The rulers reproved. (1-6) The people are to be restored to their own land. (7-16) The kingdom of Christ. (17-31)
Verses 1-6 The people became as sheep without a shepherd, were given up as a prey to their enemies, and the land was utterly desolated. No rank or office can exempt from the reproofs of God's word, men who neglect their duty, and abuse the trust reposed in them.
Verses 7-16 The Lord declared that he intended mercy towards the scattered flock. Doubtless this, in the first place, had reference to the restoration of the Jews. It also represented the good Shepherd's tender care of the souls of his people. He finds them in their days of darkness and ignorance, and brings them to his fold. He comes to their relief in times of persecution and temptation. He leads them in the ways of righteousness, and causes them to rest on his love and faithfulness. The proud and self-sufficient, are enemies of the true gospel and of believers; against such we must guard. He has rest for disquieted saints, and terror for presumptuous sinners.
Verses 17-31 The whole nation seemed to be the Lord's flock, yet they were very different characters; but he knew how to distinguish between them. By good pastures and deep waters, are meant the pure word of God and the dispensing of justice. The latter verses, ( 23-31 ) , prophesy of Christ, and of the most glorious times of his church on earth. Under Him, as the good Shepherd, the church would be a blessing to all around. Christ, though excellent in himself, was as a tender plant out of a dry ground. Being the Tree of life, bearing all the fruits of salvation, he yields spiritual food to the souls of his people. Our constant desire and prayer should be, that there may be showers of blessings in every place where the truth of Christ is preached; and that all who profess the gospel may be filled with fruits of righteousness.
Ezekiel 34:1-31 . REPROOF OF THE FALSE SHEPHERDS; PROMISE OF THE TRUE AND GOOD SHEPHERD.
Having in the thirty-third chapter laid down repentance as the necessary preliminary to happier times for the people, He now promises the removal of the false shepherds as preparatory to the raising up of the Good Shepherd.
2. Jeremiah 23:1 and Zechariah 11:17 similarly make the removal of the false shepherds the preliminary to the interposition of Messiah the Good Shepherd in behalf of His people Israel. The "shepherds" are not prophets or priests, but rulers who sought in their government their own selfish ends, not the good of the people ruled. The term was appropriate, as David, the first king and the type of the true David ( Ezekiel 34:23 Ezekiel 34:24 ), was taken from being a shepherd ( 2 Samuel 5:2 , Psalms 78:70 Psalms 78:71 ); and the office, like that of a shepherd for his flock, is to guard and provide for his people. The choice of a shepherd for the first king was therefore designed to suggest this thought, just as Jesus' selection of fishermen for apostles was designed to remind them of their spiritual office of catching men (compare Isaiah 44:28 , Jeremiah 2:8 , 3:15 , 10:21 , Jeremiah 23:1 Jeremiah 23:2 ).
3. fat--or, by differently pointing the Hebrew, "milk" [Septuagint]. Thus the repetition "fat" and "fed" is avoided: also the eating of "fat" would not probably be put before the "killing" of the sheep. The eating of sheep's or goats' milk as food ( Deuteronomy 32:14 , Proverbs 27:27 ) was unobjectionable, had not these shepherds milked them too often, and that without duly "feeding" them [BOCHART], ( Isaiah 56:11 ). The rulers levied exorbitant tributes.
kill . . . fed--kill the rich by false accusation so as to get possession of their property.
feed not . . . flock--take no care of the people ( John 10:12 ).
4. The diseased--rather, those weak from the effects of "disease," as "strengthened" (that is, with due nourishment) requires [GROTIUS].
broken--that is, fractures from wounds inflicted by the wolf.
brought again . . . driven away--( Exodus 23:4 ). Those "driven away" by the enemy into foreign lands through God's judgments are meant ( Jeremiah 23:3 ). A spiritual reformation of the state by the rulers would have turned away God's wrath, and "brought again" the exiles. The rulers are censured as chiefly guilty (though the people, too, were guilty), because they, who ought to have been foremost in checking the evil, promoted it.
neither . . . sought . . . lost--Contrast the Good Shepherd's love ( Luke 15:4 ).
with force . . . ruled--( Exodus 1:13 Exodus 1:14 ). With an Egyptian bondage. The very thing forbidden by the law they did ( Leviticus 25:43 ; compare 1 Peter 5:3 ).
