20 July 2011

"You are my people, the sheep of my pasture" (v. 31)


Ezekiel, the priest in exile in Babylon, was also a prophet. He followed in the great prophetic tradition of speaking a word of God's judgement and hope. echoing much of the teaching of Jeremiah whom he knew in Jerusalem before the exile at the beginning of the sixth century BC.

Ezekiel himself is living in exile and speaking to the people there.

The basic image which Ezekiel had selected to express his message was the image of shepherd (a familiar image at that time for the rulers of the people). The rulers of Israel had been poor shepherds, corrupt and neglecting the most basic needs of the people. Ezekiel believed that this was why God had sent the people into exile. He promised that now God alone would become their shepherd.

In expressing judgement, God was able to discern the just from the unjust quite clearly. Ezekiel saw that God used a simple observation as the basis of judgement: the fat sheep were fat because they had lived off the fat of the land; the lean were lean because they were denied food by the rich. The promise of the prophet was that God, the good shepherd, would judge between sheep and sheep, and set up a new flock which would be ruled with justice (verses 20-22).

This promise of justice was the basis of the element of hope in this passage. It was only justice which could bring about the hope of a better future.

God will bring this about, said Ezekiel, through the figure of David. David was remembered in this time of exile as God's good shepherd in the past. His rule was idealised and Ezekiel used this figure as a symbol of God's determination that the people would be ruled justly.

This was expressed in terms of a new covenant. The renewal of covenant relationship was a central and recurring theme among the prophets who looked to a new beginning.

To Ponder

What figures of the past would you chose to express your hope that in the future justice might reign in the world?

What principle criteria would you use to identify the corrupt leaders in contemporary society to distinguish them from those whom God wants to restore?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr David Calvert

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