Ezekiel 34:2
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD to the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
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(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. 2Samuel 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.

Ezekiel 34:2. Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel — The word shepherd, in the prophetical writings, comprehends both civil and ecclesiastical governors. See notes on Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 2:8. Other writers also use the same expression; princes being called shepherds of their people, as well as those who have the immediate care of their souls: see Psalm 78:71-72. Thus Homer calls Agamemnon, Ποιμεναλαων, the shepherd of the people. And as the threatenings here denounced extend to all sorts of governors, so the several sins of the princes, priests, and prophets are reproved, Ezekiel 22:25, &c. Wo to the shepherds of Israel that feed themselves — That regard their own profit and advantage, not the good of the people committed to their charge. The beauty of the original, רעי אשׂר היו רעים אותם, may be expressed in Latin or Greek, though not in English: — pastoribus qui pascunt semet ipsos: τοις ποιμεσιν οι ποιμαινουσιν σαυτους. Plato, in the first book of his Commonwealth, describing the office of a magistrate, saith, “He should look upon himself as sustaining the office of a shepherd, that makes it his chief business to take care of his flock; not as if he were going to a feast to fill himself and satiate his appetite, or to a market to make what gain he can to himself.” Eusebius, in his twelfth book De Preparatione Evangelica, chap. 44., hath transcribed the whole passage, as an exact parallel to this place of Ezekiel. See Lowth.34:1-6 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.Shepherds - Not priests or prophets, but rulers and kings (see the Jeremiah 2:8 note). The most ancient title for "ruler" is a monogram which occurs on the oldest monuments discovered in the cuneiform character. In the Assyrian language it became riu (compare Hebrew רעה râ‛âh equals shepherd). In the traditions of Berosus we find that Alorus, the first king in the world, received from the Divinity the title of Shepherd. The title, as well as the monogram, was preserved to the latest times of the Assyrian monarchy. While the distress and misery of the people daily in creased, the last kings of Judah exacted more and more from their subjects and lavished more and more on personal luxury and show. 2. Jer 23:1 and Zec 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 (Eze 34:23, 24), was taken from being a shepherd (2Sa 5:2; Ps 78:70, 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 Isa 44:28; Jer 2:8; 3:15; 10:21; 23:1, 2). The shepherds; the rulers of the people, both political, as kings, magicians, and princes, and also ecclesiastical, priests and prophets.

Israel; the two tribes, and the few that out of the ten did adhere to the house of David.

Prophesy; the command is repeated to encourage and engage the prophet to his work.

Thus saith the Lord God: Ezekiel speaks, but these rulers must know it is God that speaks by him.

Woe be to the shepherds! they have been principal causes of many sins, and exemplary actors in other sins, for which many woes were threatened; many already are come, and the rest will come, in which woes these rulers shall have more than ordinary share.

Feed themselves; contrive their own ease, advantage, honour, and ambitious projects. Let the consciences of these rulers, ecclesiastical and political, speak, ought they not, as shepherds, to take care of the sheep committed to their care?

The flocks; the sheep, both whole flocks and the single sheep, whole societies and particular members of them. Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,.... Or, "concerning" (p) them; the governors of them, as the Targum and Jarchi; their political governors, their kings, princes, and civil magistrates of every order and degree; so Kimchi interprets it of kings; and it was common with the eastern nations, and with the Greeks, to call kings shepherds; and one and the same word; in the Greek language, signifies to feed sheep, and to govern people; see Psalm 78:72, also their ecclesiastical governors are intended, prophets, priests, Levites, scribes, and Pharisees; these were bad shepherds, or they would not have been prophesied against; and though they were shepherds of Israel, this must be done:

prophesy, and say unto them, thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds: that the message to them might be the more regarded, it is ordered to be delivered in the name of the Lord; otherwise they would have been apt to have despised it, and charged the prophet with impertinence and rudeness:

woe be to the shepherds of Israel, that do feed themselves! that is, themselves only, and not the flock: had they fed the flock, as well as themselves, they would not have been blamed; but they took no care of the people over whom they were set only minded their own affairs, to get riches and honour, but neglected the good of the people, yea, cruelly oppressed them:

should not the shepherds feed the flocks? undoubtedly they should; it is their duty, the business of their office, so to do; kings to rule over their subjects, defend their persons and property, and secure their privileges and liberties to them; and ecclesiastical rulers, ministers of the word, should feed the flock or church of God committed to them with knowledge and understanding; see Jeremiah 3:15.

