Ezekiel 34 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Ezekiel 34
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

The latter part of the Book of Ezekiel, after the fulfilment of the great judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem, is consolatory in its character, and full of rich promises to the afflicted people of God. But as this necessarily involves denunciations of the oppressors and enemies of the people, it will aid in obtaining a clear view of the whole to make a brief summary of the contents of Ezekiel 34-39 in their literal interpretation. Ezekiel 34 announces that the Lord will deliver His people out of the hands of the selfish and wicked shepherds who have injured and oppressed them, and will Himself feed, protect, and bring blessings to them through His servant David. Ezekiel 35 : Because Edom has always hated Israel, and sought to possess itself of her land in the time of her distress, therefore its own land shall become a perpetual desolation. Ezekiel 36 : On the other hand, Israel’s land shall be restored to prosperity for the Lord’s own sake; His people, gathered from the nations, shall be cleansed from their sins, renewed in heart, and greatly multiplied, and their land made like a garden of God. Ezekiel 37 : The house of Israel, which has become like dry bones, shall be raised to new life, its two divided kingdoms re-united, and their sins forgiven; and God will make them dwell in their land, under the sovereignty of David, with a perpetual covenant of peace with Himself, and He will establish His sanctuary among them for ever. Ezekiel 38, 39 : Finally, although the Lord will bring their enemies against them with a powerful array, yet He will ultimately destroy these foes, have compassion on Israel, and hide His face from His people no more for ever. The meaning of these prophecies will be more fully discussed in its place.

Ezekiel 34 consists of three parts: in the first (Ezekiel 34:1-10) the unfaithful shepherds are denounced, and God promises to take His flock out of their hands; in the second (Ezekiel 34:11-22), He declares that He will Himself take charge of the flock, gather it together, feed it in good pastures in Israel, and root out the evil from it; while in the last part (Ezekiel 34:23-31) He promises to appoint David as His shepherd over it, to make with them a covenant of peace, and to bless the land with all fruitfulness, so that they shall recognise Him as their God, and that there shall be communion between them. The whole chapter may be looked upon as an amplification of the short prophecy in Jeremiah 23:1-8.

And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
(2) Shepherds of Israel.—This is a common Scriptural expression for rulers, and the whole context shows that these are the persons here intended. In the passage in Jeremiah 23 they are treated under this name separately from the prophets and priests, and also in Jeremiah 2:8 they are distinguished from prophets and priests. The name itself is a peculiarly appropriate one, and seems to have been in use throughout the East, but especially in Israel, from the time when David was taken from the care of the flocks to feed the Lord’s people. (Comp. 2 Samuel 5:2; Psalm 78:70-71.)

That do feed themselves.—This selfishness is characteristic of the unfaithful shepherd (comp. John 10:1-17), and is enlarged upon in Ezekiel 34:3-4. The history shows that for a long time it had been eminently true of the rulers, and especially of the kings of Israel.

Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.
(5) They were scattered, because. . . .—The calamities of the people are attributed to the fault of the rulers, not because the people themselves were free from sin—the contrary has already been abundantly asserted in this book—but because the people’s sins were largely due to the evil example, the idolatries, the oppressions, and the disobedience of their rulers.

My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.
(6) My sheep wandered.—In the pronouns, my sheep and my flock, God again claims the people for His own. Without proper guides, they have indeed strayed far away from Him, and there has been none to inquire after or seek them out in their lost condition. The two words search and seek refer, the former to asking or inquiring, the latter to searching after.

In such a state of things, plainly the first act of mercy to the flock must be the removal of the unfaithful shepherds. This is promised (Ezekiel 34:7-10), but, after Ezekiel’s manner, with reiterated declaration of the unfaithfulness of the shepherds.

Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD;
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;
Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD;
Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.
(11) Behold, I, even I.—The rich promises of the following verses are all essentially contained in this, that Jehovah Himself will be the Shepherd of His flock. It is the same assurance as that given by the Saviour in John 10, and here, as there, must necessarily be understood spiritually. In the following verses many promises are given of an earthly and temporary character, and these were fulfilled partly in the. restoration from exile, partly in the glorious deliverance of the Church from its foes under the Maccabees. But these deliverances themselves were but types of the more glorious Messianic deliverance of the future, and necessary means whereby it was secured. The promise of that deliverance could only be brought at all within the comprehension of the people by setting it forth in earthly language, just as even now it is impossible for us to understand the glories of the Church triumphant, except by the aid of the sensible images in which Scripture has portrayed them. Far less was it possible to this people, so much behind us in spiritual education and enlightenment.

