Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 34

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3417. B.C. 587.

In this chapter the shepherds of Israel, that is, their rulers, both in church and state, are called to an account, as having been very much accessory to the sin and ruin of Israel, by their neglect of the duties of their station. We have here,

(1,) A high charge exhibited against them for their negligence, their unskilfulness, and unfaithfulness in the management of public affairs, Ezekiel 34:1-6 , Ezekiel 34:8 .

(2,) Their discharge from their trust, for their insufficiency and treachery, Ezekiel 34:7-10 .

(3,) A gracious promise that God would take care of his flock, though they did not, and that it should not always suffer as it had done, by their mal- administrations, Ezekiel 34:11-16 .

(4,) Another charge is exhibited against those of the flock that were fat and strong, for the injuries they did to those who were weak and feeble, Ezekiel 34:17-22 .

(5,) Another promise that God would, in the fulness of time, send the Messiah to be the great and good Shepherd of the sheep, who should redress all grievances, and set every thing to rights with the flock, Ezekiel 34:23-31 .

Verse 1

Ezekiel 34:1. The word of the Lord came unto me, saying It is probable that this prophecy immediately followed the preceding; and that at, or immediately after, the arrival of the news that Jerusalem was conquered, the prophet was commissioned to speak of the tyranny and carelessness of the governors and teachers, and to point out their negligence as a principal cause of the incredulity and wickedness of the people. Thus the transition appears to be natural, and the connection close, between this prophecy and the foregoing one, as also between the beginning of this prophecy and its conclusion. For considering that, in parts at least, the people suffered for the faults of the shepherds, mercy now urged the prophet to declare, from God, that he would judge between them, save the flock, and set up one shepherd over them, who should feed them, even his servant David.

Verse 2

Ezekiel 34:2. Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel The word shepherd, in the prophetical writings, comprehends both civil and ecclesiastical governors. See notes on Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 2:8. Other writers also use the same expression; princes being called shepherds of their people, as well as those who have the immediate care of their souls: see Psalms 78:71-72. Thus Homer calls Agamemnon, Ποιμεναλαων , the shepherd of the people. And as the threatenings here denounced extend to all sorts of governors, so the several sins of the princes, priests, and prophets are reproved, Ezekiel 22:25, &c. Wo to the shepherds of Israel that feed themselves That regard their own profit and advantage, not the good of the people committed to their charge. The beauty of the original, רעי אשׂר היו רעים אותם , may be expressed in Latin or Greek, though not in English: pastoribus qui pascunt semet ipsos: τοις ποιμεσιν οι ποιμαινουσιν σαυτους . Plato, in the first book of his Commonwealth, describing the office of a magistrate, saith, “He should look upon himself as sustaining the office of a shepherd, that makes it his chief business to take care of his flock; not as if he were going to a feast to fill himself and satiate his appetite, or to a market to make what gain he can to himself.” Eusebius, in his twelfth book De Preparatione Evangelica, chap. 44., hath transcribed the whole passage, as an exact parallel to this place of Ezekiel. See Lowth.

Verses 3-4

Ezekiel 34:3-4. Ye eat the fat Or, the milk, as the LXX. render it. The Hebrew words chalab, milk, and cheleb, fat, differ only in their points, so that the ancient versions take them promiscuously one for the other. These shepherds of the Lord’s flock, these civil and ecclesiastical rulers of the people, used their power over them, and exercised their offices, merely for their temporal advantage and emolument. “They exacted their tribute and taxes, their tithes and perquisites, with great earnestness; and they oppressed, and even destroyed the people, to enrich themselves: but they bestowed no pains to provide for the welfare of the state, or of the souls of those intrusted to them.” Scott. Ye kill them that are fed Ye take away the lives of the wealthy and substantial by unjust means, in order to enrich yourselves with their estates. But ye feed not the flock Ye take no care for their benefit, temporal or spiritual. Ye are so ignorant that ye know not how to feed them, and ye are so indolent that ye will not take any pains to do it, and ye are so treacherous and unfaithful that ye never desired or designed it. The diseased The weak and languishing; have ye not strengthened With your help, counsel, or countenance. Ye have not applied proper remedies to the wants and necessities of those committed to your charge. The magistrates have not taken care to relieve the needy and defend the oppressed. The priests and the prophets have not been diligent in giving the people proper instructions, in rectifying the mistakes of those that were in error, in warning the unruly, or comforting the disconsolate. Neither have ye bound up that which was broken Ye have not given relief to the afflicted and miserable: a metaphor taken from surgeons binding up wounds in order to cure them. Neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, &c. Or, which was gone astray, as the word נדחה is translated, Deuteronomy 22:1. Ye have not, by your instructions and exhortations, endeavoured to reduce those who had wandered from the way of truth, or to reclaim those who were ready to perish in their sins; but with force and cruelty have ye ruled them Have endeavoured to reduce and govern them by the rough methods of compulsion and cruelty, and not by the gentle way of reason and argument, longsuffering, meekness, and love; and your government over them has been exercised by tyranny and oppression, instead of justice, kindness, and beneficence.

