Text: Ezekiel 34-36
Chapter 34 – God says through Ezekiel that He will hold the “shepherds of Israel” accountable for their treatment of His flock. Instead of strengthening the sheep, caring for them, binding up the injured and searching and bringing back the lost strays, Israel’s shepherds are using the sheep for their own comfort and gain: eating the curds, wearing the wool, killing for the meat. Therefore, God says He, Himself will be the Shepherd of Israel, acting with justice, bringing back together the scattered flock, tending them in good and rich pasture, binding up the injured and strengthening the weak sheep. God says he will judge the fat sheep that butt the other weaker sheep around, preventing them from having good pasture and clear water. As Shepherd, God will also protect His sheep from wild animals (nations that would plunder Israel).
Chapter 35 – Ezekiel prophesies judgment on Edom because of their hostility towards Israel, because they tried to steal the nation that belonged to God.
Chapter 36 – The Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy His jealous wrath over the nations around Israel and says He will again favour Israel: His people will be plowed and then sown. God will rebuild and restore Israel for His name’s sake, so that the nations see His holiness and know He is Lord.
Let’s park in Chapter 34 for a bit. Here we catch a glimpse of God’s heart for good leaders over his people, Israel. The Levites, priests and the prophets of Ezekiel’s day were to carry the roles of facilitating the covenant and calling God’s chosen people back to Him when they strayed. Instead of this, these leaders in Israel were using their roles for selfish gain. Ezekiel’s words are a metaphor – that instead of tending a flock and nurturing its well-being, the leaders are just killing the sheep, eating them and using the sheep for their own pleasure and comfort. The result is that the sheep are injured, wandering, weak and scattered about. This is a picture of how the common people of Israel were living. Without guidance and leadership that kept them faithful to the covenant, they were living unfaithful to God and as a result, they could not prosper. Idolatry is rampant, famine is prevailing, the city of Jerusalem, long besieged is falling…there is extreme hunger, agony, despair. These sheep are in desperate need of good shepherding.
When Jesus walked the earth, the remnant people of Israel, back in their land, but oppressed by Rome, were still awaiting their promised Saviour. We are told in the gospels of Matthew (9:36) and Mark (6:34), that Jesus had compassion on the people because he saw that they were in the same state: “like sheep without a shepherd”. It was for this reason that he taught the people and miraculously provided food for them. It’s also why he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38)
We clearly see the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy in chapter 34 in the life of Jesus. In John’s gospel (Ch 10), Jesus repeated says, “I am the good shepherd” and describes his role as laying down his life for the sheep. What a contrast to the shepherds of Ezekiel’s day!
Just as sheep are not able to thrive without good shepherding, so are we humans in need of guidance and protection as we commit our lives to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Through His Holy Spirit, we are empowered to know and do God’s will. Jesus also gifts certain people with the ability to “shepherd” his people. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Jesus did not want Lone Ranger followers. Just as Jesus is the Good Shepherd, uniting his people in a flock, so he calls and equips his followers to function in the safety and provision of groups led by his gifted shepherds. Today, we call these groups “churches” and we know it is Jesus’ will that we pray for more people to submit their lives to His service so that humanity can be shepherded into the abundant and eternal life that Jesus wants for them.
To Think About: Have you ever considered the necessity of “church” as a gift from God to keep His people protected and provided for? What kind of sheep are you? Fat and butting others around? Weak and in need of care? Straying and in need of being found? Close to the Good Shepherd and doing well?
Prayer: Thank you Lord for being the Good Shepherd and leading me and protecting me according to your kindness and goodness. Help me to trust and submit to you and those who wear your shepherding mantel in my life. Amen.
Song: Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.