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THE SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL; THE MESSIANIC KINGDOM
In view of what Our Lord Jesus Christ and his inspired apostles and writers have stated in the New Testament, little other comment is needed. The identity of this Good Shepherd who will destroy the evil shepherds and rule over the united Israel (the Northern and Southern Israels, as well as all the Israelites and Gentiles combined in God's New Israel) are fully and dogmatically answered in the sacred New Testament. All of the doubts and quibbles, and all of the picayune allegations and criticisms that one finds in the writings of commentators who apparently have no extensive knowledge whatever of the New Testament are gloriously solved and explained in the New Testament.
"What we have to do with in this chapter is a Messianic prediction in the fullest sense of the term."F1
The quibble regarding whether a single individual is meant, or if the restoration of the old Davidic dynasty of successive rulers is intended, is forever decided by the Apostle Peter who applied all intimations of some descendent of David "sitting upon his throne," to "the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his elevation to the right hand of God" (Acts 2:30-32), who was universally known by all the Jews of that generation as "The Son of David." Furthermore, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, was the total fulfillment; he would never be succeeded by any other. It was not a "line of Davidic kings," but the one Great and Only King Jesus who is foretold here. Ezekiel himself was also aware of this and said so, although it seems that many have overlooked his message. "David my servant shall be my prince forever." (Ezekiel 37:25). As Paul put it, "He must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet; and the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25,26).
It is impossible to escape the implications of this chapter that the one prophesied here is "the Personal Messiah," even the Son of God Himself.
GOD HIMSELF TO BE THE GOOD SHEPHERD
As Bunn noted, "We find here a unique emphasis upon the personal pronoun. The word `I' is used no less than fifteen times as Jehovah speaks in the first person. Also `my' and `myself' are used three times, all within the space of six verses."F2 Therefore when God Himself said. "I myself will be the shepherd of the sheep" (Ezekiel 34:15), it means, undeniably, that, in some sense the Coming Messiah will not be a mere human being. These words cannot be applied to any mortal descendent of David who ever lived, except Jesus Christ our Lord.
We have noted that two or three commentators have found what they called "a contradiction" in some of Ezekiel's statements that this coming "Servant David" would be a man. Every Christian knows that Christ was indeed both God and Man. "He was the Son of David and at the same time The Lord of David" (Matthew 22:42-45). The scholars who do not see this today are still working in the same ignorance that blinded those ancient Pharisees who stood speechless before Christ when he probed their minds with this same dilemma of how Jesus Christ is both God and man.
Other alleged objections to the obvious interpretation here will be noted in the text below.
The historical background against which this chapter appears was pitiful indeed. Israel's ancient request for God to allow them to have a king was illegal and sinful to begin with; and Samuel warned them of the kind of kings they would get; and the complete and utter failure of the monarchical system had finally worked its total ruin and destruction upon the Chosen People; and, at this stage, God would begin all over again to teach them the spiritual nature of his kingdom. Not a small part of this chapter rehearses the unprincipled wickedness of Israel's kings. As their history revealed, "The native kings were no better than the heathen despots."F3 All of them were heartless, cruel, greedy, selfish monsters of tyranny and oppression who cared nothing at all for their subjects. They exploited, robbed, murdered, enslaved and abused their subjects in every conceivable manner.
The mystery still exists as to why Israel, even as late as the times of the apostles, desired nothing either in heaven or upon earth as passionately as they desired the restoration to them of their scandalous old monarchy which God finally and irrevocably destroyed in the events of Ezekiel's generation. There would yet be required to pass nearly half a millennium before God would be able to change the hearts of enough of them to allow the Advent of that Glorious Messiah prophesied in this chapter; and even at that late date, there were only a small handful, in the relative sense, who "waited for the kingdom of God," who were "true Israelites," who were entitled to be called "the seed of Abraham," and who would form the nucleus of that higher and better Israel of God.
