RESTORATION REQUIRES REPLACING SELFISH FORMER SHEPHERDS WITH THE MESSIANIC SHEPHERD-KING = THE NEW DAVID
Lamar Cooper: Chapter 34 comprises figurative messages to the leaders of Israel as shepherds (vv. 1–16) and to the people as sheep (vv. 17–24), followed by a literal message to the people (vv. 25–31). The figurative message to the shepherds consists of condemnation and the announcement of their removal (vv. 1–10), then the Lord’s announcement that as owner of the flock he would take over as shepherd (vv. 11–16). In the figurative message to the flock, God announced his determination to judge and to deliver (vv. 17–24). The final message to the people is a promise to provide them with a “covenant of peace” (vv. 25–31).
Thomas Constable: The Lord gave Ezekiel a message for the shepherds (leaders, rulers, cf. Ps. 23) of Israel. Ancient Near Easterners often referred to kings and leaders as “shepherds” (e.g. Num. 27:17; 2 Sam. 5:2; 1 Kings 22:17; Isa. 44:28; Jer. 3:15; 10:21; 23:1- 6; 25:34-38; Mic. 5:4-5; Zech. 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; 21:15-17).
– They exploited their followers.
Daniel Block: The theological implications of Ezek. 34 are both profound and exhilarating. First, when Yahweh extends his grace to Israel again, the disintegrated deity-nation-land triangle is restored. Ezekiel’s vision of the messianic age recognizes a measure of truth in his contemporaries’ theological formulations. Yahweh had indeed entered into an eternal marriage covenant with them. Yahweh has an enduring interest in his land. His promise to David of eternal title to the throne of Jerusalem still stands. These covenant hopes will all be fulfilled in the messianic age. At that time, when Yahweh’s people live securely in their land, are ruled by a divinely appointed David, and enjoy the shalom of God’s presence and grace, they will finally acknowledge him as their Savior and covenant Lord.
I. (:1-16) REPLACING SELFISH SHEPHERDS WITH THE GOOD SHEPHERD
(:1-2a) Prologue – Prophesy against the Selfish Shepherds of Israel
“Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, Thus says the Lord God,’”
Daniel Block: Following the customary opening word-event formula and the direct address of the prophet as Human (ben-ʾādām), Ezekiel receives the double command to prophesy against the shepherds of Israel (rōʿê yiśrāʾēl). The designation shepherds for leaders is traditional in ancient Near Eastern usage, dating back to Sumerian times.
Douglas Stuart: In verses 1–2 it is evident that the problem with kings in the past is that they were selfish. In the allegory of the passage, they “fed themselves” as opposed to the flocks (the people of God). Living off the people’s productivity and wealth (v. 3), they did not seek to help the nation, but rather ruled as despots for their own advantage (v. 4). The result (v. 5) was disaster for the “flock,” Israel, which became scattered among the nations and prey to enemies (allegorically, scattered and unprotected as sheep, and prey for wild animals to whom sheep are vulnerable when the shepherd is irresponsible). Israel was then “lost” in exile with no “shepherds” (rulers) any more to seek them (v. 6). The shepherds were called to task by God, the owner of the flock who promised (“as I live,” v. 8) as a result of the misbehavior of the shepherds (vv. 7–9) that He would remove them from their jobs, and who held them accountable for their corrupt leadership (v. 10). Thus the historical monarchy in Israel was rejected.
Now (vv. 11–16) the Good Shepherd, God, will take over. He is the owner of the flock, and He will find His own sheep, having fired the shepherds who botched the job and allowed the flock to be scattered and subject to danger (vv. 11–12). God will bring Israel back to its homeland from exile (v. 13) and will take care of them and see to it that they prosper, as sheep prosper with good places to eat and rest (vv. 13–15). It is useful to note that in Palestine most grazing land is on the hillsides, while most crop land is closer to the valleys. Thus the sheep are here depicted as living on the hills (although grazing sometimes in valleys, v. 13) since that is appropriate to the allegory. God will revive His people, now allegorically “lost” and “sick,” while at the same time destroying their oppressors (who are surely the wicked kings who ruled Israel, as well as perhaps the foreign nations repeatedly excoriated in chs. 25–32).
A. (:2b-10) Condemnation of Selfish Shepherds
1. (:2b-6) Charged with a Wide Range of Offenses
a. (:2b) Feeding Themselves instead of the Flock
“Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!