5. scattered, because . . . no shepherd--that is, none worthy of the name, though there were some called shepherds ( 1 Kings 22:17 , Matthew 9:36 ). Compare Matthew 26:31 , where the sheep were scattered when the true Shepherd was smitten. God calls them "My sheep"; for they were not, as the shepherds treated them, their patrimony whereby to "feed themselves."
meat to all . . . beasts--They became a prey to the Syrians, Ammon, Moab, and Assyria.
6. every high hill--the scene of their idolatries sanctioned by the rulers.
search . . . seek--rather, "seek . . . search." The former is the part of the superior rulers to inquire after: to search out is the duty of the subordinate rulers [JUNIUS].
10. I will require my flock--( Hebrews 13:17 ), rather, "I require," &c., for God already had begun to do so, punishing Zedekiah and the other princes severely ( Jeremiah 52:10 ).
11. I . . . will . . . search--doing that which the so-called shepherds had failed to do, I being the rightful owner of the flock.
12. in the day that he is among--in the midst of (Hebrew) His sheep that had been scattered. Referring to Messiah's second advent, when He shall be "the glory in the midst of Israel" ( Zechariah 2:5 ).
in the cloudy . . . day--the day of the nation's calamity ( Joel 2:2 ).
13. And I will bring them out from the people, &c.--( Ezekiel 28:25 , 36:24 , Ezekiel 37:21 Ezekiel 37:22 , Isaiah 65:9 Isaiah 65:10 , Jeremiah 23:3 ).
14. good pasture--( Psalms 23:2 ).
high mountains of Israel--In Ezekiel 17:23 , 20:40 , the phrase is "the mountain of the height of Israel" in the singular number. The reason for the difference is: there Ezekiel spoke of the central seat of the kingdom, Mount Zion, where the people met for the worship of Jehovah; here he speaks of the kingdom of Israel at large, all the parts of which are regarded as possessing a moral elevation.
16. In contrast to the unfaithful shepherds ( Ezekiel 34:4 ). The several duties neglected by them I will faithfully discharge.
fat . . . strong--that is, those rendered wanton by prosperity ( Deuteronomy 32:15 , Jeremiah 5:28 ), who use their strength to oppress the weak. Compare Ezekiel 34:20 , "the fat cattle" ( Isaiah 10:16 ). The image is from fat cattle that wax refractory.
with judgment--that is, justice and equity, as contrasted with the "force" and "cruelty" with which the unfaithful shepherds ruled the flock ( Ezekiel 34:4 ).
17. you, . . . my flock--passing from the rulers to the people.
cattle and cattle--rather, "sheep and sheep"; Margin, "small cattle," or "flocks of lambs and kids," that is, I judge between one class of citizens and another, so as to award what is right to each. He then defines the class about to be punitively "judged," namely, "the rams and he-goats," or "great he-goats" (compare Isaiah 14:9 , Margin; Zechariah 10:3 , Matthew 25:32 Matthew 25:33 ). They answer to "t he fat and strong," as opposed to the "sick" ( Ezekiel 34:16 ). The rich and ungodly of the people are meant, who imitated the bad rulers in oppressing their poorer brethren, as if it enhanced their own joys to trample on others' rights ( Ezekiel 34:18 ).
18, 19. Not content with appropriating to their own use the goods of others, they from mere wantonness spoiled what they did not use, so as to be of no use to the owners.
deep waters--that is, "limpid," as deep waters are generally clear. GROTIUS explains the image as referring to the usuries with which the rich ground the poor ( Ezekiel 22:12 , Isaiah 24:2 ).
19. they eat--scantily.
20. fat . . . lean--the rich oppressors . . . the humble poor.
21. scattered them abroad--down to the time of the carrying away to Babylon [GROTIUS].
22. After the restoration from Babylon, the Jews were delivered in some degree from the oppression, not only of foreigners, but also of their own great people ( Nehemiah 5:1-19 ). The full and final fulfilment of this prophecy is future.
