June 15, 2010 David Balzer

Ezekiel 34-36: Shepherds Behaving Badly

So far in Ezekiel, it’s been a bit of a dreary ride. Chapter after chapter of judgment and condemnation. Bad news week after week.

Well, today we get to the good news. It’s like God’s said, “What do you want first – the good news or the bad news?”

And for 33 chapters he’s been giving us the BAD NEWS. Israel’s sinful, punishment’s certain. And the nations are just as bad. And they’ll be judged as well.

But now, from Ch 34, things start looking UP.

And this theme of NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE fits in with the HISTORICAL FLOW of the book. If you look at the diagram in the news-sheet, you can see what I mean.

From Ch 1, when we find out that Ezekiel is with the exiles in Babylon, it’s one long slippery slide into judgment.

But then, at the start of Ch 24, we find out that Jerusalem’s been surrounded. The axe has fallen. The people have refused to repent. And so judgment has begun. There’s no turning back.

And then, since any more warnings are pointless, God’s attention turns to THE NATIONS. And for 8 chapters he warns THEM that judgment is coming.

And then, at 33:21, we read that Jerusalem falls. The city is invaded. The walls broken down. The rest of the people exiled.

And now, it’s time for ANOTHER direction change. With the people heart-broken and hopeless, God’s attention turns back to Israel. But this time – with GOOD news.

Promises of hope and restoration and blessing. Like the roller coaster being pulled up the long, slow slope to the top, God’s promises go on for chapter after chapter. From 33 all the way to the end of the book in 48.

And today, we start the roller coaster back UP.

And God begins with THE LEADERS. The shepherds of God’s people.

Everyone DESPISES shepherds who fleece the flock. Who manipulate and defraud and swindle people. Rather than protect and serve.

Like Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. They ruled the Philippines from 1965 until 1986. Their rule was marked by corruption, fraud, deceit, financial trickery, and political repression.

While their subjects lived in poverty. The Marcos’ hoarded an estimate $5 billion into overseas bank accounts. When they fled their palace, Imelda left behind over 1000 pairs of shoes. And as she did, she ran past people in the street who owned no shoes at all.

And the shoes became a symbol of the incredible GAP between the situations of most Philippinos/ and the Marcos’.

And then there’s Saddam Hussein. No-one really knows how much money HE managed to steal. For years he lived the high life at the expense of his people. Outrageous amounts of alcohol, guns, and gaudy art. His numerous palaces decorated in ridiculously opulent furnishings.

After his overthrow, looters found huge empty safes which must have held huge amounts of cash.

Saddam cried that UN sanctions were robbing his people of food and medicines. While at the same time he was lining his own pockets while his people starved.

They were dreadful pictures, weren’t they? As the cameras toured the various palaces. Seeing how UNNECESSARY most of the stuff was. The sheer ENORMITY of the greed. More stuff than one family could EVER use.

General Tommy Franks, on seeing Saddam’s gold-plated toilet brush and toilet paper dispenser joked of his “oil-for-palace program”. A reference to the UN oil-for-food scheme.

Richard Fairbanks, a Middle East expert in Washington said “If you have all the resources of a wealthy country at your disposal, BASIC INSTINCTS COME FORTH.”

Why do these leaders milk their people dry? Because they CAN!

But leadership like this is nothing new. Right through history/ leaders have got away with abuse like this. Even in Ezekiel’s day.

And in today’s verses God paints a terrible picture just like these ones. A picture of leaders plundering their people. Like shepherds who take advantage of their sheep. It’s a picture of Shepherds behaving badly. Look at Ch 34 v2.

(Ezek 34:2-4 NIV)  …Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? {3} You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. {4} 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.

All sorts of things they HAVE done which they SHOULDN’T. And a whole pile of things they HAVEN’T done which they SHOULD.

They SHOULD be taking care of the flock. They SHOULD be strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding up the injured, bringing back the strays, searching for the lost.

