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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Ezekiel 34

 

 

Verses 1-31

EXPOSITION

Ezekiel 34:1

And the word of the Lord, etc. As no date is given, we may infer that what follows came as an almost immediate sequel to that which precedes it. The kernel of the chapter is found in the Messianic prophecies of Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24, as the first stage in the restoration of Israel which is beginning to open to the prophet's gaze. We can hardly avoid seeing in it the deliberate expression of words that had been spoken by Ezekiel's master (Jeremiah 23:1-4), and which in his case also were followed by a directly Messianic announcement. In Matthew 9:36, still more in John 10:1-16, we can scarcely avoid recognizing the distinct appropriation of the words to himself by him of whom they both had spoken. So far as we may venture to speculate on the influence, so to speak, of the words of the prophets of the Old Testament on our Lord's human soul, we may think of these as having marked out for him the work which he was to do, just as we may think of Psalms 22:1-31. and Isaiah 53:1-12. as having pointed out to him the path of suffering which he was to tread.

Ezekiel 34:2

Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, etc. Our modern associations with the words, our use of terms like" the pastoral office," "the pastoral Epistles," lead us to think of the priests and prophets, the spiritual guides of the people, as being those whom the prophet has in view. In the language of the Old Testament, however, as in that of Homer, the shepherds of the people are always its kings and other civil rulers (1 Kings 22:17; Psalms 77:20; Psalms 78:71; Jeremiah 23:1-6), and those whom Ezekiel had in his thoughts were the tyrannous rulers of the house of David, like Jehoiakim and Zedekiah and their satellites. Our Christian thoughts of the word are the outcome of the leading of John 10:1-16; John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:2-4; Acts 20:28; but it is probably true that even there the original thought is still dominant. Christ is the "good Shepherd," because he is the true King. His ministers are shepherds as being officers in his kingdom. Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? The question is an appeal to the universal conscience of Israel and of mankind. No shepherd was worthy of his name who did not do that which the very name implied. He that neglects that duty is simply as a hireling or a robber (John 10:10, John 10:12).

Ezekiel 34:3

Ye eat the fat. The LXX. and the Vulgate, following a different reading, give milk, and, as "killing" comes in the next clause, this is probably preferable.

Ezekiel 34:4

The diseased have ye not strengthened. The verbs indicate the difference between the "diseased," i.e. the weak sheep (comp. Isaiah 40:11; Psalms 78:71) and the sick, that were suffering from more definite maladies. So the broken are the sheep that have fallen from a rock and thus maimed themselves. Each case required its appropriate treatment, and none had met with it.

Ezekiel 34:5

And they were scattered. The words are an echo of 1 Kings 22:17, and are, in their turn, echoed by Matthew 9:36. The words that follow paint the sufferings of the exiles who left their homes and were scattered among the heathen in the days of Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. Of these the kings took no heed, and shut themselves up in the luxurious seclusion of their palace.

Ezekiel 34:7-10

As I live, saith the Lord God, etc. The sentence of the Supreme Judge, of the "chief Shepherd" (1 Peter 5:4), that follows, is naturally preceded by a recapitulation of the guilt of the tyrannous rulers—the "idol" or sham shepherds of Zechariah 11:17 (comp. also Zechariah 10:3). Both chapters should be studied as throwing light on the teaching of the earlier prophet. It may be noted also how the thought enters into Ezekiel's vision of the restored Israel (Ezekiel 45:8-10).

Ezekiel 34:11

Behold, I, even I, etc. The words, as the last reference shows, and as we find in Ezekiel 34:23-31, do not exclude, rather they imply, human instrumentality, just us our Lord's do in Matthew 18:12 and Luke 15:4-7; but they reveal the truth that Jehovah is the true Shepherd of his people. Not the sweet psalmist of Israel only, but the lowest outcast, might use the language of Psalms 23:1-6; and say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." He will gather the sheep that have been scattered in the "cloudy and dark day," the day of the Lord's judgment (Ezekiel 30:3). For the prophet the words pointed to that vision of a restored Israel, which was dominant in the expectations both of Isaiah (or the Deutero-Isaiah) in Ezekiel 40-48; and in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 33:12-18), which floated before the minds of the apostles (Acts 1:6), and to which even St. Paul looked forward as the solution of the great problems of the world's history (Romans 9-11.).

Ezekiel 34:13-15

On the mountains of Israel by the rivers. The picture of the pleasant pasture-lands of Judah, almost, as it were, an expansion of Psalms 23:1-6; of the mountains which are not barren and stony, of the streams that flow calmly in the inhabited places of the country, serves as a parable of that which is to follow on the restoration of Israel. The sheep that had been wandering so long in the wilderness should at last lie down in a fat pasture (verse 15), and the tender care of the Shepherd should watch with an individualizing pity over each sheep that had been brought back. Every broken limb should be bound up. Every sickness should be treated with its appropriate means of healing.

Ezekiel 34:16

I will destroy the fat and the strong. What follows introduces another feature into the parable, and is hardly less than an anticipation of the great scene of judgment in Matthew 25:32. The "fat and the strong," as contrasted with the "broken" and the "sick," are, when we interpret the Darable, the noble and wealthy who, under the kings of Judah, had been allowed to work their evil will upon the people. Of these he says that he will feed them with (better, in) judgment, that for them there must be the discipline of punishment. They too are his sheep, but they require a different treatment from the others.

Ezekiel 34:17

Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle. It may be worth while to note, as modern English usage tends to limit the range of the word, that it is commonly used in the Old Testament of sheep rather than of kine (Genesis 30:34-42; Genesis 31:8-12). In Genesis 30:32 we have the same Hebrew word as that which Ezekiel uses. Between the rams and the he-goats. The words, at first, seem to point to a division like that of Matthew 25:32, and may, perhaps, have suggested it. Here, however, the contrast lies, not between the sheep and goats as such, but between the strong and the weak of each class. The "rams" are as much the object of the shepherd's discipline of judgment as the "he-goats." Both stand as the representative of the rapacious self-seeking classes who oppressed the poor and needy, and, not content with being the first to feed on the pastures and to drink of the waters, trampled on the former and defiled the latter. So in the next verse the contrast lies between the "fat cattle," whether sheep or goats, and the "lean."

Ezekiel 34:23

And I will set up one Shepherd over them. Here, more than ever, we have an anticipation of our Lord's teaching in John 10:1-18. He claims to be the Fulfiller, as of the prediction of Isaiah 40:11 and Jeremiah 23:1-3, so also of this. He, the "Son of David," is the David that inherits that among other promises. It has to be noted, however, that Ezekiel's words paint, less distinctly than those of the earlier prophets, the picture of an individual Messianic king, and seem rather to point, as do those of Zechariah 12:10 (I do not now discuss the date of that prophecy), to a line of true rulers, each faithfully representing the ideal David as the faithful Ruler, the true Shepherd of his people (Psalms 78:71; comp. Ezekiel 37:24; Ezekiel 45:8, Ezekiel 45:9).

Ezekiel 34:25

I will make with them a servant of peace. The whole verse is an echo of Le Ezekiel 26:6, in part also of Hosea 2:20 [English version, Hosea 2:18]. The words are less definite as to the nature of the covenant than those of Jeremiah 31:31, but probably the same thought underlies both. Sins are pardoned, the capacity for righteousness, righteousness itself, are given. In bright contrast with the picture of a country haunted by the lion, the jackal, and the wolf—the "evil beasts" of Ezekiel 14:15—so that no man could pass through without risk, we have that of a land from which such evil boasts have been cleared out, so that men may sleep safely even in the wilderness and the woods. The language, however, is figurative rather than literal. As the "sheep" are the people of the true Israel, so the evil beasts must, at least, include the enemies, Chaldeans, Edomites, Philistines, and others, that had before made havoc of them.

Ezekiel 34:26

Round about my hill. Ezekiel's thoughts, like those of Micah 4:1 and Isaiah 2:2, cluster round the hill of Zion, the mountain of Jehovah, as the center of the restored Israel. In that land, as the prophet saw it here, and still more in the closing vision of his book (Ezekiel 47:12), there were, outwardly as well as spiritually, to be showers of blessing (the phrase is peculiar to Ezekiel), and the land should yield its fruits.

Ezekiel 34:27, Ezekiel 34:28

When I have broken the bands of their yoke. The underlying meaning of the figurative language of Ezekiel 34:25 is now utterly explained. Israel is to be delivered from its Chaldean and other oppressors. The "yoke shall be broken." They shall no more be a prey to the heathen. None shall make them afraid.

Ezekiel 34:29

A plant of renown. The words at first suggest the thought that Ezekiel was reproducing the ideal picture of the "branch," the "root," the "stem," the "plant." of Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 6:12. Here, however, the word is collective, and is translated "plantation" in Ezekiel 17:7, "planting" in Micah 1:6; Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3. It can hardly be taken as speaking of more than the general fertility of the land. The rendering of the LXX; "a plant of peace," obviously implies a different reading (shalom instead of shem), and this Cornill has adopted in his text. So taken, the words naturally lead on to what follows—the promise that men should no more be consumed with hunger.

