July 6 Explore the Bible: Hope of new leadership and new freedom
Jun 26, 2014
By MARK A. RATHEL

EZEKIEL 34:1-24

People rise no higher than leadership. The people of God suffered from failed spiritual and political leadership. Earlier, Ezekiel criticized the false prophets that proclaimed messages that did not come from the Lord (Ezekiel 13). Now, the true prophet focused on the misdeeds of the political leaders. In response to failed leadership, God promised to intervene, rescue His people and provide leadership. Jesus used the imagery of shepherd leadership from Ezekiel 34 to describe His role as the “good shepherd” (John 10). 

What lessons does Ezekiel teach about God the Shepherd-King?
 
First, God does not shepherd as failed human leaders (Ezek. 34:1-10). Ezekiel taught the doctrine of personal responsibility (Ezek. 18), yet he also taught the responsibility of corporate and individual leaders. The prophet attributes the fall of the nation to failed leadership.
 
Throughout the Bible, the term “shepherds” describes rulers. Moses and David, two of the greatest leaders in the Old Testament, shepherded sheep before they shepherded God’s people.
 
Ezekiel accused the leadership of three failures that led to the destruction of the nation. First, the leaders exploited the people they supposedly served. Rather than the shepherd-leaders feeding the flock, the shepherd leaders of God’s people fed themselves. The leaders ate the fat, a symbol of God’s blessing (Gen. 27:28). They kept the best for themselves. As well, they wore wool, a symbol of wealth (Ezek. 27:18). The shepherds used the flock rather than served the flock. Second, the leaders did not function like shepherds. They failed to care for the flock. They neither fed the flock nor cared for the weakest members of the flock. Instead, they treated the flock with brutality. Third, sheep scattered and the shepherd-leaders failed to search out the lost sheep. Current leaders of God’s people need to take heed.
 
Second, God promises to shepherd His people (Ezek. 34:11-16). In response, God demanded the care of the flock from the failed leadership. God promised to preserve the flock from destruction. God outlined His steps in “the intervention.” He will search for His sheep (Luke 15), rescue His sheep, lead His sheep to the best grazing areas and allow the sheep to lie down in rest. The imagery of this section of Ezekiel 34 recalls Psalm 23, Luke 15 and John 10.
 
Third, God declared judgment on the failed shepherd-leaders and bad sheep (Ezek. 34:16b-22). God act of rescuing includes judgment of the evil shepherds. As the true shepherd, He threatened to feed justice to the failed shepherd-leaders (v. 16b). In actuality, the shepherd-leaders were bad sheep. They ate from the good pasture but trampled the pasture to prevent others from eating. They drank clear water but mudded the water for others. God would judge between the weak and the strong that took advantage of the weak (vv. 20-22).
 
Fourth, God foretold of a Davidic shepherd to come (Ezek. 34:23-24). With the fall of Judah, the Davidic dynasty ended. The prophet foretold of a coming miracle of reestablishing the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:10-16). Ezekiel contrasted the coming shepherd-ruler with the failed shepherds of his day. First, he contrasted the means by which the shepherds enter into office. Rather than a self-appointed leader or a leader descended from a dynastic ruler, God will choose the coming ruler. Second, the prophet contrasted the number of rulers needed. The people of God will not need multiple shepherds; the people will need only a single shepherd. Third, Ezekiel contrasted the nature of the shepherd-leaders. Rather than self-seeking shepherd-rulers, the coming shepherd-ruler is a servant of God. Fourth, the prophet described the coming shepherd as an authoritative ruler that identifies with the people because He is “among them.”­

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