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2. False and true shepherds ch. 34
Previously the Lord had said that the Israelites would not occupy the Promised Land because they had disobeyed the Mosaic Covenant. This disobedience was clear from the behavior of the people still in the land (Ezekiel 33:25-26) and the Jews in exile (Ezekiel 33:31-32). In this message He laid the burden of responsibility for the Israelites’ failure at the feet of their leaders (cf. Ezekiel 13:1 to Ezekiel 14:11; Ezekiel 22).
The Lord gave Ezekiel a message for the shepherds (leaders, rulers, cf. Psalms 23) of Israel. Ancient Near Easterners often referred to kings and leaders as "shepherds" (e.g. Numbers 27:17; 2 Samuel 5:2; 1 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 44:28; Jeremiah 3:15; Jeremiah 10:21; Jeremiah 23:1-6; Jeremiah 25:34-38; Micah 5:4-5; Zechariah 11:4-17). Prophets and priests were also called "shepherds," but here kings are also in view. God pronounced judgment on them for three reasons. First, they fed themselves rather than the people; they were selfish. They were more interested in providing for themselves than for the people whom God had placed in their care (cf. John 10:11-13; John 21:15-17). They exploited their followers.
A review of the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel’s rulers reveals a consistent string of corrupt leaders, and Ezekiel pointed out earlier that Judah was worse than her sister Israel (ch. 23).
The accusation against Israel’s unfaithful rulers 34:1-6
Specifically, these unfaithful shepherds ate the best parts of the sacrifices rather than offering them to God (cf. 1 Samuel 2:12-17). They used the wool of sheep to make clothing for themselves rather than offering these animals as sacrifices to God.
Second, rather than feeding God’s sheep they slaughtered them; they were oppressive. They had not restored those that needed restoring nor sought those that had wandered away and needed finding. They had dominated God’s flock rather than providing loving, self-sacrificial leadership. The primary responsibility of a leader is to care for the needs of those he leads, even if this requires sacrificing his own desires.
Third, the rulers allowed the people to scatter over the earth instead of keeping them safely together; they were negligent. The Israelites scattered because they lacked leadership and became prey for the enemies of God’s flock. They wandered everywhere, but there was no one to seek them out (cf. Matthew 9:36; John 10:12-13).
These false shepherds needed to listen to God’s word to them because they had let the Israelites become prey for their enemies, and rather than seeking the lost they had fed themselves.
The verdict concerning the leadership of Israel 34:7-10
The Lord repeated His accusation against Israel’s leaders (Ezekiel 34:7-8) and then announced what He planned to do about the situation (Ezekiel 34:9-31).
The Lord swore to oppose these shepherds, to hold them accountable for His sheep, to stop them from leading them further, and to rescue His sheep from their influence (cf. Matthew 20:25-28).
The Lord further promised to search for His wandering sheep Himself, to care for them, and to deliver them from the places where they had scattered in the gloomy days of their national distress (cf. Jeremiah 30:17-22; Luke 15:4-7). There are several references to God as Israel’s Shepherd in the Old Testament (e.g. Ezekiel 34:6; Genesis 49:24; Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; cf. John 10:2-3; John 10:14-16).
The Lord’s intervention for Israel 34:11-24
"If any passage was at the heart of Ezekiel’s contribution to the ongoing promise [to Israel], it was Ezekiel 34:11-31 . . ." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 240.]
He would lead them out from among the peoples where they had gone and bring them back to their own land (cf. Ezekiel 34:4-6). He would nourish them on the mountains, beside the streams, and in the best (inhabited) places of the land (cf. Psalms 23:1; John 4; John 6:31-35). They would enjoy good pasture and would experience rest in good grazing ground, the richest pasture in the land.
"If the scattering were literal, and no one is foolhardy as to deny this, then the regathering must be equally so." [Note: Feinberg, p. 197.]
God Himself would feed His flock and lead the sheep to rest (cf. Ezekiel 34:3). He would seek the lost, return the scattered, heal the broken, and strengthen the sick (cf. Ezekiel 34:4; Ezekiel 34:6; Isaiah 61:1-2; Micah 2:12; Micah 4:6-8; Luke 4:16-21). He would also destroy the fat, strong shepherds who had failed Him by feeding these leaders judgment.