Ezekiel 34:31

And ye my flock. The great utterance, we might call it the "ode of the shepherds," comes round to the point from which its second portion started (Ezekiel 34:11). All blessings were summed up in the thought that, behind every representative of the Father's care, the ideal David and his house, there was the eternal relationship between Jehovah and his people, even that of the Shepherd and his sheep. The LXX. omits the words "are men," and here also is followed by Cornill.

HOMILETICS

Ezekiel 34:1-10

Shepherds denounced.

I. THEIR RESPONSIBILITY. Ezekiel now turns from the people to their leaders. Theirs is the greatest guilt. They were placed in positions which led to much being expected of them. Their failure means a corresponding guilt. The princes and priests, the political leaders and the religious teachers, would be included under the designation "shepherds." The same two classes and other varieties may be seen today; i.e. political rulers, Christian ministers, leaders of public movements, public writers; all who influence others in thought and life are like Israel's shepherds. Note the grounds of the great responsibility of such people.

1. Privilege. The shepherds have the honor of being set over the flock. Position is a privilege; it brings a responsibility.

2. Power.

II. THEIR WICKEDNESS.

1. Positive wrong-doing.

2. Negative negligence. Looking after themselves, the wicked shepherds neglect their flock.

III. THEIR DOOM.

1. God's opposition. "Behold, I am against the shepherds." They may be stronger than the sheep, but God is stronger than they are. Faithlessness in office provokes God's great wrath.

2. Hopeless requirements. "I will require my flock at their hand." But it is lost!

3. Loss of office. The bad shepherds are dismissed. The unfaithful servant is deprived of his talent (Matthew 25:28). Disgrace, dismissal, ruin, are the punishments of unfaithful service.

Ezekiel 34:11-13

Seeking lost sheep.

I. THE SHEEP ARE LOST. Israel was scattered among the nations like sheep that have wandered from the fold and are lost in the wilderness. Souls have been scattered from their shelter and have wandered into distant places. Note some of the characteristics of the lost sheep.

1. They were originally in the fold. This refers to Jews rather than to heathen, to backsliding Christians, to children of Christian homes; but also in a general way to all, because all men begin life in innocent childhood not far from the besom of God.

2. They have gone into distant places. Israel was driven abroad locally; souls depart from their homes spiritually,

3. They were scattered. No bond of union remains. The flock, which was a unit, becomes broken, and there are now only separate sheep. Error and sin disintegrate society.

4. They were lost in darkness. The disaster happened "in the cloudy and dark day." The time of doubt, trouble, or temptation is one of danger. Then souls may be cast adrift for want of wise and tender shepherding.

5. They suffered through the neglect of the shepherds. The great sin is that of the faithless leaders.

II. THEY ARE SOUGHT. The shepherds lost them; God seeks them. God himself desires that the lost should be restored. For he values them as the farmer values his flock. It is not a matter of indifference to God that souls should perish. He does not leave the sheep to come home, prepared to welcome them on their return; he seeks them. He does not only hold himself ready to welcome the returning penitent. He goes forth to seek him. The housewife sweeps the house to find her lost piece of silver (Luke 15:8). The father goes to meet the prodigal son (Luke 15:20).

1. God seeks by his providence. The movements of life should bring us back to God.

2. He seeks by his prophets. Ezekiel was seeking the lost sheep. The Bible is sent forth as God's means of seeking the lost. So is all true preaching of the gospel.

3. He seeks by his Son. Christ came first to seek "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24), and then all lost sheep. Christianity is a search for the lost.

III. THEY ARE FOUND. "I will bring them out from the peoples," etc. When God finds a soul, he restores it. He may find it in the wilderness; if so, he will not leave it there. The shepherd may find his sheep buried in the snow; it may be hard to dig them out; he may even have to carry them home on his shoulders. If he is strong enough he will do this. God not only finds; he restores.

1. He brings the sheep home. Israel is restored to her own land. Souls are restored to their home in God.

2. He feeds them. They must be hungry in the wilderness, far from the green pastures. So "he feeds them upon the mountains of IsraeL" The father kills the fatted calf for his restored son. Christ gives his body as bread of life for his people.

3. He refreshes them. The sheep are led "by the rivers." They thirsted in the wilderness; now they can drink and live. God gives new life and peace to his restored children. Christ gives "living water" (John 4:10). When God finds a lost soul, that soul is safe—restored, fed, refreshed by his grace.

Ezekiel 34:17

The flock divided.

When the flock is found it is not all treated alike. The rough, horned cattle are separated from the gentle, helpless sheep. Israel was not to be restored to prosperity as a nation without discrimination. God would judge between the different characters of exiles. Judgment of individuals is here referred to.

I. GOD DEALS WITH INDIVIDUALS AS WELL AS WITH NATIONS. As there are national sins, so there are national punishments, and also national mercies. The whole nation must in a measure participate in these things. But over and above such matters there is an individual treatment of separate men and women. No man is safe from trouble by belonging to a prosperous nation. God's returning favor to a community may leave hardened rebellious souls still in the dark.

II. GOD JUDGES THE INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF CHURCHES. No man is safe just because he lives in Christendom, neither is any one safe because he is a member of any Church. There are rough, cruel animals in the flock, which are injurious to others, and unworthy of their privileges. In the final judgment the sheep will be separated from the goats (Matthew 25:32), and in dealing with Churches the same method of discrimination must be applied. Indeed, it is worse for one who is not a Christian to be enrolled in the membership of a Church, than for him to remain outside. His position is false and hypocritical. Moreover, his presence is injurious to the well-being of the worthy members. If the rough, horned animals were abroad in the wilderness, they would do little harm. The mischief arises when they are crowded together with the sheep in one fold.

III. IT IS THE DUTY OD CHURCHES TO EXERCISE DISCIPLINE. Care should be taken as to who are entrusted with the highest privileges of Christian fellowship. It is easier not to encourage the unworthy to enter than to eject them after they have made themselves obnoxious to the community. Nothing can be more foolish than to enlarge the nominal roll of a Church by including doubtful names. A wise teacher has said, "It would be well if we had fewer Christians, and better ones."

IV. THERE IS A DISCIPLINE WHICH BELONGS ONLY TO GOD. We can regulate the conditions of membership in organized societies. But we cannot really determine who are true members of Christ's flock. Therefore, in excluding the apparently unfit from a Church, we cannot, we dare not, pretend to pronounce a sentence of excommunication upon them. Much less are we justified in forcibly stamping out heresy, schism, and, what is far worse, worldly and sinful professions of Christianity, by the rough treatment of persecution. Wheat and tares must both grow together until the harvest (Matthew 13:30). Then, indeed, God will judge. The great Fisherman will divide his own fish when he brings the net to land (Matthew 13:48).

Ezekiel 34:23

The one shepherd.

In place of the many unworthy shepherds who have fattened themselves by spoiling the flock of Israel, God will now give his people one good Shepherd, reviving the royal line of David. The shepherd of Bethlehem had been a true protector of his people. He is to appear again in his great Descendant. No doubt Ezekiel's contemporary readers would look for a restoration of the temporal monarchy, as Christ's disciples looked for it (Acts 1:6). But such a restoration was never accomplished. The prophecy is fulfilled in a higher though an unexpected way by Christ as our good Shepherd.

I. THE PERSON OF THE SHEPHERD. "My servant David." Jesus Christ is the only person to whom these words can apply. Not only was he of the family of David; he realized to the full the ideal that David set forth in broken lights and failed to attain himself. He is the true David, the true Shepherd-King. Thus amid the sorrows of the exile, the disconsolate captives are cheered by a vision of the coming Christ, though as yet but vaguely and dimly discerned. We, with fuller knowledge, can turn from our disappointments and failures and find consolation in the Christ who has come and who is ever in our midst. Perhaps if the old shepherds had not been so unworthy, this wonderful prediction of the new Shepherd would not have been made. The disappointments of worldly confidence drive us to Christ. When earthly friends "fail or leave us," we need the true Friend who "sticketh closer than a brother." If Christian ministers have been unworthy, Christ abides faithful. Perhaps too much confidence was given to the human instruments; then the shock of discovering this to be misplaced may not be wholly hurtful; it may help the Church to look away from men and trust only in Christ.

II. THE APPOINTMENT OF THE SHEPHERD. He is set up by God. God sent Christ. It is God's will that his scattered sheep should be restored. That was stated earlier (see verses 11, 12). Now we see how it is to be done. Christ is to be the new Shepherd who will seek and find the lost sheep. He comes to us thus with all the authority of his Father. He is called God's "Servant"—a remarkable and unusual expression for the Messiah. This reminds us of "the Servant of the Lord" in the latter part of Isaiah. The name was recalled by St. Peter when preaching to the Jews (Acts 3:13). St. Paul tells us that in his great humiliation Christ took on him the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). This agrees with the whole spirit of the life of our Lord, who came not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him. It implies a rebuke of the bad shepherds, who had only pleased themselves and so neglected their Master's interests. They were too proud to consider themselves servants. But the great Son of David is willing to be a Servant.