(p) "de pastoribus", V. L. Grotius; "super pastores", Pagninus, Montanus.

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say to them, Thus saith the Lord GOD to the shepherds; Woe be to the {a} shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?

(a) By the shepherds he means the king, the magistrates, priests and prophets.

2. the shepherds] i.e. the rulers. The term is chiefly used in later writings (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 3:15); it occurs, however, in Zechariah 9-11, the date of which is disputed. On Zedekiah cf. ch. 17, and on his immediate predecessors, Jeremiah 22:10-30. In general, Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah 25:32 seq.

unto the shepherds] Possibly this is a marginal heading which has crept into the text, cf. Jeremiah 23:9, and the reading may be, thus saith the Lord God, Woe be to … For flocks, flock.Verse 2. - Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, etc. Our modern associations with the words, our use of terms like" the pastoral office," "the pastoral Epistles," lead us to think of the priests and prophets, the spiritual guides of the people, as being those whom the prophet has in view. In the language of the Old Testament, however, as in that of Homer ('Iliad,' 1:1. 263; 2:1. 85, etc.), the shepherds of the people are always its kings and other civil rulers (1 Kings 22:17; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 78:71; Jeremiah 23:1-6), and those whom Ezekiel had in his thoughts were the tyrannous rulers of the house of David, like Jehoiakim and Zedekiah and their satellites. Our Christian thoughts of the word are the outcome of the leading of John 10:1-16; John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:2-4; Acts 20:28; but it is probably true that even there the original thought is still dominant. Christ is the "good Shepherd," because he is the true King. His ministers are shepherds as being officers in his kingdom. Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? The question is an appeal to the universal conscience of Israel and of mankind. No shepherd was worthy of his name who did not do that which the very name implied. He that neglects that duty is simply as a hireling or a robber (John 10:10, 12). Sixth and last strophe. - Ezekiel 32:31. Pharaoh will see them, and comfort himself over all his multitude. Pharaoh and all his army are slain with the sword, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. Ezekiel 32:32. For I caused him to spread terror in the land of the living, therefore is he laid in the midst of uncircumcised, those slain with the sword. Pharaoh and all his multitude, is the saying of the Lord Jehovah. - In these verses the application to Egypt follows. Pharaoh will see in the nether world all the greater and smaller heathen nations with their rulers; and when he sees them all given up to the judgment of death, he will comfort himself over the fate which has fallen upon himself and his army, as he will perceive that he could not expect any better lot than that of the other rulers of the world. נחם על, to comfort oneself, as in Ezekiel 31:16 and Ezekiel 14:22. Hitzig's assertion, that נחם never signifies to comfort oneself, is incorrect (see the comm. on Ezekiel 14:22). נתתּי את־חתּיתו, I have given terror of him, i.e., I have made him an instrument of terror. The Keri חתּיתי arose from a misunderstanding. The Chetib is confirmed by Ezekiel 32:24 and Ezekiel 32:26. In Ezekiel 32:32 the ode is brought to a close by returning even in expression to Ezekiel 32:19 and Ezekiel 32:20.

