The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
Ezekiel 34:1-4 (NIV)
Read: Ezekiel 34:1-10
Consider: Ezekiel 34 contains a damning endictment of shepherds who don’t act in the correct way in taking care of their flock. It isn’t really a message for actual shepherds who attend sheep. If it was then the vast majority of people reading this passage could effectively ignore its message and fail to apply it to their lives. The passage is really about those in leadership positions who use their position to gain economic, status or power advantage over others. While the message of Ezekiel 34 must apply to anyone in business or politics, its primary application is for anyone who is responsible for the spiritual leadership of a flock (congregation).
Unfortunately we’ve probably all heard of those so-called shepherds who use their leadership position to line their own pockets or to promote themselves. In Ezekiel’s words these are people ‘… who only take care of themselves’.
God accuses these shepherds of looking after their own interests, sitting in ease and comfort while the sheep are not tended. It is clear from the passage that it is not what God wants. The characteristics God looks for in a shepherd are to:
strengthen the weak;
heal the sick;
bind up the injured;
bring back the strays;
search for the lost.
Most of this is very demanding and can be unglamorous. It can require a considerable commitment in terms of time and effort on behalf of the shepherd, In any church setting there will be people in each category – immature Christians whose faith is weak, those with specific spiritual or physical needs, those who have been hurt by the actions of others (either in or outside of the church), those who have fallen away from their faith and those who have no faith and are in need of Christ’s forgiveness.
The warning to these false shepherds is quite clear and should cause us all concern. God may allow false shepherds to operate for a time, but he will eventually bring about their downfall and punishment. In Ezekiel 34:9-10 it says: ‘… therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 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.’
This isn’t the end of the story as we’ll see in the next post when we consider the second part of Ezekiel 34. While the false shepherds will be deprived of their livelihood, God has great plans for his sheep (you and me).
Pray: Father, protect us from those shepherds who care more for themselves than for the people they are supposed to shepherd. May we put ourselves under your care. Amen