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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 34

Ezekiel 34. The prophet now comes to the chief calling which he had to fulfil in the present circumstances: his discourse assumes a consolatory character. As he was before only a threatener, so he is now only a promiser. Those who failed to infer the restoration from former prophecies of threatening import, that must always return under similar circumstances, might easily fall into grave misconceptions. But the prophet was not bound to obviate these misconceptions by cautionary hints, and thereby make his discourse less palatable to troubled souls by presenting a handle for their anxiety. The misconceptions of those whose heart is not right with God are not to be removed—they form a part of their judgment: this is one of the many stones cast in their way to cause them to stumble. The trouble which the prophet here encounters arises from the loss of civil government. The seeming loss, he contends, is a real gain, as the present government was so bad ( Ezekiel 34:1-10); and then God makes ample amends for it when He Himself undertakes the pastoral care of the people ( Ezekiel 34:11-22), and in this pastoral care raises up David for their shepherd, under whose government the fulness of salvation will be imparted to them ( Ezekiel 34:23-31). If thus they need not look in despairing grief to the past, they must look in joyful hope to the future.

Verses 1-10

Ezekiel 34:1. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, the shepherds. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have fed themselves! shall not the shepherds feed the flock? 3. Ye eat the fat and clothe you with the wool, ye kill the fed: ye feed not the flock. 4. The weak ye strengthened not, nor healed the sick, nor bound up that which was broken, nor brought back that which was driven away, nor sought that which was lost; and with force ye ruled over them, and with rigour. 5. And they were scattered without a shepherd, and they became food to all the beasts of the field, and were scattered. 6. My flock wander on all the mountains, and on every high hill: and my flock was scattered on the whole face of the earth, and there is none to search and none to inquire. 7. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. 8. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, Because my flock is become a prey, and my flock is become food to every beast of the field without a shepherd, and my shepherds searched not after my flock, and the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock: 9. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; 10. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; and the shepherds shall no more feed themselves: and I will deliver my flock from their mouth, and they shall not be food for them.

What the prophet announces in Ezekiel 34:1-10 had already actually taken place. It is an explanation of the judgment in the form of an announcement of it. Yet it is not to be overlooked, that two of the dethroned kings, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, were still alive, and also many of the chiefs who had been formerly at the helm. In this respect the announcement actually extends into the future. It is certain that nothing can be said of a restoration, of a return to the former state, of which many then still dreamed; comp. ch. Ezekiel 33:21-29.

The shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34:2 are the kings; these, however, not as individuals, but as inclusive of the whole then ruling order. That the nobles partly were still worse than the kings, is shown by Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 38:5): “Behold, he is in your hand; for the king can do nothing against you,” That the shepherds are only the civil rulers, not including the priests and prophets, as many old expositors thought, appears from the fundamental passage, Jeremiah 23 ( Christol. ii. p. 447, comp. 423); and also from this, that in Ezekiel 34:23 the Messiah is opposed to them under the name of Shepherd and Prince; no less, moreover, from the whole description of their conduct, in which nothing at all is said of false doctrine, but only of that which comports with bad civil rulers—tyranny, violence, wrong. That in the New Testament what is here said of the bad shepherds is applied to the Pharisees (comp. especially John 10:8; John 10:10), affords the less warrant here to go beyond the civil rulers, because in these times the pharisaically disposed hierarchy also occupied the place of the domestic civil government. “The shepherds:” this is emphatically repeated, to indicate the contrast of the idea and the office to the reality. The high office of rulers of the people serves them ( Ezekiel 34:3) only as a means of satisfying their selfish desires. Instead of the fat, some, after the example of the LXX. and Jerome, wish to place the milk; appealing to this, that the eating of the fat presupposes the killing of the sheep, which is mentioned only in the third place. Only in the figurative sense of the sheep can a man eat the fat without killing them. The eating of the fat is, as the clothing with the wool, the draining of the subjects. Killing, the culminating act, denotes the murder of the subjects in order to seize on their goods. But milk does not suit, as it is a right of the shepherds to eat the milk of the flock ( 1 Corinthians 9:7). The eating of the fat follows also from the conclusion in Ezekiel 34:10, “I will deliver my flock from their mouth, and they shall not be food for them.” To the three sins of commission is opposed, in the words “Ye feed not the flock,” the one great sin of omission. “With rigour” ( Ezekiel 34:4) points to that which the Egyptians once did to the Israelites ( Exodus 1:13-14)—the native shepherds are no better than the heathen despots were in the olden time—and also to Leviticus 25:43, “Thou shalt not rule over him with rigour, but shalt fear thy God.” The first “and they were scattered “in Ezekiel 34:5 points to the internal dissolution of the people. In consequence of this, the neglected people unlearned the power of resisting the external foe. The beasts of the field are here, without doubt, the heathen nations, the wild stock. By being scattered, in the second place, the exile is meant; comp. Ezekiel 34:12-13.

