Hope of New Freedom

I. The unfit Shepherd – 34:1-6

A. Israel was under covenant to Yahweh and all of its offices had duties to promote both the well-being and the covenant faithfulness of the people. This message is to the shepherd, the political leaders of Israel. Their national covenant was typological of the arrangement that would define the church after Christ, as prophet, priest, and king came to purify for himself a people of his own possession, gathered from all nations, zealous of good works.

B. Tese rulers of Israel had forsaken the stewardship given them and had sought only to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. They did not seek justice within the nation, nor did they foster faithfulness to Yahweh. Rather they saw them only as a resource to enhance personal pleasure. Rulers today still are responsible to foster justice among their people but they have no call to determine the religious persuasion of a people. That is a matter, under the New Covenant, that must be left to the persuasive powers of ideas. Christians believe that true believers are made only by the preaching of the gospel, the effectual working of the Spirit of God, with a resultant repentance toward God and faith in Christ. In no other way can true belief and sincere religion flourish in the world. The president of the nation is not at the same time the chief theologian. Rulers that repress in matters of soul devotion and conscience will be judged for their violations of the divine prerogative.

C. Those that were oppressed, the rulers did not look toward giving them a just status. Those that were flirting with other religions and involved in unwarranted or forbidden practices of worship were not corrected and pulled back to observe the purity of Yahweh’s stipulations for Israel’s worship. Their lives were destroyed through their wayward tendencies and the ineptness of the authorities in maintaining a regular practice of calling for covenant renewal and reminding the people of the purity of the Law, and the importance of observing the sacrifices according to divine mandate. (See Hebrews 2:1, 2; 8:5) Also look at Jesus’ discussion with the Woman of Samaria. His claim that the true revelation of God’s character and law came to the Jews (John 4:22) was even at that moment giving way to the removal of those national restrictions in consequence of the initiation of the new covenant (John 4:21, 23, 24)

II. God halts the work of the unfit shepherd  7-10 – God Himself pledged to put a stop to the rapacious activity of the rulers.

A. They have ignored the people of God, have stuffed themselves with advantages, and have, thus, destroyed God’s heritage. If those that have been constituted as protectors of the people have no regard for their appointed position, then who can intervene but God Himself. Supposed ministers of the gospel that seem the ministry as a place for personal aggrandizement in political and social status and material well-being have missed the true glory of their call and are using God’s heritage for their personal gain.

B. God is not inactive in the affairs of the whole world, but he is especially jealous of those that he has set aside as his own for the manifestation of his covenantal sovereignty and faithfulness. Even though these people of Israel were not, in the whole, the true Israel of God, they, nevertheless, had been separated as a people through whom the Messiah would come, had been the recipients of precious prophecies. Paul wrote in Romans 9:4, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the Patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”

C. The offices instituted by God in Israel should reflect the thorough care that the Messiah would give his elect people, loved with everlasting love.

D. It is truly the most frightening proclamation to have the Lord God say, “I am against the shepherd, and I will require my sheep at their hand.”

E. Equally extreme in comfort are the words, “I will rescue my sheep from their mouths.”

III.  God Himself is the  fit shepherd – 11-16

A. Verses 11, 12a – He will seek his flock.

B. Verse 12b, 13 – He will rescue them from all the places in which they have been in danger and where they have been scattered

C. Verse 14 – He will reverse the condition of their being wasted by the evil rulers and will provide abundance for them

D. Verses 15, 16 – No longer will substitutes be given charge over the people, but God Himself will be their shepherd. He will bring them to his fold, he will feed them, he will give them rest, he will make sure that not one of them is lost but that all who are in any danger in any place will be found, restored and healed.

E. Surely, for the Israelites hearing this message, this must have been reminiscent of Psalm 23 where David expressed his experience with the Lord to be just such as is described in these verses: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

IV. God divides the flock. 17-24

A. God challenges the rulers with the irrational and destructive perversity of their actions. Not only do they take all the best for themselves, they befoul that which remains and make it useless for the people. They eat good pasture, and stomp down the rest; they drink the coolest, clearest water, and muddy the rest. Sin is just that irrational and unconcerned about others; particularly it drives us to disregard the ownership of God over all things.

B. A day of reckoning will come. God will divide between the sheep that he claims as his own to care for and those that he will be set aside for judgment for their wrong-doing. Jesus pointed to this reality when he said that the Son of Man, (himself) would separate the sheep from the goats. Matthew 25:32. This text in Ezekiel has a dividing of sheep from sheep, but the idea of a just and merciful shepherd who has clear discernment in this task of separation is the point.

C. His sheep he will rescue. The ravages of the world, the flesh, and the devil threaten all sons of Adam. God will rescue his people from the doom, the condemnation, the hostility of the enemies of their souls and bring them into a safe and happy kingdom with him as their shepherd/king. Colossians 1:13 – “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

D. Verses 23, 24 – The Lord will reign in this rescue operation through his servant David. This is clearly a messianic prophecy pointing to the fulfillment of the promise to David of an eternal heir of the throne. My servant David will be both prince and shepherd, God said. The true David will slay Goliath with the same skills that make him a tender caretaker of his sheep [1 Samuel 17]

V. The Shepherd of the New Covenant

A. The symbol of Jesus as shepherd is rich and abundantly productive of deep doctrinal truth. John 10:1-18 should be read and analyzed in this regard. Jesus is the good shepherd who calls his own sheep by name. They hear him and follow him and none of them will perish. He lays down his life for those sheep.

B. Peter sees the pastor as the true fulfillment of the gifted “ruler” of the sheep. They serve under the Chief Shepherd. Paul uses this same image. See 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28.

C. Jesus is the good shepherd that goes after the lost sheep, finds him, brings him home rejoicing. Luke 15:1-7.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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