If, now, we close with a review of the whole of the contents of the words of God directed against Egypt, in all of them is the destruction of the might of Pharaoh and Egypt as a world-power foretold. And this prophecy has been completely fulfilled. As Kliefoth has most truly observed, "one only needs to enter the pyramids of Egypt and its catacombs to see that the glory of the Pharaohs has gone down into Sheol. And it is equally certain that this destruction of the glory of ancient Egypt dates from the times of the Babylonio-Persian empire. Moreover, this destruction was so thorough, that even to the New Egypt of the Ptolemies the character of the Old Egypt was a perfect enigma, a thing forgotten and incomprehensible." But if Ezekiel repeatedly speaks of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon as executing this judgment upon Egypt, we must bear in mind that here, as in the case of Tyre (see the comm. on Ezekiel 28:1-19), Ezekiel regards Nebuchadnezzar as the instrument of the righteous punishment of God in general, and discerns in what he accomplishes the sum of all that in the course of ages has been gradually fulfilling itself in history. At the same time, it is equally certain that this view of the prophet would have no foundation in truth unless Nebuchadnezzar really did conquer Egypt and lay it waste, and the might and glory of this ancient empire were so shattered thereby, that it never could recover its former greatness, but even after the turning of its captivity, i.e., after its recovery from the deadly wounds which the imperial monarchy of Babylonia and afterwards of Persia inflicted upon it, still remained a lowly kingdom, which could "no more rule over the nations" (Ezekiel 29:13-16). Volney, however, in his Recherch. nouv. sur l'hist. anc. (III pp. 151ff.), and Hitzig (Ezekiel p. 231), dispute the conquest and devastation of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, because the Greek historians, with Herodotus (ii. 161ff.) at their head, make no allusion whatever to an invasion of Egypt; and their statements are even opposed to such an occurrence. But the silence of Greek historians, especially of Herodotus, is a most "miserable" argument. The same historians do not say a word about the defeat of Necho by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish; and yet even Hitzig accepts this as an indisputable fact. Herodotus and his successors derived their accounts of Egypt from the communications of Egyptian priests, who suppressed everything that was humiliating to the pride of Egypt, and endeavoured to cover it up with their accounts of glorious deeds which the Pharaohs had performed. But Hitzig has by no means proved that the statements of the Greeks are at variance with the assumption of a Chaldean invasion of Egypt, whilst he has simply rejected but not refuted the attempts of Perizonius, Vitringa, Hvernick, and others, to reconcile the biblical narrative of the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar with the accounts given by Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and other Greeks, concerning the mighty feats of Necho, and his being slain by Amasis. The remark that, in the description given by Herodotus, Amasis appears as an independent king by the side of Cambyses, only less powerful than the Persian monarch, proves nothing more, even assuming the correctness of the fact, than that Amasis had made Egypt once more independent of Babylonia on the sudden overthrow of the Chaldean monarchy.

The conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, after the attitude which Pharaoh Necho assumed towards the Babylonian empire, and even attempted to maintain in the time of Zedekiah by sending an army to the relief of Jerusalem when besieged by the Chaldeans, is not only extremely probable in itself, but confirmed by testimony outside the Bible. Even if no great importance can be attached to the notice of Megasthenes, handed down by Strabo (xv. 1. 6) and Josephus (c. Ap. i. 20): "he says that he (Nebuchadnezzar) conquered the greater part of Libya and Iberia;" Josephus not only quotes from Berosus (l.c. i. 19) to the effect that "the Babylonian got possession of Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, Arabia," but, on the ground of such statements, relates the complete fulfilment of the prophecies of Scripture, saying, in Antt. x. 9. 7, with reference to Nebuchadnezzar, "he fell upon Egypt to conquer it. And the reigning king he slew; and having appointed another in his place, made those Jews prisoners who had hitherto resided there, and led them into Babylon." And even if Josephus does not give his authority in this case, the assertion that he gathered this from the prophecies of Jeremiah is untrue; because, immediately before the words we have quoted, he says that what Jeremiah had prophesied (Jeremiah 43:10 and Jeremiah 44) had thus come to pass; making a distinction, therefore, between prophecy and history. And suspicion is not to be cast upon this testimony by such objections as that Josephus does not mention the name of the Egyptian king, or state precisely the time when Egypt was conquered, but merely affirms in general terms that it was after the war with the Ammonites and Moabites.

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