Verses 11-22

In the place of those bad shepherds, whose removal is in truth a benefit, God Himself will in the future appear with His pastoral care. Ezekiel 34:11-22. For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, it is I; and I will search after my flock, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock, in the day that he is among his flock that is scattered; so will I seek out my flock, and deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the day of cloud and fog. 13. And I will bring them out of the peoples, and gather them from the lands, and bring them to their own land, and feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys, and in all the dwellings of the land. 14. I will feed them in good pasture, and on the mountains of Israel shall their walk be; there shall they lie in a good walk, and on a fat pasture shall they feed on the mountains of Israel. 15. I will feed my flock, and cause them to lie down, saith the Lord Jehovah. 16. I will seek the perishing, and bring back the scattered, and bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick: and the fat and the strong will I destroy; I will feed it with judgment. 17. And ye, my flock, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, the rams and the bucks. 18. Is it too little for you to feed on the good pasture, that ye tread down the residue of your pasture with your feet; and to drink the settled water, that ye foul the residue with your feet? 19. And my flock must feed on that which your feet have trodden, and drink what your feet have fouled. 20. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto them. Behold, it is I; and I will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. 21. Because ye push with side and with shoulder, and thrust with your horns the sickly, till ye have scattered them abroad. 22. And I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

“Behold, it is I” ( Ezekiel 34:11): this found its most glorious fulfilment in the appearance of Christ, as Ezekiel 34:23-24 expressly announce that God will execute His pastoral office specially by the Messiah. Yet even before the appearance of Christ the pastoral care of God was active in the restoration from the exile and the other gracious gifts and benefits, which, however, all point forward to the true fulfilment, and call forth the desire for it. The day of cloud and fog, in Ezekiel 34:12, is from Joel 2:2. Here, as there, this day denotes the dark, afflictive time of the people of God, the time of being visited by their foes—not the day of judgment on the heathen, with which Joel deals only in ch. Joel 3. The fat and the strong, in Ezekiel 34:16, are the new robber-knights, who will appear among the people when the old are set aside by the Chaldean catastrophe. Even among the people of God such pests spring forth; but they differ in this respect from the heathen, that against these pests, which have their root in Genesis 3, an internal reaction always arises, so that they cannot maintain a perpetual dominion. By the fat and the strong are designated here not all the mighty, but those whose essence is exhausted in possession and might. David designates himself, even on the throne, as wretched and poor. A rich man in Scripture is not one who has many goods, but whose heart is in this possession, so that it ceases to be for him something accidental; while a poor man is only one who knows and feels himself poor, who is so not merely externally, but also in spirit—in his consciousness. To feeding belongs also judgment on the part of the flock committing trespass: the tending must in this case be with a rod of iron ( Revelation 2:27). The care announced in the first part of the verse for the suffering part of the flock can only be realized by a powerful interference with those who commit trespass. The thought, here first coming out, of the reaction of God. against the return of the wicked state before the exile, is carried out further to the end of the section. In Ezekiel 34:17 the rams and bucks are in apposition with the sheep in the second place. God procures for the one part of the sheep, the sufferers, justice against the other part, the evil-doers. The rams and the bucks are identical with the fat and the strong in Ezekiel 34:16. The quality of the bucks, which comes here into account, is the pushing, and in general the violent dealing. The address in Ezekiel 34:18 is to the tyrants of the future. But what has been already seen in the tyrants who have retired, forms the ground of the picture. “Settled water” is water in which a settling has taken place, and the impurities have gone to the bottom. They themselves drink the pure water, and thereon wantonly stir up the impurities. “Till ye have scattered them abroad” ( Ezekiel 34:21): the condition of the people, disturbed by the bad internal administration, had at length brought on the exile; comp. Ezekiel 34:5. Similar relations will return in future; but God will check them powerfully. “I will judge between sheep and sheep” ( Ezekiel 34:22): the work begun in exile will be continued in the course of time, and find its completion at length in the judgments announced in Matthew 25. The connection with what follows shows that the chief fulfilment is here also to be sought in Christ, whose government and secret but powerful sway permits no tyranny or injustice to endure, and brings back the right and the normal into the place of the fallen state. A chief phase in the judgment between sheep and sheep was decision given by God in the conflict between the synagogue and the rising Christian church. But that this judgment between sheep and sheep pervades the whole history, that we have here to do with a true prophecy and not with a patriotic fancy, is shown by the comparison of the present Christian world with the heathen and Mohammedan powers, and also with the state of justice that appears in the Old Testament. We invariably see that, since the coming of Christ, a new judicial power is busy among the people of God, which quietly and noiselessly removes the abnormal,—a reforming power which the old covenant did not yet possess.