DENUNCIATION OF THE FALSE SHEPHERDS
And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, even to the shepherds, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Woe unto the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the sheep? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill the fatlings, but ye feed not the sheep. 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 back that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with rigor have ye ruled over them. And they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field, and were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill; yea, my sheep were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and there was none that did search or seek after them
This is a graphic picture of an utterly worthless shepherd who had no concern whatever for the flock, except as he might have been able to feed himself and clothe himself from what they provided. No better composite of the whole list of Israel's kings, northern and southern alike, could be written than this.
Some attention should be given to the term "shepherd." This comparison of the evil rulers of God's people is also found in Jer. 23ff, and in Zech. 11:1-11. Also, Jesus' words in John 10 carry the same message.
"The word `shepherd' in the Old Testament, as in Homer's Iliad is always a reference to kings and civil rulers."F4 Cook stated that, "The first king upon earth wore this title; his name was Aloms. The title was adopted into the Assyrian language as RIU (shepherd) and persisted to the latest times of the Assyrian monarchy."F5 The evil shepherds which had mined Israel were nothing else except the kings who disgraced it, from the first of them to the last. This appears in the truth that even the best of them, namely, "a man after God's own heart," was an adulterer, a murderer, and an innovator who tried to move the ark of the covenant with a new cart!
On every high hill
(Ezekiel 34:6). Despite the fact of Keil's disagreement, we believe that Jamieson was correct in seeing in this statement, A reference to the sinful idolatrous worship practiced upon 'every high hill' at those shrines and `high places' set up and sponsored by those evil shepherds.F6 Jesus spoke of the `scattering' mentioned here in Mark 6:34.
THE PROMISED DELIVERY FROM THE FALSE SHEPHERDS (Ezekiel 34:7-10)
This promise was fulfilled to the letter throughout the entire Inter-testamental period of Jewish history. No person whomsoever was ever recognized as a shepherd (king) over Israel during that approximately half a millennium of time. The evil shepherds who replaced them were the three political parties, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Herodians of the times of Zechariah. The powers which they had contrived to exercise over God's people during that period leading up to the Advent of Christ fully justified Zechariah's designation of them as those evil shepherds, "Which feed the flock of slaughter, whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty" (Zechariah 11:4). The promise of this prophecy is that the evil shepherds would be removed; the prophecy of Zechariah regarding that later batch of evil shepherds was that "the sword would be upon them" and that, "they would be cut off in one month" (Zechariah 11:8,17), a prophecy that was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian and Titus in the year 70 A.D. See our Commentary on Zechariah (Vol. 4 in our Series on the Minor Prophets). Plumptre agreed that Zech. 11th chapter should be studied in connection with this chapter.F7
GOD HIMSELF TO BE THE GOOD SHEPHERD (Ezekiel 34:11-16)
The redemption of Israel can happen only upon that occasion when God himself shall become the shepherd of God's people. That means when God in the person of his son Jesus Christ is commissioned with "All authority in heaven and upon earth" (Matthew 28:18-20), upon that first Pentecost after the Resurrection of Christ, the glorious occasion when the first sermon of the Gospel Age was preached, and when the reign of Christ the Messiah was inaugurated upon earth.
It would be difficult indeed to find a more important chapter in the entire Old Testament than this one.
The Lord is the true and only Shepherd of Israel. "The glorious promises here were partially fulfilled in God's returning his people to Palestine and their subsequent prosperity in the times of the Maccabees."F8 However, in no sense whatever were the Maccabees actually shepherds (kings of Israel). "The real fulfillment came in the ingathering of all nations into the Church of Christ the Good Shepherd (Matt. 18:11; John 10:1-18; and Rom. 9:25-33).F9
This whole paragraph (Ezekiel 34:11-16) is made up of "typical messianic imagery"F10 and terminology. All of the good things which will happen to Israel, expressed here in material terms will be fulfilled only in the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant. As Cooke pointed out, "There is no doubt that the dispersion evident in Ezek. 34:13 suggests a wider dispersion than existed in the times of Ezekiel; and Torrey believed that it points to the circumstances of the Jews that took place in the third century B. C."F11 If such a view is correct, then we have here a prophetic reference to yet a further scattering of God's people centuries after Ezekiel.
THE JUDGMENT BETWEEN SHEEP AND SHEEP (Ezekiel 34:17-24) #Ezek. 34:17-19
And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, the rams and the he-goats. Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have fed upon the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pasture? and to have drunk of the clear waters, but you must foul the residue with your feet? And as for my sheep, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet, and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet
The behavior of animals, as described here, is more or less what is expected as a common occurrence; but, although such must be tolerated in the conduct of animals, the conduct condemned here is that of the thoughtless and/or selfish behavior of evil men who knowingly and purposely either destroy or foul whatever they themselves cannot use in order to prevent its benefiting any other besides themselves.
"This paragraph is an anticipation of Matt. 25:31ff, the great judgment scene in which Christ separates the sheep from the goats."F12 In fact this chapter is loaded with things that lead up to passages in the New Testament. Christ as the Good Shepherd in John 10:18 and Heb. 13, the parable of the lost sheep, and many other passages are here suggested.
We are disappointed in the lack of discernment on the part of Cooke, who discovered what he called "a contradiction" between Jesus' claim as the "Good Shepherd" in John 10, with Ezek. 34:15 here, asking, "With Jehovah as the Divine Shepherd, what room is there for a human shepherd?"F13 It seems to us incredible that a man of Cooke's alleged "scholarship" should appear in such an erroneous remark as a man totally unaware of Christ's membership in the Godhead itself, a truly Divine Being, One who is One with the Father, the Only Begotten Son of God, God of very God, in the language of some of the ancient creeds. Christ was actually Jehovah robed in human flesh, the Good Shepherd who was truly both God and man!
Ye thrust with side and shoulder
(Ezekiel 34:21). The message here is that human beings, some of them, behave exactly like hungry animals shoving and jostling one another in the feed lot.
The reference is to the shameful and outrageous conduct of the upper classes of society in their greedy denial of the rights of the poor and needy. Here Ezekiel takes his place among such prophets as Hosea, Amos, and others who demanded that the principles of social justice be received and practiced among God's people.
Between sheep and sheep
(Ezekiel 34:20). These words reveal that this paragraph, like the one before it, is still speaking of the judgment, not merely of the evil rulers, but of the sheep themselves.
One shepherd over them. even my servant David ..
(Ezekiel 34:23). Some commentators still cling to the notion that a line of rulers, rather than an individual personal Messiah, is suggested by certain Old Testament passages; and such suggestions cannot be completely denied. However, for those who must find multiple shepherds (kings) in these ancient prophecies, they like every things else prophesied are to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ alone, and nowhere else.
All Christians are "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6, KJV). The twelve apostles are upon twelve thrones reigning with Christ throughout the dispensation (Matthew 19:28); and the elders of God's church actually have received that glorious designation, "Shepherds." The word `shepherd,' pastor in the Greek, is one of the New Testament terms for elder; thus all elders are "kings" in the sense of ruling under "The Chief Shepherd" (1 Peter 5:1-4). As Paul expressed it, "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him."
This fully takes care of the impression that their are multiple kings suggested.
Nevertheless, it is an indisputable fact that absolutely all of the great blessings promised here did not appear under the "kingship" of any human Davidic successor. They were never even partially realized in the temporary prosperity of the Jews, "Nor can they ever be realized in any earthly kingdom. All of these prophecies point to the One Subject of all Prophecy, The Righteous King, the Anointed Prince, the Son of God, the Son of David, and the Lord of David."F14
It is surprising that a Christian scholar should raise a quibble over the fact of David's being referred to in Ezek. 34:24 as "prince," stating, that, "The leader of the ideal theocracy would be `a prince' rather than `a king.'"F15 How could he have overlooked the God-given name of the Seed of the Virgin, which includes the designation, "Prince of Peace!" (Isaiah 9:6). It is a truth well known to the scholarship of all mankind that, "'Prince' instead of `king' is Ezekiel's usual designation of the ruler of the future, as in Ezek. 45, Ezek. 46."F16 Besides that, the mention of the 'covenant of peace' in the next verse, which is undoubtedly a reference to the New Covenant under Christ, made it extremely appropriate for Ezekiel to use the term `prince' in Ezek. 34:24. If any further proof of this was needed, it is available in Ezek. 37, "Where the name `king' is used three times in a peculiarly effective manner as titles of `The Messianic prince.' There is no reason whatever to suppose that Ezekiel saw some kind of a distinction between `prince' and `king.'"F17 Ezekiel used the terms interchangeably.
