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A Prophecy against the Shepherds
We have a pleasant task before us. We have been asked to present Christ as the Good and Great and Chief Shepherd of the sheep, as over against the false shepherds.
1. Christ the Shepherd. This is the message of Psalms 23:1-6 . With it we are familiar: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." How delightfully the Psalm opens. Thank God that this is a personal matter. Each of us can say, my Shepherd.
Next we have some blessed conclusions:
(1) "I shall not want." How can we want with such a Shepherd to lead us?
(2) "He maketh me to lie down." Here is perfect rest, in the place of plenty; for we lie down in green pastures food everywhere.
(3) "He leadeth me beside the still waters." He giveth rest and quietness. "Come unto Me, * * and I will give you rest."
(4) "He restoreth my soul." Here is the story of restoration when sick, or wounded by the way.
(5) "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness." How precious are these words. No ways of wickedness are His; no paths of sinful pleasures.
(6) "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." Sometimes, even the paths of righteousness may lead through sorrows and sighings. He, Himself, had His Via Dolorosa, and so may we. However, we need fear no evil, for He is with us.
(7) "Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." Here is the needed supply of aid and assistance. We are not journeying unpanoplied for the way.
(8) "Thou preparest a table before me." He gives us more than green pastures He also furnishes us with a table of good things, and does it in the presence of our enemies. The foe cannot prevail against us, for in their very presence we sit down to eat.
(9) "Thou anointest my head with oil." Here the gift of the Spirit is emphasized. He would not have us to travel alone. He sends the Paraclete to walk at our side. This Paraclete gives us His love, joy, and peace.
(10) "My cup runneth over." Now we have the suggestion of those extra things, the blessings we cannot retain. The excesses of grace, the grace more abundant; the exceeding abundantly more than we can ask or think.
(11) "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me." In these words we discover the delightful shepherd dogs which bring up the rear. With Christ the Shepherd going before, with the Holy Spirit going by our side, and with the faithful dog's at the rear, we are well protected for our journey. Best of all, these dogs are with us always, "all the days of our life." They never leave us nor forsake us.
(12) "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." This brings us to the great climax the Heavenly Home, with the many mansions all prepared for habitation.
2. Christ the Good Shepherd. This is found in John 10:1-42 . He is the Good Shepherd, because He giveth His life for the sheep. It is for this cause that the Father loves Him with a new love; and for this cause we also love Him.
3. Christ the Great Shepherd. He is our great Shepherd because he brings us up through the valley of the shadow of death in the resurrection glory of His risen life. Even death cannot prevail over His own.
4. Christ the Chief Shepherd. This expression carries us past the resurrection of our bodies, and up into the air when He comes again for His sheep.
Such is the Scriptural story of the "Lord our Shepherd" epitomized. We praise God for such a Shepherd, and we praise Him that we are among the sheep of His pasture.
I. WOE TO THE SHEPHERDS OF ISRAEL (Ezekiel 34:2 )
1. The duties of shepherdhood. The shepherd is given charge of the sheep that he may feed the flock. This is the command of the Lord in Peter's Epistle. "Feed the flock of God which is among you."
When the Lord Jesus Christ, that Good Shepherd, was among men, He went about doing good and healing all who were sick, etc. He lived for the good of others sought out their needs, and supplied them.
2. The shepherds of Israel fed themselves. Here is God's charge against them in our key verse. "Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?"
Now we can comprehend the words in the Epistle of Peter, "Feed the flock of God * * taking the oversight thereof * * not for filthy lucre."
The shepherd's question should never be, What can we get? but, What can we give? The true shepherd is not an hireling, serving at so much per day; he is the lover of his sheep.
Isaiah gives a sad and pathetic picture of the shepherd dogs, who are supposed to watch the sheep with sleepless eyes. He says in the Spirit, "His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, * * sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter."
God pity the shepherds who are always saying, "Come ye * * I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant."
II. A SAD CONTRAST (Ezekiel 34:3-4 )
1. The first statement. "Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock."
We look deep into our own heart. Have we ever been such an one as is herein set forth? Have we done as these shepherds of Israel did?
May God help us to remember the words spoken of the Spirit in Malachi: "Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on Mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of Hosts."
