28 February 2017

Ezekiel 34:17-24

“I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” (v. 23)

Psalm: Psalm 117


Having begun the chapter by prophesying against the oppressive leaders of Judah, Ezekiel now turns his attention to the people.

It's natural, when we see injustice and oppression, to feel righteous indignation towards the perpetrators - to feel that 'somebody ought to do something'. It's much harder to acknowledge our own complicity. It can be difficult to recognise our privilege within systems which oppress others. And it is even harder to take a stand, when greater equality would cost us our privileged position.

It is perhaps this contentment to allow the status quo, and to profit from the suffering of others, which Ezekiel has in mind when he says, "Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture?" (v. 18).

Having judged between the sheep, God will gather up the flock and care for them. Verses 23-24 promise the shepherding care of David. This may seem odd, given that David's reign was around four centuries earlier. But by Ezekiel's time, his rule was regarded as a high point in the history of God's people. All Israel was united under one king, who was chosen and anointed by God. King David was a faithful servant of God; a great military leader, who expanded Israel's territory; a godly leader, who ruled in the best interests of his subjects. How far this matches the truth was perhaps not important. He had become a legendary model of the kingly ideal. And he was born a shepherd.

Ezekiel was expressing an emerging hope. This was one of the lowest episodes in the life of God's people. The kingdom was divided and the northern part (Israel) completely wiped out. The southern kingdom (Judah) was occupied and many of her people in exile. The exiles were dreaming of the past and the future. Could this glorious era, when David was king, be recreated?

Hope started to emerge of another king, in the line of David, who would restore Israel's greatness. He too would be an anointed one, which in Hebrew is 'Messiah'.

To Ponder

  • In what ways do you, or we as western society, "feed on the good pasture, but … tread down with your feet the rest of the pasture" or "drink of clear water" but "foul the rest" (v. 18)? Are we guilty of enjoying our privilege but making it harder for others to share in it?
  • Do you find this passage comforting or challenging, or both? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.