Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,Ezekiel 34:12
The keen sarcasms of Erasmus, the insolent buffoonery of Hutton, were lavished on the 'lovers of darkness' and of the cloister. In England Colet and More echoed with greater reserve the scorn and invective of their friends. As an outlet for religious enthusiasm, indeed, monasticism was practically dead. The friar, now that his fervour of devotion and his intellectual energy had passed away, had sunk into the mere beggar. The monks had become mere landowners. Most of their houses were anxious only to enlarge their revenues and to diminish the number of those who shared them.... It was acknowledged that about a third of the religious houses, including the bulk of the large abbeys, were fairly and decently conducted. The rest were charged with drunkenness, with simony, and with the foulest and most revolting crimes.'
—J. R. Green, Short History of the English People, chap. vi.
'In the eyes of the living generation,' wrote Mrs. Browning in the preface to her poems, 'the poet is at once a richer and poorer man than he used to be; he weal's better hood cloth, but speaks no more oracles.'
Reference.—XXXIV. 3.—Jesse Butt, The Soul's Escape, p. 158.
'We had a chaplain at the bagne,' says Jean Valjean the ex-convict in Les Misérables (chap. 1.), 'and one day I saw a bishop, Monseigneur, as they call him. He is the cure over the cures. He said mass in the middle of the bagne at an altar, and had a pointed gold thing on his head, which glistened in the bright sunshine; we were drawn up on three sides of a square, with guns and lighted matches facing us. He spoke, but was too far off, and we did not hear him. That is what a bishop is.'
The Responsibility of Office
In ancient times, as we find in Homer, it was customary to liken the people of a nation to sheep, and their rulers and leaders to shepherds. The title in its primary sense refers to kings and great leaders, yet by implication it may be taken for all who hold office, whether secular or ecclesiastical.
I. In considering the responsibilities of office, we must have in mind the source from which all authority flows. From every point of view that source is God Himself; for when St. Paul makes the statement, 'The powers that be are ordained of God,' he deduces it from the primary truth, 'There is no power but of God'.
1. This is true because God's providence so orders the circumstances of individuals in this world as practically to determine who shall be in positions of authority.
2. The gifts of mind and advantages of circumstance which enable us to hold positions of authority are bestowed upon us by God.
We are reminded by the Prophet that God can at any time remove the unfaithful servant, and that He will do so if it seem good to Him.
There is the account to be given, 'I will require My flock at their hand'.
II. The duties of an ideal ruler are described in the latter part of the chapter, where God assumes the title of 'Shepherd' for Himself, and afterwards foretells the setting up of the kingdom of the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice three of them:—
1. The seeking out of the sheep who are scattered. 2. Feed the flock. This does not only mean feeding of the body, but of the mind and of the soul. 3. Protecting those under our care.
III. Our attention is drawn to some of the sins of a bad ruler:—
1. His principal sin is generally selfishness. He rules for his own benefit, not for the benefit of those who are entrusted to his care.
2. Neglect of the flock.
3. Positive oppression and cruelty.
—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iv. p. 276.
References.—XXXIV. 11, 12, 16.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 93.
Feeding His Flock
The Lord's feeding of His children is tenderly discriminating, and to bring us to maturity He uses very varied breads. Glance at two or three of the breads which are mentioned in the Sacred Word.
I. 'I will feed thee in a good pasture,' saith the Lord. There are sweet and beautiful seasons, when life ceases to be a noisy tumultuous river, when it settles down into 'still waters,' and we are blessed with quiet visions which come as Heaven's bread. The Lord is feeding us in a 'fat pasture,' giving us meat in due season.
II. 'I will feed thee with the bread of tears.' Tears as bread: I do not think it means the tears that we shed because of our own griefs, but tears shed because of the griefs of others. These tears constitute bread, and enlarge our souls. Sympathy is feeding. It has sometimes happened that a whole family has been fed by the presence of an invalid child. 'When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.' Our Saviour was being fed with 'the bread of tears!'
III. 'I will feed thee with the bread of adversity'; not only with sympathy for the griefs of others, but with personal grief of thine own. The bread of hardness! Do we not all know the experience in common life? How often we say to one another, in describing some personal experience: 'Yes, I felt it very hard'. We were eating the bread of hardness. 'We have toiled all night, and taken nothing!' 'Endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ;' endure hardness, and so become still better soldiers of Jesus Christ.
