Today we move back into Ezekiel, who has been in exile for 12 years. Word has reached him that the city of Jerusalem has fallen. He begins to preach again to the exiles, reminding them of what landed them in their current circumstances but includes a message of hope for all of us who find ourselves under the heavy hand of God’s discipline.
Ezekiel addresses two groups: the people themselves (God’s flock of sheep) and the leaders and priests (the shepherds of the flock). There’s a 21st-century warning in these words. God says Ezekiel is a curiosity to the people. They stand around and talk about him, and encourage one another to “come and hear the message from the Lord,” but are they really listening? You decide:
“My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them, you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” (30:31-32). In other words, people come to church to hear an entertaining message and good music, but it washes right over them; it doesn’t affect their lives. They walk out of the door, unchanged.
As Ezekiel addresses the shepherds of the flock, we can see why. In 34:1-10 we see the shepherds do not care for the flock. They live comfortable lives from profitable positions but do not want to do what a shepherd does. They ignore the weak, the sick, the inured, the strays, the lost. Ezekiel describes the people as scattered sheep, wandering in the mountains (they are looking for a shepherd to lead them). In Ezekiel’s example, the sheep become prey for wild animals, a picture of the people of God left to the culture, susceptible to wrong teaching because the shepherd has not done his job. He has only been concerned about his position, not his people.
God says He will remove the shepherds who have failed to do their job and will Himself shepherd the flock. Ezekiel’s preaching turns to prophecy as he speaks of the new covenant, when God will one day restore all Israel (this will happen in the Millennium) and of the salvation which the Messiah will bring (a new heart and a new spirit, cleansing from all sin, and the indwelling Spirit to put His laws in the hearts of people) (36:24-32).
The answer for the Jewish nation was to return to God as their Shepherd. It is the same for us. When we find ourselves just going through the motions of church attendance, when we realize our pastors and leaders aren’t truly leading us to repentance and holy living, when we see that we have allowed culture to creep into our hearts and homes and is destroying us, then we do what Ezekiel urged his people to do: repent and run to the Shepherd who will protect us, care for us, and teach us what is true. He will be our God, and we will be His people, which is exactly what Jesus came to accomplish.