27 February 2017Ezekiel 34:1-16
“Thus says the Lord GOD, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” (v. 10)
Psalm: Psalm 116
In 597 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated the kingdom of Judah in battle and installed Zedekiah as king in Jerusalem. He had a huge empire to govern, and his way of reducing the likelihood of rebellion was to take many of the political, military and religious leaders into exile in Babylon. This provided him with hostages, and removed those most likely to be able to motivate or lead a revolt.
Among those who found themselves in exile was a young man of a priestly family. His name was Ezekiel, and a few years after leaving his homeland, aged probably about 30, he was called by God to a ministry of prophecy. His was not a comfortable message. He came to understand Judah's defeat as an expression of God's displeasure; God's people were being punished for their disobedience and lack of faithfulness. Perhaps, even in exile, the Judeans were expecting God to rescue them quickly, and restore them to their homeland. Ezekiel prophesied instead a lengthy period of exile, and the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple. This duly happened in 588-586 BC, following a rebellion by King Zedekiah.
Today's passage comes just as the tone of the book has changed. Jerusalem had fallen, and the prophecies change from warnings of judgement to a promise of redemption. The worst had happened, and now there was hope for the future. But that didn't mean that there was no judgement. God's wrath was now reserved for the leaders of the people, whose sin had led to defeat and exile. They had not faithfully fulfilled their responsibilities to their people, but had exploited them.
God will be the judge of the shepherds, and good Shepherd of the sheep. He will intervene on behalf of the oppressed, and hold the oppressors to account. So the promise is not just for a restored homeland, but for a homeland characterised by good government, justice, and abundance.
- How can you appropriately hold our political and religious leaders to account, while also supporting them and upholding them in their difficult task?
- Ezekiel is looking towards the future, with a rebuilt society shaped by God's values. What would such a society look like today? What policies would you put in place if you were starting afresh?
- The image of the good shepherd is a popular one in Scripture (eg Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 40:11; John 10:11). Do you find it helpful? Why?