And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Verse 1. - And the word of the Lord, etc. As no date is given, we may infer that what follows came as an almost immediate sequel to that which precedes it. The kernel of the chapter is found in the Messianic prophecies of vers. 23, 24, as the first stage in the restoration of Israel which is beginning to open to the prophet's gaze. We can hardly avoid seeing in it the deliberate expression of words that had been spoken by Ezekiel's master (Jeremiah 23:1-4), and which in his case also were followed by a directly Messianic announcement. In Matthew 9:36, still more in John 10:1-16, we can scarcely avoid recognizing the distinct appropriation of the words to himself by him of whom they both had spoken. So far as we may venture to speculate on the influence, so to speak, of the words of the prophets of the Old Testament on our Lord's human soul, we may think of these as having marked out for him the work which he was to do, just as we may think of Psalm 22. and Isaiah 53. as having pointed out to him the path of suffering which he was to tread.
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?
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).
Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
Verse 3. - Ye eat the fat. The LXX. and the Vulgate, following a different reading, give milk, and, as "killing" comes in the next clause, this is probably preferable (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:7; Isaiah 7:22).
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.
Verse 4. - The diseased have ye not strengthened. The verbs indicate the difference between the "diseased," i.e. the weak sheep (comp. Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 78:71) and the sick, that were suffering from more definite maladies. So the broken are the sheep that have fallen from a rock and thus maimed themselves. Each case required its appropriate treatment, and none had met with it.
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.
Verse 5. - And they were scattered. The words are an echo of 1 Kings 22:17, and are, in their turn, echoed by Matthew 9:36. The words that follow paint the sufferings of the exiles who left their homes and were scattered among the heathen in the days of Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. Of these the kings took no heed, and shut themselves up in the luxurious seclusion of their palace.
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;
Verses 7-10. - As I live, saith the Lord God, etc. The sentence of the Supreme Judge, of the "chief Shepherd" (1 Peter 5:4), that follows, is naturally preceded by a recapitulation of the guilt of the tyrannous rulers - the "idol" or sham shepherds of Zechariah 11:17 (comp. also Zechariah 10:3). Both chapters should be studied as throwing light on the teaching of the earlier prophet. It may be noted also how the thought enters into Ezekiel's vision of the restored Israel (Ezekiel 45:8-10).
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.
Verse 11. - Behold, I, even I, etc. The words, as the last reference shows, and as we find in vers. 23-31, do not exclude, rather they imply, human instrumentality, just us our Lord's do in Matthew 18:12 and Luke 15:4-7; but they reveal the truth that Jehovah is the true Shepherd of his people. Not the sweet psalmist of Israel only, but the lowest outcast, might use the language of Psalm 23, and say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." He will gather the sheep that have been scattered in the "cloudy and dark day," the day of the Lord's judgment (Ezekiel 30:3). For the prophet the words pointed to that vision of a restored Israel, which was dominant in the expectations both of Isaiah (or the Deutero-Isaiah) in Ezekiel 40-48, and in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 33:12-18), which floated before the minds of the apostles (Acts 1:6), and to which even St. Paul looked forward as the solution of the great problems of the world's history (Romans 9-11.).
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.
Verses 13-15. - On the mountains of Israel by the rivers. The picture of the pleasant pasture-lands of Judah, almost, as it were, an expansion of Psalm 23, of the mountains which are not barren and stony, of the streams that flow calmly in the inhabited places of the country, serves as a parable of that which is to follow on the restoration of Israel. The sheep that had been wandering so long in the wilderness should at last lie down in a fat pasture (ver. 15), and the tender care of the Shepherd should watch with an individualizing pity over each sheep that had been brought back. Every broken limb should be bound up. Every sickness should be treated with its appropriate means of healing.
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.
Verse 16. - I will destroy the fat and the strong. What follows introduces another feature into the parable, and is hardly less than an anticipation of the great scene of judgment in Matthew 25:32. The "fat and the strong," as contrasted with the "broken" and the "sick," are, when we interpret the Darable, the noble and wealthy who, under the kings of Judah, had been allowed to work their evil will upon the people. Of these he says that he will feed them with (better, in) judgment, that for them there must be the discipline of punishment. They too are his sheep, but they require a different treatment from the others.