Should not the shepherds feed the flock?”
b. (:3-4) Fleecing the Flock While Ignoring Their Needs
1) (:3) Fleecing the Flock
“You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool,
you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.”
Constable: Specifically, these unfaithful shepherds ate the best parts of the sacrifices rather than offering them to God (cf. 1 Sam. 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.
Daniel Block: Ezekiel charges the rulers with three crimes of commission.
– First, they consume the milk of their flock. The verb ʾākal (lit. “to eat”) suggests a solid milk product, perhaps curds or cheese. Again in real life, consuming the milk of the sheep is not an exploitative act, but here it is made to look like robbery.
– Second, the shepherds fleece the flock: the wool you wear. This too is natural in a pastoral economy, but Ezekiel’s figure assumes the forceful removal of wool, making it look like the sheep are left naked before the elements.
– Third, they butcher the fatlings (habbĕrîʾâ). The verb zābaḥ often denotes the slaughter of a sacrificial animal, especially for the zebaḥ, “sacrificial” meal. But here the verb functions simply as a synonym for ṭābaḥ, without any religious overtones. Shepherds do raise sheep for their mutton, but in this metaphorical context, such slaughter represents the most blatant violation of the shepherd’s role, presumably judicial murder (cf. 7:23; 9:9; etc.).
The triad of accusations concludes with a reiteration of the general charge in v. 2. The rulers have taken excellent care of themselves, but they have not cared for the flock.
2) (:4) Ignoring Their Needs
“Those who are sickly you have not strengthened,
the diseased you have not healed,
the broken you have not bound up,
the scattered you have not brought back,
nor have you sought for the lost;
but with force and with severity you have dominated them.”
Daniel Block: The crimes of omission reflect a stratum of Israelite “pastors” representing the antithesis of responsible shepherds.
– First, they have shown no concern for the physical health of the flock. They have not strengthened (ḥizzēq) the weak (naḥĕlôt), healed (rippēʾ) the sick (ḥôlâ), or bound up (ḥābaš) the injured (nišberet).
– Second, they have shown no concern for the sheep that have left the flock. They have neither gone after the strays nor sought the lost. Instead of caring (rāʿâ) for the flock, the shepherds have ruled over them with harshness (ḥāzĕqâ) and brutality (perek).
Derek Thomas: Three features of the false shepherds are roundly condemned, thus signaling what was expected of the true shepherds of Israel.
1. Their self-interest
They ‘only take care of themselves’ (34:2).
2. Their love of ease
‘You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock’ (34:3).
3. Their heartlessness
‘You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally’ (34::4).
c. (:5-6) Failing to Protect the Flock from Predators
1) (:5) Flock was Scattered and Attacked
“And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd,
and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered.”
2) (:6) Flock was Scattered and Abandoned
“My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill, and My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek for them.”
Constable: 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. Matt. 9:36; John 10:12-13).
2. (:7-10) Censured with Judgments Matching Their Offenses
a. (:7-8) Summary of Offenses
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:”
“‘As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock;’”
Peter Pett: The verdict is now given beginning with the accusatory facts. The sheep had not had proper guidance, they had not had protection, and no one had sought them out when they went wrong, and thus they had given way to false teaching and had been physically misused. And all because the shepherds were looking after their own interests and not those of the sheep. They were too busy making themselves well-to-do and advancing their own status.
b. (:9-10) Settling the Score
“therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:”
1) Divine Opposition to the Shepherds
“Thus says the Lord God,
‘Behold, I am against the shepherds,’”
2) Divine Accountability
“and I shall demand My sheep from them”
3) Divine Canceling of Privileged Responsibilities
“and make them cease from feeding sheep.”
4) Divine Halt to Their Abusive Practices
“So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore,”
5) Divine Deliverance for the Flock
“but I shall deliver My flock from their mouth,
that they may not be food for them.”
Constable: 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. Matt. 20:25-28).
Peter Pett: He will call the shepherds to account (‘require my sheep at their hand’) and remove them from being shepherds to His sheep, so that they cannot any more profit from the sheep. They will no longer be able to ‘eat’ them. Then He Himself will search for them and seek them out.
David Guzik: God solemnly promised to hold the unfaithful, ungodly shepherds to account. In the eyes of the flock, they may seem to go unpunished; God promised to deal with them.
