The Shepherd God
The Shepherd God
“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.”
Chapter 34 of Ezekiel begins with an indictment against the leaders of Israel (vs. 1-5). Using the analogy of the role of a shepherd, God condemns them for their failure to care for the people. Instead of caring for the people, they used the people to advance their own prosperity. Instead of feeding the flock, they confiscated the food for themselves. They were indifferent to the weak and the sick. Like many leaders throughout history, as long as their personal needs were met, they did not care what happened to the people. As shepherd-leaders, God had appointed them to provide for the people and protect them. They were to search for those who were lost. But these false shepherds were unconcerned about the needs of the people. Because of their failure, the people were leaderless and thus were scattered among the nations. This failure of leadership led to the destruction of God’s people. Consequently, God will bring swift judgment upon them. Perhaps the most terrifying statement in scripture is found in verse 10 when God states, “Behold I am against the shepherds.” Having the infinitely powerful God of the universe stand against you is terrifying. Leadership has a tremendous responsibility that requires that the leader serve the people. This is true of leadership on every level: From leaders of government to leaders in the church and to the leader of the family. The task of leadership requires self-sacrifice rather than self-serving.
While bringing judgment upon the spiritual and political leaders of Israel, God makes a profound statement. “Behold, I myself will search for My sheep and seek them out” (vs. 11). God will be his people's Shepherd (12-16). This touches upon a significant theme throughout scripture and one that we often overlook in our study of the nature and character of God. Intrinsic to God’s character is that of a shepherd. In Psalm 23, as our shepherd, God protects and provides for his people. Because of his care, we can rest knowing that he will provide for all our needs (Psalm 23:1-3). His protective presence enables us to traverse life's darkest circumstances without fear (Psalm 23:4-5). So we find also here in Ezekiel 34 that God will personally assume responsibility for caring for his people even in the worst storms of life. These are not hollow words. God proclaimed these words through Ezekiel during a time when Israel had been taken into exile. This message was delivered to those forced to leave their homes and march to Babylon. For these people, it would seem that God had abandoned them. They were “scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day” (vs. 12). Amid their uncertainty, God assures them that he will personally take care of them and eventually bring them back to the land. Even the person in the remotest regions of Babylon, God will care and provide for him and get him back to land.
In the Old Testament, the theme of God as the Shepherd reminded the people of God’s care and concern for them, not only as a nation but also for each individual. No matter how adverse the circumstances, God was still watching over and providing for them. Even though they were “walking through the valley of death” and facing the onslaught of a terrifying storm (vs. 12), God will not abandon them, and in the end, he will bring them to a place of rest (vs. 15).
When Jesus states, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), he affirms that he will also provide and care for us. So great is his love for us that he is willing to lay down his life for us. When the circumstances of life turn dark and foreboding when love seems to be threatening, we have the assurance that we have a shepherd who is keeping his watchful eye upon us, and he will protect us and care for us just as the Father cared for Israel.