Verses 5-6

Ezekiel 34:5-6. And they were scattered, &c. Driven into other parts of the land, or into other countries, by the severity, exactions, and oppressions of their rulers. Because there is no shepherd No one worthy of the name of a shepherd; none that cared for or properly watched over and fed the flock. And they became meat to all the beasts of the field They were made a prey to, and were spoiled by, their enemies, temporal and spiritual. My sheep wandered through all the mountains As silly sheep, when there is no one to look after them, wander from one mountain and hill to another; so my thoughtless and infatuated people, disregarded and neglected, or treated with cruelty by those that should have protected and guided them, have manifested their ignorance and folly in following various species of idolatry, and in forming to themselves religions after their own imaginations, full of superstition and impiety. And none did search or seek after them Their priests and princes were so far from calling them back from these wanderings, that they were the first to follow them; nay, and even to go before, and set them the example.

Verse 10

Ezekiel 34:10. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am against the shepherds They have made me their enemy by their negligence and abuse of their power, and I will appear and act as such. They have been enemies to my sheep, though pretending to be their shepherds; I will be an open enemy to them; and will require my flock at their hands I will require a severe account from their kings and princes, their priests and prophets, of the damage my people have sustained through their ill management; and I will deprive them of the honour, pre-eminence, and advantage of which they have made such an ill use.

Verses 11-16

Ezekiel 34:11-16 . Behold, I, even I, will search my sheep I myself will recall them from their wanderings into the right way; and will seek them out Hebrew, בקדתים , I will seek them early, or, seek them in the morning. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock With the greatest care and diligence; as he gathers them together, counts them, brings them to the fold, observes what they have suffered, and, if lame or torn, binds up and heals them, and provides pasture for them; so will I seek out my sheep, &c. Though magistrates and ministers fail in doing their part for the good of the church, yet God will not fail in doing his; he will take his flock into his own hands, rather than it should be deprived of any kindness he had designed for it. The under shepherds may prove careless, but the chief Shepherd neither slumbers nor sleeps. They may be false, but he abides faithful. And deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered Will bring them home from their several dispersions, whither they have been driven; in the cloudy and dark day Hebrew, ביום ענן וערפל , in the day of clouds and darkness; in the dark and dismal time of the destruction of their country. And will bring them out from the people This prophecy primarily respected their restoration from captivity in Babylon, and was in part at least fulfilled when so many thousands of them returned to their own land under the conduct of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and others. It seems, however, to look still further, even to the general restoration of the whole Jewish nation from their present wide dispersion over the whole world, which restoration most of the prophets foretel shall be effected in the latter days. But there is no need to confine this promise wholly to the Jews; when those, in any age or nation, that have gone astray from God into the paths of sin are brought back by repentance; when those that erred come to the acknowledgment of the truth; when God’s outcasts are gathered and restored, and religious assemblies that were dispersed are again collected and united upon the ceasing of persecution; and when the churches have rest and liberty, then this prediction has a true accomplishment. I will feed them in a good pasture I will supply all their wants, and make ample provision for the support both of their natural and spiritual life. Upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be

There shall they have fixed habitations upon their return, and there shall they rest in safety. There shall they lie in a good fold, &c. These expressions denote both plenty and security. But I will destroy the fat and the strong Those who oppress and tyrannise over the weak. I will feed them with judgment I will judge, chastise, and punish them.

Verses 17-19

Ezekiel 34:17 ; Ezekiel 34:19 . As for you, O my flock The prophet, having finished what he had to say to the shepherds, now delivers God’s message to the flock. God had before ordered him to speak tenderly to them, and to assure them of the mercy which he had in store for them. But now he is ordered to make a difference between some and others of them, to separate between the precious and the vile, and then to give them a promise of the Messiah, by whom this distinction would be effectually made; partly at his first coming, when for judgment he should come into this world, John 9:39; but completely at his second coming, when he shall, as it is here said, judge between cattle as a shepherd divides between the sheep and the goats, and shall set the sheep on his right hand and the goals on his left, Matthew 25:32-33. Between the rams and the he-goats The Hebrew, it seems, may be better rendered, Between the small cattle, and the cattle of rams and of he-goats, between the weak and the strong cattle; that is, between the rich and the poor, as the Chaldee Paraphrase explains the sense upon Ezekiel 34:20. Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture? &c. This reproof may be fitly applied to those of the rich and great, who take no care that the poor may enjoy the benefit of their superfluities, but will rather let them be thrown away and lost, than they will take the trouble of seeing them disposed of for the relief of those that stand in need. As for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden, &c. They are compelled to live upon the relics of what you have spoiled and destroyed.

Verses 21-22

Ezekiel 34:21-22. Because ye have thrust with side and shoulder, &c. Have molested and vexed the poor and weak by your unjust and violent dealings; therefore will I save my flock I will interpose, and rescue the poor of my people from violence and oppression. The reader will easily observe that the metaphors used in these verses are taken from two sorts of cattle, the one of the larger and stronger kind, the other of the smaller and weaker sort, which the larger ones are wont to thrust aside and push at with their horns.