• God would do it by removing them from their position (cause them to cease feeding the sheep).
• God would do it stopping their abuse of the flock (the shepherds shall feed themselves no more).
• God would do it by removing His flock from them (I will deliver My flock from their mouths).
Leslie Allen: Yahweh declares that he will take on the monarchy and—with a deft re-use of the keyword דרש—”hold it liable” for its negligence. Nothing less than their removal from their royal post would transpire in view of their general self-seeking (vv 2, 3, 8) and in particular the suffering and fatality of their subjects at their hands (cf. v 4). They are ironically portrayed as wild animals (cf. v 5)—a travesty of true shepherding (cf. 1 Sam 17:35; Amos 3:12). Only by removal of the monarchy could God’s people be preserved. Although Yahweh’s positive concern has resounded through the oracle thus far, especially in the outraged phrase “my sheep,” it comes to the fore in the first and last verbs of divine action at v 10, as the focus gradually changes from punishment of one group to salvation of the other.
John Taylor: Because of all this, God declares that he is against the shepherds, even though they ruled by his dispensation. Having failed in their responsibilities, they would not be allowed to rule anymore; the flock would be taken out of their care and they would be deposed from office.
B. (:11-16) Commitment of the Lord to Personally Shepherd His Sheep
“For thus says the Lord God,”
Lamar Cooper: Ezekiel 34:11–16 abounds in first person promises. God repeatedly promised, “I will” go after them, and “I will” meet the needs of my people. While there is some overlap and repetition, there are twenty-five such promises in this and the following paragraphs of the chapter. These promises include elements of judgment as well as deliverance. Yahweh promised to hold the shepherds accountable for the sheep, remove them from tending the flock, rescue his flock from their mouths, search for and look after his sheep, look after and gather them, rescue them from clouds and darkness, and gather them from among the nations. He would bring them to their own land, place them on the mountains of Israel, tend the flock in good pasture so that they could lie down in safety, search out the lost and the strayed of the flock, bind up the injured, and destroy the strong who oppose the flock. In addition he would shepherd the flock with justice, judge between one sheep and another, judge between the fat and the lean sheep, save the flock, place over them one shepherd, be their God, make a covenant of peace with them, bless them, send showers in season, and provide for them (vv. 10–29).
No longer would any human figure mediate between God and his people. Only God and his Messiah (v. 23) would be the “Shepherd” of his people. This message of hope is a glaring contrast with the picture in 34:1–15 with its message of the neglect and exploitation of human kings. The proliferation of “I wills” in 34:10–29 suggests Yahweh’s determination personally to be involved in the lives and destinies of his people.
1. (:11-13a) Personal Care in Seeking, Regathering and Restoring the Flock to the Promised Land
“Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land;”
John Taylor: The picture of the shepherd searching out the wanderer, in verse 12, is a remarkable foreshadowing of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4ff.), which our Lord doubtless based on this passage in Ezekiel.
Feinberg: In beautiful and unforgettable words Ezekiel predicted a literal return and restoration of the people of Israel to their own land. Notice it will be a regathering from worldwide exile and dispersion. . .
It is both unnecessary and impossible to spiritualize these promises. If the scattering were literal, and no one is foolhardy as to deny this, then the regathering must be equally so.
Wiersbe: In Ezekiel’s time, the Lord brought His people back from Babylon; but the picture here is certainly much broader than that, for the Lord spoke about ‘countries.’
2. (:13b-15) Pasturing Them in Restful Grazing Grounds
“’and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. 14 I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing ground, and they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,’ declares the Lord God.”
3. (:16) Proactively Restoring the Weak to Full Health While Destroying the Proud and the Oppressors
a. Restoring the Weak to Full Health
“I will seek the lost,
bring back the scattered,
bind up the broken,
and strengthen the sick;”
b. Destroying the Proud and the Oppressors
“but the fat and the strong I will destroy.
I will feed them with judgment.”
David Guzik: I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment: God promised to judge the proud among the sheep, those who were fat and strong, but not fed of the LORD.
