19 July 2011

"I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep" (v. 15)


Ezekiel, the exiled priest and prophet, spoke to the people exiled in Babylon, following the fall of Jerusalem at the beginning of the sixth century BC. Already he had explained that the rulers had let the people down and that was why Jerusalem had been destroyed and they, the people, found themselves in exile (see yesterday's reading, for example).

Ezekiel used the common image of shepherd (which represented the rulers of the people) to express this judgement. He has been clear that the rulers were bad shepherds. They have abused their position for their own benefit and neglected their most basic responsibilities of feeding and clothing the people.

Ezekiel had described the need of the people for a good shepherd. In this passage he describes how this role could be faithfully fulfilled only by God. God alone was the good shepherd. In this capacity, God would reverse the actions of the bad rulers and would seek out the people and fulfil their needs. The most basic need, which the prophet identified, was to restore the people to their own land. He looked therefore towards a return of the people to Jerusalem, some day.

Although he was a priest as well as a prophet, Ezekiel's first concern was not for the rebuilding of the temple where priests like himself might again exercise a priestly role. His first concern was rather for the needs of the people.

These needs were practical and straightforward. Their basic value was easily understood: good pasture for their flocks and clean water for themselves. But behind these practical promises lay Ezekiel's concern for justice. The people had been denied basic justice by the bad shepherds. God's most basic promise, as perceived by Ezekiel, was that God would feed them with justice.

To Ponder

In what ways do you think God's judgement on those who became rich at the expense of the poor is also a word of God for today?

Where do you hear such a prophetic voice in today's society, in church and politics?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr David Calvert

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