19 August 2010

Ezekiel 34:1-11

"For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out." (v.11)


The historical background of this passage is the fact that over the previous century and a half the land of Israel had been overrun by foreign powers, first Assyria and then Babylon (both now in modern Iraq). Many of its people had been deported, some into exile, the prophet Ezekiel among them, but most simply dispersed, losing their identity in the process.

Ezekiel lays the blame upon the kings and other leaders, accusing them of being more interested in their own advantage than the well-being of the people. The analogy between rulers and shepherds is often found in the Bible and is a natural one in any rural society. It is self-evident that any shepherd who thought only of meat and wool and did not nurture the flock or protect it from predators was a fool. Eventually there would be no flock left.

There are obvious implications here for all in positions of power, whether in state, industry, commerce or the Church. The temptation to misuse power for personal gain is not confined to the ancient world; it is all too easy to think of contemporary examples.

The climax of the passage is in the final verse. Comparing God to a shepherd was not new (see Psalm 23 - "The Lord is my shepherd"), but the implications here are many. As verse 10 asserts, rulers are never absolute, they are accountable to God. For Ezekiel's contemporaries it also means that God will eventually restore the exiles to their homeland, and the paragraphs following today's passage develop the promise.

The image of God seeking lost sheep is taken up by Jesus in one of his parables (Luke 15:3-7) and John's Gospel chapter 10 reflects on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. So the political context of this passage is given a wider reference. 'Lostness' is an experience in many contexts. Verse 11 then affirms that God actively seeks and restores all the lost.

To Ponder

What experience of being lost have you had? What might being 'sought by God' mean in that context?

What priorities do verses 1-6 suggest for those who exercise power?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..