Reader: “You shepherds”
Response: “hear the word of the Lord.”
Scripture: Ezekiel 34:1-16
Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.”
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.”
The Good Shepherd
“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
It is quite familiar to most of us that Jesus often likened people to sheep. Not only did Jesus use that comparison, it appears throughout the First Testament as well. In this passage, Ezekiel is reprimanding Israel’s kings for leading the people astray. His words are that God will hold those in authority accountable for the way they lead the people, both then and now. The kings served themselves rather than the people they were to lead. (Sound familiar?) In the Lord’s words, I will take them out of power. That is the first judgment in this pericope.
A word about why shepherds and sheep might be used as a metaphor in Scripture. As a farm boy who had sheep growing up, here are a few observations that may help explain the why. Sheep are dumb. (Ouch!) We had a sheep die with its head stuck in a fence because it didn’t have the sense to back up! Sheep are very fearful. Sheep are very stubborn. Sheep are very near-sighted so vision is a problem. Sheep are defenseless. Sheep are followers. (Illustration from the farm. The flock was coming out of a pasture. One of the first ones jumped over a puddle of water. Those that followed also jumped―over nothing, since they were jumping where there was no puddle!) Sheep’s hearing is EXCELLENT! The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. My dad could call the sheep, my brother-in-law couldn’t, they didn’t know his voice.
Finally, the last portion of this reading centers on the Lord taking things into his own hands and providing a true shepherd who will care for his sheep. Note how much similarity there is in this description to Psalm 23 written roughly 400 years earlier. God’s shepherd will search out the lost sheep. He will feed them and they will dwell in peace. He will bandage the wounded and strengthen the weak. He will destroy the fat and powerful, he will bring justice. He will separate the sheep from the goats. Ezekiel is writing of a future shepherd from the lineage of King David! (Ez.34:23) Who might that be? We’ll see tomorrow! In the meantime, sheep, listen for the Shepherd’s voice today.
Music: “Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy” Shane & Shane
O Shepherd of the sheep, who didst promise to carry lambs in Thine arms, and to lead us by the still waters, help us to know the peace which passeth understanding. Give us to drink that heavenly draught which is life, the calm patience which is content to bear what God giveth. Have mercy upon us, and hear our prayers. Lead us gently when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Guide us, till at last, in the assembly of Thy saints, we may find rest forevermore. Amen.
―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.143