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The fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. must confound Ezekiel. While he is, of course, devastated by the destruction of his homeland and the deaths of his countrymen, their defeat vindicates him and his life’s work. Everyone now knows that Ezekiel is a true prophet of God, and his years of suffering to bring his fellow exiles God’s message are rewarded by the people fawning over him. Unfortunately, the people’s sudden attention to Ezekiel’s words is akin to a person’s adoration of his favorite entertainer. They love to be in his presence, but they take him no more seriously than they ever have. Ezekiel’s popularity will be short-lived.

34 The word of the Eternal came to me with a message for Israel’s leaders.

Eternal One: Son of man, preach against Israel’s shepherds! Speak directly to the shepherds and tell them this is what the Eternal Lord has to say: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel whose only concern is to protect and nourish themselves! Isn’t a shepherd’s job to look after the sheep? Yet you exploit them in every way. You devour their fat, make soft clothes and blankets out of their wool, and slaughter the best sheep for your table. Meanwhile you don’t take care of the sheep at all. You have not sought to nurse the weak. You have not gone out to tend to the sick. You have not bandaged the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or look for the lost. You have led them with neglect, ruled them with harshness, shepherded them with cruelty! They had no real shepherd, so they have scattered; the entire flock was prey for wild beasts. My sheep drifted aimlessly through all the mountains and up and down every hill. My flock was scattered all over the world, scattered like the stars in the night sky, and not a single shepherd went looking for them.”

God condemns the shepherd-rulers of Israel for neglecting their duties and exploiting their human flock. Heaven will not remain silent at this injustice. A change is coming.

Now pay attention, shepherds, to My word: As surely as I, the Eternal Lord, live, because My sheep are without a shepherd, because they have become prey for all the wild beasts to feed upon, because my shepherds have not gone in search of My sheep but have only looked out for themselves and not watched after and cared for My flock; I encourage you, shepherds, to listen to the word of the Eternal.

10-11 Those self-centered shepherds are My enemies! As far as I am concerned, they are no longer shepherds. They will not help themselves to My sheep any longer. I will recover My flock from those corrupt shepherds. I will snatch My sheep from their mouths! My sheep will no longer provide milk, clothing, or meat to them. I will personally go out searching for My sheep. I will find them wherever they are, and I will look after them. 12 In the same way one shepherd seeks after, cares for, and watches over his scattered flock, so will I be the guardian of My sheep. I will be their Rescuer! No matter where they have scattered, I will go to find them. I will bring them back from the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13-14 I will call them out from the nations, gather them from the countries, and bring them into their own land. I will feed them in the high mountain pastures and meadows of Israel. I will feed them on good pastures; they will graze on the mountain heights of Israel. They will lie down to rest on this good ground, and they will feed on succulent grasses in bountiful pastures on the slopes of Israel’s sanctuary mountains. 15 I Myself will watch over My sheep and feed My flock. Whenever they are tired, I will lead them to rest on the cool mountain grass. 16 When they are lost, I will seek them and bring back every last stray. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. However, I will destroy the fat and powerful. I will feed them a healthy portion of judgment.

17 As for you, My flock, this is what the Eternal Lord has to say: “Watch carefully! I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and male goats.” 18 Are you not satisfied grazing in blooming pastures, feasting off rich mountain lands? Do you have to trample all of the pastures with your feet? Are you not satisfied drinking out of clear mountain streams? Do you have to muddy all of the mountain streams with your feet? 19 Why should the rest of My flock have to graze on trampled pastures and drink from muddied streams because of your careless feet?

20 So this is what the Eternal Lord has to say to them: “Watch carefully! I will personally judge between the fat sheep and the skinny sheep.” 21 Because you fat sheep bully the weak, push them around, and threaten them with your horns until you scatter them to distant mountains, 22 I will step in and save them. I will rescue them, and they will no longer be hunted and hassled. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will designate one shepherd over the entire flock: My faithful servant, David. He will watch over them and care for them. He will be their shepherd. 24 I, the Eternal, will be their God; and My faithful servant, David, will be their prince.

I, the Eternal One, have spoken.

25 I will establish a covenant of peace with them and drive away all the dangerous wild animals from the land. Then they will be able to live safely in the wilderness and sleep soundly in the forests. 26 I will make them and the area around My holy hill a blessing. At My direction, there will be plenty of rainfall when it is needed. There will be showers of blessing! 27 The trees of the fields and orchards will bear abundant fruit, the soil of the fields will produce ample crops, and My people will rest securely within their land. They will know that I am the Eternal when I destroy the dominion of their oppressors and liberate them from those who made them slaves. 28 Foreign powers won’t ravage them anymore, and wild beasts will no longer feast on their flesh. They’ll be safe and free and fearless. 29 I will make their land famous for its beauty and productivity. Never again will famine strike their land. Never again will other nations sneer at them. 30 They will know that I, the Eternal One their God, am on their side and that they, the people of Israel, are My people.

After God declares His opposition to the shepherd-rulers who neglected and exploited their human flock, God pledges to get involved personally. He will search for the lost sheep, return the strays, and care for them tenderly back in the beautiful land of Israel, the land of promise.

But in God’s human flock are trouble and competition. Even as God lovingly supplies His flock with plenty of good food, clear water, and pleasant pastures, some trample what they can’t control and foul what they can’t consume. Some bully and push their weight around, while others move aside or run for the hills. Again God sees the problem and promises to step in, personally, to rescue His hassled people and put an end to injustice. So God promises to send another shepherd-ruler, in the spirit of King David, who will love and care for the flock as God Himself does. This Davidic shepherd will be unlike the wicked, neglectful shepherd-rulers in Israel’s past; this son of David will rule as their prince in submission to Israel’s one True God.

But there is more. In the final movement of this oracle, God announces a new covenant—a covenant of peace. Its scope is beyond human community and politics. It is a renewal of life in the land of Israel and, by extension, in the rest of creation.

The Eternal said this, 31 then added,

Eternal One: As for you, you are My sheep, the human flock of My pasture, and I am your God.

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