Chapter 34:1-10 (ESV) - The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
Question to consider: Who were the shepherds and the sheep in this word from the Lord?
I would be curious to know whether Ezekiel and Jeremiah knew each other and were ever able to compare prophetic notes. Though they both lived at the same time and seemed to be familiar with each other, Ezekiel lived among the exiles near the Chebar canal (on the river Euphrates), and Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem (near the river Jordan). Between the Jordan and Euphrates rivers is more than 850 miles of desert so it’s not like they met for coffee and Bible study. We do know that Daniel, who was with the exiles in the city of Babylon, had received some of Jeremiah’s writings according to Daniel 9:2, “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.”
The first use of shepherd as metaphor was in Genesis 48:15, when Jacob referred to God as his shepherd in his blessing of Joseph, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day…” From then on, scripture referred to those appointed by God to lead His people as shepherds as well. Maybe it is the lowly position of a shepherd or the fact that a good shepherd puts a lot of time and effort into leading, caring for, and tending to their sheep, but there were several men of faith in scripture who served as actual shepherds before becoming spiritual ones: Moses, Abraham, Judah, Joseph, and David to name a few. David was the first “shepherd-king” of Israel, and he served as a type and shadow of his greater son, Jesus, who would be the Good Shepherd.
Since Israel was recently sent into exile, it is possible that the shepherd leaders of which Ezekiel (and Jeremiah) spoke were a reference to the line of kings who took care of themselves instead of their people. While I can definitely see this being the case, I would also argue that the Lord could have been speaking to the priests of Israel who were supposed to lead the people in the way of righteousness. The priests of Israel had instead taken the fat portions for themselves rather than sacrificing them to God, and they led the people (sheep) astray by preaching the false message that Israel was to be blessed by God in the land despite their idolatry and injustice.
I will get more into the basis for my argument in tomorrow’s passage, but the final verse in today’s passage hints at it when God promised to rescue Israel from these shepherds and feed the sheep Himself.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for fulfilling Your promises to feed and protect us and lead us to You. May You receive all glory, praise and honor. Amen!