The Lord announced too that He would distinguish among the members of His flock, judging them individually (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). Here the Lord viewed the exilic leaders as sheep among His sheep rather than as shepherds. They were, after all, also His sheep. Some of these leaders had not only eaten good pasture and drunk clear water but had made it impossible for the other sheep to eat good food and drink good water. The ordinary sheep had to get by with trampled grass and muddy water.
God would judge between the fat and the lean sheep, between those who fed themselves and kept others from eating and those who had to exist on poor food and drink.
Because some of God’s sheep suffered at the hands of their fellow sheep who pushed and shoved them around, the Lord would deliver even the weak, but He would distinguish the two types of His sheep. He would deliver His people from poor leaders as well as predatory nations.
The Lord promised to set over His sheep one shepherd, His servant David, who would personally feed them (cf. John 10:9; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Yahweh would be their God, and His servant David would be prince (Heb. nasi’, namely, king) among them. This the Lord assuredly promised (cf. Ezekiel 37:22-26). As mentioned before, Ezekiel customarily used nasi’ in place of melek, the normal Hebrew word for "king," to stress the fact that someone had put the nasi’ on his throne.
"The term ’prince’ is probably used here to facilitate a contrast with the ’princes’ (i.e., kings) of the Davidic dynasty who are denounced in earlier oracles (see Ezekiel 7:27; Ezekiel 12:10; Ezekiel 19:1; Ezekiel 21:25; Ezekiel 22:6; Ezekiel 22:25)." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 278.]
In view of the promises that God Himself would shepherd His sheep and the promises that His servant David would shepherd them, it seems clear that a god-man is in view (cf. Ezekiel 37:24-25; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5; Micah 5:2; John 10:30; 1 Timothy 2:5). Twenty out of Ezekiel’s 38 usages of nasi’ refer to the coming Messiah. [Note: Kaiser, p. 241, ] Did God mean that He would raise David from the dead to lead the Israelites again? No, He probably meant that someone from David’s descendants would lead them (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 55:3-4; Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5). However a few interpreters have concluded that resurrected King David is in view here. [Note: E.g., Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1295.] David was the model shepherd of sheep and the model king of Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14).
". . . David was the man whom God chose and in whom He delighted; the king who triumphed against all his foes and who extended his kingdom in all directions; the man of Judah under whose genius the whole nation was for a time united." [Note: Taylor, p. 223.]
Though the identity of this "David" may have been obscure to Ezekiel’s audience, history demonstrated that it was one of David’s descendants who proved to be the Good Shepherd, even Jesus Christ (John 10:11; John 10:14).
"In a sense Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the Son of David, is in view here, but the eschatological orientation of the whole passage removes the setting from the period of His earthly ministry in the first century to that of His second advent when He will come to sit on the throne of David." [Note: Merrill, p. 382. Cf. Wiersbe, p. 225.]
The Lord also promised to make a covenant of peace (i.e., resulting in peace) with Israel (cf. Ezekiel 16:60; Ezekiel 37:26-28; Ezekiel 38:11-13; Ezekiel 39:25-29; Isaiah 54:10). This is probably a reference to the New Covenant that God promised to make with Israel in the future (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Some commentators believed that this covenant is not the same as the New Covenant. [Note: E.g., Block, The Book . . . 48, p. 301; and Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 914.] Alexander believed that the Jews would enter into the covenant of peace when Israel accepts the New Covenant. [Note: Ibid.] My view, and that of others, is that the New Covenant was inaugurated at the Cross and now governs all believers. When Israel repents as a nation, she will enter into the benefits of this covenant that God has specified for Israel, including dwelling in peace in her land. [Note: Cf. Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 688.]
"The word peace [Heb. shalom] is used to describe the harmony that exists when covenant obligations are being fulfilled and the relationship is sound. It is not a negative concept, implying absence of conflict or worry or noise, as we use it, but a thoroughly positive state in which all is functioning well." [Note: Taylor, p. 224.]
The provisions of this covenant that Ezekiel mentioned here included, first, removing threats to the Israelites’ safety from the land so they could even live at peace in its formerly dangerous parts, for example, the wilderness and woods (cf. John 10:27-29).
The covenant of peace 34:25-31
"The themes of regathering as sheep and of covenant merge in Ezekiel 34:25-31." [Note: Merrill, p. 377.]