'I will feed My flock.' The good Lord has many breads. 'Give us this day our daily bread.'
—J. H. Jowett, Meditations for Quiet Momenta, p. 14.
By the River Side in the Meadow there were Cotes and Folds for sheep, an House built for the nourishing and bringing up of those Lambs, the Babes of those Women that go on Pilgrimage. Also there was here one intrusted with them who could have Compassion, and that could gather these Lambs with his Arm and carry them in his Bosom, and that could gently lead those that were with young. Now to the care of this Man Christiana admonished her four Daughters to commit their little ones, that by these waters they might be housed, harboured, suckered, and nourished, and that none of them might be lacking in time to come. This Man, if any of them go astray or be lost, he will bring them again; he will also bind up that which is broken, and will strengthen them that are sick. Here they will never want Meat and Drink and Cloathing, here they will be kept from Thieves and Robbers, for this Man will die before one of those committed to his trust shall be lost.
—Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress, part ii.
Thus they went on, till they came at the foot of the Hill Difficulty, when again their good friend Mr. Greatheart took an occasion to tell them of what happened there when Christian himself went by. So he led them first to the Spring. Lo, saith he, this is the Spring that Christian drank of before he went up this Hill, and then 'twas clear and good, but now 'tis dirty with the feet of some that are not desirous that Pilgrims here should quench their thirst.
—Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress, part ii.
Bunyan once more recurs to this chapter in the second part of The Pilgrim's Progress, when he is describing the reception of the pilgrims by the Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains. 'Then said the Shepherds, you are welcome to us, for we have comfort for the feeble as for the strong. Our prince has an eye to what is done to the least of these, therefore Infirmity must not be a block to our Entertainment. So they had them to the Palace-Door, and then said unto them, come in Mr. Feeble-Mind, come in Mr. Ready-to-Halt, come in Mr. Despondency, and Mrs. Much Afraid his daughter. These, Mr. Greatheart, said the Shepherds to the Guide, we call in by name, for that they are most subject to draw back, but as for you and the rest that are strong, we leave you to your wonted liberty. Then said Mr. Greatheart, This day I see that Grace doth shine in your Faces, and that you are my Lord's Shepherds indeed; for that you have not pushed these diseased neither with side nor shoulder, but have rather strewed their way into the Palace with Flowers, as you should.'
Reference.—XXXIV. 23.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 295.
When the one Shepherd is set over them, even He who shall stand (oh how much do we lie!) and feed in the strength of the Lord, the isles (and this the greatest of them), which wait for His law, are to look for that: 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. How desirable must every drop of such a shower be!... But when this shall be in Scotland (and it must be) is better to believe than prophecy; and quietly to hope and sit still (for that is yet our strength) than to quarrel with Him, that the wheels of His chariot move leisurely.
Showers of Blessing
This word 'blessing' is one which belongs strictly to the vocabulary of religion. Irreligious people do not speak about blessing.
I. The copiousness of the blessing. If the will and love of God could have free course, there would be showers of blessing. The obstacle which hinders is in ourselves. Have you never, when enjoying any of the simple pleasures of nature, reflected with surprise on how little they are taken advantage of? It is so with the blessing of God, so near and yet so far on account of our negligence. How few cultivate sources of blessings—prayer, study of Bible, a whiter holiness, more spiritual power.
II. Its timeliness—'to come down in its season'. This refers to the temporal blessing of the early and the latter rain, but it has a wider scope. Blessing of every kind comes in its season—in the time of need when the hearts of men are sighing for it. This is God's season for which He waits. In ordinary life it is the little extra which makes all the difference between the weak and the strong man—health, capital, art. May Christians heed this little more. It is near at hand; one act of surrender and it is yours.
III. The diffusiveness of God's blessing—'the places round about'. To be a Christian is to be so filled with the life of God that the vessel runs over, and all round about get the benefit. This is a severe test. Can you stand it?
—James Stalker, The Sermon Year Book, 1891, p. 317.
References.—XXXIV. 26.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 28. J. Monro Gibson, A Strong City, p. 243. XXXIV. 27.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1462. XXXIV. 30, 31.—Ibid. xxx. No. 1807.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.