in a restored Zion, was in order to make the exiles ashamed of their sins when they realized the possibilities they had wasted and yet which were still possible by grace (Ez. 43:10,11). But they didn't respond to that vision, they refused to build and operate such a temple system; because they refused to be ashamed in exile, although it was God's intention that they should be. And so it is for us as a new Israel to be ashamed for our sins, and identify with the Messiah figure who would bear Israel's shame and thereby emerge eternally unashamed.


Ezekiel 34:30 They shall know that I, Yahweh their God, am with them; and that they, the house of Israel, are My people, says the Lord Yahweh- Having God as their God was a repetition of the covenant promise to Abraham: "I will be their God". The new covenant deal with Judah was to be based upon the promises to Abraham. The "they" refers to the nations of :30 who had abused Israel; they were to perceive that amazingly, this sinful people were truly the people of Yahweh. His grace to them would be understood and noticed, and would serve to convert the nations.


Ezekiel 34:31 You My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, says the Lord Yahweh- God didn't want Judah to miss the wonder of it all; they really were men, but they were His sheep. His being their God parallels His promise to be their shepherd; He was more than a shepherd to them, but their God. They would be released from prison in Babylon to free pastures (Is. 49:9 s.w.). The tragedy was that this continual statement of such amazing love and care was disregarded by them.