2. The second statement. "The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost."
Such charges against the shepherds of Israel are also sadly true of many church shepherds at home and abroad.
The saints at home give their money, oftentimes money of real sacrifice, to send forth the shepherds; and then the shepherds pamper their flesh, and fail to do half the work, or even a third of the work, for their flock that the ones who support them do for their earthly masters.
God pity the shepherds who are guilty of such neglect.
III. THE SHEPHERDS RULING BY FORCE (Ezekiel 34:4 , l.c.)
1. Sheep should be called by love. Christ said, "My sheep hear My voice, and * * they follow Me," and "a stranger will they not follow." He also said, "I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep."
The picture of the Lord Jesus as a Shepherd is that of Him holding the lambs in His bosom. He goes after the sheep which is lost, and bringeth it back upon His shoulders. In the first picture we have the story of His arms, the place of His love; in the second, of His shoulders, the place of His strength.
2. The shepherds of Israel were different. Here is our Scripture: "But with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them."
When the Lord spoke of the Scribes and Pharisees of His day, He said, "They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."
In First Peter we read, "Feed the flock * * not by constraint * * neither as being lords over. God's heritage."
Some delight to have authority invested in them, and they like to exert that authority arbitrarily. They seem to assume some headship and rulership which God never gave them.
How different was the spirit of the Apostle Paul. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he said: "My brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown." When he wrote to the Thessalonians, he said: "We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." That is the true attitude of a shepherd toward his sheep.
God grant that every one of us may forever cease to exert the spirit of lordship which Christ so thoroughly condemns. We have but one Master, and He tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
IV. THE RESULTS OF HIRELING SHEPHERDS (Ezekiel 34:5-6 )
1. Christ held the shepherds responsible for the scattering of His sheep. We see Israel today scattered among the nations as corn is scattered in a sieve, all because there was no shepherd to love them, to care for them, and to lead them in the way.
God always holds the shepherd responsible for the flock. Take the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, and in each instance God addresses the angel of the Church. The angels are His messengers, commonly known as pastors. We are looking at them today under the name of shepherds.
To each of the seven Churches the cursings and the blessings against the Church are addressed to the messenger of the Church, because the messenger is responsible before God for his members.
If a church is worldly the shepherd is to blame for it all. One cannot shift his responsibility. The truth is that the average pastor has but little concern as to his flock.
2. The sheep became meat to all the beasts of the field. This is a terrific charge. The shepherds were so interested in themselves, in eating the fat, and clothing themselves with the wool, that they allowed the sheep to be scattered. When they were scattered from the fold, the wild beasts devoured them. As we see it, the laxity of the pulpit in putting up bars to safeguard the sheep and to keep them within the fold, has allowed them to become the prey of many and varied beasts which lie in wait to destroy. Satan himself is a lion going about.
3. Being scattered there were none to search for them or to seek after them. Preachers, deacons, and all the rest of them Sunday School superintendents, and Sunday School teachers, for the most part let the scattering sheep go on their way unsought for.
"Have you sought for the sheep that wandered
Far away on the dark mountains cold?
Have you gone like the tender Shepherd
And brought them again to the fold?"
V. GOD SPEAKS PLAIN WORDS TO UNFAITHFUL SHEPHERDS (Ezekiel 34:7-10 )
1. A call to hear. "Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the Word of the Lord." The difficulty lies in the fact that many of the idle shepherds do not care for the Word of the Lord. Their ears are closed to everything which He has to tell them.
We remember reading of when Micaiah spake unto Ahab and Jehoshaphat warning them of God's judgment, if they went forth to battle; then Zedekiah came near and smote Micaiah upon the cheek, and said: Which way went the Spirit of the Lord from me to speak unto thee?" Zedekiah utterly refused to listen to the voice of God.
Thus God said: "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because My flock became a prey, and My flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did My shepherds search for My flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not My flock; therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the Word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds."
2. God holds the shepherds responsible for the sheep. When the shepherds refused the voice of God, and they fed not the flock, neither searched them out, then God said: "I will require My flock at their hand * *, neither shall the shepherds feed themselves anymore; for I will deliver My flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them."
