The Word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovih unto the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool; ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick : neither have ye bound up that which was broken; neither have ye brought again that which was driven away; neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled thein.
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd; and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them…. Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the Word of Jehovah; Thus saith the Lord Jehovih: Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require My flock at their hand; and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more : for I will deliver My flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. For thus saith the Lord Jehovih : Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out.-EZEKIEL xxxiv. 1-6, 9-11.
SELF-LOVE, which works for self-interest, neglects duties, and injures the neighbor. And, finally, it must be deposed from its leadership, that others may be saved.
The Lord, through the prophet, Ezekiel, had pointedly exposed and rebuked the evils of the Israelites, and had warned them against the inevitable results of such evils. And now, in this chapter, the Divine exposures and warnings are especially directed against the rulers of Israel, who had become very corrupt, personally and officially, using the people for selfish gain.
In this sense, the shepherds were all the leaders, the kings, princes, and magistrates of the civil State, as well as the priests of the Church. All these had been using their power and influence to oppress and plunder the people. Long before this time, the Lord had plainly taught that “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God;” i.e., in the love of God, and in the fear of failure to carry out the Divine laws for the good of the people. And the exposure of such evil ways came in the form of a parable concerning the evil shepherds, who abused, rather than protected, the sheep entrusted to their care; and who, by their evils, finally destroyed themselves.
It is the business of a shepherd to take good care of the sheep; and to be watchful of the conditions surrounding them; leading them to good pasture, and to fresh water; and protecting them from enemies, from sickness, from accident, from straying from the fold, etc. And a shepherd who does not do his duty in these things, is not a good shepherd; and he should be removed from his position.
And, to a great extent, a somewhat similar relation exists between any leader, or ruler, of men, and those who are under his influence. The king, the prince, the governor, the judge, the magistrate, the priest, the teacher, and, in fact, anyone who holds an office for the good of the people, should work for their good, honestly, sincerely, wisely, and generously, and in the name of the Lord, who is the source of all good. The shepherd who accepts the position, merely for selfish gain, and who is indifferent to the welfare of the flock, will soon allow the flock to suffer, in many ways; and the sheep will be scattered.
In its application to the people of Israel, the text shows that these evil consequences were very apparent. Evil and selfish rulers looked on with indifference, while the people fell into bad ways. The great and powerful nation of Israel became broken and scattered. Ten of the twelve tribes were wandering in Assyria, etc.; the tribe of Judah were mostly in captivity, some in Babylon, and some in Egypt; and the few of Israel remaining in Jerusalem were under the dominion of foreign conquerors. And these evil conditions had been induced by the evils of the people, left to the mercy of their own lusts, by the indifference and selfishness of their leaders, in both Church and State.
THE DIVINE SHEPHERD.
Because of the unworthiness of the Jews, their dispensation was brought to an end, and the Christian Church established, instead. And this great change in spiritual conditions is foretold in the text, in the language of parable, in which the Lord states, “I will deliver My flock,” ” I will both search My sheep, and seek them out.” Jehovah carne among men, as Jesus Christ, ” to seek and to save that which was lost.” And Jesus proclaimed His relation to fallen men, when He said, “I am the good Shepherd.” And Jesus’ whole career on the earth was a living illustration and example of the good work of a good shepherd, loving his sheep, and doing good to them, in every way; while also making every effort to protect them from every kind of evil. And all are protected and led, who trust in the Divine Shepherd, and follow His leading.
THE PASTOR, AS A SHEPHERD.
There is a figurative literal sense, in which a shepherd especially refers to a pastor of a church, because he holds towards the people the relation of a leader and teacher. And, in this sense, the unfaithfulness of a pastor will re-act upon the people; for, to some extent, they will trust him to teach them genuine truth; plainly and lovingly, but courageously, and for their own good, spiritually and naturally, for the spiritual world and for this natural world. And they will look to him to warn them against false principles and” evil ways. And if he is indifferent as to their good, and careless in his teachings, he will leave undone the good work which it is his especial business to do.