Second, God would make His people and the places around His hill (Mount Zion, Jerusalem) a blessing to others (Genesis 12:3). God’s seasonal blessings on Israel, both people and land, would be like the rain, and He would send His blessings down in showers (cf. Acts 3:19-20). The gospel song "There Shall Be Showers of Blessing" comes from this expression. Fruit trees would bear abundantly, and fruits and vegetables and flowers would proliferate in the land (cf. Hosea 2:22; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-14; Zechariah 8:12). Even the plants would be secure.
Third, when God broke the yoke that held His people in captivity and freed them from their oppressors they would know that He is Yahweh (Ezekiel 34:27 b).
Fourth, the Israelites would live in complete security. They would no longer be a prey to the nations or to the beasts of the earth that previously devoured them (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9). The beasts may be a figure for the Gentile nations that sought to devour Israel. The Israelites would live without fear of molestation. God would provide for them a place where they could put down roots, a place that would become famous. Famines and the insults of the other nations would cease forever. There are 17 "I wills" in Ezekiel 34:11-29 indicating Yahweh’s commitment to be involved in the lives and destinies of His people personally.
Fifth, Yahweh would be their God and they would be His special people in the fullest sense that the nation had ever experienced (cf. Jeremiah 31:33; Romans 11:25-27). Everyone would know that He was with them and that they were His Chosen People.
"This covenant anticipates events and promises never realized in the first return of Israel from captivity. When the people came back to the land after 535 B.C., they were under the control of every world-dominating power including Medo-Persia, Greece, and finally Rome until A.D. 70 when the nation was destroyed by Rome." [Note: Cooper, p. 304.]
Millennial conditions are in view.
The sheep in view, God clarified, were people, not real sheep. He was describing His relationship to them as people in the figure of a shepherd and sheep.
There are basically three views concerning the meaning of literal interpretation that may be helpful to clarify as we proceed in the eschatological portions of Ezekiel (chs. 34-48). First, some who claim to interpret the text literally do so but deny the existence of many figures of speech. In Ezekiel 34, for example, they might not recognize "shepherd" as a figure of speech but might conclude that God was speaking of the literal shepherds of literal sheep in Israel. Obviously there are few who deny all figures of speech, but interpreters of this persuasion do not recognize as figures of speech many that other interpreters do. This is "wooden literalism," "letterism," or "literalistic" interpretation that seeks "a straightforward reading of the text." Most interpreters of this type are premillennial in their understanding of the future.
A second group of interpreters who consider themselves literal try to recognize figures of speech where they occur in the text, the understanding of the original readers, historical perspective, contextual clues, the progress of revelation, the analogy of faith, etc. They seek to discover what the original readers understood when they read the text as a basis for understanding how we should understand it. The interpretations that I have advocated above in my comments on Ezekiel 34 and elsewhere in these notes illustrate this approach. Many interpreters in this group like to use the term "normal" to describe their hermeneutics (principles of interpretation). Most of these interpreters are also premillennial.
A third group interprets most portions of the text literally but believes prophetic material is mainly symbolic and figurative, not to be interpreted in a normal, straightforward manner. They depend heavily on the New Testament to understand the meaning of the Old Testament and read New Testament revelation back into the Old Testament as the Old Testament meaning. They understand, for example, some of the references to God blessing Israel in the future in Ezekiel 34 as fulfilled in His blessing the church. They do not look for an eschatological fulfillment of these promises in the Jews. For example, the promises of God regathering Israel to her land are not taken to mean that God will eventually re-gather the Jews to the Promised Land. Rather He will gather His people (i.e., all the redeemed) to heaven, the land that He has prepared for us. Thus they "spiritualize" the Old Testament prophecies while taking the rest of the Old Testament more or less literally. Most interpreters of this type end up with an amillennial or postmillennial understanding of the future.
Most interpreters who hold the first and third hermeneutical positions also claim to hold the second one and sometimes argue that those who hold the other positions do not.
"Various facets of chapters 33-48 may be used as analogies, illustrations, and object lessons in the NT; but such does not demand that the NT is necessarily giving a ’fulfillment’ of these chapters." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 906. His entire explanation of this subject, on pages 905-8, is well worth reading.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 34". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
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