Ezekiel 34 is a turning point to the prophecies of this book. Ezekiel 33 recorded the fall of Jerusalem. A messenger who escaped from Jerusalem travels to Babylon and informs Ezekiel that the city has fallen to Babylon. Ezekiel’s messages proclaimed that this was going to happen. The good meat had not remained in Jerusalem. The meat and the pot were defiled and needed deep cleansing. The remnant was actually in Babylon, not in Jerusalem. God had left his temple and city and has caused Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, not to go to Ammon first, but to turn to Jerusalem first and destroy it. But this is not the end of God’s messages to his people. The final chapters of the book are not God telling the people, “See, I told you so.” Rather, God is going to proclaim promises of what he will do in the future. These final chapters of Ezekiel give a detailed picture about what will happen when the Spirit comes. I believe these final chapters give us the best instructions to help us understand what God was promising and what the people were to expect when the Spirit was poured out.
Selfish Shepherds (34:1-10)
The prophecy begins by God observing that Israel had a problem. The problem is that they had selfish shepherds. Verse 2 says that the shepherds were feeding themselves and not the sheep. They had strayed away from their primary goal: take care of the sheep. Verse 3 shows that the shepherds used the sheep for their own selfish purposes. They are robbing the flock, fleecing the flock, and even slaughtering the flock. Verse 4 shows the shepherds deep failures. They did not strengthen the weak. They did not heal the sick. They did not bind up the injured. They did not bring back the straying. They did not seek the lost. They ruled over the flock with force and harshness. So they were scattered and wandered everywhere because they did not have proper shepherds (34:5-6).
This gives us an excellent picture of what the role of the shepherds looks like among God’s people. First, shepherding is not a selfish work. A person does not become a shepherd because they want to be in charge or change things. A shepherd does not shepherd because he wants authority. The primary goal is to feed and care for the sheep. These shepherds were not only neglecting the work of caring for the sheep, they were also harming the sheep. They were taking advantage of the sheep for their own selfish desires. The role of the shepherd is further beautifully pictured in verse 4. A shepherd is to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injuries, bring back the straying, and seek the lost. Further, a shepherd is not to rule with harshness or force.
Then God proclaims that these selfish shepherds will not get away with their actions (34:7-10). The Lord specifically says in verse 10 that he will hold the shepherds accountable for their actions against the sheep. I want us to have a sense of relief regarding what God is saying. God cares for his flock. God will hold selfish shepherds accountable for their actions. You might have experienced this in your life in a church somewhere. You might have dealt with shepherds who intentionally took advantage of you. You might have dealt with shepherds that looked out for themselves first and used the work as a position of authority to dominate others rather than serve the flock. You might have been in a church where the shepherds were not working behind the scenes to strengthen weak sheep, seek the lost sheep, or bandage the injured sheep. Rather, they stayed at the forefront ruling with force and harshness. God will judge them. It is surprising to me to hear how often this can be the experience of the flock with their shepherds. Unfortunately, the flock often cannot do anything about the situation but continue to be mistreated. But I want us to see that God sees and holds shepherds accountable for their shepherding.
God the Shepherd (34:11-22)
Now I want you to be surprised by what God says next. In verse 11 God does not start talking about how the future shepherds are going to be so much better than what Israel had experienced in the past. Notice how verse 11 begins. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” The Lord does not wish for better shepherds to come. Rather, the Lord says that his solution will be that he will be the shepherd for his people. He will come and he will search for his sheep. Look at the middle of verse 12. The Lord will rescue them from all the places they were scattered. In verse 13 the Lord says that he will bring them out from the nations and into their own land. The Lord will feed them and the Lord will tend them (34:13-14). Listen to verse 15. “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.” The Lord will bring his sheep to rest rather than being tormented by selfish shepherds. Verse 16 continues the picture. The Lord will search for the lost. The Lord will bind up the injured. The Lord will shepherd the flock with justice.
Further, verses 17-22 describe the justice the Lord will bring as the shepherd. He will judge between the sheep and between the rams and the goats. Notice that the Lord will deal with the sheep that are pushing the other sheep around. In verse 18 we read that there are sheep who are walking on the pasture and making the drinking water muddy so that other sheep cannot drink and feed. The Lord says in verse 20 that he will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. The Lord will see why the strong are strong and the weak are weak. The problem the Lord sees is expressed in verse 21. Some sheep are pushing the other sheep aside with their shoulders and butting heads with others, driving the sheep away. The Lord will come and not only judge selfish shepherds but he will also judge selfish sheep.
