Summary: Contrasting irresponsible shepherds with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
THE BAD AND THE GOOD SHEPHERD
The teaching of Jesus and of the New Testament is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who seeks out the lost sheep, and dies for His flock. This is in contrast to those who are not shepherds at all, but merely hired helps, who have no personal concern with the sheep except as a source of work and therefore of income.
This teaching did not suddenly arrive on the scene with Jesus. It was already known by those who were familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. There is one whole chapter which contrasts irresponsible shepherds with the one true Shepherd: Ezekiel 34.
The bad, irresponsible, or false shepherds represent the leaders, particularly the religious leaders, who fail to fulfil their duty towards God’s flock. This is true, whether we are thinking of Israel and Judah before the Exile, after the Exile, in Jesus’ day (when the flock was seen by His sympathetic eye as scattered like sheep without a shepherd), of the Church at any stage of history, in the present, or nearer yet to the end of time.
I. There are several complaints against the shepherds.
First, Ezekiel 34:2-3, they feed themselves, instead of the flock. This is spiritual feeding, out of the Word of God, which is lacking sometimes even amongst those who consider themselves a part of the Church. Isaiah 56:11 says, “They are shepherds who cannot understand; they all look to their own way, every one for his own gain, from his own territory.” If those entrusted with the preaching of the Word of God view this responsibility as a means of income rather than an appointment from God, or have forgotten their vocation and are more caught up in the politics of Church life than the care of God’s people, then they are failing both those with whose souls they have been entrusted, and also God Himself.
The second complaint is that they have failed to take care of the weak and the sickly, and have not sought out the lost, Ezekiel 34:4. They are like those elders who might like to be lords over those entrusted to them, rather than examples (see 1 Peter 5:3.)
Thirdly, and consequently, the sheep are scattered as those without a shepherd, Ezekiel 34:5. “For the shepherds have become dull-hearted, and have not sought the LORD; ” says Jeremiah 10:21, “therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.”
II. The indictment against these lazy shepherds, false prophets, gluttonous priests, careless overseers, sham ministers cries out for a punishment to fit the crime - and that we have in Ezekiel 34:10.
First of all, God sets Himself against the shepherds.
Secondly, He requires His flock at their hand.
Thirdly, He removes them from office.
Fourthly, He stops them from feeding on the benefits of their poorly executed ministry.
Fifthly, He delivers the flock from them.
“You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD in Jeremiah 23:2.
III. By contrast, we see the good shepherd, the Lord Himself.
First, we see Him as the one who seeks out the lost sheep, Ezekiel 34:11. “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,” teaches Jesus in Matthew 18:12, “does he not go to the mountains to seek the one who is straying?” Thus does Jesus with us.
Secondly, He delivers them from their enemies, Ezekiel 34:12. The price Jesus paid for our deliverance was death, but in His death He overcame death, that last of all our enemies, on our behalf. He is the good shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep.
Thirdly, He gathers them from the nations, and feeds them on the mountains of Israel, Ezekiel 34:13-14. This reaches far beyond the physical restoration of the land to Israel, to an inheritance for all God’s people. Even now He is gathering a people to Himself out of every tribe and kindred and tongue and nation. “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it to the isles afar off,” says Jeremiah 31:10. “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.”
Fourthly, he gives them rest, Ezekiel 34:15. He makes them to lie down in green pastures. God’s people find true repose in His presence, and in the yoke of Christ, and even physical death represents nothing more than a rest from our labours!
Fifthly, He binds up the broken and heals the sick, Ezekiel 34:16. John the Baptist sent disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” To which Jesus replied in Matthew 11:4-5, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”