If you think about it/ a shepherd’s work is NEVER DONE. There’s always something else you could be doing. And it’s all FOR THE SAKE OF THE FLOCK.

But instead of all this/ here’s what they did INSTEAD. They fed themselves. They clothed themselves. Took the choice milk. Cooked up a lovely lamb for lunch. It was all about THEM. The flock was there simply to meet THEIR needs.

And it’s a temptation that’s there even among God’s people TODAY. Among leaders of THE CHURCH.

You can see it in ministers. Who see the job as a career. Who are pre-occupied with building their profile. Working on their C.V. Speaking at the right conferences. Moving to the right churches.

And they do it EMOTIONALLY as well. Manipulating people to do or be what THEY want. Not allowing God’s Spirit to guide God’s people as HE wants. But insisting “It’s MY way or the HIGHWAY!”

That’s fleecing the flock. Exploiting the sheep. Feeding OFF the flock. Rather than FEEDING the flock.

It’s pastors who are more concerned about controlling their own workloads. Protecting their comfortable lifestyles. Building their assets, and credibility. Than they are being SERVANTS. Carrying their cross. Dying to self.

But it’s not just ministers. You can see it in elders and other leaders of the church. Who are more concerned with building their own little empire/ than they are about building God’s kingdom.

It might be choir, or music, or Sunday School, or Management Committee. Or even guarding the keys to the cupboard with the good china.

That’s fleecing the flock. Exploiting the sheep. Feeding OFF the flock. Rather than FEEDING the flock.

And even your average MEMBER can do the same thing. Doing things at church for WRONG MOTIVES. For pride, or self-esteem, or make yourself feel better. That’s looking to the needs of YOURSELF, rather than to the needs of others.

And that’s fleecing the flock. Exploiting the sheep. Feeding OFF the flock. Rather than FEEDING the flock.

But it’s the LEADERS God’s got in his sights. Because they have the most INFLUENCE. Look at the RESULT of their misbehaviour. V5.

(Ezek 34:5-6 NIV)  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. {6} My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

When shepherds are more interested in staying comfortable/ than looking after their flock/ then the flock just goes to ruin.

There’s no-one to GUIDE them. So they get lost.

There’s no-one to PROTECT them. So they are attacked by wild animals.

And when they DO get lost, there’s no-one to LOOK for them. So they’re SCATTERED.

And in Ezekiel’s time/ the meaning of SCATTERING was obvious. EXILE. Kings and rulers who lined their own pockets. Who deprived people of justice. Who squandered the wealth of the nation on IDOLS, and buying foreign allegiances. Led the people into wickedness and ruin.

And God punished them with EXILE.

And he blames the LEADERS. Look at what he has to say to them. V10. God is AGAINST them.

(Ezek 34:10 NIV)  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

The shepherds will be REMOVED from tending the flock. And notice what God says about the flock? Whose flock ARE they? They’re GOD’S flock.

And when you think of the flock like THAT/ it makes a HUGE difference to the way you treat them.

When I think of them as MY flock, I’m tempted to think that they’re there for MY BENEFIT. To serve MY NEEDS. To fulfil MY AGENDA. And so I work at getting people to do things MY WAY. To MY ENDS.

But if it’s GOD’S flock. Then it’s not about me AT ALL!

God’s flock is there for GOD. He OWNS it. It’s there to serve HIM. To fulfil HIS AGENDA. To build HIS KINGDOM.

We’re God’s flock. And that means he’ll PROTECT us. We’re VALUABLE. Special. Holy.

We’re MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than a soccer club, or a service organisation, or a knitting club. Because we’re OWNED by God. Our constitution wasn’t written by any HUMAN. But by God HIMSELF. He admits to membership. He disciplines and rewards. He sets policy and direction. He C.E.O., General Manager, and President all rolled into one.

We’re GOD’S flock.

2. God the Shepherd.

And God’s flock are so valuable to him, he won’t let JUST ANYONE look after them. He’s going to do it HIMSELF. God the shepherd. V11.

(Ezek 34:11-12 NIV)  “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. {12} As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

And down in v16, we see him doing all the things the SHEPHERDS DIDN’T do. Search for the lost. Bring back the strays. Bind up the injured. Strengthen the weak.

Like the farmer who comes back from holidays and finds the hired hands have RUINED the flock. There’s fences down, the sheep are in the corn. Some have been taken by dingos. Some are lame from injuries. Some are sick. Baby lambs have been left to die.

So he sacks the lot of them. And does the job himself. “If you want a job done properly, do it yourself.”

Because the hired hands care NOTHING for the flock. They’re just a PAYCHECK. But to the FARMER, they’re HIS. He KNOWS them.

So he fixes the fences. Searches for the strays – brings them back. Heals the injured. Looks after the weak.

And you can see what that means for Israel – RETURN FROM EXILE. V13.

(Ezek 34:13-14 NIV)  I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. {14} I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

Punishment is over. Jerusalem has fallen. But now God’s promising RESTORATION. One day, he’ll bring them back to the land. And it will be Paradise again. Just like it was when they first arrived.

And because God is God, it means he will shepherd WITH JUSTICE.

And that means he has a word for THE SHEEP. Because the sheep haven’t been BLAMELESS in everything that’s happened. In the events of sin and punishment and exile. Look at how v17 starts.

(Ezek 34:17-19 NIV)  “‘As for YOU, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

Those who’d been living at the expense of the rest were about to get what they’d deserved. Justice was coming.

“I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. {18} Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? {19} Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

The picture’s a VIVID one. If you’ve ever seen a herd of sheep. They really are DUMB CREATURES. And selfish. When they know that food or water’s around. Nothing else matters. And they’ll trample another sheep. Push, shove. Stampede. To get there FIRST. … A bit like people at a David Jones Half-Yearly Clearance.

And God’s saying that his people are like THAT. The strong oppress and exploit the weak. The fat get fatter. And the lean get leaner. And God will judge BETWEEN them.

What does God think of the inequality between his people? We might immediately think of the difference between someone here who earns over $100,000 a year, and someone who earns $30,000.

But what about the difference between ANYONE here, and our Christian brothers and sisters in the Sudan, or Myanmar, or Nepal, or Vanuatu, or China.

It might be MONEY. That’s OBVIOUS. Or health care, or education, or running water, or shelter, or clothes.

But what about BIBLES? How many Bibles have you got in your home. We’ve probably got 20.

But millions of our Chinese brothers and sisters must SHARE. Or read someone’s HAND-WRITTEN COPY. Or perhaps they’ve never even SEEN one.

What does God think of the way us fat sheep are treating the lean sheep? He wants it to STOP. He wants us to treat each other with EQUITY.

And when it came to Israel, God tells us HOW that justice and rule will work out. God the Shepherd will use his instrument – his servant – David. Another shepherd. That’s in v23.

(Ezek 34:23-24 NIV)  I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. {24} I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.

A servant of God. Who will tend the people like a PROPER shepherd. And while God is the king, this guy will be the PRINCE. The 2-I-C. Second in command. God’s INSTRUMENT for bringing about the justice he’s promising.

Now, he’s obviously not talking about the ORIGINAL King David. But a DESCENDANT from David’s line.

And in the time of the return from exile, they were still around. People would have known who the next in line for the throne was.

And God’s promising that if the people would return to obeying God, and restore this guy to the throne, then God would restore Israel to her glory days.

And God goes on to describe what those glory days LOOK LIKE. It will be a time of PEACE. V25.

Now when we think of peace we think of the ABSENCE of WAR. But for the Jew, peace was a much richer term. Peace was “SHALOM”. A total state of well-being. All relationships working in harmony. Physical, emotional and spiritual security and comfort.

Shalom is the absence of FEAR. Fear from wild beasts. God will get rid of them from the land. And so his people will feel safe wherever they go. That’s v25.

And he’ll bless the land. Fruitful crops. Plentiful harvest. Physical and emotional security. That’s SHALOM. (v26)

And in 28, God will rescue them from THE NATIONS AROUND. Shalom – peace with enemies. “They will live in safety and no one will make them afraid.”

But the greatest of these blessings of SHALOM. Is in v30 and 31.

(Ezek 34:30-31 NIV)  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 Sovereign LORD. {31} You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I AM YOUR GOD, declares the Sovereign LORD.'”

God is WITH his people. With HIS people. They are his. He is theirs. And he will shepherd them.

3. The Good Shepherd (Jn 10:1-18)

That was the promise. And to begin with, God was promising to do it at the local historical level. In the time of Ezekiel.

But disobedience meant it never happened. When they finally got their chance. In 538 BC, King Cyrus of Persia let the people come back to Jerusalem. And for a while, they worked at rebuilding. They followed for a while. Ezra and Nehemiah lead the people well.

But once more, they fell. And inter-married. And committed idolatry. And so God’s promises didn’t happen.

But that wasn’t the end. Because God’s promises aren’t stopped by man’s disobedience. God’s promises stand forever.

And so God had ANOTHER King David planned. One who would be the ULTIMATE shepherd. Providing an ULTIMATE kingdom. An eternal one.

In Jn 10, Jesus takes on the title of SHEPHERD. In particular, since he’s been arguing with the Pharisees, and calling them children of the devil, he calls himself the GOOD shepherd. In contrast to BAD shepherds. Shepherds behaving BADLY. Something Israel was used to. Jn 10.11

(John 10:11-14 NIV)  “I am the GOOD shepherd. The good shepherd LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP. {12} The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. {13} The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. {14} “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–

What’s a good shepherd like? He LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE for his sheep. That’s the sort of servant who pleases God.

And it’s through laying down his life for his sheep/ that THIS SHEPHERD Jesus leads his people into all the promises God made to Ezekiel.

Promises of blessing. And justice. And SHALOM. Fullness of life. Jesus himself promises SHALOM. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the FULL.” And it’s that sort of life that Jesus offers us NOW.

But even at it’s best, the Christian life is only a TASTE of fullness of Paradise. When Jesus returns, he’ll bring in the new heavens and the new earth. And it will be JUST LIKE God promised Ezekiel in Ch 34. Blessing and justice and peace and rest and fertility and richness.

But it only comes through Jesus. He is the GATE for the sheep. Whoever enters through him will be saved.

Is that YOU? Are you following Jesus? Have you turned from your sin, and turned to following Jesus? If you have, then all God’s promises here in Ezekiel are FOR YOU!!!

4. Shepherds behaving properly

And while that’s true for ALL God’s sheep. There’s something SPECIAL for those who shepherd the church.

After all the hard words to shepherds, you’d probably be wondering why on earth anyone would want to shepherd God’s people. Be a minister, or an elder.

Let me close with some words from the Apostle Peter. To the shepherds in the church. 1 Peter 5.

(1 Pet 5:1-4 NIV)  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: {2} Be SHEPHERDS OF GOD’S FLOCK that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are WILLING, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but EAGER TO SERVE; {3} not LORDING IT OVER those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

That’s exactly the warning God gave Israel’s shepherds through Ezekiel. Don’t fleece the sheep! SERVE, not BE served.

And then listen to his promise in the next verse. V4.

{4} And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

That’s what we leaders are to be. Examples. Servants. UNDER-shepherds for the CHIEF shepherd. And when we do that faithfully, Jesus will have a crown of GLORY waiting for us.

And that’s something that’s worth working for. SERVING for. SHEPHERDING for. The GLORY OF THE APPROVAL OF THE LORD JESUS. A crown of “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your rest. The peace and shalom of eternal blessing.

And so, whether we’re elders or not, let’s all serve the flock. With an eye on that crown.

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