In the preceding chapter, the prophet announced the first condition of an improved state of things for God’s people – by reiterating the call to cheerful submission, on the part of the people, to the demands of the Lord’s righteousness. As long as this was postponed, nothing could be looked for from God. But now that this condition was laid down as the first preliminary to a better future, the way was opened for the promise of the appointment of the Good Shepherd – One Who would lead them and feed them – instead of the false shepherds, who had only sought their own interests, and oppressed and ruined the flock of God. This chapter divides itself naturally into two parts. In the first section, the misrule of the false shepherds is described, with the fatal results to which it had led; and in the second part, the gracious interposition of God is set forth – which would undo the evils that had arisen from those false shepherds, and set over them One Whose kind and gentle leadership would ensure the best and most lasting good for them.
In this prophecy, the term “shepherds” particularly refers to the people’s kings and rulers, and not necessarily to the priests and the prophets (although it is true that a very good application of these words from God could easily be made against those persons as well). The idea of being a shepherd was intended to be a perpetual monitor that reminded them of the kind, watchful, and fatherly character of the administration which they were called to exercise in Israel. Their kingdom was not to be set up after the pattern of the kingdoms of this world – in which everything is managed for the gratification of man’s carnal will, and the purposes of his own selfish aggrandizement. The king in Israel was to be the deputy of Jehovah Himself, the law of God before him was to be his only statute-book (Deut. 17:18-19), and the promotion of a general conformity to its requirements among the people was the great purpose of his administration. Yet here in the passage before us, it charges upon the kings all the evils that had befallen the heritage of the Lord. Yes, it is true that the people had been smitten with the rod of chastisement because their obstinate rebellion and impenitence had provoked the Lord’s anger against themselves. But the kings and other subordinate officials were even more guilty than the common people were; for by virtue of their office and authority, they ought to have set themselves against this waywardness of the people under their care. Alas! Those who should have played the part of wise and faithful shepherds of the people were the very persons who had been most influential in speeding forward the progress of iniquity! Instead of acting as the guardians and regenerators of society, they had actually fed and nourished its corruptions.
The judgment of such bad shepherds, therefore, must lie at the foundation of all reasonable expectation of a better future for the people. Hence the prospect which God here begins to open up of such a future starts with the punishment of those shepherds (verses 7-10). Mercy to the flock imperatively required the execution of judgment upon those who had betrayed and injured them. And when God’s terrible manifestations of righteous judgment were executed upon those bad men, the way would then be prepared for the gracious interposition of God to restore and rectify all – which forms the second and main part of this prophecy. In this glowing description of better times, a succession of blessings is promised to the Lord’s covenant-people. To begin with, the evils would be rectified, which had sprung from the former misrule and corruption. The scattered flock would be gathered again from its dispersions, and restored to the good pasturage of the mountains of Israel. And in lieu of the false shepherds, who had formerly wasted and devoured the flock, there was to be raised up One Man Who was pre-eminently the Good Shepherd. By His wise and faithful administration, He would prevent such disorders and misrule from ever arising again; and He would establish throughout the whole land – even to its wildernesses and forests – perfect security and peace. Finally, in a wonderful correspondence with this happy state of internal order and established righteousness, everything was to be smiling and prosperous outwardly also. Refreshing showers of rain would fertilize the ground; fruitful fields would be cultivated by a free and joyous people; crops everywhere would yield their produce, and trees their fruit in due season – all exhibiting the delightful spectacle of a flock pastured by Jehovah Himself; or a people enjoying the noble distinction of having Him for their God, and sharing in the richest manifestations of His goodness. But in this description of physical blessings, we must understand that the prophet is simply using them as a picture to foretell the spiritual nature of the coming future of blessedness. Unquestionably, up to the time when Messiah came to accomplish these predicted blessings, God’s people looked for a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy that was in literal accordance with this description. But the personal manifestation of the promised Good Shepherd gave a new turn and aspect to affairs! He proved to be far superior to David, for He was the glorious and mighty Lord; and all the rest of the prophesied blessings are also being fulfilled in a better and spiritual sense. The region, the people, and the inheritance of blessing are no longer confined to the ancient borders and conditions of Israel; but rather, they are found wherever Jesus Himself is, and they reach as far and as high as the blessings of His great redemption extend!
Lord Jesus, we praise You as the Good Shepherd, Who gave Your life to seek and to save all Your lost sheep! Thank You for seeking and searching for us when we have wandered astray from You. Amen.
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