"Christ as the Good Shepherd (equivalent to Jehovah) and as `The Son of David' completely fulfills, not merely these prophecies here, but those of 2 Sam. 7:13; Jer. 23:5-6; Micah 5:2-4; Isa. 9:6-7; Dan. 9:25-26; and many others."F18 In fact, it is no exaggeration at all to affirm that Jesus Christ as the Holy Messiah fulfills every one of the 333 prophecies concerning him in the entire Old Testament.
The two great Types of the Son of God in the Old Testament are Moses and David; and it is hardly a coincidence that both David and Moses were shepherds.
The notion that "The Davidic monarchy will be continued, but the monarch will have a real shepherd's heart,"F19 must be rejected. Jeconiah was the final end of the earthly dynasty of David, and Jeremiah categorically prophesied that no descendent of his should ever again rule in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 22:30). (See my commentary on this in Volume II of our Major Prophets Series." Not even Christ could have inherited the throne of David if he had been the literal son of Joseph (who was descended from Coniah); but as his adopted son, the ban of Jeconiah's posterity did not affect our Lord.
One shepherd over them
(Ezekiel 34:23). Still another error is founded on this mention of one shepherd. Feinberg supposed that this meant, There would be the need of only one shepherd for the united nation.F20 What is indicated here is not the reunion of the Northern and Southern sinful kingdoms of the old racial Israel, but the uniting of all men, Jews and Gentiles alike in Jesus Christ. Of course, that is exactly what Feinberg may have intended, but the erroneous understanding of it prevails with some.
THE COVENANT OF PEACE
They shall dwell securely in the wilderness
(Ezekiel 34:25). Throughout the Bible, the wilderness wanderings of Israel are interpreted as typical of the church in the wilderness of her probation in this dispensation. This is another indication that the New Covenant is in view here.
All of the wonderful blessings of this paragraph are here prophesied to come to pass when that "covenant of peace" becomes effective. And what is that covenant of peace? It can be nothing else except the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-35). Plumptre discerned this; "The same thought underlies both that passage and this."F21 "`The covenant of peace'; the new age is to be marked by a new covenant."F22
The covenant of peace came from Jesus Christ. He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful" (John 14:27). There is nothing to compare with this in the Old Testament.
How about all of those blessings, enumerated here in terminology that would have been appreciated and helpful to the generation which received this prophecy? Of course, the racial Israel did no doubt enjoy many physical and temporal blessings upon their return to Palestine; but most of the wonderful things God promised them never happened, due to their unbelief and disobedience (See Jer. 18:7-10). Nevertheless, the material and physical benefits here recounted most certainly must be interpreted as symbolical of spiritual blessing in Christ.
And I will raise up unto them a plantation of renown
(v. 29). This, of course, is a glimpse of the world-wide renown and glory of Jesus Christ the Messiah and his followers. Oh yes, there are many divisions, aberrations, animosities, and all kinds of other differences to be seen and deplored among those who seek to love and honor the Great Servant David, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ; but over and beyond all of that disfiguration of Jesus' spiritual body, accomplished through the devices of the evil one, there still shines the eternal glory of the Bright and Morning Star, the Sun of Righteousness who is risen with healing in His wings!
More great and beautiful buildings have been constructed in his name and to his honor in the last twenty years than were erected in all of the past history of mankind to all of the kings and tyrants who ever lived on earth. Every Lord's Day throughout the world, people of all races, tongues, and nations gather in millions of places to sing songs unto Him who is the Author and Finisher of our faith, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who is forever and ever Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.