For the Love of God, Volume 2/October 1
From Gospel Translations
1 Kings 3; Ephesians 1; Ezekiel 34; Psalms 83—84
“SHEPHERD” WAS A COMMON METAPHOR for “king” in the ancient Near East, not least in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 44:28; Jer. 10:21; 23:1-6; Mic. 5:4, 5; Zech. 11:4-17). The shepherd provided not only care and nurture for the sheep, but leadership, medical attention, and defense against foes. Doubtless it was an excellent metaphor to apply to hereditary monarchs who might be tempted to think of their calling in terms of power and privilege but not in terms of responsibility. Conversely, when David confesses that the Lord is his shepherd (Ps. 23:1), the metaphor includes the notion that God is king. The sheep pass under the rod (Ps. 23:4—the same word used for royal scepter).
The chapter (Ezek. 34) begins with a scathing denunciation of the shepherds who have been leading Israel (34:1-10). The charges are basically two. (a) They have been greedily fleecing the sheep, exploiting the flock to make themselves comfortable and rich, but they have not nurtured and cared for the sheep entrusted to them (34:2-4). (b) Far from protecting the sheep by keeping them in one flock, the conduct of the shepherds has led to the sheep being “scattered” (34:5-6)—a term that signals the exile. So what God will do is ensure that these false and dangerous shepherds will never have charge of the sheep again (34:7- 10). It is difficult not to detect in these lines the demise of the Davidic dynasty as then understood, along with the Levitical priesthood.
What God will put in their place is—himself. He will himself come to shepherd his sheep. Read the moving lines from verse 16 on, and count the number of times God says “I will . . .” or “I myself will . . .” Not only will he protect the flock (34:10-16), he will also exercise judgment within the flock (34:17-22), for inevitably some sheep are corrupt or bullies. The flock will be purified not only of its greedy leadership but also of its wicked members, not least the “fat” sheep who butt the others away from plenty.
Suddenly the language changes. All along God has been declaring that he himself will shepherd his flock. Now he says, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken” (34:23-24). Indeed, the promised reformation will bring a transforming new covenant (34:25-31). This covenant will be effective (that is what “covenant of peace” suggests).
A transforming shepherd who is both Yahweh and someone in David’s line? Meditate on John 10.