23. set up--that is, raise up by divine appointment; alluding to the declaration of God to David, "I will set up thy seed after thee" ( 2 Samuel 7:12 ); and, "Yet have I set My king on My holy hill of Zion" ( Psalms 2:6 ; compare Acts 2:30 , 13:23 ).
one shepherd--literally, "a Shepherd, one": singularly and pre-eminently one: the only one of His kind, to whom none is comparable ( Solomon 5:10 ). The Lord Jesus refers to this prophecy ( John 10:14 ), "I am THE Good Shepherd." Also "one" as uniting in one the heretofore divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and also "gathering together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and on earth" ( Ephesians 1:10 ); thus healing worse breaches than that between Israel and Judah ( Colossians 1:20 ). "God by Him reconciling all things unto Himself, whether things in earth or in heaven."
David--the antitypical David, Messiah, of the seed of David, which no other king after the captivity was: who was fully, what David was only in a degree, "the man after God's own heart." Also, David means beloved: Messiah was truly God's beloved Son ( Isaiah 42:1 , Matthew 3:17 ). Shepherd means King, rather than religious instructor; in this pre-eminently He was the true David, who was the Shepherd King ( Luke 1:32 Luke 1:33 ). Messiah is called "David" in Isaiah 55:3 Isaiah 55:4 , Jeremiah 30:9 , Hosea 3:5 .
24. my servant--implying fitness for ruling in the name of God, not pursuing a self-chosen course, as other kings, but acting as the faithful administrator of the will of God; Messiah realized fully this character ( Psalms 40:7 Psalms 40:8 , Isaiah 42:1 , Isaiah 49:3 Isaiah 49:6 , 53:11 , Philippians 2:7 ), which David typically and partially represented ( Acts 13:36 ); so He is the fittest person to wield the world scepter, abused by all the world kings ( Daniel 2:34 Daniel 2:35 Daniel 2:44 Daniel 2:45 ).
25. covenant of peace . . . evil beasts . . . to cease . . . dwell safely--The original promise of the law ( Leviticus 26:6 ) shall be realized for the first time fully under Messiah ( Isaiah 11:6-9 , 35:9 , Hosea 2:18 ).
26. them and the places round about my hill--The Jews, and Zion, God's hill ( Psalms 2:6 ), are to be sources of blessing, not merely to themselves, but to the surrounding heathen ( Isaiah 19:24 , Isaiah 56:6 Isaiah 56:7 , 60:3 , Micah 5:7 , Zechariah 8:13 ). The literal fulfilment is, however, the primary one, though the spiritual also is designed. In correspondence with the settled reign of righteousness internally, all is to be prosperity externally, fertilizing showers (according to the promise of the ancient covenant, Leviticus 26:4 , Psalms 68:9 , Malachi 3:10 ), and productive trees and lands ( Ezekiel 34:27 ). Thus shall they realize the image of Ezekiel 34:14 ; namely, a flock richly pastured by God Himself.
27. served themselves of them--availed themselves of their services, as if the Jews were their slaves ( Jeremiah 22:13 , 25:14 ; compare Genesis 15:13 , Exodus 1:14 ).
28. dwell safely--( Jeremiah 23:6 ).
29. plant of renown--Messiah, the "Rod" and "Branch" ( Isaiah 11:1 ), the "righteous Branch" ( Jeremiah 23:5 ), who shall obtain for them "renown." FAIRBAIRN less probably translates, "A plantation for a name," that is, a flourishing condition, represented as a garden (alluding to Eden, Genesis 2:8-11 , with its various trees, good for food and pleasant to the sight), the planting of the Lord ( Isaiah 60:21 , 61:3 ), and an object of "renown" among the heathen.
31. ye my flock . . . are men--not merely an explanation of the image, as JEROME represents. But as God had promised many things which mere "men" could not expect to realize, He shows that it is not from man's might their realization is to be looked for, but from GOD, who would perform them for His covenant-people, "His flock" [ROSENMULLER]. When we realize most our weakness and God's power and faithfulness to His covenant, we are in the fittest state for receiving His blessings.