Jesus has a precedent for his scathing denunciation of the religious leaders in Matthew 23. The Lord condemned the leaders of Israel as shepherds who failed to feed the sheep, Ezekiel 34. This chapter falls in the latter section of the prophet’s book that looks toward the restoration of God’s people, Ezekiel 33-48. Before the nation can be reclaimed, its leaders must be changed.
The true shepherd will take action.
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice (Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV).
Let us notice some of the emphases of this text.
First, those who grew “fat and strong” off the sheep, God’s people, he would destroy. There is no planting and harvest without the clearing of the ground first. Salvation and judgment go hand in hand. From the first to the last, both are works of God.
… God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (2 Thessalonians 1.6, 7).
Man’s ongoing conflicts reflect his greed and ambition. We will always have wars and the rumors of wars. And God also is engaged in continual warfare, but for a different purpose and with a different ending. He did not begin it, but he will end it. By his victory he will free us. This is the great conclusion of the book of Revelation.
Some of man’s wars cause extreme destruction and loss of life. Think of the American Civil War and World War I, to name a few. Other human wars were over quickly with little loss of property or life.
Spiritual warfare may seem long and hard to us. But not for our Lord. No opposition presents any real threat to his sovereignty. Remember 2 Thessalonians 2.8?
“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”
With only a puff of air, our Master does away with the enemy. Resistance to his power is futile. His good will wins over evil. This above all things is wonderful news.
Second, the Lord emphasizes what he himself would do: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down.” This is his personal action. He is intimately involved.
Yes, he has shepherds below him. He sets his servant David (a probable reference to Jesus) to guide the flock, vv. 23-24. David best epitomized the care of God for his people. Another like him would come. But the Lord himself is always near.
God is so interested in us. In me. We were created for his pleasure, for his love. When we cut and ran, he did not give up on us. Some people used to think of God as the great winder-upper of the world who then turned and walked away. But he is not distant nor disinterested. He comes near to us.
Third, in his intervention to restore his people, the Lord declares his intention in detail. The first phrase is especially noteworthy: “I will seek the lost.”
God has always been the seeker of the lost. Early on, he sought Cain who was lost in his anger.
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6, 7).
Even in the midst of judgment, God shows his ultimate goal, overcoming the evil one and undoing his harmful deeds (Genesis 3:15). The storyline of the Bible follows his seeking of the lost and his restoration of people to his presence.
God’s people, if they are indeed his, are lit with the same fire of speaking and seeking. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, remember? (Luke 19:10). His apostles burned with the same mission in their hearts, as Paul expressed it:
I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:22, 23).
All the servants of the Lord know this truth. James understood it.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).
Does this not sound just like the Lord in Ezekiel 34? Jude gets it, too.
And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 22, 23).
If we are attentive, the mission of God is not reduced to a few verses of the Great Commission, but permeates the whole Bible. God seeks the lost. Those who are his do the same.
Today’s stories, books, and films often do not have a happy ending. We live in the age of pessimism and despair. But a glance at the God who seeks the lost, who is personally involved, and who restores by means of judgment ought to revive our hopes and fire up our dreams. And cause us to be deeply thankful that we have in Christ such a God and Savior.