Chapter 34 of Ezekiel is one of those gems we find in Scripture – one of clarity, multi-faceted and sparkling with value, insight, and wisdom. Although I think the entirety of Holy Scripture is a gem, much of it speaks instantly to us during different times in our lives. Indeed, my pastor was remarking on John 14 recently and how it speaks to us in a new light during the current global pandemic of COVID-19.
Ezekiel, and in today’s focus, chapter 34, while certainly a book of prophecy, is timeless, and it speaks both to the day in which it was written, the day in which we live now, and to the day in which it’s full prophetic meaning will be fulfilled. However, the last five words of verse 2 came screaming from the pages to me in recent months and days; Should not shepherds feed the sheep?
And the final verse, verse 31 of Ezekiel 34 is most endearing, where it defines what sheep we are talking about, and who is doing the talking;
“And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 34:31)
Ezekiel 34 is a lot to disseminate, so I’m not going to commentary the entire chapter – but one important note is that it was a past, present and future tense proclamation against spiritual leaders, the shepherds of God’s human sheep, now known as Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Priests, Rabbis, and Overseers. It was a proclamation against abuse, the abuse of peddling, and profiteering off the sheep, controlling them, alluring them with a watered-down message of health and wealth (that only seems to pan our for those peddling the message) or in severe cases, using fear and force to control their emotions, behavior, and money. (1 Cor 2:17)
False Shepherds Feeding on the Sheep
I came from a severe system of the latter – where the pastor told you who you could date, who you could marry, in many cases, what job you could have. Down to what went on marriage invitations, what music could be played at the wedding, who could be at the wedding, the order of the ceremony – and so forth, with nearly no limit to their control.
And today, televangelists worth nearly 1 Billion dollars blow away viruses, disease, and poverty – if you would only send in your offerings to them, or touch the screen that you watch them on to be anointed with their special anointing. In the documentary Marjoe (Marjoe Gortner, early 1960-1970 Pentecostal Evangelist) he explains the gist of pillaging the masses on faith – making statements on air or on television such as; “There is a little old grandmother with $10 in the cookie jar listening/watching right now, that if you would just pull that out, and sow a seed of faith by sending that to our ministry, God will replace it 10 fold.”
These men and women are the precise targets of Ezekiel 34 – I am compelled to say that not all who are laboring honestly in the ministry of God’s kingdom – serving, feeding, seeking, healing, rescuing, and leading the human sheep of God’s pasture, are like this. There are many, many good shepherds, many more so than bad ones. So this article is not a disparaging of good men and women working to the goodwill of our Lord.
Rather, it is more an introverted understanding of what a true Shepherd of God is and does, by way of contrasting what they were not doing in Ezekiel 34. Consider verses 3-4 of this chapter;
You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:3-4)
I am reminded of the dialogue between our prime example, the Chief Shepherd Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Simon Peter in the gospel of John chapter 21, where Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (I believe he asked three times in direct correlation and a reminder to the previous three times Peter denied Christ) The first time asking, and Peter responding saying that he did love the Lord, Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs”. The second time he said, “Tend my sheep.” And the third time asking, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
And one mistake that I have seen made over and over again, especially in the more Fundamental denominations, is the over-spiritualization of this principle and these Scriptures. That is to say, the ‘feeding’ is preaching, and teaching only. And while part of the role most certainly IS spiritual, the sheep are body, spirit, and soul, and the clearest evidence we have of the 1st Century church feeding the body and feeding the soul, and it’s importance, is seen in Acts 6:1-7.
But what are the things the shepherds weren’t doing here in Ezekiel 34 that we can contrast within ourselves, especially those who find themselves called to Shepherd roles, to make sure we are honoring God?
- Being fed by the sheep, and being clothed by the sheep, but not likewise feeding and clothing the sheep first and foremost
- Leaving the weak sheep to fend for themselves, not training, tutoring or mentoring them
- Not mending, binding and tending to the sick and injured sheep but leaving the wounded to fend for themselves
- Not seeking after the stray sheep but rather casting them aside, ignoring them or saying, “I don’t have time for strays”
- Not eagerly seeking the ‘lost’, homeless and flockless sheep
- Ruling over the sheep with force, controlling rather than protective, forceful rather than gentle
And of course, knowing that these abuses had and were occurring, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ensured that His new church was built upon the foundation of charity and love that was meant to adamantly avoid these abuses. In Matthew 10 and Luke 9 we see Jesus commissioning the twelve with their Gospel mission, and some of the points should be clear to us, but it seems in the modern church, it’s been lost in translation…
The Purpose of Shepherds
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. (Matthew 10:5-10)
So based on this example of Scripture, if we recreated that bullet list in contrast, what would it look like? What would a Shepherd of Jesus Christ look like?
- The shepherd feeds the sheep, physically, and spiritually, with no care for their own wealth, health, and prosperity – freely they received, freely they give.
- The shepherd sees the weak sheep and invests his time, energy, and resources into strengthening that sheep so that they can stand on their own two (or four?) feet.
- The shepherd sees the sick and injured and physically cares for them, sees to their needs, provides and supports, bearing the burdens of his charge.
- The shepherd loving and gracefully calls to the stray, hoping to guide them back to the flock, not with threats and cursings, but with genuine love and tender calls.
- The shepherd is always looking for the lost, confused, weary and alone sheep, offering them a home, a place of belonging, and a promise of nourishment without strings attached.
- The shepherd gracefully guides his sheep, lovingly redirecting and teaching – not with punishments, fear-mongering
I remember when I first felt called into ministry I was recommended to read a book on Church Finances. I won’t get into the book here, it’s too disparaging and this post isn’t for that – needless to say it was entirely about how to pay as little taxes as possible, how the church funds the minister’s lifestyle, how to wrestle the IRA and what income brackets are expected based on church size.
Truly, I do not recall any chapters or notes on how to organize and budget for food banks, pantries, clothing drop-offs, porch drops, community meals, etc. There just isn’t money in charity.
Now, to be clear, this was a book written by a minister in that particular organization I belonged to at the time (United Pentecostal Church, International and Oneness Pentecostalism) and in no way represents all of the Christian ministers, denominations, or even all of the ministers within that organization.
But truly – the mission of Christ, his Apostles, early disciples, and plan for the entirety of the New Testament Church was the feeding of the body and soul! The Work of the Church was to be in charity, in love, and in bringing the hope of the life to come while supporting the one we are in! Truly, James said it best in his works, showing that true Faith DOES have Works, but those Works are not things done to bring about God’s grace, or even our salvation.
Indeed – our works are a result of our faith, a result of our salvation, and a result of obeying the Gospel message Jesus gave to His apostles and truly, His entire church!
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16)