III. THE WORK OF THE SHEPHERD.

1. He rules the flock. He is "set over" the sheep. The shepherd has authority over the flock. They are required to follow him. He shuts them up in the fold at night. Christ is King, as the Greater David. He is appointed to rule his flock as the Shepherd and Bishop of souls. If we would profit by his care we must obey his voice.

2. He feeds the flock. They would starve in the wilderness. The shepherd can lead them into the green pastures. He can supply them with winter stores. Christ feeds his people with his own body and blood.

3. He saves the flock. Though not stated in this verse, and perhaps not directly following from the preceding verses, this is very prominent in our Lord's own description of his work. By the sacrifice of his own life he saves his sheep (John 10:15). The favorite picture of the persecuted early Christians, on the walls of the catacombs at Rome, is perhaps the choicest of all representations of Christ—viz. the good Shepherd.

Ezekiel 34:25

A covenant of peace.

I. THE MAKING OF THE COVENANT. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. But in the case of covenants between God and man this agreement is not arrived at after the fashion of human bargaining, in which the two who are concerned meet on equal terms. The covenant is made by God and offered to man, by whom it has to be accepted in order that it may take effect. 'We meet with several successive covenants—with Adam, with Noah, with Abraham, with Israel in the Law. Jeremiah promises a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). A similar idea is here presented by Ezekiel. The old arrangement has broken down. For a time, the people of God are outlawed exiles, cut off from their ancient privileges, with little hope for the future. Now they are assured that God will not forsake them. It is impossible to renew the old covenant; but a new one shall be granted. God now approaches us in the gospel with that new covenant which Christ said was given in his blood (Luke 22:20). It was given to the world in the work of Christ. But it is ratified afresh with every soul that accepts its conditions—viz; repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19, Acts 3:26). All who thus enter into it enjoy the privileges of God's covenant mercies—mercies promised and assured to God's people.

II. THE CHARACTER OF THE COVENANT. It is essentially a covenant of peace. Every covenant is intended to be of this character. It is to prevent misunderstandings, to define mutual relations, to harmonize reciprocal actions. It is, in fact, a sort of treaty; and treaties, as long as they are observed, are instruments of peace. But the new covenant is emphatically and in a very special manner one of peace.

1. It endorses the restoration of peace between God and man. Sin is a breach of the peace, pardon is the making of peace. The restored Jews were brought into relations of peace with God. Christ reconciles us to God.

2. It signalizes the establishment of peace between man and his fallow-man. Christ is our peace in regard to mutual human relations. He breaks down "the middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14). He brings peace on earth (Luke 2:14).

3. It is the outward evidence of internal peace. Christ gives peace to the soul. The covenant assures his people that this peace is sound and solid (John 14:27).

III. THE FRUITS OF THE COVENANT. The evil beasts are to depart and the people are to dwell safely in the open pastures and even sleep in the woods without danger. The departure of man is followed by an incursion of wild beasts. Lions came into the land when it was much depopulated by the Captivity. Then it would only be safe for people to live in close communities. At the present day we never see in Palestine those scattered farmhouses and cottages that give so much picturesqueness to rural England. The people all live in villages or towns. That must be a very safe condition of the country which would admit the manner of living described in our text. A similar condition spiritually is brought about under the new covenant of Christ. The wild beasts of haunting sins and prowling temptations are driven away. It is possible to enjoy a sense of freedom and security when under the protection of Christ. To plant one's homestead in the midst of the pasturage, to be able to sleep out in the woods in the summer-time when at work far from home, would mean much comfort and happiness in a safe and settled community. Such a condition is typical of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and though certainly it is not yet fully enjoyed, it will be when the reign of Christ is perfectly established.

Ezekiel 34:26

Showers of blessing.

The grateful rain in a semi-tropical country, that brings fruitfulness to the earth and refreshment to man and beast, is suggestive of the Divine grace that comes on parched and weary souls.

I. SHOWERS OF BLESSING ARE NEEDED. It is a sign of miserable deadness when any Church or soul can be satisfied to continue in the dull routine of formal service without receiving any refreshing Divine grace. The first awakening from such a condition of torpor must result in a great thirst of spirit. The need is indeed such that all might well feel it, viz.:

1. Individual souls. Each soul needs a blessing. It is sad to be on the margin of a shower, perhaps to receive some of the dust that precedes it, yet to have no droppings of its refreshing water.

2. Active servants of God. The preacher, the missionary, the Sunday school teacher, the Christian worker in all kinds of service, need, greatly need, showers of blessing

3. The Church. Deadness seizes the Church without a Divine blessing. Worldliness, formalism, narrowness, selfishness, then degrade and corrupt it. The Church sadly needs a Divine benediction.

4. The world. All men need what few men seek—the grace and aid of God. The old weary earth thirsts and pines unconsciously for a new Pentecost.

II. SHOWERS OF BLESSING COME FROM HEAVEN.

1. Their source. This is above us. Showers fall from the clouds that sail far over our heads. We must look up for the blessing. Men put too much trust in the earth. The most fertile land, without rain, would be a Sahara Desert. The most capable and energetic human work needs grace from above. Paul plants, Apollos waters, and God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).

2. Their descent. The showers are formed in the clouds, but they do not remain there. It is disappointing to see black clouds gather in a season of drought, and then pass away without shedding a drop of rain. Showers are descending waters. Blessings are not only promised and retained in the treasury of heaven; they come down and water the earth.

III. SHOWERS OF BLESSING DESCEND IN ABUNDANCE. It would take long for men with watering-cart and hose to distribute the moisture that is spread over a wide area in an hour by one summer shower. God blesses richly and abundantly. His grace is widespread. Every root of grass in the meadow comes in for a share of the shower; every leaf in the forest is cleansed and refreshed. Moreover, the result is done with the utmost gentleness. It is a shower, not a flood. "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass" (Psalms 72:6).

IV. SHOWERS OF BLESSING COME AT VARIOUS SEASONS. It is not always raining. Palestine had its former and its latter rain. Showers alternate with sunshine in our April weather. There are seasons of especial blessing. It may not be well for us to be always receiving the most stimulating kind of Divine grace. Nor is it possible for us to be perpetually cheered. Yet we can and should pray for blessing, and hail the cloud no bigger than a man's hand as the promise of coming showers.

V. SHOWERS OF BLESSING ARE FOLLOWED BY BEAUTY AND FRUITFULNESS. How fair and fresh the earth looks after a spring shower! Then "the dainty flowers lift up their heads," the grass shines in its greenest hues, and the very ground is fragrant. The world, the Church, the soul of man, will wear a new beauty and gladness, and bring forth fruit to the glory of God, when heavenly showers of blessing have been received. Well may we pray for them with more than Elijah's earnestness!

Ezekiel 34:29

A plantation of renown.

Restored Israel is to be a plantation of renown. The Israel of God, the Church of Christ, may be considered as of the same character.

I. THE CHURCH IS A DIVINE PLANTATION.

1. It is planted by God. A plantation is not a wild, primeval forest. It is a wood the trees of which have been carefully selected and set in the soil by the hands of men. God plants his people.

2. It is a community. A plantation is not a single tree, nor is it the scattering of a few separate trees over the fields. It is a collection of plants. "God setteth the solitary in families" (Psalms 68:6). He has ordained domestic and social life. Christ founded the Church. Brotherly fellowship is a Divine ordinance.

3. It is carefully tended. The woodman visits the plantation, removing dead boughs, keeping the soil clean, destroying dangerous parasitic growths, etc. God does not leave his people alone. They are not like the neglected tropical forest, in which the wreck of the hurricane lies undisturbed and dead, and living trees are matted together with gigantic creepers and tangled with undergrowth; they are like a well-trimmed plantation.

4. It is expected to grow. A plantation in poor soil on a bleak hillside may be slow to thrive, and one on a hot sandy plain may even perish in drought. But healthy well-placed plants should grow from saplings till they become great trees.

II. THE CHURCH IS A PLANTATION OF RENOWN.

1. There is renown in the planting of it. It is customary for a member of the royal family who visits a country place to be asked to plant a tree. If the request is complied with, the young tree is watched with peculiar care and ever after pointed out with interest. It is a plant of renown. Not only has the Church been planted by God; it has been planted at the cost of the sacrifice of Christ. This plantation has been watered with the blood of Christ. It has the renown of the great sacrifice of Divine love consummated on Calvary.