This is not the only place in the Bible that God takes His stand against the false shepherds. Listen to the word in Jeremiah 23:1-40 : "I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness."
God goes on to say: "Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord." These prophets were telling the people that they should have peace, and that no evil should come upon them. They were speaking, however, and the Lord had not sent them.
Let me quote Jeremiah 23:21 : "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied."
We fear that there are many false shepherds and false prophets among us today, and God is still speaking against those who are prophesying dreams from their own heads, and are not preaching the preaching which He bids them.
VI. CHRIST HIMSELF WILL BECOME SHEPHERD TO HIS SHEEP (Ezekiel 34:11-15 )
1. The Lord says: "I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out." We now have in prospect the day of Israel's deliverance. The false shepherds have failed Him. He Himself will go forth in that day, in the day of His Return, and will "deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day."
Where are the priests of Israel today? They are standing still in their synagogues, and reading from the Word of God, but they are speaking their own thoughts. They have no light in them. They have no message of deliverance. It is indeed a cloudy and a dark day. Even now, methinks, we can hear the Lord, as He says: "I will seek out My sheep."
2. The Lord says: "I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the country." What a wonderful day it will be when the Lord Jesus sets Himself, the second time, to bring the Children of Israel to their own land, that He may feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country!
In that day, it will no longer be said: "The Lord that brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt," but "The Lord that brought them out from all nations whither they have gone."
3. The Lord says: "I will feed them in a good pasture." This is the time when Psalms 23:1-6 will be fulfilled. The Lord will indeed cause them to lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. He says: "I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God." "I will feed My flock."
VII. A WONDERFUL FUTURE FOR THE FLOCK (Ezekiel 34:22-31 )
There are so many wonderful things in the final verses of our study that we will have to pick out only a few of the statements.
1. David shall shepherd the sheep (Ezekiel 34:23-24 ). There are some who may teach that the David here refers to Christ, and it may. But for our part we believe that David, himself, will reign with Christ as a Prince over Israel. Jesus Christ Himself will be King of kings and Lord of lords; but David will be the Lord's prince and Israel's shepherd.
How fitting for the one who wrote, "The Lord is my Shepherd" to be, himself, a shepherd. How fitting that he who once tended the sheep of his father Jesse, shall tend the greater flock of the Lord.
2. The Lord will make a covenant of peace. That covenant will mean that the evil beasts which have devoured Israel in the past shall cease out of the land; and that His people will dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. In that day the places round about His Hill will be a blessing. The tree will yield her fruit, and the earth her increase.
3. Israel will know the Lord. She who has rejected Him through the centuries will know Him when He shall have broken the bands of her yoke and delivered the people out of the hand of those that rule them. In that day, Israel shall no longer be a prey to the nations but they shall dwell safely and none shall make them afraid. They shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the nations any more.
The last two verses of Ezekiel 34:1-31 give a beautiful closing: "Thus shall they know that I the Lord their God am with them, and that they, even the House of Israel, are My people, said the Lord God. And ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God."
We need to keep our lives centric in Christ, the Good, the Great, the Chief Shepherd. Then shall we as undershepherds prove worthy of His Name and of His cause, which we represent.
Most people go forward in life, but they do not go upward. Life with most is horizontal. There is plenty of ambition, but little aspiration; plenty of "go." but it is rarely a going upon the knees. "Forward on your knees," is a phrase which rarely enters into the thoughts of the multitude. And yet it is life lived in the spirit of prayer that is moving vertically and going up in its movement.
Men do not care for it to be thought that they are praying men. They have a hatred of being labeled singular or eccentric. But what is the ground of such fear? Do you know what "eccentric" means? The dictionary says: "Not having the same center as another." That is all. But that is everything. The Christian man moves with a motion which is not from the man himself. And if a man moves at the impulse of Christ, it is clear that there can be nothing fixed and stereotyped in such a life.
You cannot tell what Christ will do next with any man. And the church would be the wonder of the world were it Spirit-filled. The world would be all agog for our next effort, our next work. Christ in a man always makes a man different in some way from other men. It is bound to be so; it is the introduction into this world of the life of another and sweeter world.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Ezekiel 34". "Living Water". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany