Summary: Knowing what God expects of leaders in the church
The prophet Ezekiel writes the book during the Babylonian captivity. Here we have the Israelite who were carried out of their home land, away from their relatives, friends, and homes, and yes even their beloved temple at Jerusalem. Many had gone astray from God and followed many gods. This is the main reason that God allowed them to be carried off, so that they would once again turn back to Him.
In chapter 34, the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the leaders of Israel. For, in essence, it was partly their fault that Israel had gotten into the spiritual shape that they were in. God longs to bring back His people, but warns to bring judgment on those who have ruled over the people.
Many commentaries have said that the term “shepherd” was in fact a title given to first the priests and Levites, secondly the Kings, princes and magistrates. Many of the ecclesiastical priests served as some type of political figure. Therefore, the warning includes all of these leader types. Today, in the twenty-first century, we can glean from the example of the shepherd imagery. By learning from the three indictments brought against the shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34, we can know what God expects from us as leaders over his people.
I would like to begin by sharing a true story with you. There were two women in their early 20’s who loved Jesus very much. They had just begun to visit a new church in town. The church was a very exciting place: the gifts of the spirit were in operation, the pastors seemed to be caring individuals, praise and worship was awesome! but much work needed to be done. The two young women volunteered their time and talents for the work of the Lord. The church began to grow, and so did the work load of these two individuals. Before long, their labors of love became expected by the pastor. The care and concern that these women had once felt from the leaders was gone. Instead, the demands for their efforts increased to keep the pastor pleased. Whatsmore, they were afraid to decline to perform duties because they had seen the outcome of members who had tried.
The pastor ruled over the congregation with much control, manipulation, fear tactics and guilt mechanisms to keep the people “in line” or doing what he wished. The pastor was there to be served, not to serve. It took one of the young women 3 years to reach burn out and almost had a nervous breakdown. The other, 4 years. Eventually they both left that church.
I. The first indictment: shepherds fed themselves (v. 2,3)
The first indictment we can learn from is that the shepherds fed themselves.
The picture we are given in this rebuke is that of a shepherd who is self-serving and greedy. He has no concern for the needs of the sheep, and instead of serving, expects to be served by them.
Let’s look at ways the shepherd fed himself, and took away from the sheep.
A. Eat the fat
He is said to ‘eat the fat’ in verse 3. Some believe it refers to the heavy taxation of the people, causing a hardship in their daily existence. The word “fat” translated also means milk. The priests were allowed to take a portion of the goods for their services, but in moderation. THey were oppressing the people by their greed in taking the most and best. You could say they were “milking them for all they were worth.” Overall, monetary resources were being taken from the pockets of the common man and put into the treasury of the authorities.
I believe here we can see that God’s people are not a means for us to become wealthy. Yes our resources come from them, within moderation, but we must not cause hardship among the people. What is our motivation? To provide a wealthy existence? To gain large paychecks?
B. Clothe themselves with the wool
In verse 3 we also see the phrase “clothe themselves with the wool.“ What does this mean? The leaders were decked out in the purest, finest most expensive wool around. While the sheep were in rags, pilfering around to make due, shepherds lived in prosperity. One commentary said that the sheep had been fleeced of the wool right off their backs.
While the sheep were half naked and stripped of their dignity, their leaders paraded in honor that did not rightfully belong to them. It’s alright to want to look right in the eyes of others, but at whose expense? Let us not take away the dignity of our parishioners so that we ourselves can look more respectable in the eyes of more prominent people.
C. Slaughtered the fatlings
The next statement is probably the most appalling of all. It said they “slaughtered the fatlings” (v.3). This refers to the very rich people who brought accusations against the leaders for the injustices. Instead of justice, these wealthy men were slaughtered. The plush estates went to the very ones they were trying to stop.