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.
Verse 17. - Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle. It may be worth while to note, as modern English usage tends to limit the range of the word, that it is commonly used in the Old Testament of sheep rather than of kine (Genesis 30:34-42; Genesis 31:8-12). In Genesis 30:32 we have the same Hebrew word as that which Ezekiel uses. Between the rams and the he-goats. The words, at first, seem to point to a division like that of Matthew 25:32, and may, perhaps, have suggested it. Here, however, the contrast lies, not between the sheep and goats as such, but between the strong and the weak of each class. The "rams" are as much the object of the shepherd's discipline of judgment as the "he-goats." Both stand as the representative of the rapacious self-seeking classes who oppressed the poor and needy, and, not content with being the first to feed on the pastures and to drink of the waters, trampled on the former and defiled the latter. So in the next verse the contrast lies between the "fat cattle," whether sheep or goats, and the "lean."
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.
Verse 23. - And I will set up one Shepherd over them. Here, more than ever, we have an anticipation of our Lord's teaching in John 10:1-18. He claims to be the Fulfiller, as of the prediction of Isaiah 40:11 and Jeremiah 23:1-3, so also of this. He, the "Son of David," is the David that inherits that among other promises. It has to be noted, however, that Ezekiel's words paint, less distinctly than those of the earlier prophets, the picture of an individual Messianic king, and seem rather to point, as do those of Zechariah 12:10 (I do not now discuss the date of that prophecy), to a line of true rulers, each faithfully representing the ideal David as the faithful Ruler, the true Shepherd of his people (Psalm 78:71; comp. Ezekiel 37:24; Ezekiel 45:8, 9).
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.
Verse 25. - I will make with them a servant of peace. The whole verse is an echo of Leviticus 26:6, in part also of Hosea 2:20 [English version, ver. 18]. The words are less definite as to the nature of the covenant than those of Jeremiah 31:31, but probably the same thought underlies both. Sins are pardoned, the capacity for righteousness, righteousness itself, are given. In bright contrast with the picture of a country haunted by the lion, the jackal, and the wolf - the "evil beasts" of Ezekiel 14:15 - so that no man could pass through without risk, we have that of a land from which such evil boasts have been cleared out, so that men may sleep safely even in the wilderness and the woods. The language, however, is figurative rather than literal. As the "sheep" are the people of the true Israel, so the evil beasts must, at least, include the enemies, Chaldeans, Edomites, Philistines, and others, that had before made havoc of them.
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.
Verse 26. - Round about my hill. Ezekiel's thoughts, like those of Micah 4:1 and Isaiah 2:2, cluster round the hill of Zion, the mountain of Jehovah, as the center of the restored Israel. In that land, as the prophet saw it here, and still more in the closing vision of his book (Ezekiel 47:12), there were, outwardly as well as spiritually, to be showers of blessing (the phrase is peculiar to Ezekiel), and the land should yield its fruits.
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.
Verses 27, 28. - When I have broken the bands of their yoke. The underlying meaning of the figurative language of ver. 25 is now utterly explained. Israel is to be delivered from its Chaldean and other oppressors. The "yoke shall be broken." They shall no more be a prey to the heathen. None shall make them afraid.
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.
Verse 29. - A plant of renown. The words at first suggest the thought that Ezekiel was reproducing the ideal picture of the "branch," the "root," the "stem," the "plant." of Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 6:12. Here, however, the word is collective, and is translated "plantation" in Ezekiel 17:7, "planting" in Micah 1:6; Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3. It can hardly be taken as speaking of more than the general fertility of the land. The rendering of the LXX., "a plant of peace," obviously implies a different reading (shalom instead of shem), and this Cornill has adopted in his text. So taken, the words naturally lead on to what follows - the promise that men should no more be consumed with hunger.
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.
Verse 31. - And ye my flock. The great utterance, we might call it the "ode of the shepherds," comes round to the point from which its second portion started (ver. 11). All blessings were summed up in the thought that, behind every representative of the Father's care, the ideal David and his house, there was the eternal relationship between Jehovah and his people, even that of the Shepherd and his sheep. The LXX. omits the words "are men," and here also is followed by Cornill.