2. There is renown in the history of it. There are trees of historic interest. Such was the oak of Mature, sacred to the memory of Abraham. Englishmen have found a romantic interest in King Charles's oak. Sherwood Forest is famous for Robin Hood and his merry men. The plantation of the Church has a very mixed history. The greatest trees are not always the most fruitful, and the greatest names in ecclesiastical history are not always those that deserve the highest honor. The public and official history of the Church is disgraced with many a deed of un-Christlike and worldly conduct. But the plantation as a whole, the general body of Christians, the quiet town and country congregations, have done a work of charity-enlightening, comforting, and saving—in all ages of Christendom. Here, rather than in her calendar of saints, the true renown of the Church is to be found, and this renown is the glory of Christ, whose body she is; so that her members must exclaim, "Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy Name be the glory."

3. There is renown in the destiny of it. The Church has a great future before it. It goes forward to realize a grand idea. It has to win such a name as it dares not wear as yet. But even now, as the army shares the renown of its captain, the Church is honored in its Head, to whom God has given "a Name above every name."

Ezekiel 34:30

The presence of God.

I. GOD IS PECULIARLY PRESENT WITH HIS PEOPLE. We know that he is everywhere on the desolate sea and the fair earth, in the high heavens and the dark regions of death (Psalms 139:1-24.). Therefore if any would desire to escape from his presence, this is impossible. How, then, can God be said to be in an especial manner present with his people? Spiritual presence is spiritual manifestation. God is more fully present where he more completely manifests his power and grace.

1. He is present in the hearts of his people. He dwells in the contrite and humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15). The Christian's body is a "temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 6:19). God comes into especially close contact with those who are reconciled to him, and who open their hearts to receive his Spirit.

2. He is present in the lives of his people. He shapes their lives with his providential guidance, and watches over them with tender care, warding off danger and supplying wants. Even when they forget him in the slumbers of the night and during the busy distractions of the day, he neither sleeps nor neglects his people. Ever with them to guide and help and save, as he was with Israel in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, God overshadows and surrounds his people with his fostering presence.

II. GOD'S PEOPLE MAY RECOGNIZE HIS PRESENCE. The verse which suggests these reflections is somewhat like a frequent expression in the prophecies of Ezekiel. After denunciations of wrath and judgment against the heathen nations, the conclusion repeatedly arrived at is, "And they shall know that I am the Lord" (e.g. Ezekiel 30:25). In these cases the awful action of God in his wrath is to bring home to the heathen the fact of his existence and supremacy; but it is not said that they will know that God is with them. To Israel, however, this new thing is asserted. Israel will not merely know that God is the eternal Lord; she will know that God is present. This further knowledge belongs to Christians. They are not merely theists, who believe in the existence of God; they know his actual, living presence. It is not suggested that this knowledge is to be obtained by direct, mystical intuition; it is rather suggested that it is gathered from the experience of God's goodness. Hagar recognized the presence of God when the angel addressed her (Genesis 16:13). Jacob perceived it on awakening from his dream (Genesis 28:16). The later Jews were to see it in their restoration from the Captivity. We are to acknowledge it in the experience of the Christian redemption. In this Christ will manifest himself to us as he does not unto the world (John 14:21, John 14:22).

III. THE RECOGNITION OF GOD'S PRESENCE IS ACCOMPANIED BY THAT OF HIS OWNERSHIP OF HIS PEOPLE. "And that they, even the house of Israel, are my people." God is present with his people as their Owner. He comes to them to claim them. He visits his inheritance to take possession of it. When we perceive that God is with us we have to go further and acknowledge his relationship to us. It is much to acknowledge that we do not belong to ourselves, that we are God's possession, bought with a great price, and valued by him as precious property is valued by its owner.

Ezekiel 34:31

God's flock.

Israel was formerly God's flock. Christians are now God's flock.

I. CHRISTIANS ARE CONSTITUTED INTO A FLOCK. The wandering sheep are restored. They no longer roam at large over the mountains. They are gathered together. Man is naturally gregarious. Religion should deepen this characteristic by destroying selfishness and quickening the great social instinct, love. Thus Christ founded the Church idea. He recognized that he had many sheep that were not of the fold of Israel, or of his first community of disciples, and he prayed that they might all become one flock, even if they might not all be gathered into one fold. It may be impossible to restore the external unity of Christendom. At all events, this grand consummation seems at present to be far off, and some of those who profess to desire it most fervently do their worst to postpone it by their narrowness, bigotry, and serf-assertion. Certainly, if the dream is ever realized, it will not be by all sections of Christendom succumbing to the views and practices of any one party, but by a general agreement within large lines of liberty. Meanwhile, though we may not have one fold, we should be one flock. There should be a spirit of brotherhood among all Christians. The boundaries of folds do not convert sheep into wolves. The spiritual unity of Christendom may be accomplished in the spirit of charity and sympathy taking possession of the hearts of all Christians.

II. CHRISTIANS ARE TENDED AS A FLOCK. The flock is under the care of a shepherd. God has "set up one Shepherd over" his flock (Ezekiel 34:23)—Christ, who cares for his sheep to the extent of giving his life for them. The flock of Christ is variously tended.

1. It is fed. God has not left his people in the wilderness, or, if they must traverse that barren region, he sends heavenly manna and gives water from the rock.

2. It is sheltered. The shepherd watches over the flock by night and drives off beasts of prey. Christ guards his people from harm and danger.

3. It is led. The shepherd leads his sheep by the still waters, and ultimately home to their fold. God led his people Israel "like a flock" (Psalms 77:20), till they had passed all the perils of the forty years' wandering, crossed the Jordan, and taken possession of the Promised Land. Christ leads his people through life safely on towards the heavenly Canaan.

III. Christians SHOULD BEHAVE AS A FLOCK.

1. They should follow the Shepherd. Christianity is walking in the footsteps of Christ (John 12:26). We cannot expect the grace of Christ if we wander from him.

2. The flock is the property of its Owner; it exists for his advantage. It is not to be supposed that we are to receive countless blessings and render no return in obedience. The supreme end of the Church is the glory of God, though this is attained in conjunction with its own highest welfare.

3. The sheep are foolish, weak, helpless creatures. The Shepherd is far greater than they. He deserves to be locked up to with trust, and followed obediently. In our ignorance, folly, and weakness we should trust and obey our good Shepherd, who is wiser and stronger than we, and whose will is supreme over our lives.

HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON

Ezekiel 34:1-10

The human shepherds of the flock.

It is a comparison as old, yes, older than literature, this of the people to a flock of sheep, and of their rulers, leaders, and spiritual instructors to the shepherds whose vocation it is to protect, care for, and feed them. Both in the Old and New Testament Scriptures we meet with passages in which unfaithful, careless, selfish, and grasping religious teachers and leaders are denounced as hirelings who have nothing of the true shepherd's heart—no watchfulness, commiseration, and self-sacrifice. In the time of Ezekiel there were throe who, called to be pastors and reputed to be pastors, were nevertheless destitute of the pastoral character and habits.

I. THEIR CONDUCT. This is very graphically and (after Ezekiel's manner) with outspoken plainness described in these verses.

1. The shepherds' neglect of the flock. They neither feed them upon suitable pastures, nor strengthen the weak, nor heal the sickly, nor recover the lost, nor deliver the defenseless sheep from the wild beasts of the field. On the contrary, they treat them with violence and with rigor.

2. The shepherds' care for themselves. They use the flock merely for their own pleasure and advantage, eating of the flesh of the sheep, and clothing themselves with their wool.

3. The consequent condition of the flock. Neglected by their custodians, they are scattered, they wander upon every high hill, they fall a prey to the beasts of the field. In all these respects there is a parallel between the conduct of careless, hireling shepherds and the conduct of those in Israel who claimed to be the spiritual pastors of the people. These, whether priests or prophets by profession, simply used their position as a means towards their personal wealth, ease, pleasure, and aggrandizement. And no wonder that the sons of Israel, so neglected by those who should have made their highest welfare their care, were abandoned to every enemy, and sank into a state of degeneration, debasement, and hopelessness.

II. THEIR CONDEMNATION. That such flagrant neglect, of duty could not pass unnoticed and unpunished may be presumed by the least thoughtful. Under the rule of a Governor of infinite justice, those placed in a position of eminence and of influence, if they neglect to fulfill the duties of their position, must surely be called to an exact account of their trust. The prophet tells us concerning the unfaithful shepherds that:

1. God is against them. He, whose help and countenance would have been vouchsafed had they honestly and earnestly set themselves to do the work which they professed to undertake, now sets himself against the unfaithful.

2. They are held responsible for the flock. "I will require," says God, "my sheep at their hand."

3. The custody of the flock is taken away from them. And at the same time, they are prevented from any more feeding themselves. It cannot be that the flock should be punished for wandering, and that the careless shepherds, through whose neglect they wandered, should be suffered to go free.—T.

Ezekiel 34:11-16

The Divine Shepherd of the flock.