Derek Thomas: Included within the description of a true shepherd are the qualities of love, in taking care of sheep who appeared ungrateful for the self-sacrifice of the shepherd, patience in diligently seeking after the lost sheep, strength in delivering the sheep from their enemies, and in particular, courage, since the long dry summers would demand that a shepherd frequently look for new pastures. It was a dangerous and unsettled life, open at any moment to attack. Even in the tranquil meditations of Psalm 23, we are reminded that the shepherd carries a ‘rod’ to fend off attacks from would-be assassins (Ps. 23:4). In a parallel passage in Zechariah the good shepherd is first of all rejected (11:7–11), pierced (12:10) and then struck (13:7). The shepherd had to be prepared to pay the ultimate price in caring for his sheep.
Daniel Block: This verse is transitional, reviewing Yahweh’s salvific activity on the one hand, and preparing the way for vv. 17–22 on the other. The summary consists of six short sentences exhibiting a modified mirror image of v. 4:
V. 4 A The weak (naḥĕlôt) you have not strengthened (ḥizzeq).
B The sick (ḥôlâ) you have not healed (rippēʾ).
C The injured (nišberet) you have not bound up (ḥābaš).
D The stray (niddaḥat) you have not fetched (hēšîb).
E The lost (ʾōbedet) you have not sought (biqqēš).
V. 16 E´ The lost (ʾōbedet) I will seek (biqqēš).
D´ The stray (niddaḥat) I will fetch (hēšîb).
C´ The injured (nišberet) I will bind up (ḥābaš).
B´ The sick (ḥôlâ)
A´ I will strengthen (ḥizzēq).
II. (:17-22) RENDERING JUDGMENT FOR SELFISH SHEEP WHO ONLY LOOK OUT FOR THEMSELVES
A. (:17-19) Transition from Judging Shepherds to Judging Sheep
“And as for you, My flock, thus says the Lord God,”
Constable: The Lord announced too that He would distinguish among the members of His flock, judging them individually (cf. Matt. 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.
1. (:17) Judgment Will be Individually Based
“Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another,
between the rams and the male goats.”
Galen Doughty: God tells his people that he will judge between them, one sheep from another and between the rams and goats. The image goes back to his promise to hold the failed shepherds accountable. The people had suffered greatly not only at the hand of the Babylonians but at the hands of corrupt leaders who took advantage of the people’s suffering to get rich and fat. God as the good shepherd will not let that stand. He will judge those who grew rich off the people.
John Taylor: The flock in biblical times, as today in the Middle East, regularly consisted of a mixture of sheep and goats . . . Ezekiel is saying that the powerful and prosperous citizens, who had been greedily taking for themselves all the good things of the land and denying the benefit of them to their fellows, were going to be judged by the Shepherd. The flock will in fact be purified, not only of its bad leadership but also of its bad members.
2. (:18) Judgment Exposes Those Who Not Only Act Selfishly, but Wreck Things for Others
a. First Example
“’Is it too slight a thing for you that you should feed in the good pasture,
that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pastures?”
b. Second Example
“Or that you should drink of the clear waters,
that you must foul the rest with your feet?”
3. (:19) Judgment Takes Into Account the Impact of Your Actions on Others
“And as for My flock, they must eat what you tread down with your feet, and they must drink what you foul with your feet!”
B. (:20-22) Judgment Belongs to the Lord
“Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them,”
1. (:20) God Will Make Things Right
“Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”
Constable: 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.
2. (:21-22a) God Will Punish Oppressors and Deliver the Oppressed
a. (:21) Punishing Oppressors
“Because you push with side and with shoulder,
and thrust at all the weak with your horns,
until you have scattered them abroad,”
b. (:22a) Delivering the Oppressed
“therefore, I will deliver My flock,
and they will no longer be a prey;”
3. (:22b) God Will Judge Individually and Without Partiality
“and I will judge between one sheep and another.”
III. (:23-24) RAISING UP THE MESSIANIC SHEPHERD KING AS THE LORD’S SERVANT = THE NEW DAVID FOR ISRAEL
A. (:23) The Good Shepherd Who Faithfully Feeds and Cares for the Flock
“Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David,
and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.”
Daniel Block: Ezekiel’s announcement of the appointment of a new David for Israel was intended to instill new hope in the hearts of the exiles. Contrary to appearance, the demise of the Davidic house in 586 did not reflect divine impotence or indifference to previous commitments. These events had not only fulfilled previous prophetic utterances (12:1–16; 17; 19) but had also set the stage for a dramatic and new act of Yahweh. The decadence of the old order had been removed; now the people are challenged to look forward to a new day when Yahweh’s Davidic servant would be reinstated in accordance with his eternal and irrevocable covenant.
