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The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (21)

Biblical Research Monthly, January 1947 thru September 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper

Installments:

      1. Some Preliminary Observations
      2. The Call and Commission of Ezekiel
      3. The Beginnings of Ezekiel's Ministry
      4. The Final Collapse of Judah Under the Babylonian Siege
      5. Jehovah's Withdrawal from the City and it's Downfall
      6. The Flight and Capture of the King Symbolically Represented and Warning Against a Wrong Attitude Concerning Prophecy
      7. Prophecy and Idolatry
      8. Israel, the Burnt Vine and the Unfaithful Wife
      9. The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ
      10. God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”
      11. The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah
      12. Israel's Past and Future Experiences
      13. The Sword of Jehovah
      14. Sinful Jerusalem and Her Punishment
      15. The Lewdness of Oholah and Oholibah
      16. The Boiling Caldron
      17. Oracles Concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia
      18. The Oracle Concerning Tyre
      19. The Oracles Concerning Egypt
      20. The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)
      21. The Untrue Shepherds of Israel
      22. The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd
      23. The Judgment upon Edom
      24. The Curse Removed from the Land of Israel
      25. Israel's Restoration to the Land of the Fathers and Her Conversion
      26. The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
      27. The Scattered Nation of Israel Reunited under King Messiah
      28. The Overthrow of the Russian Forces that Invade Palestine (Chapter 38)
      29. The Overthrow of the Antichrist's Forces Invade Palestine (Chapter 39)
      30. The Millennial Jerusalem
      31. The Millennial Temple
      32. The Prince and the Glorified Millennial Temple
      33. The Land of Israel in the Millennium

The Untrue Shepherds of Israel

The Lord frequently uses human illustrations to set forth divine truths. He constantly thought and spoke of Israel as a flock of sheep and of His being the shepherd, or of some of His servants as being appointed to care for the sheep. For instance, in Psalm 95:7 and 100:3, He speaks of Israel as being the sheep of His pasture. In II Samuel 5:2 appears the language of the Lord to David saying, “Thou shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and thou shall be prince over Israel.” Thus Israel in these passages is thought of as God's flock. David in the last quotation is spoken of as being the shepherd (under God) of the flock.

The Faithless Shepherds of Israel

In Ezekiel 34:1 the Lord spoke through Ezekiel “against the shepherds of Israel.” His message was one of condemnation because they, instead of performing their duties as they should have done, were not looking after the interests of the people of God. On the contrary, they were using their official positions for their own personal profit and aggrandizement. Like the literal shepherds to whom flocks of sheep were entrusted, and who did not care for the needs of the sheep and did not protect them, the political and religious leaders of Israel held their positions of influence and power over the nation but did not look after the welfare of the people. The well-being of a nation is wrapped up in the type of political rulers and their spiritual leaders, who are over it. Of course, in Israel the king with the princes was at the head of the political situation. Often good kings sat upon the throne. At other times there were men wicked, evil, selfish, and self-centered who only used their high office for the forwarding of their own personal interests. Whenever the authority and power lay in the hands of such men as these, great distress and misfortune came upon the land and the people.

There were also the priests who were appointed to lead the people spiritually to carry on the true worship of God, and to minister to the spiritual welfare of the nation. All too frequently those who served in spiritual affairs descended to a very low level of morals and ethics. Isaiah compared them to dumb dogs and said, “Yea, the dogs are greedy, they can never have enough; and these are shepherds that cannot understand: they have all turned to their own way, each one to his gain, from every quarter” (Isaiah 56:11). Once again this same prophet spoke of the priests and of the prophets saying, “And even these reel with wine, and stagger with strong drink; the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean” (Isaiah 28:7,8). On this same point Jeremiah gave the following utterance: “A wonderful and horrible thing is come to pass in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so; and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jeremiah 5:30,31).

In the New Testament the spiritual leaders of the people of God are likewise spoken of as shepherds. Jesus just before His departure from this earth urged Peter to feed His sheep, to take care of His lambs (John 21:15-17). This Apostle later on, in addressing the elders of the church, urged them to tend the flock of God which was among them (I Peter 5:1-3). The Apostle Paul in his final talk with the elders of the church at Ephesus whom he met at Miletus thought of the church as the flock of God and of them as being shepherds to whom the care of the flock was entrusted.

Both the shepherds of Israel and the shepherds in the New Testament church are given great opportunities of service in looking after the spiritual welfare of the people and of teaching the Word of God faithfully and accurately.