What a marvelous contrast is here presented between the hireling and unfaithful shepherds who have presumptuously undertaken the care of God's people, and the Lord God, who in his condescension assumes the pastoral office, and fulfils it with Divine qualifications and completeness! According to the beautiful and touching representation of this passage—

I. THE LORD SEEKS HIS SHEEP WHEN LOST. They have gone astray, through willfulness on their part and through negligence on the part of the pretended shepherds. Bat the Divine Shepherd seeks and saves that which was lost, and, distant though they be, and in dangerous places, finds them out and lays his gracious hand upon them.

II. THE LORD DELIVERS HIS SHEEP FROM THE POWER OF THEIR ENEMIES. They have their enemies, and they have fallen into their enemies' hands. From such peril One only can save; and the Lord rescues them and, in the exercise of his pity and his power, sets them free from bondage and oppression.

III. THE LORD RESTORES THEM TO THE FOLD OF SAFETY AND OF PEACE. Even as Jehovah brought back the exiles from the East into the land of their fathers, so does the good Shepherd and Bishop of souls ever restore the penitent and believing to the welcome of his gracious heart, and to the fellowship of his rejoicing Church, to go no more out.

IV. THE LORD FEEDS THEM IN THE PASTURES OF HIS GRACE. The language of this passage is upon this point very full, rich, and reassuring. The good Shepherd declares, "I will feed them upon the mountains of Israel, by the water-courses; I will feed them upon good pasture, and on fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel." We may understand by this all the provision which the wisdom and loving-kindness of God have made for the wants and the welfare of his redeemed—the truth of his Word, the blessings of his sacraments, the fellowship of his saints.

V. THE LORD HEALS THEM FROM ALL THEIR WEAKNESSES AND SUFFERINGS. "I will bind up that which was broken, and strengthen that which was sick." He healeth all our diseases. His hand applies the remedy, administers the medicine, restores the broken health of the soul. No necessity is uncared for; no ill fails to meet his sympathy; no weakly, tender lamb of his flock shall perish through neglect. "He shall gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that give suck."

APPLICATION. These representations of Divine pity and tenderness are amply fulfilled in the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In his own discourses he set forth his mission under the similitude of the faithful, devoted shepherd. He laid down his life for the sheep. The apostles felt the justice and the beauty of the similitude. And upon the early Christians generally it made a profound impression; in their works of art they delighted to picture Jesus as the good shepherd.—T.

Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24

A pastor and a prince.

Christians cannot fail to recognize the Messianic reference of this portion of prophecy. The language employed not only exactly depicts him who is "Immanuel, God with us;" it is so exalted that it is not possible to refer it to any inferior being, to any under-shepherd of the flock, any overseer and ruler in the Church subject to human infirmities and failings.

I. THE SOLE SUPREMACY OF CHRIST OVER THE FLOCK. The "one Shepherd," God's "servant David," who can this be but Christ? For he is the Head of the new humanity, who has made both one. "There shall be one flock and one Shepherd." This is no other than the one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.

II. THE SACRIFICIAL DEATH OF CHRIST FOR HIS FLOCK. Christ's people are a purchased possession; he laid down his life for the sheep. Thus he proved his love; thus he accomplished the gracious purposes of his Father; thus he effected the deliverance of his ransomed ones from the power of the enemy. All that the Savior does for his people is comprehended in and follows from his identification of himself with them in his incarnation and sacrifice.

III. THE PERPETUAL SWAY OF CHRIST OVER HIS FLOCK. God's servant is appointed to be, not only the pastor, but the prince, of the redeemed. His rule is marked by justice and equity, and at the same time by benignity and compassion. He is the Prince of righteousness and the Prince of peace. His dominion shall be universal—"from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." His dominion shall be imperishable—from one generation to another, "and of the increase of his government there shall be no end."

APPLICATION. These representations of Christ summon all the members of his flock to accept with gratitude his pastoral provision and care; and to submit with cheerfulness to his just and gracious rule.—T.

Ezekiel 34:26

The promise of blessing.

By general consent this promise is referred to the time of the new covenant, to the coming of Christ for man's salvation, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.

I. FERTILIZING SHOWERS OF BLESSING. As the rain waters the earth, and turns barrenness into fruitfulness, so the provision of Divine grace transforms this humanity from a wilderness of sin into a Paradise of God.

1. The need of such blessing is apparent from the spiritual barrenness which prevails where it is not bestowed.

2. The source of such blessing is implied in this language; for as the showers come from the clouds of the sky, so the Spirit descends from the presence, the heaven of God.

3. The time of such blessing is indicated as appointed by supreme wisdom; the shower comes "in its season," and the promise of the Father was given in the Father's good time.

4. The abundance of such blessing. God's spiritual favors come to his people, not in drops, but in showers, such as are fitted to refresh the parched and thirsty land.

5. The effects of such blessing are life and fertility. The wilderness and the solitary place are made glad, and the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose. Spiritual growth and fruit are the blessed result of showers of Divine mercy.

II. ABIDING SCENES OF BENEDICTION. By the "hill" of God must be understood the Church of God, which he ever visits, refreshes, and vivifies by the dews and showers of his pity and loving-kindness. The Church, because the object of Divine favor and the depository of Divine truth and power, becomes and remains the agent of untold benefits to the world around. It receives blessing from heaven; it communicates blessing to earth. The heaven above is never as brass intercepting and restraining blessing; it is as the clouds distilling and diffusing blessing. And the rills are never dry which convey the blessing of God from the Church to fertilize a thirsty and barren world.—T.

Ezekiel 34:27, Ezekiel 34:28

The peace and welfare of the Church.

So much of this book of prophecy is occupied with denunciation and with pictures of destruction and desolation, that a passage like this is grateful and welcome, as a relief and contrast to much of what has gore before. The-prophet was evidently inspired to look into the far future, and to see visions of happiness and of glory which exalted and delighted his spirit. He was taught that the God of infinite compassion has counsels of salvation for sinful men, and plans of felicity for the ransomed Church. Some of the elements of blessedness, assured by God's faithfulness and mercy to his people, are pictured in these beautiful and encouraging verses.

I. PROSPERITY, SECURED BY THE VISITATION OF GOD'S MERCY AND LOVING-KINDNESS. This is figuratively represented by the promise, "The tree of the field shall yield its fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase." The Church is a garden, a vineyard, a forest; when it flourishes, it puts forth signs of vigorous life, and it is fruitful abundantly. The vitality of the Church expresses itself in its praises, thankgivings, and prayers, in its unity and brotherly love, in its deeds of justice and purity, in its benevolent and self-denying efforts for the good of the world.

II. DELIVERANCE AND LIBERTY, SECURED BY THE INTERPOSITION OF GOD'S MIGHT. The Lord "broke the bars of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hands of those who made bondmen of them." "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." It is his office to set God's people free from thraldom to error and to sin, and to make them God's freedmen, to introduce them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. The promise must have had a special significance and sweetness for those who, like Ezekiel and his companions, were captives and exiles in a foreign land, and subject to the authority of strangers. Its spiritual meaning is comprehended and appreciated by all Christ's ransomed ones who are set free, his banished ones for whose return he has devised effectual means.

III. SECURITY THROUGH GOD'S PROTECTION. In a less settled state of society than our own, the literal meaning of the promise must have been peculiarly welcome: "They shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beasts of the field devour them; but they shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid." The Church of Christ is secure as the fold of God's flock, the fortress of God's warriors, the home of God's children. The powers of earth and of hell are strong, but the power of Heaven is mightier, and this power is pledged for the guardianship and safety of the people of Christ. The power of Divine providence controls all outward events. The power of the Divine Spirit within checks every rising fear. "Fear not," says the Almighty Guardian and Helper, "fear not: I am with you!"—T.

HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES

Ezekiel 34:1-16

God's verdict upon self-serving rulers.

The disasters that overtook the land and the people of Israel were largely due to the misdeeds of their rulers. The people in olden time were more easily led by their sovereign than they are now. The ability to read, combined with the free use of printed literature, has stimulated the power to think, and this has led to self-reliance, independence, and freedom. But in Ezekiel's day a dearth of literature made the people largely dependent on priests and rulers. The self-will of Rehoboam was the initial downward step to civic strife and national ruin. Rehoboam and his successors never learned the lesson that a ruler is a shepherd, that he is entrusted with the welfare of a nation, that he is appointed to live for the people, and not to expect that the people shall live for him. This is a wholesome lesson for all kings and magistrates. They are expected to care for every interest in the commonwealth.

I. GOD'S ESTIMATE OF A RULER'S DUTY. A ruler, whether supreme or subordinate, is required by God to act as a shepherd. He is ordained to this office (at least theoretically) on the ground of superior knowledge, skill, and fitness to govern. God's intention is that the personal endowments of one shall be employed for the welfare of the many. The design in erecting the kingly office is not that everything in the state shall contribute to the pomp and magnificence of the king, but contrariwise, that the king shall devote his talents and energies to the well-being of his weakest subjects. The public health must be his care. Measures for alleviating and uprooting disease must originate at the palace. The education of the young, the development of mental. resources, the dissemination of all useful knowledge, form part of the monarch's duty. The sanitation of the people's dwellings is a more royal service than leading battalions on the battle-field. Whatever increases mutual concord, industry, virtue, wealth, morality, and religion demands the king's attention. And what is true respecting a king is true (in its measure) respecting every meaner magistrate and officer of state. Every man who fills an office of rule is a shepherd, under obligation to safeguard the interests of the people. Such is the doctrine taught by God.

