Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies - Ezekiel, Israel and the End Times
Ezekiel 34 P1 - The scattering of Israel and the coming false shepherd
by I Gordon
When we look back over the course of Israel's history we see a repeated pattern... there are periods of faithfulness followed by idolatry and hardened hearts. The book of Judges shows this continuous cycle but it carried on through the reign of the kings of Judah as well. The nation of Israel to the north was even worse having no recorded 'good kings'. So throughout history, the Lord has used different nations and kingdom such as Assyria, Babylon and Rome to judge his people and each of these judgments led to the Jews being removed from their homeland. While there are many reasons for this, one is pointed directly at their leaders, the shepherds. Israel has always had a propensity to follow their leaders even at the expense of God and His word. Even today, the question is not so much 'what does the word of God say?' but 'What do the Rabbi's say?' and 'What does the Talmud say?' In this chapter, Ezekiel pinpointed this problem, contrasting Israel's shepherds with the coming one true Shepherd. It has relevance for Ezekiel's day, the times of Jesus and especially the coming end time scenario, where, upon rejection of the true Shepherd, Israel will once again look to a false shepherd with disastrous results.
Greedy shepherds who feed themselves
Ezekiel 34:1-4 The word of the LORD came to me: (2) Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? (3) You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. (4) You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
So herein lies a problem in Ezekiel's day, in Jesus' day, in our day, and in the days to come. In fact it is a problem right up to the day when the true shepherd returns. The shepherds were not real shepherds. They weren't looking out for the interests of the sheep but for their own interests! In the natural who has heard of such a thing? A shepherd that only looked after himself and left his sheep to go hungry and eventually die would soon have no livelihood himself. They would end up broke and starving themselves... but in the spiritual they often get away with it.
When Peter wrote about the false leaders within the church, one of the prominent tell-tale signs was this very thing... greed! He wrote:
2 Peter 2:3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
2 Peter 2:14-15 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed--an accursed brood! (15) They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.
But to the true Shepherds he wrote:
1 Peter 5:2-4 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; (3) not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (4) And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Jesus Himself contrasted His love for the sheep with the false shepherds who are simply there for the wages they can earn:
John 10:11-14 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (12) The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. (13) The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (14) I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.
Ezekiel's indictment of Israel's shepherds was true for his day and our own unfortunately. Ezekiel said the shepherds were not doing any of this following (which are signs of a good shepherd). Let's have a look at what this can mean spiritually speaking.
Strengthen the weak - Shepherds should teach the sheep the truth, laying a solid foundation for their lives based on the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
Heal the sick & bind the injured - Shepherds should help correct that which leads to sickness and point the sheep back to the great Physician who, through His shed blood, has the means of healing every sickness and injury that His sheep encounter.
Searched for the strays and lost - Shepherds should care for those that stray from the true path, taking time to go out to bring them back. Some become disillusioned with their life as a sheep when the going gets tough. Others are enticed by the enemy posing as an angel of light. The shepherd always has to be on guard for that which would pull the sheep away from the true Shepherd, the Lord Jesus.
Ezekiel 34:5-10 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. (6) My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. (7) 'Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: (8) As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, (9) therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: (10) This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
Ezekiel foresaw a time when the sheep of Israel would be scattered over the whole earth. While Ezekiel spoke during the time of the Babylonian exile in 586BC, that was not a worldwide scattering which is mentioned here. This passage had a partial fulfillment in that time but its ultimate fulfillment was the scattering of Israel in 70AD after the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Because of Israel's sin, the scattering amongst all the nations and the difficulty of these days for Israel was prophesied as far back as Moses saying:
Deuteronomy 28:64-67 "Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. (65) "Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. (66) "So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. (67) "In the morning you shall say, 'Would that it were evening!' And at evening you shall say, 'Would that it were morning!' because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see.
Leviticus 26:33-34 'You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. (34) 'Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies' land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary says "Three times in Ezek 34:5-6 Ezekiel mentioned that the sheep were scattered. The chief job of a shepherd was to prevent such a catastrophe... The shepherds had been unable to prevent the very thing they were appointed to guard against." This is true and the reason that the shepherds in Israel were unable to prevent such a catastrophe was because they themselves had been guilty of rejecting the true Shepherd! During the days of Jesus' ministry on earth, it all came to a head in Mathew chapter 12. Jesus had healed a demon possessed man who was deaf and mute man (something it was believed only the Messiah could do) and the sheep of Israel had a question... a very valid question:
Matthew 12:23 All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"
Here it was... Here was the turning point. The people were wondering whether Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Son of David! Would they believe themselves having seen the proof or would they go with what their leaders said? And what would the shepherds of Israel say?
Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."
The shepherds of Israel lead the people astray! Given clear proof of the Messiahship of Jesus, they instead made up a lie that the Messianic miracle was done through the power of Satan. This, Jesus said, was blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and could not be forgiven. The die was now cast... that generation had rejected their Messiah! The events of 70AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and scattering of Israel had their foundation with the 'shepherds of Israel' and their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit that day. The Lord God points out through Ezekiel that 'I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock'. This again happened in 70AD. The prophet Zechariah also saw this. The Lord got him to do a role play as the true shepherd who would be rejected and because of this the three 'shepherds' of Israel would be removed in one day. (The 'three' are generally thought of as the offices of Prophet, Priest and King)
Zechariah 11:7-11 So I pastured the flock doomed to slaughter, hence the afflicted of the flock. And I took for myself two staffs: the one I called Favor and the other I called Union; so I pastured the flock. (8) Then I annihilated the three shepherds in one month, for my soul was impatient with them, and their soul also was weary of me. (9) Then I said, "I will not pasture you. What is to die, let it die, and what is to be annihilated, let it be annihilated; and let those who are left eat one another's flesh." (10) I took my staff Favor and cut it in pieces, to break my covenant which I had made with all the peoples. (11) So it was broken on that day, and thus the afflicted of the flock who were watching me realized that it was the word of the LORD.
What else happens when the true Shepherd is rejected?
Zechariah 11:12-17 I said to them, "If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!" So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages. (13) Then the LORD said to me, "Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them." So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD. (14) Then I cut in pieces my second staff Union, to break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. (15) The LORD said to me, "Take again for yourself the equipment of a foolish shepherd. (16) "For behold, I am going to raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for the perishing, seek the scattered, heal the broken, or sustain the one standing, but will devour the flesh of the fat sheep and tear off their hoofs. (17) "Woe to the worthless shepherd Who leaves the flock! A sword will be on his arm And on his right eye! His arm will be totally withered And his right eye will be blind."
With the rejection of the true Shepherd, the Lord Jesus (seen above in Zech 11:12-14) we see that God will raise up a false or foolish shepherd who will deal bitterly with Israel. This, in verses 15-17 above, is a prophecy of the coming Antichrist. It is still future. He will not care in anyway for the flock - in fact it will be the opposite for he will devour the sheep. And once again the leaders of Israel will play a large part in allowing this to happen. Isaiah spoke about the covenant that the leaders will enter into thinking that in doing so they have averted all danger. But in fact it will be the complete opposite for they will take refuge in a lie and falsehood will be their hiding place.
Isaiah 28:14-19 Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem. (15) You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place." (16) So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. ... (18) Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. (19) As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through." The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror.
And notice also that right there again, in the midst of the false covenant that the leaders of Israel will make which they think will bring them peace, God tells them again where they should place there trust: "Behold I lay a stone on Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone... The one who trusts shall never be dismayed!" This of course is the Lord Jesus. He is the only foundation. He is the only means of salvation. He is the only place where our, and Israel's, trust should be. Hopefully you have come to see this. For the nation of Israel, God will bring this about but it will come through a very difficult time, a cloudy and gloomy day...
The gloomy and cloudy day...
Ezekiel 34:11-12 For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. (12) "As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.
Going back to Ezekiel, there is an interesting phrase used in this passage. 'Scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day' pictures, in general, the dispersion of the Jews amongst the Gentiles nations between 70AD and their formation as a nation again in 1948. But speaking specifically, it is a phrase common in scripture signifying the day of the Lord and the tribulation period in the last days. The Jews will once again be forced to leave their nation and flee as Jesus indicated in Mathew 24:14-21 and Revelation 12:13-17. This will be the gloomiest day of all as they face the consequences of entering a false peace agreement/covenant as shown in Isaiah aboce. Note how the prophets consistently spoke of this coming 'day of the Lord' using the picture of a cloudy and gloomy day:
Ezekiel 30:2-3 Son of man, prophesy and say: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'Wail and say, "Alas for that day!" (3) For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near-- a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.
Zephaniah 1:14-15 Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly.(15) A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness
Joel 2:1-2 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand-- (2) a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come.
But note also that Ezekiel tells us that during this day, when the human shepherds of Israel have let their people down, that the Lord God Himself, Jesus Christ, will be a shepherd to them. He will seek them out. He will care for the scattered sheep. And He will deliver them from that cloudy and gloomy day! We will look at this One, the true good Shepherd and His coming days in the next study.