B. (:24a) The Lord’s Servant as the New David Reigning Among Them
“And I, the LORD, will be their God,
and My servant David will be prince among them;”
John Taylor: The scattered flock have been gathered to their own land in an eschatological act of deliverance, not without its element of judgment. United and purified, they now enter upon the supernatural golden age of peace and prosperity. Over them is set the Messianic figure who is variously described as my servant, prince and David. Who is this person? He is not, as some would believe, the historical David resurrected, nor is he a human king of the Davidic line, for we are dealing with a superhuman figure who will reign forever (cf. 37:25). He is the servant of the Lord, represented as an idealized David: for 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. These features of the Messianic leader’s person and kingdom are more significant to Ezekiel than the physical succession of the line of David’s kings. He saw no future for kings of that sort over Israel. They were condemned, and Zedekiah’s fate only served to seal that condemnation. So this new Messianic figure is described not as king, but as prince (nāśî’), and in that capacity he will be the righteous ruler of the saved community of Israel. Christians can see the fulfilment of this expectation in the character of Christ’s future Messianic rule of which the present Christian era is a mere foreshadowing. . .
(:24b) You Can Count On It
“I, the LORD, have spoken.”
IV. (:25-31) RATIFYING THE COVENANT OF PEACE IN THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM
A. (:25-27a) Blessings of the Covenant of Peace
1. (:25) Security
“And I will make a covenant of peace with them
and eliminate harmful beasts from the land,
so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.”
David Guzik: all this points towards the new covenant, especially in its perfection and culmination in the Millennial Kingdom. The promises of peace in the millennium are also found in passages such as Isaiah 2:4 and Jeremiah 23:5-6.
Daniel Block: “covenant of peace” — The description offers one of the fullest explications of the Hebrew notion of shalom. The term obviously signifies much more than the absence of hostility or tension. It speaks of wholeness, harmony, fulfillment, humans at peace with their environment and with God.
2. (:26) Prosperity – Showers of Blessing
“And I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing.
And I will cause showers to come down in their season;
they will be showers of blessing.”
3. (:27a) Prosperity — Fruitfulness
“Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit,
and the earth will yield its increase,”
4. (:27b) Security
“and they will be secure on their land.”
B. (:27bc) Recognition Refrain
“Then they will know that I am the LORD,”
C. (:27d-29) Deliverance from the Enemies of Peace and Security
1. (:27d) Deliverance from Enslavement and Oppression
“when I have broken the bars of their yoke
and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them.”
2. (:28a) Deliverance from the Sword
“And they will no longer be a prey to the nations,”
3. (:28b) Deliverance from Fear
“and the beasts of the earth will not devour them;
but they will live securely, and no one will make them afraid.”
4. (:28c) Deliverance from Famine
“And I will establish for them a renowned planting place,
and they will not again be victims of famine in the land,”
5. (:28d) Deliverance from Disgrace and Ridicule
“and they will not endure the insults of the nations anymore.”
Spurgeon: I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this. I imagine that you cannot read the Bible without seeing clearly that there is to be an actual restoration of the children of Israel.
D. (:30-31) Loyal Relationship with the Lord
1. (:30) Alternate Recognition Refrain
“’Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them,
and that they, the house of Israel, are My people,’
declares the Lord God.”
Douglas Stuart: Verse 30 contrasts with the many previous “they shall know …” endings to passages in the book, which tend to emphasize how Israel or foreign nations will feel the wrath of God and thus be forced to recognize His sovereignty. This, instead, is the language of promise: the true Israel will know that God is with them, their being His people and His being their God.
2. (:31) Privileged Relationship with the Covenant-Keeping God
“‘As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men,
and I am your God,’ declares the Lord God.”
David Guzik: This wonderful reminder assured Israel that even though they were like sheep, they were much more than sheep. They were men, made in the image of God and capable of so much more than sheep. They needed to recognize their place as creatures (men) and God’s place as Creator (I am your God). This was both their glory and their responsibility before God.
Ezekiel’s phrasing here (you are men, and I am your God) acknowledged the great divide between humanity and deity. In Ezekiel’s day that divide had not yet been completely bridged by the Messiah, Jesus Christ, both God and man.