II. GOD'S RECOGNITION OF A RULER'S SELF-AGGRANDIZEMENT. Every occupant of a throne acts in the stead of God. He is a delegate of the Most High. Therefore it is his duty to imitate the rule of God—to act as God acts. Inasmuch as God cares equally for all the members in his family, for the obscure and the weak, as well as for the rich and the strong, it becomes earthly monarchs to do likewise. Every neglect of the well-being of subjects is noted down by God. The cry of the oppressed toilers enters the ears of the Lord of hosts. In God's esteem kingly condescension is a nobler quality than animal courage. It is better every way to enlarge a people's virtue than to enlarge the boundaries of empire. God notes down carefully each royal delinquency.

III. GOD'S MODES OF CHASTISING A RULER'S CONTUMACY.

1. Removal from office. "I will cause them to cease from feeding the fleck." Defeat upon the battle-field, dethronement, loss of regal power, early death,—these are among the modes of chastisement God employs. So many are the plans for vindicating himself which are available to him, that he seldom employs the same mode of chastisement in two separate instances. What are often deemed common disasters are forthputtings of the chastising rod.

2. Arraignment at the bar of God. "I will require my flock at their hand." Kings, as well as private persons, must give a faithful account of life. Kings are usually here the objects of envy; but when we include in our survey the eternal future, envy may well cease. Every place of honor is a place of responsibility. Kings may recognize on earth no superior authority, yet they too are under law, and must in due time "give an account of their stewardship." The day of audit draws on apace.

IV. GOD'S INTERPOSITION FOR THE NEGLECTED FLOCK. "I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out." The political and imperial events of Asia in Ezekiel's day were dominated by the superior will of Jehovah, and the political events of every empire are under the same jurisdiction. All valuable reward comes from the favor of God; all real punishment is from his hand.

1. Return from exile is promised. They shall dwell in their own land. Every man has naturally an attachment to the land of his fathers, and removal means weakness and loss to the social fabric. Under God's rule this banishment shall be reversed.

2. Prosperity is pledged. "I will feed them in a good pasture." Agriculture shall again prosper under the aegis of righteous government. Security of person and property is the vital breath of industry. Fields and gardens shall smile with beauty under the sunshine of Divine favor.

3. Perfect protection is assured. "I will cause them to lie down." No harsh noise of invasion shall disturb them. They shall be far removed from all disquietude beneath Jehovah's wing. Their munitions of granite are the words of the Omnipotent. The power that supports the heavens is their defense.

4. Gracious care of the suffering is announced. This was a new thing in Ezekiel's day. In such stormy times the weak and diseased were counted a burden. This conduct is emphatically God-like. For God takes a special pleasure in conveying sympathy and succor to his suffering ones. "In all their affliction he is afflicted."

5. Here is intimation also of moral recovery for the lost and the guilty. "I will seek that which was lost." He who cares for men's temporal interests cares infinitely more for their soul's health and joy. The gladness that rolls through heaven when a sinner turns is gladness that originates with God. He delights to reclaim a wayward lamb. His patience and tenderness are most of all conspicuous in dealing with rebels. His greatness hath made many great.—D.

Ezekiel 34:17-22

Social oppressions.

The wisest men detect only some of the evils that blemish a nation; they are blind to more secret delinquencies. The Almighty Ruler detects every hidden iniquity, nor will he spare any form of sin.

I. OBSERVE THE CONTAGION OF WICKEDNESS. The first part of the chapter reveals God's judgment upon evil rulers now is brought to light the wrong-doing of men in private and unofficial stations. The sins of pride and violence soon filter down from magnates to merchants, from princes to peasants. Vice is more contagious than any bodily disease we are familiar with. As children easily learn to imitate the words and ways of parents, so men in inferior stations copy the deeds of those immediately above them. As thistle-down bears an abundant crop of seed, so do also most kinds of sin.

II. MARK THE EVIL AND BITTER FRUITS OF SELFISHNESS. Selfishness is the prolific mother of a thousand sins. In a ruler selfishness becomes as a scourge of scorpions to the people, and makes the man a monster; in a private person it works a world of minor mischiefs. In any form it is a malignant and despicable thing. As night casts its black shadow over every scene of natural beauty, so selfishness blights and disfigures every relationship between man and man.

1. Here are acts of malevolence. The rich and the strong eared only for themselves. Self-aggrandizement in them had grown into ill will for their neighbors. National calamity, which ought to have brought them nearer to each other for mutual help, had generated a malevolent temper.

2. This ill will led to acts of wanton destructiveness. Such portions of agricultural produce as they could not use themselves they destroyed, so that their poorer neighbors might be reduced to yet direr straits. Never was the fable of the dog in the manger more literally realized. Landlords who destroy cottages in order to drive out the poor from the parish, walk in these men's shoos.

3. Acts of personal cruelty. "They pushed the diseased with their horns until they had scattered them." The horns were weapons provided by God for their defense against their foes, and it was a strange abuse of God's kindness to use these weapons for the injury of their suffering fellows. Every form of disease is a mute, pathetic appeal to our better nature for sympathy and help. We do ourselves a lasting injury when we refuse assistance. We turn the natural milk of human kindness into gall. Men are members of one social organism; and in injuring each other they injure themselves. The culture of benevolence is a primary duty—a fountain of joy.

4. Self-blindness. To these self-indulgent men "it seemed a small thing" to treat their weaker and suffering brethren thus. Yet it was a very mountain of wickedness. A selfish eye looks through the wrong end of the telescope, and sees real objects greatly minimized. By-and-by their eyes will be opened. By-and-by the mist of appearances will vanish, and all human actions will be revealed in naked reality.

III. RIGHTEOUS DISCRIMINATION AND AWARD ARE NOT FAR AWAY. "Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle." Probably many of these rich blustering men complained bitterly enough of the selfish violence of their rulers, and never surmised that they were committing the very same sin under another guise. They saw the mote in others' eyes, yet did not suspect that a beam filled their own eye. But an unseen Judge was there, and weighed in the balance of perfect equity every deed and word of man. It is a consolation to the suffering that deliverance from the highest source will come, and will come at the best possible moment. The great Refiner sits by and watches the refining process in the furnace. His plans to us are full of mystery, for our vision is very limited, while he sees the end from the beginning. His eye skillfully discriminates between every form and every degree of human offense. Men will not be judged (as they are often now) in classes, but as individuals. Some Canaanites will be accepted; some Israelites will be rejected. Some Pharisees shall find their way to heaven; some publicans will Perish. A rich man may be saved in spite of the encumbrance of riches; some poor men will be outcasts eternally because destitute of faith and love. The balance of God is an even balance, and in his presence the smallest deception is impossible.—D.

Ezekiel 34:23 -41

The golden age of peace.

Predictions of Divine retribution, added to bitter experience of misfortune, had well-nigh filled the souls of the people with despair. And despair is a critical condition for man. It may lead to self-abandonment, to the wildest excesses of vice and devilry. Will God make no interposition on their behalf? Must their only prospect be midnight, unrelieved by a single star? No! over the black cloud God again flings the bow of gracious promise. Black midnight shall be followed by a roseate dawn. The old order shall give place to a new. A nobler kingdom shall be set up.

I. A NEW KING. He is described as "my servant David." This description is not to be accepted literally, but symbolically. The people could not understand the magnificent purpose of God by any other language. As God stoops to our infantile state by describing heaven to us in language borrowed from earth, so did he portray the era of Messiah's reign by language borrowed from the most prosperous events in their past career. Despite all his failings, David had been their most illustrious sovereign. His reign had brought them prosperity and honor and great enlargement. They shall have another David—a better David. In reality, as well as in name, he shall be the "Beloved," even "the Man after God's own heart." God shall make the appointment, therefore questions touching its wisdom may well be silenced. The King of their King is God, therefore the new Monarch shall be a true Shepherd, viz. one who will care more for the flock than for himself. The spirit of his reign shall be love.

II. A NEW CHARTER OF INCORPORATION. "I will make them a covenant of peace." For centuries past they had tasted the horrors and the misery of war. Civil strife and foreign invasion had made the beauteous land a desolation. War between man and man had been incessant, because the whole nation was at war with God. The influence, the virtue, the spirit of the new King were designed to spread until they had permeated the whole nation. Love to God would produce benevolence to each other. Further, it was an act of incomparable condescension on the part of God to make such a covenant with men, particularly with such rebellious men. For a covenant is a contract which brings' obligation on both parties entering into its and which deprives them of a portion of their liberty. So, in amazing kindness to men, and that he may lift them up, God freely brings himself under obligation, and gives to undeserving men a right they did not before possess. This gracious covenant embraced the most precious interests of the true Israel, and was appointed as a root of prosperity and joy. And the conclusion of the covenant was guaranteed. "I," said God, "I will make" it. Hence it included the solution of men's opposition. It deals with men in their internal nature as well as in their outward conduct. Divine love will gradually melt all hostility, and will fertilize human nature with heavenly grace. "They shall be my people."

III. A NEW ERA OF PROSPERITY. A long catalogue of beneficial effects are specified.

1. Civic concord. "I will cause the evil beasts to cease." By evil beasts we may properly understand unprincipled and oppressive men. A gracious influence shall touch and remodel the characters of men. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid." Instead of an instinct to injure, there shall be an instinct to benefit each other.

2. Personal security. "They shall dwell safely even in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods." The security shall be perfect. The former haunts of robbers shall become the abodes of peace. The very deserts shall resound with the merry laughter of children and with the songs of honest swains.

3. Agricultural fertility. "The tree of the field shall yield its fruit, and the land shall yield her increase." Often in the olden time they sowed a bushel and reaped a peck; but this resulted from God's displeasure. Now crops shall be prolific. The barren hills shall smile with the olive and the vine. The valleys shall be robed with russet corn. The table of every cottager shall be laden with plenty.

4. Seasonable communications of good. "I will cause the shower to come down in its season." As in most lands rain is essential to fertility, so in Messiah's kingdom the descent of spiritual influence is essential to a fruitful piety. The windows of heaven shall in due season open, and plentifully irrigate the souls of suppliants. Out of the inexhaustible storehouse a gracious supply shall, come.

5. Unprecedented, blessing shall be given. "I will raise up for them a plantation of renown. This seems to indicate some useful product of a most beneficent kind—"a plantation" remarkable, and that shall bring them high renown. Without question, gifts and graces have been bestowed upon men in this gospel age unheard of in former years; and richer donations of grace are yet in store.

6. Honor. For long and dreary centuries they had borne the reproach of the heathen. They had been the tools of rival kings—the laughing-stock of the Gentiles. Now this shall be reversed. In proportion to the depth of their dishonor shall be the height of their exaltation. Not false and meretricious honor shall they have, but that tame honor which is the fruit of righteousness.

7. Intimate friendship with God. Their knowledge of God shall be deep and experimental. They shall have something better than theoretical and speculative knowledge. They shall have the full assurance that God is among them. They shall feel that God has a proprietorship in them, and that they have a proprietorship in God. God is their God. "The house of Israel are my people, saith the Lord God." This is supreme joy, the beginning of heaven, when God dwells in us and we dwell in God. The union is organic, inseparable.—D.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Ezekiel 34:1-10

The use and the abuse of office.

It is generally agreed that by the shepherd of the text we are to understand primarily the king and princes of Israel, who should have guarded and nourished the people of Israel with the devotedness with which David (see Ezekiel 34:23) once tended his people; but the interpretation need not exclude the "ecclesiastical" officers of the land, those whose practice was to teach and warn the people—priest and Levite and prophet. These strong words of correction will apply to all those, of every time and country, who hold office and undertake public trust. We gather—

I. THAT WE SHOULD ACCEPT OFFICE WITH A DEEP SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY. The Hebrew king held office under God; so also did priest and prophet. And so do we.

1. It is in the providence of God that we are led to take our position, whatever it may be.

2. It is God who has given us the capacity and the advantages which have fitted us for the post we occupy.

3. We are sacredly bound to do everything in every sphere "unto him" and for the glory of his Name. So that the deepest desire as well as the uppermost purpose of our mind should be to do all things which devolve upon us as in his eye, to his approval, in accordance with his expressed will, after the manner and in the spirit of Christ.

II. THAT WE SHOULD HOLD OFFICE WITH A DISTINCT VIEW TO FAITHFUL SERVICE. Not—How shall we please? or, How shall we rise? but, How can we serve? or, How useful can we prove to be? should be the question on our lips because in our minds. The special opportunities presented to us must necessarily depend on the particular post we hold. But, whether it partake of a more secular or of a more sacred character, it is not unlikely that it will embrace the opportunity of:

1. Strengthening those that are weak (Ezekiel 34:4); offering a helping hand or cheering voice to those that are less skilful or less experienced than ourselves.

2. Restoring those that have failed or fallen (Ezekiel 34:4); going to those that have made a mistake, or that may have committed that which is worse than a mistake, and enabling them to regain the confidence and the hope which they have lost.

3. Enlightening those who have not been taught or trained; "feeding' them (Ezekiel 34:2).

4. Sustaining in comfort, in wisdom, in hope, in gladness of heart, in usefulness, those who are walking in their integrity. These services especially apply to the Christian minister; it is his sacred function, his welcome opportunity, in a peculiar sense, to do all this in the spirit of holy, happy service; thus following in the footsteps of the good Shepherd himself.

III. THAT SELFISH NEGLIGENCE IN OFFICE WILL DRAW DOWN THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE. God's high displeasure is revealed against the kings and princes of Israel, who only sought their own honor and enrichment (see Ezekiel 34:2, Ezekiel 34:7-10). And those who profess to teach and to guide in the name of his Son, the chief Shepherd of the Church, and who use their office not to feed, or guard, or save the flock, but to care for their own comfort and seek their own pleasure,—how shall they escape the judgment of God (see Ezekiel 33:1-8)? On the other hand, we may confidently reckon—

IV. THAT THE DEVOTEDNESS OF LOVE WILL MEET WITH A LARGE REWARD. They who seek the wandering, who strengthen the weak, who sustain the whole and healthful in their integrity; they who pray earnestly, and watch vigilantly, and work diligently, and, when the hour comes, strike manfully, shall in no wise lose their reward.—C.

Ezekiel 34:11, Ezekiel 34:12

God's interest in men.

We learn of the interest God takes in us that he is—

I. UNAFFECTED BY OUR SOCIAL DISTINCTIONS. The great ones of the land regarded those who were at the bottom of society as beneath their consideration. What mattered it if they lived in privation and in ignorance, so long as the royal palace, so long as the costly castle, was well furnished? But this distinction between the worth of men on the ground of social rank or of circumstance finds no place at all in the mind and heart of God. He cares for men as they are; possessed as they are with a nature that is capable of great things—great sufferings, sorrows, degradation, iniquities, on the one hand, and great joys, hopes, nobilities, achievements, on the other hand. Not where we stand or what we hold, but what we are and what we may become, is the Divine consideration.

II. DRAWN TOWARDS THE NEGLECTED. It is the guilty neglect of the flock by the selfish shepherds that drives the sheep to the notice of the Divine Shepherd, and that draws out his pitiful pastoral affection (Ezekiel 34:8-11). And we may infer that the neglected, because they are such, are the objects of the Divine sympathy. The neglected child in the home, member of the Church, pupil in the school, student or toiler in the world of art and industry, citizen in social circle or the broader sphere of the nation, is the object of the pitiful regard of One who never overlooks, who understands how that heart feels which is wounded by the disregard of men, who "lifteth up the meek," who "hath respect unto the lowly."

III. CONCERNED FOR THE LOST AND SCATTERED. Those who are far away from Zion and from all its sacred and hallowing influences are still "my sheep" (Ezekiel 34:11); and the strain of the twelfth verse is one of tender sympathy and earnest solicitude for those who "in the day of clouds and thick darkness" have been "scattered on the wild." We have wandered away from the home of the Father; some of us into a very "far country;" it may be that of almost entire forgetfulness; or of an utter shameless indifference; or of a deliberate disobedience of his known will; or of an absolute denial of his existence; or of a wanton endeavor to corrupt and destroy the character of his children. And yet, however far we have gone astray, in all the emptiness and spiritual poverty of our distance from home, in all our misery and aching of heart, in all our hopelessness, our Divine Father follows us and pities us; his heart is filled with a parental solicitude for us.

"For though deceived and led astray,

We've traveled far and wandered long,

Our God hath seen us all the way,

And all the turns that led us wrong."

IV. ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN THEIR REDEMPTION. "I will seek out my sheep, and deliver them."

1. The restoration of the exiled Jews may be one part of the fulfillment of this promise.

2. The coming of the Son of man "to seek and to save that which was lost" was a later and better fulfillment. And we find a further, a perpetual Divine redemption of this ancient word of promise in:

3. The putting forth by the Church of Christ of all its redeeming energies. Whenever and however any one that, filled with the spirit of his Savior, seeks to raise the fallen, to bring back to truth and piety those that have gone away in the darkness, to heal the stricken and suffering spirit and to enrobe it with "the garment of praise," there God is himself "searching out his sheep," and "delivering them from the places whither they have wandered." How excellent is the portion of those who are his agents in this gracious work!—C.

