In the first post, we saw that righteous leaders are called to create systems where people have the opportunity to flourish — systems of justice. Instead, the leaders in Ezekiel 34 have created systems of injustice that only benefit themselves.
God is against these leaders.
Ezekiel 34:10 “Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”
God holds people and systems accountable for the way they treat the least, the last, and the left out.
God becomes very personal and very possessive. I will require MY sheep at their hand. Christopher Wright writes “God is talking about his own people. This is repeated no fewer than 5 times up to verse 10 alone. It not only expresses Yahweh’s personal concern for the flock that is being so badly treated, but also makes clear where the true ownership lies. The shepherds did not own the flock; they were simply employed to look after it. The Kings did not own the people; they were simply entrusted with exercising justice and leadership in their midst. But the temptation to regard those entrusted to one’s care or leadership as one’s personal property, a mini-empire, is powerful.”
Because they are His, God will do what the shepherds did not. Verses 11-12 say, “He will search, seek, and rescue.” His response corresponds perfectly to the problem. What is scattered must be gathered.
God’s intervention in a system of injustice is His means of rescue. God’s purpose in rescue is to restore, to make right, to make what ‘is’ what ‘is intended to be.’ In response to His question in v. 2 — should not shepherds feed the sheep? The answer is YES! He answers it himself in v. 14 “I will feed them with good pasture….and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture, they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…”
Which is of course what He always has been. God is always God. He is always King over the universe, whether he is acknowledged or not. We have this faulty evangelical question of asking, ‘do you want to make Jesus the Lord over your life?’ Faulty because this is not something we do, it is something He IS. And He never ceases. He will either be against us because we are against Him or He will be for us because we are stewarding and taking care of what He has made.
They were never NOT his sheep. He didn’t stop shepherding. He entrusted HIS sheep to people and to systems where they could flourish but instead, they were wronged, abused, and scattered.
God does not miss that. God will make it right. Now his shepherding is to be against those who were supposed to be shepherding on His behalf.
Ezekiel 34:16 “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.”
God is also against some of the sheep.
In Ezekiel 34, It’s not just the leaders, the shepherds who are in view, it’s also the sheep. Verses 17-21 give words to what we know is true — sheep follow their shepherds. People follow their leaders. Apart from the intervention of alien righteousness, people who are living in systems of injustice will treat each other unjustly as well. God holds the leaders accountable who made the unjust systems, but he also holds the people who are in the system accountable for how they treat the vulnerable and the weak. We don’t get a pass just because we were born into an unjust system. We are responsible for treating each other with dignity and justice — to push back when others are mistreated. To speak up.
“As for you, my flock thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad.”
Through His prophet, God condemns our indifference — is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture that you must tread down the rest? Are you so insensitive, self-centered, and uncompassionate that all you can think about is getting yours without assuring that others get theirs? And God says to those of us with resources that make us strong — muscular shoulders, horns, money, educational pedigree, the right neighborhood, access to political leaders, a strong grasp of the native language — do you use your strength to push out the vulnerable?
Yes, the people will follow their leaders and they will behave in the manner that is expected in the systems that have been established. But God, through His prophet is clear, the people are not absolved of responsibility for justice by the injustice of a system. We are personally culpable for our benefits and behaviors. And we are wise to recognize that God will judge the systems that benefit us to the exclusion of others (count on it) and it would be better for us to be with God in that than against Him.
Restoration. Verses 22-31 provide a gaze into the future, a look at what will be. God says to those who have been treated unjustly: “I will feed you with justice as a means to nourish you until there is a restoration of a system of justice.”
Let me summarize these verses. Through His prophet, God says:
I will rescue my flock.
I will judge between sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, from my servant David, who will feed them.
I will make with them a covenant of peace — they will dwell securely and not be afraid. They will experience blessing, rain, and the abundance of what was in the garden of Eden — trees yielding their fruit, earth yielding its increase, no hunger.
The project of feeling settled and secure without violence, of living in a home, of being fed, of participation in a flourishing community, is central to the heart of God and is driven by His desire for justice and mercy. What will be should be happening now. “I will feed you with justice as a means to nourish you until there is a restoration of a system of justice.”