Verses 23-31

According to Ezekiel 34:23-31, the pastoral care of God is specially shown in this, that He raises up David as the shepherd of His people. The peace and happiness under his government are depicted in a series of figures that are mostly taken from the books of Moses, especially from Leviticus 26. [216]

[216] Comp. the copious treatment of this section, Christol. ii. p. 571.

Ezekiel 34:23-31. And I will raise up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. 24. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David prince among them: I the Lord have spoken it. 25. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and cause the evil beast to cease out of the land; and they shall sit safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. 26. And I will make them, and the environs of my hill, a blessing; and send down the rain in its season: there shall be showers of blessing. 27. And the tree of the field shall yield its fruit, and the land yield its increase; and they shall be safe in the land, and know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those whom they served. 28. And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, and the beast of the field shall not devour them: and they shall sit safely, and none shall make them afraid. 29. And I will raise up for them a plantation for a name, and they shall no more be swept away by famine, and no more take upon them the reproach of the heathen. 30. And they shall know that I the LORD their God am with them; and they are my people, the house of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah. 31. And ye are my flock, sheep of my pasture; ye are men: I am your God, saith the Lord Jehovah.

The unity of the shepherd in Ezekiel 34:23 can only refer, as the comparison of ch. Ezekiel 37:24 shows, to the separation of the kingdom caused by the revolt from the Davidic dynasty. As one God, so is there now again one king. With the unity is connected the glory of the king and his kingdom, as the decline was connected with the multiplicity of the shepherds. The words “one fold and one shepherd” in Isaiah 10:16 are an extension of this sentence. With the coming of that great Shepherd ceases not only the division of Israel, but also the separation between Israel and the heathen. The more explicit announcement in the earlier prophets—for ex. Isaiah 9 and Isaiah 11, and other passages of the same prophet—leaves no doubt that by David here is meant the true David, the Messiah, in whom the stem of David is to culminate. No one who was at home in the language of Scripture could think of a personal reappearance of David, any more than in Mal. 3:23 of a personal reappearance of Elias. The Messiah, the glorious offspring of David—this had long been in the times of the prophets a lesson of the catechism. It is also not a resurrection of David that is spoken of, but a sending of a David who has not yet been present. “I the Lord have spoken it” ( Ezekiel 34:24): this strikes down the doubt of the announcement that appears incredible under present circumstances. However deep was the present humiliation of the people and their kingdom, he who promises is the man to perform. “Is anything too. wonderful for the Lord?” The peace in Ezekiel 34:25 is the security against hostile powers. The “evil beasts,” according to Ezekiel 34:5 and Ezekiel 34:28 especially, appear in human form. Through Christ the people of God are predominant. The heathen world is forced from the dominant place which it had hitherto taken, and sinks to the servile. “Them and the environs of my hill” ( Ezekiel 34:26): Israel dwells spiritually on Zion ( Isaiah 10:24), which is the wellspring of blessing ( Ezekiel 17:23). This blessing is so mighty, that it extends even to the environs of the hill—the heathen joining themselves in the time of salvation to the old covenant people. Comp. Ezekiel 17:23, according to which all the fowls dwell under the tall cedar of the Davidic race, attaining to its glory in Christ; Ezekiel 16:61, according to which her sisters become daughters to Zion; and especially Ezekiel 47:8, according to which the waters flowing from the sanctuary heal the dead sea of the world. That the blessing overflows to the heathen, attests the superabundant fulness of it, and is therefore full of comfort even for Zion. The explanation, “they who dwell around my hill,” would, contrary to the view of Zion as the dwelling-place of Israel, which pervades the whole Old Testament, exclude them from Zion itself, change the temple merely into a dwelling place of God; whereas it appears throughout as the place where God dwells with His people, and even the tabernacle is called the tent of meeting. Moreover, the environs of Zion or Jerusalem are always in Ezekiel the heathen. The words, “And I will raise up for them a plantation for a name” ( Ezekiel 34:29), point to Genesis 2:8-9, “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and made to grow out of the ground every tree pleasant to behold and good to eat.” The reference to this passage appears more explicitly in ch. Ezekiel 36:35, “This desolate land is become like the garden of Eden.” On the other hand, ch. Ezekiel 36:29-30 shows that the renovation of the paradisaic plantation here announced consists in the distribution of rich harvest blessings. This serves them for a name, inasmuch as they are thereby represented as the people of the blessed of the Lord. Corn cannot be at once directly described as a plantation. It can be so called only as an antitype of the paradisaic plantation. The house of Israel in Ezekiel 29 has an emphatic meaning. It denotes the people of God and of covenant in a true and proper sense. Israel is the holy name of the head of the race. “Sheep of my pasture, ye are men” ( Ezekiel 34:31). What grace, when the God of heaven condescends to men, who are taken from the earth and return to it! comp. Psalms 8, Psalms 36:8.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 34". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-34.html.