Ezekiel 34:14

The mountain-height of Israel - moral and spiritual elevation.

"I will feed them "upon the mountains of the height of Israel" (literally, see Revised Version; see also Ezekiel 17:23 and Ezekiel 20:40); i.e. upon the mountain-height of Israel; and the reference is to—

I. THE EXCELLENCY OF ISRAEL IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. The neglected and scattered sheep that had been untaught or misdirected by their rulers should be eared for by the Lord himself; they should be placed on the very summit of sacred privilege, they should be sheep feeding on the mountain-heights of the Holy Land. Mount Zion was "the holy mountain (Ezekiel 20:40), where the best spiritual pasture was to be had for the hungering heart of the devout Hebrew; but "everything in Israel had a moral elevation." At any rate, Israel in its best days, under David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah, attained to an elevation of knowledge and of character which was comparatively great and high. Its superiority to all surrounding nations was seen in:

1. Its knowledge of the living God. While they were worshipping gods of their own creation—false, capricious, cruel, lustful—the people of God were honoring One who was just, holy, kind, true, faithful; one who was worthy the deepest reverence, the fullest trust, the strongest affection that the human soul could offer; One whose service constituted the most lofty enjoyment and exerted the most elevating influence on the minds and lives of his worshippers.

2. Its morality. There are many passages in Scripture condemning immoralities among the Jews, and there were periods when Hebrew morality declined. In the time of our Lord it had sunk with the sinking of religion into formality and routine. Yet an historical comparison between the morale of the Jewish nation and that of all contemporary peoples would show that the children of Israel, in any period of their history, towered high and far above their neighbors. Comparatively speaking, they were true, and pure, and temperate, and just. To be taught and trained as was the Hebrew child in his home and in his school and in the sanctuary of God, was to ascend and to move along the "mountain-height of Israel." The very best and the saintliest men of Israel, whose names are held in highest honor by the good and pure of every land, were the mountain-peaks that did not rise straight and lonely from the deep valleys; they rose from the high elevation, the mountain-ranges of general national piety and purity. The idea is far more perfectly realized, and the prophecy finds its complete fulfillment in—

II. THE HIGHER EXCELLENCY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. Here we stand on loftier ground. We have:

1. A still loftier conception of the character and the will of God. Learning of Jesus Christ, knowing God as revealed to us in him, we recognize a Divine Father, grieved with his children's sin and departure from himself; yearning over them in their distance and their misery; seeking at his own infinite cost to save them; engaged through the centuries in the gracious and glorious work of redeeming the human race to holiness and happiness, to the kingdom of heaven.

2. A still higher morality. Sitting at the feet of the great Teacher, following in the steps of the Divine Exemplar, restrained and constrained by the influences of the Holy Spirit of God, we rise to and walk along the lofty mountain-range of Christian morals, breathing a Christian atmosphere, engaged with our Lord and Leader in his great work of grace and truth. With Christ's own truth in our mind, with his example before our eyes, with his Spirit willing to dwell within and to inspire all that seek his presence and his power,

Ezekiel 34:17-22

The sinfulness of selfishness.

It was not only the shepherds, but some of the sheep, of" the rams and the he-goats," that were injuring and robbing the sheep. It was not only the kings and the princes, but the strong and wealthy among the people of Israel, that were disturbing and distressing the land. It is not only those "who have the rule over" the Churches of Christ, but some of the fellow-members, who have to be corrected, and whose conduct needs to be transformed. Ezekiel's vision was that of a flock of sheep seeking nourishment "in the green pastures and by the still waters" of Israel; but instead of each one taking its turn and making room for its fellow, he saw the strong ones eating and drinking themselves, and befouling the grass and the water for those who came after, or else pushing violently at the weaker ones and driving them away, "scattering them abroad" to pine and to perish, for anything they cared. A painful picture of a selfish society, each man struggling for himself, and "the weaker going to the wall." How utterly unlike should this scene be to any community that claims to be Christian! And yet shall we venture to say that them are no societies that bear that name, and that write themselves among the number of the good, to whose condition this prophet's picture bears a sad resemblance? Do we not see in countries and communities where nothing like this should be seen, a selfish scramble, a disregard for the claims and the necessities of others, a cruel indifference to the wants of the weaker, a willingness and an eagerness, and indeed a determined struggle, to be well pastured and well watered, however many there may be that are perishing for lack of food and shelter? We may well dwell upon—

I. ITS UNLOVELINESS. Even to the eye of the loving and tender-hearted man such unrelieved selfishness is offensive; it is unsightly and repellent in a high degree. How utterly unbeautiful must it, then, seem in the sight of him who is Love itself! Surely it is one of those things which he is" of purer eyes than to behold," which he "cannot look upon" save with profound aversion.

II. ITS HEARTLESSNESS AND DEMORALIZING EFFECT UPON THE AGENTS OF IT. It argues a pitiful inconsiderateness of other people's need, a guilty indifference to the wants and sufferings of other souls. And such cruel carelessness as this is not only a great and sad evil in itself, a sin and a wrong in itself; it is a hardening, mischief-working course. It indurates the soul, and leads down to such an immoral condition that at last a man's own personal comfort and enlargement are everything to him, and the wants and woes of his brethren and sisters nothing.

III. ITS UTTER UN-CHRISTLIKENESS. Can anything be more painfully and completely unlike the spirit and the conduct of Jesus Christ than a selfish struggle for the first place, let who will go hungry and thirsty and be driven away? Anything more diametrically opposed to the spirit and contrary to the will of that "Son of man who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many," it would be difficult to discover.

IV. ITS CONDEMNATION AND ITS DOOM. "I will judge between the fat cattle and the lean" (verse 20). The day will come when we shall give account of the use we have made of our power. And if then it be found that we have used our horns (verse 21) to thrust aside our brother from the good he was seeking, in order that we might enjoy it; that we have not used our power to help the needy, to strengthen the weak, to give drink unto the thirsty, to raise them that are bowed down, we may expect the language of condemnation from the Judge of quick and dead (see Matthew 25:41-46).—C.

Ezekiel 34:23, Ezekiel 34:24

One greater than David.

Certainly this prophecy finds its fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah. He was to be the "great Shepherd," the "chief Shepherd," the "good Shepherd" of the sheep. He was to be to the people of God all, and very much more than all, that David had been in his time. We have thus before us the persons and the work of David and of his "greater Son." The Son of David excelled his human prototype in—

I. THE GOOD PLEASURE HE GAVE TO THE FATHER. David was a man of God's own choice, was "the man after his own heart." But there were times when God's pleasure in him was withdrawn; one time when "the thing that David had done displeased the Lord," and that in no slight degree. But there never was an hour in the life of Jesus Christ when he was not the "beloved Son, in whom the Father was well pleased."

II. THE COMPLETENESS OF HIS CHARACTER. David's character, all things considered, was a very fine one; he was a man we can admire. He was brave, generous, affectionate, devout; he loved the people over whom he reigned, and strove to serve them well. But there were grave defects in his character, showing themselves occasionally in serious mistakes or positive transgressions. But the David of Ezekiel's prophecy was One whose character lacked nothing whatever. Each one of his attributes was complemented and completed by its opposite—gentleness by holiness, sensitiveness by firmness, piety by activity, etc. Once, as it has been well said, and only once, the plant of our humanity bore a perfect flower, and that was when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In him all the elements that go to make up an absolutely perfect human character met and blended. He was the Son of man, "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." "He was holy, harmless, undefiled;" "and in him was no sin;" "in his mouth no guile was found."

III. THE GREAT WORK HE WROUGHT. David did a very good work. He welded the twelve tribes of Israel into one strong nation; he defeated and drove away his country's enemies; he extended the borders of the land and made Jerusalem a praise and Judah a power in the earth; he bound the people in strong bonds to the worship and service of Jehovah; he wrought for the intelligence and the morality of the people. That was much; but a large part of it was soon undone by unwise or unworthy successors; the kingdom he formed and strengthened was soon cleft in twain, and before very long it was dissolved. How incomparably greater is the work that Jesus wrought!

1. He spoke that truth concerning God and man and human life and character which the world will always want to learn.

2. He lived that life of love and purity, of blamelessness and beauty, of piety and sweetness, in which the world will always find its one faultless instance.

3. He endured those sorrows and died that death which constitute the world's redemption.

4. He left behind him a message of mercy, an invitation to eternal life which is the world's great, hope and heritage. It is in his gospel that the real fulfillment of the prophet's promises are to be found (verses 25-30).

IV. HIS PERSONAL RELATION TO MANKIND. David is a very interesting historical character, whose life we like to study; and we are thankful for the privilege of reading and singing his imperishable psalms. But Jesus Christ, apart from the truth he spoke and the example he left us, is himself the Divine Savior in whom we trust, the Divine Friend we love, the Divine Lord we live to serve.—C.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 34:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ezekiel-34.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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