18 July 2011

"Prophesy aginst the shepherds" (v. 2a)


Ezekiel addressed the kings and rulers of Israel in the latter part of seventh century BC. He used a familiar image to condemn them. They were supposed to be shepherds, looking after the sheep (ie their people, the children of Israel). Instead, they have been looking after themselves at the expense of the people. Because they have failed in their leadership, they are condemned and dismissed.

The use of the image of shepherd for the rulers of the people was a familiar one in the Middle East. The job of the faithful shepherd was seen to be demanding, tough and dangerous. This was the sort of leadership that Ezekiel thought the people should get from their rulers, namely, a commitment to rule on their behalf.

Instead, the rulers have neglected the difficult part of their job and seized upon its benefits and rewards. They had been clothing and feeding themselves rather than the people. Ezekiel judged that it was as a direct consequence of the people not having a good shepherd that they were scattered "over all the face of the earth" (v. 6).

Ezekiel the prophet was a priest from Judah. Prior to the fall of the city of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar in 597BC, Ezekiel's life had overlapped with the prophetic ministry there of Jeremiah. But Ezekiel spoke from within the exiled community in Babylon. His message reflected a typical prophetic note of judgement and hope. As with Jeremiah, Ezekiel's message of hope could only follow after God's judgement had been executed.

In this passage, the dominant note was that of judgement. Calamity had come upon Jerusalem. This was particularly seen in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the people. These catastrophic events were interpreted by Ezekiel as God's judgement on their rulers, the 'bad' shepherds. All the people suffered as a consequence of the betrayal of this shepherding role.

To Ponder

What do you expect from the leaders of society today?

What images, other than shepherd, would you use to describe the role of political leaders in today's world, in order to challenge them to fulfil their true role on behalf of the people?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr David Calvert

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