The shepherds; the rulers of the people, both political, as kings, magicians, and princes, and also ecclesiastical, priests and prophets.
Israel; the two tribes, and the few that out of the ten did adhere to the house of David.
Prophesy; the command is repeated to encourage and engage the prophet to his work.
Thus saith the Lord God: Ezekiel speaks, but these rulers must know it is God that speaks by him.
Woe be to the shepherds! they have been principal causes of many sins, and exemplary actors in other sins, for which many woes were threatened; many already are come, and the rest will come, in which woes these rulers shall have more than ordinary share.
Feed themselves; contrive their own ease, advantage, honour, and ambitious projects. Let the consciences of these rulers, ecclesiastical and political, speak, ought they not, as shepherds, to take care of the sheep committed to their care?
The flocks; the sheep, both whole flocks and the single sheep, whole societies and particular members of them.
The fat; rather the milk, which insatiably and without measure you devour; you exhaust their purses and weaken their estates by tributes, exacted by extortions: so the temporal rulers and the spiritual rulers had their methods and arts to milk them dry, these lived on the sins of the people.
With the wool; with best and finest, as best suiting with your pride and luxury, on which you force the people to bestow so much that they have not to clothe themselves and theirs; this was mighty oppression.
Ye kill them; contrive methods for a seeming legal course to forfeit first the life, and next the estate, of the well-fed, the rich, and wealthy, and then make merry and feast, as voluptuous, unfaithful shepherds feast on the fattest of the sheep in their masters’ fold. Ye feed not the flock; take no care to lead, protect, provide for, and watch over them, but, as idle shepherds feasted with the fattest, let the rest starve for any thing they care.
The weak and languishing, ( such there are in the church and state,) with your hand, countenance, and counsel; so these metaphorical shepherds should as the other strengthen their sheep, with carrying them into good and quiet pastures. The sheep in our pastures are subject to many sicknesses, the sheep in church and state to more, and shepherds in both should be as physicians to heal them; but here these did not so. Sometimes violent and ravenous beasts break their bones, sometimes the stronger and fatter sheep bruise or break them, these should the shepherds bind up; violent oppressors in the state and in the church broke many of them, but these shepherds bound them not up. Sheep are often driven out of the pasture, frighted, hunted, and pursued by dogs, or other mischievous creatures; these the shepherd should find out, and bring back: in church and state there were many such, frighted and driven by fierce men like dogs running upon them, but the Jewish rulers took no care to inquire for them, or to bring them back to their own. country. Sheep wander and lose themselves, shepherds should seek such and bring them home; many political sheep among the Jews wandered from their country, their king, religion, and God, and these careless rulers never sought them, but ruled them with hard hand, that held fast all that should look like royal power and privilege, and rigorously executed all their grievous laws and edicts. With cruelty, such as the Egyptians used toward the Jews, Exodus 1:13,14; instead of acting like shepherds, these tyrants in the Jewish polity acted like merciless butchers in church and state.
They, my neglected sheep, were scattered, by the inroads and invasions of their enemies, that broke in like devouring beasts.
No shepherd; no vigilant, faithful, good shepherd that loved the flock, and of love studied its welfare.
Became meat; were made a prey of, and devoured by Syrians, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, &c., all their neighbours might the devour them.
The beasts, signify men, troops of robbers, and spoilers.
When they were scattered; as sheep scattered are easily devoured by every hungry wolf or fox.
My sheep: these shepherds forgot the flock was not their property, but God will not lose his property in them, nor shall shepherds find at last they were more than God’s stewards, and accountable.
Through all the mountains; when endangered, affrighted, pursued, they got upon the mountains by their own choice, or carried away by enemies; or it may refer to their wandering after idols worshipped in high places, or perhaps to kingdoms and states and great cities, compared to mountains, that there they might find what they could not at home, quiet and safety.
Upon every high hill; the same thing in like words.
My flock; they were, if any among the Jews could be called so, my flock that were so used; not the swine, and goats, and unclean beasts, that by whole herds rested undisturbed. It was Baruch and Jeremiah were fain to hide.
Scattered upon all the face of the earth; they were dispersed through maladministration to all parts of the known world; it is a hyperbole that speaks a mighty scattering.