The Hope of the Good Shepherd (34:23-31)
So what is the Lord going to do so that he himself can rescue his flock? How will he bring them back, feed them, tend them, and bind them up? What does God have in mind? Look at the pictures found in verses 23-31. The Lord begins by declaring that he will set up over his flock one shepherd, David. He will feed them and be their shepherd. Not only will David be their shepherd but will also be their prince. The coming of David refers to the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 7. God proclaimed that David’s son would build God’s house and sit on his throne in his kingdom forever. The hope for God’s people will not be in more human shepherds, rulers, or leaders. Rather, the Lord will set up one shepherd, David. Jeremiah proclaimed that David would never lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel (Jeremiah 33:17). You will notice that this new David will be a ruler among them, not just over them.
Now before we read what the new shepherd will accomplish, it is important to note that this is all figurative language to describe the shepherd. God is not saying that David was going to raise from the dead and rule his people. In the same way, the rest of the pictures we are going to read are figures representing the work of the new shepherd.
In verse 25 we see that God’s shepherd prince will make a covenant of peace with the people. What I want us to notice is that the establishing of the covenant of peace means that God’s wrath has ended against his people. God is returning his blessings to his people. The dangers of the land will be removed. In verse 26 God says that he will make them a blessing and the places around them a blessing. Showers of blessings are now described. These blessings are also depicted as fruitfulness. In verse 27 we read that the trees and the earth will be fruitful. The people will also have the blessing of security. Notice that the end of verse 27 states an important time marker. They will know that I am the Lord when I break the bars of their yoke and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. Remember that the promise of the Holy Spirit is pictured like pouring out water to bless the land (cf. Isaiah 44:3; 32:15).
What we are seeing is that God shepherding his people is going to change everything for his people. A covenant of peace will be established so that the people will live securely in God’s blessings. God will shower blessings on his people and they themselves will be a blessing. God will deliver them from their slavery when the shepherd prince comes and they will have no one to make them afraid. With these wonderful events occurring, the people will know that they are God’s people, the human sheep of God’s pasture (34:30-31).
New Testament Messages
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV)
We know that Jesus is called the good shepherd who knows his sheep and lays down his life for the sheep in John 10. The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus “the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.” God proclaims that he will act where others have failed. He will shepherd his people. He will feed them. He will save them. He will care for them. To begin, I want us to think about the message found in the parable of lost things in Luke 15. All three stories in Jesus’ parable push two key truths. The first key truth is that everyone is looking for the lost. The shepherd leaves 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep. The woman sweeps the house until she can find her lost coin. The father looks down the road waiting for his lost son to return. God’s heart is to rescue lost sheep. The second key truth is everyone is rejoicing when the lost are found. There is great rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). The heart of God is one of a shepherd who loves and cares for his flock.
God caring for his flock meant the necessity of a covenant of peace. Jesus, the new David brings us peace. The apostle Paul gives us that picture in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 1.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19–20 ESV)
The blood of the covenant is what made peace with us so the we can enjoy God’s blessings showered on us. The image is that since we have the great shepherd, Jesus, we can live secure with him with nothing to fear. The apostle Paul joyfully proclaimed that nothing could separate us from the love of Christ in Romans 8:31-39. The writer of Hebrews declares that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us. Therefore we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can people do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6). The writer of Hebrews also said that we have been set free from the slavery of the fear of death because Jesus destroyed the one who had power over death (Hebrews 2:15).
What I want us to see is that the problem is not in God saving us. The problem is that we do not let God save us. Have you ever seen a person try to rescue an animal that is stuck in a fence or a trap? The animal just starts harm the person coming up to it even though that person is trying to save the animal. We do this with God so often. God is trying to save us. God is trying to shower blessings into our lives. God is trying to make us a blessing to others. God is offering to us a covenant of peace so that we are no longer enemies of God, deserving his wrath. But we kick against our Savior. We wander away from our Shepherd. We reject the God who says that he has come to care for us and heal us from our pains in this world. Sin is a rejection against our Savior who has come to set us free.
We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way. (Isaiah 53:6 CSB)
Stop resisting. Stop going your own way. Return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul. With the Lord as your shepherd, you will not lack (Psalm 23).
By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24–25 ESV)