Verses 23-25

Ezekiel 34:23-25. And I will set up one Shepherd That is, the Messiah, “the true Shepherd, who hath given himself this name both in the prophets and in the gospel, and who hath perfectly fulfilled all the duties, the characters whereof have been before described. He is called David, because he sprung from David according to the flesh; because he possessed eminently and really all those qualities which the Scriptures give to David as the type of the Messiah; and because he was the person in whom all the promises made to David were fulfilled. Though this prophecy was in a great measure completed when Christ, by the preaching of the gospel, gathered into one the children of God, among whom were many of the lost sheep of Israel, yet it will receive a further completion at the general conversion of the Jews.” Calmet. I the Lord will be their God I will renew my covenant with them, and receive them again into my protection. I will be a God all-sufficient for them, and they shall not, as formerly, have recourse to any other. And my servant David a prince among them To reduce them to their allegiance, to receive their homage, and to reign over them, in them, and for them. Observe, reader, those, and those only, that have the Lord Jesus for their Prince, have the Lord Jehovah for their God. And I will make with them a covenant of peace The covenant of grace is this covenant of peace; in it God is at peace with penitent and obedient believers, speaks peace to them, and assures them of peace with him, and of all good, even all the good they need to make them happy. This peace is through Jesus Christ, who hath procured it for us by his merits, and imparts it to us by his Spirit. He is the peace predicted by Micah 5:5. Peace to men was announced at his birth; his gospel is the gospel of peace, and he himself is the God and King of peace: in short, he it is who pacifieth all things and reconciles and unites in one Jews and Gentiles, God and man, heaven and earth. And I will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land Persecutors shall no more distress my church, nor infidels seduce them. They shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods They shall be perfectly safe, by night as well as by day, under my protection. He alludes to the circumstance of the eastern shepherds frequently lying abroad in the fields with their flocks during the night, without a tent to shelter them.

Verses 26-28

Ezekiel 34:26-28. I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing I will there give remarkable instances of my favour, and of the happiness which flows from it. God’s hill is the same with his holy mountain, mentioned Ezekiel 20:40, where see the note. There shall be showers of blessings Blessings in great abundance, and of all sorts, temporal and spiritual, earthly and heavenly. The tree of the field shall yield her fruit There shall be great fertility and plenty in every part of the land. The spiritual blessings of the gospel are often described under the emblems of fruitfulness and abundance. And they shall be safe in their land In no danger of being invaded and enslaved, though their great plenty might be supposed to be a temptation to their neighbours to desire their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord They shall indeed know that I, and I only, am the living and true God, and their God and Saviour; when I have broken the bands of their yoke Those bands by which they had been brought down, and long held under oppression; had been made slaves, and used as such. The same expression is used of the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, (Leviticus 26:13; Jeremiah 2:20,) their final restoration being represented as the greater deliverance of the two. And none shall make them afraid The experience of my particular care over them, shall inspire them with that confidence in me which shall preserve them from all disquieting fears and anxieties.

Verses 29-30

Ezekiel 34:29-30. And I will raise up for them a plant of renown The Messiah, the branch from the root of David, so frequently foretold by the prophet. And they shall be no more consumed with hunger But shall be blessed with plenty of all things. Spiritual blessings, the blessings peculiar to the Messiah’s kingdom, are chiefly intended. These his subjects shall possess in abundance, and shall be satisfied therewith, whatever their lot may be as to the things of this life. Neither shall they bear the shame of the heathen any more By whom they were formerly reproached, as if their God had cast them off. Then shall they know The very heathen shall be convinced by these many and great blessings bestowed upon my people; that I the Lord I, Jehovah, who can perform what I promise; am with them Am reconciled to them, and do bless and save them; and that they Whom these heathen despised and injured, and formerly made slaves, even the house of Israel, are my people My peculiar people, above all people in the world, and as such shall be taken care of by me.

Verse 31

Ezekiel 34:31. And ye my flock, &c., are men These words at the conclusion of the chapter, explain the metaphor which runs through the whole of it; namely, that what was said of a flock and its shepherds, is to be understood of men and their governors, and especially of God’s people, whom their civil and ecclesiastical governors neglected, or misled and oppressed, but whom God regards, watches over, provides for, and takes care of, as a shepherd does his flock. It is justly observed here by Mr. Ostervald, that “this is a chapter which both magistrates and rulers of the church ought to meditate upon very seriously. The complaints that God here makes of false shepherds, and the curses he denounces against them, show that it is the duty of pastors, with their utmost diligence, to watch over the sheep with which they are intrusted, and to provide with care and readiness for all their wants; and that if they fail herein, they must give a severe account to God for it. This too lays an obligation upon princes and magistrates, to govern faithfully and justly the people committed to their trust. What befell the Jews, who, for the unfaithfulness of their prophets and magistrates, were utterly destroyed, shows that it is the greatest misfortune to a nation to have wicked rulers; and that all who are concerned for the glory of God, and the happiness and edification of the church, have great reason to pray to God, that he would always raise up to his people faithful and good pastors.”

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 34". Benson's Commentary. 1857.