None did search; the shepherds were contented, nay, glad they were rid of them, neither principal officers searched nor inferior sought after them.
Ye shepherds; the rulers, king of Israel, princes priest and priests, and pretended prophets, hear ye. God speaks in the style and manner of one greatly incensed.
See Ezekiel 34:2,3,5,6.
My shepherds: government governors are by God’s appointment, and here he owns the careless, worst of rulers as his shepherds.
I am against; they have provoked me to displeasure to be their enemy, and I will appear and act so. They are enemies to my sheep, yet pretended to be shepherds, I will be an open enemy to them.
The shepherds; to Zedekiah, his princes, the priests, and prophets, all the ruling part in Jerusalem.
I will require my flock; I will require both account first, and next by severe punishing, as Zedekiah, his children, &c, found. Cause them to cease from feeding the flock; turn them out of my service, that honorable employment; so was the king and princes of Judah turned out of all by the king of Babylon, by whom God made good this his word. Feed themselves any more; their profit ceased with the ceasing of their authority, and they could no more milk, fleece, or slay the flock, when it was taken out of their hand.
I will deliver my flock; they should have delivered them out of the hands of violence; since they did not, I will deliver, save, and rescue this flock which is mine.
From their mouth: this speaks that those shepherds had been lions, or bears, or wolves, more than shepherds, and therefore out of their mouths, not hands, God will deliver.
That they may not be meat for them; so the flock shall no more be devoured by them.
I, even I: the construction is emphatical in the Hebrew and well expressed here; I, the Owner, the Lover, the Maker, the great Shepherd, even I, who committed them to your care, never submitted them to your rapine and cruelty, am as angry with you for devouring them as I am zealous for their welfare.
Search; will demand the them of you. I know how many I delivered to your keeping and I expect an account of so many again; I will see in what state and condition they are too. Seek them out: see Ezekiel 34:5,6: under your hand many are, but under my hand not one shall be lost.
As a shepherd doth gently gather them together, counteth them, brings them to the fold, views what they have suffered, whether lame or torn, and binds up, and healeth; if any are wanting, he looks till he findeth them, and brings them back; so will I, saith the Lord. If the shepherd find the wolf or lion among them or near them, he will either kill or drive him away; so will God. If under-servants have been careless, they shall be warned or turned away; so here, &c.
Will deliver them; they are wronged in all places where they were scattered, the places in which they are and should not be are part of that danger I will free them from.
The cloudy day; when the storm first began to arise from abroad or at home; here in persecutions, there in warlike preparations.
Dark day; that the land was invaded till the desolation of Jerusalem, the times of maladministration of their own governors, and violent irruption of their enemies.
When Cyrus’s proclamation came forth that the Jews might return, this prophecy was literally fulfilled, God did incline the minds of the Jews to retire from the people amidst whom they had dwelt seventy years: see Ezra 1:5,6 7:13.
Gather them; assemble them together; so they did in a place appointed without the country, where they were, (as appears, Ezra 8:15) in their assembling at Ahava or Diava, near where it falls into Euphrates, in the country Adiabene, which was from the more inward recesses of the Babylonian kingdom onwards of their journey to Jerusalem.
Will bring them; lead, conduct, and as a shepherd go before them, till I have put them into possession again of their own land.
Their own land; Canaan, their own by grant from the crown of heaven, anciently possessed by their fathers, and out of which violence cast them.
Feed them; God will provide, maintain, and nourish them. The mountains of Israel; places proper for sheep, where now they shall once more be kept.
The rivers; water-brooks, as Psalms 42:1; which run down from the spring-heads in the sides and tops of the mountains, with some impetuousness and noise; or if greater rivers, they are those that run by the foot of the mountains, on which these sheep shall feed.
The inhabited places: this may explain the former. On such hills by rivers the returned captives would first settle their habitations, and here these sheep would be safest; thus literally: spiritually, it refers to the gathering the elect by the gospel out of the world, &c.
In a good pasture; in fat, sweet, plentiful pastures.
Their fold be; to rest in there for safety; they shall settle their habitations upon their return: or there my flock, my people, my church shall dwell and rest, where idolaters once had their high places; thus spiritually.