As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.
And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
(13) Bring them to their own land.—It is not to be forgotten that this is a part of the same figurative language with “the cloudy and dark day” of the preceding verse, and that they must be explained in the same way. God’s people have wandered in the gloom, and they shall be gathered back to Him again.

I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.
I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD.
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.
(16) The fat and the strong.—While fatness is in general an emblem of prosperity, it is frequently used in Scripture, as here, for that prosperity which begets hardness of heart and forgetfulness of God. (See Deuteronomy 32:15; Acts 28:27, &c.)

With judgment.—This does not mean, as the ambiguous sense of the English word might make it possible to suppose, with wisdom, but with righteousness and authority, as is plainly seen from the connection with the following verses.

And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.
(17) Between cattle and cattle.—In other words, between one and another of the flock. They are not all alike to be saved and blessed, but only those who turn in penitence and submission to God, their Shepherd. The same contrast is again expressed in Ezekiel 34:20; Ezekiel 34:22. It is not between “the cattle” on the one side, and “the rams and the he-goats” on the other, but between the cattle themselves, and also between the rams and he-goats themselves; all the evil, of whatever class, are to be rejected. Ezekiel 34:18-19 are addressed to those who will be rejected.

Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?
(18) Tread down . . . foul the residue.—The charge against them is that they not only first supplied and took care of themselves, but with careless insolence destroyed what should have been for others.

And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.
Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle.
Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad;
Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.
And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.
(23) Set up one shepherd.—He is one both with reference to the many evil rulers who have gone before (and this implies the perpetuity of His rule), and also with reference to the two kingdoms of Israel, which are hereafter to be for evermore united in the one Church of God. Obviously this prophecy can find its accomplishment in no merely human ruler.

My servant David.—The name of David is here put simply, as in Ezekiel 34:24, Ezekiel 37:24-25; Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5, instead of the more usual designations of the Messiah as the Son, the Branch, the Offspring of David; but there can be no possible doubt of the meaning, any more than of who is meant by Elijah in Malachi 4:5, in view of our Lord’s own interpretation in Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:11-14. Yet it should be remembered, if any one should incline to understand this whole prophecy literally, that if one part is to be so understood the rest must be taken in the same way; if we are to think that the prophet here foretells the literal restoration of the two kingdoms of Israel to their own land, and their union under one governor, then that governor must be David himself. The absurdity of such a supposition is one important element in showing that the whole is to be understood of a promise of spiritual blessings, and of the gathering of God’s people into His Church as one flock under their Almighty Shepherd. (Comp. John 10:14-18.) David, as the head of the theocracy and the ancestor of our Lord after the flesh, constantly appears in the Scriptures as the type of the Messiah, and there can be no reasonable doubt that this prophecy must have been so understood, even at the time when it was uttered.

And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it.
And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.
And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.
(26) Bound about my hill.—“My hill” is Zion. (Comp. the similar figurative language in Isaiah 31:4.) The centre of the old theocracy is always spoken of in Scripture as also the centre from which goes forth the new covenant of salvation, and this was historically fulfilled in the coming of Christ and the cradling of His Church in the Jewish Church. The continuity of the Church was preserved quite as fully through the Christian era as through the Babylonian captivity, quite as large a number of the Jews having embraced Christianity as ever returned from the exile in Chaldea.

And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand of those that served themselves of them.
And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid.
And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more.
(29) Will raise up for them a plant of renown.—Better, a plantation for renown. The same Hebrew word occurs in Ezekiel 17:7; Ezekiel 31:4, and means plantation. The thought is that God would provide Israel with such a fair and fruitful land as should make them famous for their blessings. The idea of the word is not that which seems to be implied by our version (with its marginal references to Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5), a plant or a branch, referring to the Messiah; a different word is used here, which occurs, besides the places named, only in Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3, and Micah 1:6, in all of which it is translated planting.

Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord GOD.
And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord GOD.
(31) The flock of my pasture.—The chapter closes with the strongest and tenderest assurance that the object of its figurative language is to point out the renewed and close communion which is to come about between God and His people. They are to be His flock, and He is to be their God. Yet still, the vast and infinite distance between them is not left out of view, but rather brought prominently forward—they are men; He is God. They were not yet prepared to understand how this infinite chasm could be bridged over; only it should be by their shepherd David. We know that He was the Mediator, both God and man, thus uniting both in one.

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