27 November 2007Ezekiel 34:20-31
"I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken". (v.23-24)
This passage comes at the end of an outspoken attack on the
leaders of Judah just before the Exile (when the Jews were exiled
in Babylon), around 600BC. These leaders ('the shepherds') have
looked after themselves at the expense of the sheep, and Ezekiel is
scathing in his condemnation of them.
In their place he looks for a new shepherd, a good shepherd, sent by God to be the kind of leader God wants for his people. This shepherd will be a new king of David's line, and not a corrupt one like his predecessors. He will be the real David, one fitted to bear the name of his great ancestor.
Then the Lord will be their God, and they will be God's people, just as it was supposed to be. All will be well: no more injustice and oppression in the nation, no more invasions and foreign attacks, and prosperity all round. This will be shalom -a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony and flourishing in every aspect of life.
Ezekiel was then caught up in the Babylonian invasion and exiled in Babylon, having seen the first part of his message materialise. He had warned them of the consequences if they did not change their ways, and they hadn't. In Babylon he focused on what would come next, God's new beginning.
Ezekiel never lived to see his hope fulfilled, though the Jews were allowed home from Babylon and did make a new start in Judah. Centuries later the first Christians saw Jesus as the real fulfilment of Ezekiel's hopes and the hopes for a brighter future of so many of the prophets. So it is that one of them writes that splendid meditation on Jesus as the 'good shepherd' in John 10, taking his cue from this passage in Ezekiel.
'Politics and religion don't mix' and 'keep religion out of politics' are old sayings which used to be heard in the Church. Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously said that people who said that sort of thing must be reading a different Bible from the one he read. The sayings have, however, received a new lease of life recently in the context of 9/11, the Iraq War, the London bombings and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. How do we want to respond to them now?
Some of the prophets of ancient Israel were devastating critics of the politics and social values of their day. Who are today's prophets, do you think?