There they shall lie, & c.: this and what follows is a confirmation of what before was promised, and it is assured to them by the Lord, who himself will see all this be done.
In the former part of the 16th verse, God promiseth to his people that he will do all the offices of a good, watchful, tender, and faithful shepherd, which those shepherds did neglect. See also Ezekiel 34:4.
I will destroy; severely punish; which is threatened, and was fulfilled in the ruin of the rulers of this people.
The fat; the powerful and rich, who by oppressing and devouring my people grew fat, proud, troublesome, and dangerous to the poor sheep.
The strong; by their authority I gave, and by the encroachments they have made to increase their power.
I will feed them with judgment: it is an irony; I will feed them, but with wormwood and gall, my sore but just judgments and displeasure, so some: but others refer judgment here to reason, decency, and fitness, the most convenient, beneficial, and safe way; as a wise shepherd will I feed these my sheep. And either may consist with the context.
I judge between cattle and cattle; make a different estimate and judgment between men and men, between the smaller and weaker that need more tenderness, and the greater and stronger whose violence is to be restrained; and as becomes me, and their different state requires, I will do.
Rams; the hieroglyphic of rulers in their authority, humours, and carriage towards their subjects, who are also observed and shall be dealt with accordingly, when God makes good all this his word.
God awakens them by this interrogatory to think first, and then speak what this is. When you are full fed, and others hungry and ready to starve, who might live on that you leave if you did not spoil it, do you think such killing is no crime? Is it not a very great cruelty, and a most barbarous inhumanity? You great ones, who have much more than others, partly by the bounty of the Lord of the sheep, and partly by your injustice and rapine, you eat the fat and sweet, and what you cannot eat you waste and spoil; and what would you say, if your proud, fat, and spiteful servants in your houses should do so to their weaker, leaner, and modester servants?
The deep waters; which are clear to the eye and pleasant, which are sweet to their palate, which are wholesome to the drinker.
Ye must foul the residue with your feet; in spite as much as wantonness you stamp in them, raise all the mud from the bottom, that makes the waters unfit to be drunk: is this a trivial thing thus to starve and choke those you should feed and refresh? Such hath been the carriage of you rich, powerful, ruling, and governing part of my people, who have been forced either to live on what you made unwholesome and noxious, or to starve at home, or seek somewhat abroad; this hath destroyed many and dispersed more, but I will not always wink at and bear this.
I, even I: see Ezekiel 34:11,17. I am judge by office and I will vindicate and right the poor by judgment.
The fat cattle; the rich, voluptuous, and wanton ones.
The lean cattle; the poor and indigent, that are despised, oppressed, and injured; thus the Chaldee paraphrase, between the rich man and the poor man.
In the 21st verse these metaphors and allusions do express the unmercifulness, injustice, pride, cruelty, and wanton tyranny of the rulers in church and state against the meaner people, that as you see the greater cattle run against the lesser, and overturning, or laming, some way or other hurting them, by shouldering against them; or as horned cattle wound and tear the weaker, and make them run for it; so had these rulers used their power to the hurt and scattering of the people. Because I see they destroy who he should defend, I will interpose; they will not, but I will, be kind, just, and faithful to my people and promise; I will save from foreign violence and home oppressions. See Ezekiel 34:2,5,10,17.
I will set; advance, establish, and make great; thus I will appoint and set up.
One shepherd: formerly their many shepherds destroyed, as Jeremiah 12:10; now this one shall save. Literally and historically Zerubbabel may be somewhat intended, but principally and plenarily, as Christ is intended here, so in him it was accomplished; for he is the great, good, chief, only Shepherd, that laid down his life for his sheep.
Feed them; give them best, most abundant, and most seasonable food, he also shall govern them in righteousness, and with equity.
My servant David; Messiah, (as Kimchi on the place,) of the seed of David, the beloved One, who was typified by David, and in other places called by this name, as Isaiah 37:35 Jeremiah 30:9 Ezekiel 37:24 Hosea 3:5.
He shall do all the office of a good and faithful shepherd, and that for ever. I will trust them in his hands, for he will keep them, that not one of them shall be lost, but shall go in and out under his hand, and find pasture.
