Upon reading the foregoing articles of impeachment drawn up, in God’s name, against the shepherds of Israel, we cannot but look upon the shepherds with a just indignation, and upon the flock with a tender compassion. God, by the prophet, here expresses both in a high degree; and the shepherds are called upon (Ezek. 34:7, 9) to hear the word of the Lord, to hear this word. Let them hear how little he regards them, who made much of themselves, and how much he regards the flock, which they made nothing of; both will be humbling to them. Those that will not hear the word of the Lord giving them their direction shall be made to hear the word of the Lord reading them their doom. Now see here,
I. How much displeased God is at the shepherds. Their crimes are repeated, Ezek. 34:8. God’s flock became a prey to the deceivers first that drew them to idolatry, and then to the destroyers that carried them into captivity; and these shepherds took no care to prevent either the one or the other, but were as if there had been no shepherds; and therefore God says (Ezek. 34:10), and confirms it with an oath (Ezek. 34:8), I am against the shepherds. They had a commission from God to feed the flock, and made use of this name in what they did, expecting he would stand by them. “No,” says God, “so far from that, I am against them.” Note, It is not our having the name and authority of shepherds that will engage God for us, if we do not the work enjoined us, and be not faithful to the trust reposed in us. God is against them, and they shall know it; for, 1. They shall be made to account for the manner in which they have discharged their trust: “I will require my flock at their hands, and charge it upon them that so many of them are missing.” Note, Those will have a great deal to answer for in the judgment-day who take upon them the care of souls and yet take no care of them. Ministers must watch and work as those that must give account, Heb. 13:17. 2. They shall be deprived officio et beneficio—both of the work and of the wages. They shall cease from feeding the flock, that is, from pretending to feed it. Note, It is just with God to take out of men’s hands that power which they have abused and that trust which they have betrayed. But, if this were all their punishment, they could bear it well enough; therefore it is added, “Neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more, for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, which, instead of protecting, they had made a prey of.” Note, Those that are enriching themselves with the spoils of the public cannot expect that they shall always be suffered to do so. Nor will God always permit his people to be trampled upon by those that should support them, but will find a time to deliver them from the shepherds their false friends, as well as from the lions their open enemies.
II. How much concerned God is for the flock; he speaks as if he were the more concerned for them because he saw them thus neglected, for with him the fatherless finds mercy. Precious promises are made here upon the occasion, which were to have their accomplishment in the return of the Jews out of their captivity and their re-establishment in their own land. Let the shepherds hear this word of the Lord, and know that they have no part nor lot in the matter. But let the poor sheep hear it and take the comfort of it. Note, Though magistrates and ministers fail in doing their part, for the good of the church, yet God will not fail in doing his; he will take the flock into his own hand rather than the church shall come short of any kindness he has designed for it. The under-shepherds may prove careless, but the chief Shepherd neither slumbers nor sleeps. They may be false, but God abides faithful.
1. God will gather his sheep together that were scattered, and bring those back to the fold that had wandered from it: “I, even I, who alone can do it, will do it, and will have all the glory of it. I will both search my sheep and find them out (Ezek. 34:11) as a shepherd does (Ezek. 34:12), and bring them back as he does the stray-sheep, upon his shoulders, from all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” There are cloudy and dark days, windy and stormy ones, which scatter God’s sheep, which send them hither and thither, to divers and distant places, in quest of secresy and safety. But, (1.) Wherever they are the eye of God will find them out; for his eyes run to and fro through the earth, in favour of them. I will seek out my sheep; and not one that belongs to the fold, though driven ever so far off, shall be lost. The Lord knows those that are his; he knows their work and where they dwell (Rev. 2:13), and where they are hidden. (2.) When his time shall come his arms will fetch them home (Ezek. 34:13): I will bring them out from the people. God will both incline their hearts to come by his grace and will by his providence open a door for them and remove every difficulty that lies in the way. They shall not return one by one, clandestinely stealing away, but they shall return in a body: “I will gather them from the countries into which they are dispersed, not only the most considerable families of them, but every particular person. I will seek that which was lost and bring again that which was driven away,” Ezek. 34:16. This was done when so many thousand Jews returned triumphantly out of Babylon, under the conduct of Zerubbabel, Ezra, and others. When those that have gone astray from God into the paths of sin are brought back by repentance, when those that erred come to the acknowledgment of the truth, when God’s outcasts are gathered and restored, and religious assemblies, that were dispersed, rally again, upon the ceasing of persecution, and when the churches have rest and liberty, then this promise has a further accomplishment.
2. God will feed his people as the sheep of his pasture, that had been famished. God will bring the returning captives safely to their own land (Ezek. 34:13), will feed them upon the mountains of Israel, and that is a good pasture, and a fat pasture (Ezek. 34:14); there shall their feeding be, and there shall be their fold; and it is a good fold. There God will not only feed them, but cause them to lie down (Ezek. 34:15), which denotes a comfortable rest after they had tired themselves with their wanderings, and a constant continuing residence; they shall not be driven out again from these green pastures, as they have been, nor shall they be disturbed, but shall lie down in a sweet repose and there shall be none to make them afraid. Ps. 23:2; He makes me to lie down in green pastures. Compare this with the like promise (Jer. 23:3, 4), when God restored them not only to the milk and honey of their own land, to the enjoyment of its fruits, but to the privileges of his sanctuary on Mount Zion, the chief of the mountains of Israel. When they had an altar and a temple again, and the benefit of a settled priesthood, then they were fed in a good pasture.
3. He will succour those that are hurt, will bind up that which was broken and strengthen that which was sick, will comfort those that mourn in Zion and with Zion. If ministers, who should speak peace to those who are of a sorrowful spirit, neglect their duty, yet the Holy Ghost the Comforter will be faithful to his office. But, as it follows, the fat and the strong shall be destroyed. He that has rest for disquieted saints has terror to speak to presumptuous sinners. As every valley shall be filled, so every mountain and hill shall be brought low, Luke 3:5.