“Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” Ezekiel 34:2
With the world in a state of crisis and near hysteria, we who have “known these things before” by the grace of God and through His Word, cannot be complacent about the state of affairs. We have hope that the end of all things as at present constituted is at hand; we mourn the terrible loss of life and the anguish of those who suffer in body and mind; but we should be warned—jolted into sharp awareness—that it is time to set our own house in order. In this issue of The Lampstand we examine the role of Shepherds in the ecclesia in these perilous times in which we find ourselves. The warning is stark and imperative and the time is short!

 One of the most significant sections of Scrip-ture relating to the times in which we live is found in Ezekiel chapters 33 to 39, known as “The Prophecies of the Restoration of Israel”. We would be very familiar with such passages as chapter 37—the valley of dry bones; chapter 38—the Gogian invasion; and its aftermath in chapter 39. Is it not significant that in this same context we have a sober warning to the “watchmen” in chapter 33 and a severe condemnation on the “shepherds” in chapter 34. We freely acknowledge that we live in the times so described by the prophet; we must also then take to ourselves the exhortations contained in chapters 33 and 34 of Ezekiel.

Visions recorded by the prophet Ezekiel in these chapters are classified as “Prophecies of the Restoration” because they relate to preparations for the complete restoration of Israel, when the Temple of the future age will be set up in Jerusalem and people of all nations will worship in Truth. The importance of this portion of the prophecy lies not only in the fact that the restoration foretold therein is already in progress today, but in the powerful exhortations clearly implied for us living at this epoch. In this context Ezekiel directs his rebuke firstly to the shepherds of Israel “that do feed themselves!” in chapter 34:1–16, and then in verses 17 to 22 he directs a rebuke also to the sheep.

Condemnation on the Shepherds

The word “shepherd” means “to pasture, lead, attend to as a friend”—all of which speaks of care, concern, tenderness, unselfishness. Yet the actions of the shepherds of Israel against the sheep of His pasture were anything but careful or unselfish; they were selfish and self-centred. They took the choicest of the provisions (ate the fat); they used the wool for themselves; they even killed the sheep (34:3). They acted out their role with force and cruelty (34:4). They “ruled” the sheep—a word which in the Hebrew (rawdah—to tread down or subjugate) is the very opposite to shepherding.

The prophet documents his grave concerns by enumerating six specific things that these ecclesial shepherds had failed to do for the sheep (34:3–5)

  •  they had not fed the flock
  •  they had not strengthened the diseased or weak
  •  neither had they healed the sick
  •  they had not bound up those that were torn
  •  they had not brought back the driven out
  •  they had not sought the straying.

Viewed in the light of the days in which we live, this calls for some very searching self-examination. The parallel with our own day is all too obvious and the six negatives addressed by Ezekiel imply six positive courses of action.

We are all, at different times and in differing situations, shepherds and sheep. What kind of shepherds are we within the environment of our ecclesia? There is a progression in the points which Ezekiel notes. At what point do we show concern for our brother or sister? Perhaps we have not seen them at the meeting for three weeks: perhaps they have already reached the stage of being “sick”, “broken” or even “driven out”. The role of a shepherd calls for constant vigilance and a genuine familiarity with the needs of each sheep. The Good Shepherd, we are told, knows each sheep by name. There are wolves about who would devour the stragglers, drawing them off into the darkness of the world. We must all see ourselves as having the responsibility of shepherds to each other—the responsibility to minister good food—and there is only one way in which to be prepared to do this: “The Lord Yahweh hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned” (Isa 50:4). Only by personal application to His Word can we truly be shepherds who have food to give.

Yahweh has set for us the pattern and He states clearly what He will do as the Shepherd of Israel: “I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord Yahweh. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment” (Ezekiel 34:15,16).

We have had warning in unmistakable terms of the approaching “time of trouble such as never was”. It is time to take stock—to assess the condition of the sheep and search our hearts for motives and ambitions which may drive us to be careless of the needs of the flock. It is time to feed the flock with nourishing, wholesome food, to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the torn, bring back the driven out and seek those who have strayed.

Judgment on the Flock

Whilst a heavy responsibility rests on the shepherds, a similar responsibility rests also upon the flock. In the absence of fully qualified shepherds, there is a tendency among sheep to follow any of their fellows that might assume the lead. These leaders of the flock must see that they do not lead their fellows from the right path, for judgment will be meted out against those who do so. As members of the flock we must carefully consider the needs of our brethren and sisters, not “treading” down the pasture with controversy and confusion so that the weaker sheep wander for lack of clean water and careful leadership. In our self-opinionated arrogance we can be guilty of causing some to become sick, broken, driven out or straying, because of lack of personal attention and careful nourishment.

There are careless sheep who, in their arrogance and self-interest, muddy the waters for the poor sheep so that they are faint with thirst. As sheep, we have been given into the care of the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down his life for his sheep. He has truly fed, led and kept his sheep in the Father’s Name through the words which he spoke, and his desire is that none of them should be lost (John 17:8,12). “My Father”, said the Lord, “which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29). Our Shepherd has prayed for us: “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory…” (John 17:24). This too is our great desire!

We long for the day when Yahweh will set up over His flock “one shepherd…and he shall feed them, even my servant David[the beloved]; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I Yahweh will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I Yahweh have spoken it”