If there are any who are wandering into wrong feelings and thoughts, he will allow them to go on, without the light of plain and practical truth. If there are any whose circumstances are tending to make them doubt the universal and constant providence of our Lord, the careless shepherd will allow them to grow sick and weak, in spirit, and in life. If any are broken by severe discipline, he will fail to do his part in binding up their wounds. If any are wandering away into fallacies of the senses, he will fail to seek them, and to do his part to restore them to the fold of the church. And in such circumstances, in order to help the people, it will be well to remove the careless or selfish shepherd from the position which he abuses.
The work of a shepherd requires preparation for its duties. The good shepherd must understand the nature of sheep, and their needs, and how and where to supply these needs; and what are the dangers to which sheep are subjected; and how to meet, or avoid, such dangers. And so, the pastor needs a certain preparation for his work. He must prepare his understanding, by a proper knowledge of the Divine Truth, and of the Sacred Scriptures, as the Word of God, the repository of truth. And he must prepare his heart by a vigorous love of his people, and a love of being useful to them, He must know their spiritual needs, and their practical dangers, and the ways in which to meet such perils, and to escape injury.
And he can understand these things for his people, only as he understands them for himself, in the possibilities and the perils which come to his own heart and life. For men are similar in their spiritual organism, and in their spiritual needs. Our Lord has said of men, ” He fashioneth their hearts alike.” But the only real shepherd, is the Lord, Himself. And those who work for the spiritual good of men, must seek to have them clearly understand their relation to the Lord, as their Divine Shepherd. And the spiritual sheep know His voice, and follow Him, in loving trust.
THE BAD SHEPHERD.
But the bad shepherd in the church, is one who is more interested in himself than in the people; who takes a position as pastor, merely as a means of worldly support, or to afford himself an opportunity for a literary career, or for public notoriety. Such an attitude of mind would make the pastor spiritually careless, even if naturally alert in all things necessary to make the external church a flourishing and paying institution, financially. There would be spiritual indifference towards the flock, as long as the shepherd thought first of himself.
And, in this relation, indifference is evil. A man must act from some motive; and if the motive is not distinctively good, it must be evil; for there is no middle-ground in human motives. At the foundation of every motive, or moving power, there is some form of love, either a good love, i.e., love to the Lord, or to the neighbor, or love of being useful, or a bad love, i.e., a love of self, or love of the world. Thus, if a man is indifferent to the spiritual good of others, he does not love them, spiritually. And he who loves himself first, does not love his neighbor, at all; nor does he love the Lord. For the love which comes first, in our hearts, controls all other loves, and gives quality to the character. If you do not love your neighbor as yourself, i.e., equally with yourself, you do not love him at all, unselfishly. Thus, the shepherd who loves himself first, uses his flock merely as a means of serving himself.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
And this leads us to the spiritual meaning of our text, in which the reference is to principles, and not to merely human persons. In the highest sense, the Lord is the Shepherd of the church, and of every individual of the church. The Divine Pastor is the Divine Love, in our Lord, Jesus Christ, the one only God of heaven and earth. And the Divine Teacher is the Divine Truth, in our Lord. And these two qualities, Love and Truth, are the qualities of the Divine Shepherd. And their flock is composed of our human minds, our hearts and understandings, into which the Divine Love and Truth can enter, and in which they can operate, in producing and sustaining a new and regenerate quality of life.
And when we recognize the fact that such is our relation to our Lord, we exclaim, “Jehovah is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
And we recognize our Shepherd in Jesus Christ, who plainly says to us, ” I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” Our Lord’s infinite love flows into our hearts, when we are willing to make room for that love; which practically means, when we are willing to resist and reject from our hearts the love of self, and its evil affections. And when that regenerate love enters our hearts, it becomes our Divine Pastor. It leads us in the right way, and it inclines our hearts to learn the truth, to love it, and to heed it. And thus it teaches us, by opening our understanding, inwardly, and thus giving us the inward light of the Spirit, in which truth is seen clearly.
