Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Destroying Strong Sheep?

Biblegems #100
Ezekiel 34:11-16 talks about taking care of the sheep as a Shepherd, giving them rich pasture etc. and then it ends up saying "I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy." Wouldn't you expect them to get strong after such good care?

The answer to this question is found in the context of the entire chapter. Ezekiel 34:1-9 portrays a scene in which Israel is compared to a poorly cared for, abused flock of sheep by its shepherds. In verses 10-16, the Lord declares that He is going to remove the self-centered shepherds and take over the task of shepherding Israel personally. God has in view here the period of the Millennial Kingdom, when He will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land” (23-24).

We know this is the Millennial period because it will be a time when David reigns over Israel once again (13), when wild animals will no longer be allowed in the land (25), when foreign nations will no longer be a threat (28), when famine will be thing of the past (26, 29), and when the people of Israel will know they belong to their shepherd God (30-31).

However, because Israel’s shepherds have been negligent, the sheep have been left to care for themselves. This is why the Lord has to rescue them (11). This is precisely how Jesus found the masses of Jewish people of His day:
         Matt. 9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

This condition brings us to the problematic verse in question, verse 16: I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. With the absence of any real shepherding care, God has to judge how the sheep treat each other:
         Ezek. 34:17 As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.

In the absence of good shepherds, the strong, fat sheep have pushed aside the weaker sheep:
         Ezek. 34:21-22 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

For the sake of the flock as a whole, the Lord removes those sheep that are abusive.
         1 Cor. 5:11, 13 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. …God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

This has always been God’s approach in dealing with individuals who are destructive to the body of believers as a group, and a lesson the Church at large often needs to relearn.

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