The Lord; the glorious, gracious, eternal One.
Will be their God; I so put them into Christ’s hand, that still I am and will be their God; yea, I will, through this my servant David, be their God.
My servant; Christ was in this great work his Father’s servant, Isaiah 42:1 52:13 Ezekiel 37:24,25. David; as Ezekiel 34:23; Christ, called David there as well as here.
Prince; so Christ is Prince and Saviour to his church, Acts 5:31.
I the Lord have spoken it; God seals it with this as his oath unchangeable.
Will make; renew and confirm to them.
A covenant of peace; a covenant of promises, which contain and shall bring peace; in the Hebrew dialect,
all good. This, as it refers to the state of this people after their return, comprehends that outward peace and prosperity that God gave them, but it hath a higher and more excellent import, better mercies of this covenant established on better promises, i.e. best, because spiritual and eternal.
Evil beasts: during the Babylonish captivity evil beasts had exceedingly increased, through seventy years’ desolation in Judea, but on the replanting and increasing of men these were diminished, and destroyed at last; thus literally. But mystically, under the bondage of Satan, worse beasts destroyed men; these Christ, who turns back that captivity, will destroy.
Safely; without danger and without fear: see Ezekiel 28:26.
In the wilderness; in which both wild and hurtful beasts, and wilder, more hurtful robbers, did haunt. There is somewhat of an hyperbole here; after the temporal redemption from Babylon, they should have such safety as they should account very great after such long and great troubles; in the spiritual redemption they should have greater safety, when, delivered from the hand of enemies, they serve God in holiness before him all their days.
In the woods, places where venomous and devouring creatures usually lurk, yet there shall ye venture confidently to sleep, and without much danger.
I will make them, my returned captives, who were looked upon as cursed, reproached, and hated.
The places round about; all the country.
My hill; Jerusalem, or the temple, Zion, which is called holy hill, Psalms 2:6.
A blessing; very prosperous, that men shall report them to be in a blessed condition, or a blessing to others among whom they dwell, or a pattern of blessing others, whom we shall wish like to them, whom we wish greatest good to.
I will cause the shower to come down in his season; their land shall be most fruitful in the products of it, corn, wine, oil, &c., and all these blessed to them; whereas formerly their blessings were so cursed that they were no blessings, now they shall be blessed, and so be double blessings to them.
The tree of the field; either those that are planted by man’s industry in the field, or those that grow wild in the field, and yield fruit, as the oak, pine, &c.
The earth, tilled by man. Her increase; great increase, as formerly, when I blessed it.
Safe: see Ezekiel 34:25, and Ezekiel 28:26.
The bands; the power and tyranny of Babylon. Their yoke, which my people groaned under in captivity.
Served themselves of them; made them slaves, and used them so.
See Ezekiel 34:5,10,25, and Ezekiel 28:26.
None shall make them afraid; neither beasts nor men, for these shall be restrained if they would, those be destroyed and cease that they cannot, endanger them.
Raise; establish and settle.
A plant; or plantation, so the word, so the Chaldee paraphrast, and so it best suits new planters as they now were; however, as we read it, it is a promise of honour and fame to their posterity, as in the Maccabees’ time, and, which is more, it is a promise of the Messiah to be raised for them.
With hunger in the land; by barrenness of a land cursed, or by wastes made by enemies, or by long siege, as formerly.
The shame of the heathen; who reproached them; cast away, rejected of God, and accursed, so that they were a taunt and proverb among the heathen.
Thus, by these many and great blessings I give them,
shall they know, the very heathen shall be convinced.
The Lord, who can do what I promise and my people expect.
Their God, by covenant from their forefathers.
With them; present with them, and reconciled to them, and do bless them.
That they, whom they despised and injured, and ere while did make slaves, and used so.
My people; my peculiar people above all people in the world; and that though he seemed to have cast him off, and they feared it, and the enemies boasted he had, yet he owns them for his, and will not break his covenant.
Now, that neither you nor any else mistake the allegory, note, saith God, this flock of my pasture are not sheep literally, but they are men expressed by this emblem, and these men are those I am a God to, and will be so for ever.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ezekiel 34". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany