Prophecy Against the Shepherds of Israel
34:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “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? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 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. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6 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.
7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 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, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 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.
The Lord God Will Seek Them Out
11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.1 I will feed them in justice.
17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue2 my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.
The Lord's Covenant of Peace
25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.”
Shepherding God’s flock involves the ministries of the prophet, priest, and king. Those who are trusted by God with the responsibility of leadership in the church must not abuse their positions. It is an abuse of privilege to teach one’s own opinions, to neglect the spiritual needs of God’s people, or to impose unnecessary burdens on them.
Effective leaders will teach God’s truth, pastor God’s people, and lead God’s flock in paths that are pleasing to Him. They will focus on these duties because they are accountable to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who gave His life for the sheep (Acts 20:28).
For some years after we were married, my wife, Karen, worked as a teacher in a London school. The buildings were run down, there was a shortage of books and materials, and morale among the staff was low. The school principal had resigned in frustration, and the school was being run by a deputy head who was about to retire and didn’t want the responsibility.
Eventually a new principal was appointed. On her first day she called a staff meeting. “This school,” she said, “has the reputation of being the worst in the area, and I intend to make it the best.” Newer members of the staff thought this was marvelous; those who had been around a long time found it insulting, but what she said was true, and over the next years she led the school in a remarkable turnaround.
The experience of every family, school, business, church, and nation will largely depend on the quality of its leadership. If you have suffered the effects of poor leadership, this chapter is for you. It describes how God’s people languished under abusive leadership and how God Himself intervened. If you have been trusted with the privilege of leadership in any sphere of life, this chapter will show what God requires of you and how you can fulfill your calling.
Three Kinds of Leaders: Prophet, Priest, and King
There are three distinct leadership roles in the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. The prophets stood in the presence of God, and heard the Word of God, so that they could speak that Word to the people. The prophets gave leadership in the realm of truth.
The ministry of the priests related to worship. They offered prayers and sacrifices in the temple and brought people into the presence of God through a ministry of pastoral care and counsel.
The kings led the people into battle and protected them from their enemies. They were also responsible for leading the people in right paths, so that they would continue to enjoy the blessing of God.
These three ministries, taken together, show us God’s plan for leadership. The prophet was to lead people into truth, the priest was to bring people to God, and the king was to lead people into righteousness. The ministry of the prophet was about revealing, the ministry of the priest was about reconciling, and the ministry of the king was about ruling.
The Shepherd Leader
The image of a shepherd brings the roles of prophet, priest, and king together into one beautiful picture that encompasses all three dimensions of biblical leadership.
The shepherd feeds the sheep—sustaining the people of God on a healthy diet of the Word of God. The shepherd seeks the sheep—finding the sheep that is lost and bringing it back. The shepherd leads the sheep—giving direction and protection to the flock. So when God speaks about shepherds, He is speaking about everything that is involved in leading the people of God.
Most professions have a system of making an annual review or appraisal of how employees have performed in their duties. God had entrusted the shepherds of Israel with great responsibility, and in Ezekiel 34 He gives an evaluation of their performance. It was not a good review. “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?” (Ezekiel 34:2).
God brought three charges against the leaders of His people: They abused their power, they subverted the truth, and they neglected the Lord.
Leaders Who Abuse Their Power
God’s people suffered under a consistent pattern of abuse through the entire history of the nation. Many kings were wicked, and even the best kings ended up placing great burdens upon the people. God indicted them for their complete failure to care for His flock: “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” (34:4).
Leaders Who Subvert God’s Truth
God also indicted those who claimed to be prophets, but replaced the Word of God with their own opinions: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the LORD!’ Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (13:2–3).
These leaders studied the culture to discover what people wanted to hear. Then they shaped their message to fit the felt needs of the hour. In Ezekiel’s time, these prophets led God’s people astray by saying “peace” when God had said that there would be no peace (13:10). What God said did not concern them. Their ministry was not driven by truth but by demand.
Leaders Who Neglect the Lord
The priests were given a ministry of bringing people to God, but they became like secular counselors and focused on helping people to be at peace with themselves. They were not exercising a ministry of prayer or showing people how to be reconciled with God: “Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean…so that I am profaned among them” (22:26).
When God looked at the shepherds of Israel, He saw terrible abuses of power, a deliberate subversion of the truth, and a neglect of God Himself. The effect of all this was that God’s flock was malnourished, the sheep were not cared for, and they were not protected.
Time for a New Shepherd
God found the situation among His people intolerable, so He determined to intervene: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…declares the Lord GOD” (34:15). God was saying, “I will be the prophet, priest, and king to My people. I will personally bring the truth to them. I will come to My people and care for them Myself. I will personally protect them and lead them in right paths.”
How will God do that? Roll the story forward another 600 years, and Jesus Christ is born into the world. He saw that God’s people were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36) and He had compassion on them. He said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). “All who came before me are thieves and robbers” (10:8). They exploited the sheep, but Jesus laid down His life for the sheep (10:11). They slaughtered the sheep, but Jesus came that the sheep may have life (10:10).
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who feeds the sheep, seeks the sheep, and leads the sheep. He will nourish you in the truth. He will bring you back and restore you when you go astray (Luke 15:5–6). He will protect you from your enemies and, when death comes, He will bring you into everlasting life: “My sheep… will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).
Christ Before the “Shepherds”
When large crowds were drawn to Jesus, other shepherds saw the danger of losing their flocks. So they had Jesus arrested, and the Good Shepherd was brought to trial by the failing shepherds of Israel.
The prophet, priest, and king all figure prominently in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. When Jesus was tried before Caiaphas, the High Priest allowed the shepherds to spit on Him, slap Him, and strike Him with their fists (Matt. 26:67).
Then Jesus was sent to King Herod, who had abused his power by ordering the execution of John the Baptist. Herod was more like a butcher than a shepherd. The king was responsible for defending God’s people, but Herod did nothing to defend Jesus. Instead, he sent Him to Pilate.
As the governor of the land, Pilate’s duty was to establish the truth and administer justice. But when Jesus spoke to Pilate about the truth, the governor was not interested. “What is truth?” he asked (John 18:38). Pilate’s decision about Jesus was not based on justice, but rather on the prevailing mood of the people. Pilate washed his hands and went with the popular vote, which was for the crucifixion of the Son of God.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). Your Savior knows what it is like to suffer under shepherds who abuse power, subvert truth, and care more for themselves than for God. If you have suffered under abusive leadership, you have a Savior to whom you can come.
Leadership in the Home and in the Church
God calls parents to shepherd the children He has entrusted to them. It is God’s plan that in every home there should be a prophetic ministry of teaching our children through the Word and by example, a priestly ministry of praying for our children and building them up, and a kingly ministry of protecting our children and guiding them in right paths.
These three leadership roles are also essential to the health of the church today. The church needs the prophetic teaching of the Word of God, the priestly ministry of prayer and pastoral care, and the kingly function of vision and direction.
If you want to know about the spiritual state of a church, you could begin by asking questions like these:
1. Is there a strong, balanced, and sustained ministry of the Word so that the flock of God is being fed on a steady, healthy diet of truth?
2. Is there a ministry of prayer and care in which the needs of the people are brought before the Lord, so that the wounded may be healed and the weak may be strengthened?
3. Is there a God-centered purpose and clarity of vision? Are the people protected from lies, sin, and error as the church pursues the purpose of God?
- When have you personally suffered under abusive leadership?
- Where has God entrusted you with the privilege of leadership?
- As you think about the roles of the prophet, priest and king, which area do you think you are strongest in? Weakest? Why?
- Respond to the statement: “God found the situation among His people intolerable, so He determined to intervene: ‘I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…declares the Lord GOD’” (34:15).
- How is your church doing spiritually (look back at the 3 questions at the end of the teaching)?