And, to the degree in which this Divine Love is accepted as our Shepherd, and followed in practical life, every person becomes a shepherd, within the sphere of his individual influence; acting in the name of the Lord, and carrying the Lord’s love and wisdom to the fellow-men. And such a love watches over the spiritual and natural interests and welfare of all the Lord’s children, loving to be useful to all. Such a love leads us to be fair and upright and generous, in all relations and dealings, with all men.
Such a love will be a true and efficient Shepherd in our mind, and in our practical life; going through all our mind, feeding our mental sheep and lambs : strengthening any affection or thought in us, which may be relapsing into weakness; healing our spiritual diseases; binding up anything in us which may have been broken, in the struggles of life; restoring any good quality which was in danger of being driven away; seeking out and finding such good things as had become temporarily lost to our consciousness; and keeping all the spiritual sheep and lambs of our mental flock held together in the bonds of active love, daily feeding upon the sunny mountains of the spiritual Zion, free from dissensions, and protected from all dangers, from within and from without. This is the regenerate state of him who is a sheep of the Good Shepherd.
THE EVIL SHEPHERD.
But, if we have allowed the spirit of self-love to set up itself as the shepherd of our heart and life, it will be an evil shepherd. A bad shepherd is one who teaches falsity instead of truth, and who leads to evil, in the life, instead of goodness. And, in such case, all the evil results named in our text follow in our minds. The spirit of self-love as a shepherd, dominates everything for selfish purposes. And then, all the spiritual sheepfold, which our Lord is seeking to build up in our hearts and lives, will be scattered and lost, driven away by dissension, diseased by spiritual uncleanness, sick With false notions, broken with trouble, and ruled with harsh cruelty, which makes Life a burden.
But, even if we recognize that this dreadful condition has something of a parallel in our own life, the last part of our text gives us great encouragement, when it states that our Lord will depose the evil shepherd, and will, Himself, become our Shepherd, if we will heed His teachings, and follow His laws of life. No natural tendency of our mind is too strong for our Lord’s power; but He can, and will, work miracles in our hearts and lives, if we will give Him the opportunity; i.e., if we will cease doing evil, and continue to do good, according to His laws. There is nothing that can resist His power in our heart and life, if we work with Him. Our hereditary inclinations to evil may be strong and clamorous; and yet they will yield, and come under our control, if, in the name of the Lord, we exert ourselves to resist their desires.
Consider the picture of David, the shepherd boy, without armor, and with no weapon but a little sling, and a stone from a brook, going up to meet the great giant, Goliath, who was clad in a full suit of armor, and armed with a huge spear, and an enormous sword, and protected by a great iron shield. Outwardly, it seemed to be a very unequal combat. But the shepherd-boy went forward with confidence that Jehovah would give him the victory over a quarrelsome heathen giant, who was blasphemously defying the God of Israel and His army, And the single stone from the brook, striking the giant in the forehead, struck him dead, in the name of the Lord.
The stone from the brook is the truth from the letter of the Lord’s Word, such, for instance, as the truth of the Ten Commandments. Armed with these, and with confidence in the Lord’s providence, we, too, can strike down the great giant, Goliath, in our own natural mind, the towering spirit of self-exaltation. Our Divine Shepherd can help us, in the measure and degree in which we act as good shepherds of the flock of His spiritual sheep, in our own minds.
And this is our practical part of the work, to keep our mental sheepfold in good order, with every good and true affection and thought sustained; every evil feeling and false thought, like a wild beast, destroyed and cast out; every weak love strengthened; every timid thought encouraged; every wandering and lost affection and thought restored; every living principle drawn into the fold, under the guidance of the Good Shepherd, who gives us the gracious promise, “I will feed them in a good pasture; and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be. . . . They shall dwell safely; and none shall make them afraid.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903