Ezekiel 34: A new leader (part one)

This is week two of a series in Ezekiel 33-37, about God’s promised reboot of his people. If you’ve just joined, you can either go to the start of the series, or simply begin the new chapter with us this week.

A series reboot

When it comes to blockbuster movies, this millennium has been the age of the reboot. Fresh out of creative ideas? Never mind, just find something that worked a generation or two ago—cast a new lead actor, sprinkle in the latest in CGI—and you’ve got yourself a reboot.  

The most obvious ones are the superhero movies: Superman; Batman; Spiderman. Each time going back and telling the origin story all over again. With a shiny new lead to be the face of the franchise.

James Bond has been doing this for decades, reshaping the lead character to suit the times. From left-to right we have wisecracking misogynist; awkward wax figure; dapper English gentleman; and the image Toby Abbott has of himself inside his head.

And after the next movie, the new female Bond: Lashana Lynch. Presumably starring in The Spy Who Respected Me As An Equal.

Followed by Dr. No Means No?

If you want to reboot the franchise, you need to find the right lead actor.

God’s people needed a reboot

Last week, we talked about God’s people needing a reboot. If you missed it, here’s a  quick recap:

Israel had failed time and time again to live as God’s people. To be different from the surrounding nations. Bear God’s image in his world. So he sent them into exile in Babylon.

And it’s while they’re in Babylon—in those early years of exile—that Ezekiel speaks God’s words. He urges God’s people to repent, to turn back to him, and to learn from the judgement that had come upon them. But still, they proved incapable. They couldn’t reboot themselves.

And a big part of the problem was their leaders. As we’ll see in chapter 34, the main cast wasn’t living up to its billing. Like an ailing movie franchise, they needed a change in lead actor so this “fresh start” wouldn’t just be more of the same. The human actors had proven themselves incapable. So in this chapter, the director steps out from behind the camera to take the lead role. God himself rolls up his sleeves and says “it looks like I’ll have to do it myself.” God’s people are getting a new leader. 

The bad shepherds

Ezekiel begins by addressing the bad shepherds of Israel:

Ezekiel 34:1-2 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?'”

The leaders of Israel—specifically the kings and priests—are in view here. They were in that position to care for the people—like a shepherd cares for their sheep. But instead, they’d used their position to exploit the sheep for their own gain:

Ezekiel 34:3 “You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.”

They haven’t even done the basics; Shepherding 101:

Ezekiel 34:4 “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.”

This, says God, is why the people have been sent into exile:

Ezekiel 34:5-6 “So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”

In other words: you failed to do your job as shepherds. And so you’ve lost the flock. They’ve been food for the nations around—like Assyria and Babylon. With no prospect of being regathered. Verse 9:

Ezekiel 34:7-10 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.”

Turn in your staff and slingshot, boys, you’ve been removed from duty. You’ve been replaced as the face of the franchise. The director himself is about to star in your place:

Ezekiel 34:11-12 “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.”

When the people return from exile, it will be because God himself has done it:

Ezekiel 34:13 “I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.”

And when they come back to the land, God himself will be their shepherd. He’ll be the one who provides for them:

Ezekiel 34:14 “I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.”

God will be the one who heals the injured and stands up for the weak:

Ezekiel 34:16 “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”

So to recap: The bad shepherds have been given the chop. (Sorry.) ’Cause not only have they failed to their job in caring for the sheep, they’ve exploited the sheep for their own gain. The shepherds were crooks. (Not sorry. But at least there have been no Ed Sheeran references this week.)

So in the place of the bad shepherds, God promises that one day he himself will be their Good Shepherd.

But how will this take place? That’s where we’ll take up the story tomorrow.

To think about

What makes a good leader/shepherd of God’s flock today?

Post responses and questions

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