In Ezekiel 34:7-10 the Lord spoke again to the shepherds of His people Israel and denounced them for their unfaithfulness. Hear him:

Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah: 8 As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely forasmuch as my sheep became a prey, and my sheep became food to all the beasts of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my sheep, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my sheep; 9 therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah: 10 Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the sheep; neither shall the shepherds, feed themselves any more; and I will deliver my sheep from their mouth, that they may not be food for them.”

Whenever persons are called by the Lord from secular pursuits and are entrusted with the spiritual welfare of other people, a grave responsibility is placed upon them. With privileges and advantages come grave responsibilities. The feeding and the caring for the people of God constitute a position that involves the eternal welfare of myriads of souls. The Lord therefore holds all who are thus entrusted with such high positions and privileges to a strict account of their stewardship.

If they discharge their duties faithfully, allowing the Lord to lead and guide them in all of their duties, they will lead many to the Lord and enrich their lives. On the other hand, if they are simply time-servers and are using their positions for their own personal benefits, great will be the condemnation that will rest upon them.

Everyone who is thus called into the ministry should prepare himself for efficient service in the Master's cause. He should by ceaseless toil and prayer ascertain the teaching of the Scriptures. He should likewise develop in the spiritual life himself, thus growing in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. Knowing the will of God the faithful servant will proclaim the Word to the people, regardless of whether or not it is popular.

The prophets of God of whom we read in the Scriptures were fearless, dauntless men. They put God first. They were willing to suffer, even martyrdom, in order that they might accomplish their course and fulfill their ministry. For instance, of Isaiah we are told by tradition that he was sawn asunder. Nevertheless, he would neither alter nor change his message but delivered it faithfully to the people. Jeremiah likewise suffered as few mortals have ever done for the truth. He was a true shepherd of Israel. Throughout the Christian Era there have been many, innumerable shepherds who have put God and the interest of His people first and have not considered themselves or their own peculiar wants or position. Thus God has been honored and people have been blessed by the ministry of such faithful shepherds.

Jehovah's Becoming The Shepherd of Israel

In verses 11 and 12 is one of the most remarkable prophecies of the Old Testament.

For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will deliver them out of all places whither they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.”

This prediction baffled the ancient rabbis. They saw the force of the statement: “Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep ...” They realized from this context that God, having denounced both the political and religious leaders of His people for a failure to perform their duty of office, promised to come personally and to perform the functions in which they had failed. According to their interpretation this passage was a prediction that God would come as a person and thus perform those duties. But it was difficult for them to understand this passage, since they could not see how God himself could personally come as a human being and perform these duties. This passage along with Isaiah, chapter 53, has been spoken of as the bad conscience of the synagogue.

This promise of God's becoming the true shepherd of His people and of His performing these functions — that of prophet, priest, and king — can be understood in the light of such predictions as Isaiah 7:14 which declares: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” From this passage we see that Messiah was scheduled to leave heaven and enter the world by miraculous power. When we turn to the New Testament and study Matthew, chapter 1, and Luke, chapter 1, we see how this prediction was fulfilled in the miraculous conception, and virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Having performed His task at His first coming, the Lord Jesus, the Hebrew Messiah, surrendered himself to the Jewish leaders who arrested Him and condemned Him to death. But this sentence was executed by the Roman authorities. This seeming tragic death was foretold by Zechariah the prophet in the following language:

Awake, 0 sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith Jehovah of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn my hand upon the little ones.” (Zechariah 13:7)

Thus the sword did its worst in taking the life of the Messiah. Upon death He was laid in the tomb, but on the third day, according to His prediction, He arose bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel. Forty days later He ascended to glory where He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, awaiting the time when Israel, having been given the facts concerning her national sin, repudiates that crime and pleads for Him to return.

For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and there shall be none to deliver. 15 I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me earnestly. 1 Come and let us return unto Jehovah; for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days will he revive us: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live before him. 3 And let us know, let us follow on to know Jehovah: his going forth is sure as the morning; and he will come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth.” (Hosea 5:14-6:3)

When she thus prays for Him to return in fulfillment of this passage and Psalm; 80:1-3, the Messiah will return and will perform the duties of a shepherd to His beloved people as set forth in our passage, Ezekiel 34:11-16.

He, the Lord Jesus, who was the Shepherd of Israel is also the Good Shepherd of His people from all nations who believe Him and accept His salvation. He has proved to be the gracious, loving, tender Shepherd of all who accept Him. He fulfills every promise that is set forth in Psalm 23. Are you, my dear reader, one of His sheep? If you have accepted Him with all your heart and surrendered your life to Him, you have been received by Him; for he who comes to Him He will in nowise cast out. If you have never accepted Him, may you do so now.

Next: The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd

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