Tuesday, 25 November 2014

(330) November 26: Ezekiel 34-35 & 1 Peter 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note what God promises to do for his people.

To ponder:
Ezekiel is now to prophesy against Israel’s religious leaders who should have cared for the people like shepherds for sheep. They are condemned for instead caring only for themselves, taking a milk product, wool and meat from the flock – which implies getting what they can from the people, whilst failing to actually give back by strengthening the weak, healing the sick or binding up the injured – a reference to practical care. Nor have they brought back those straying or lost (probably a reference to those who had turned from the LORD), but have ruled them harshly. And what this resulted in was the whole flock being scattered into exile, where they have been subject to attack from other nations (34v1-6). It is this imagery that Jesus used for the pastor, and here there is a rebuke for those who are greedy for gain and fail to actually minister to their flock.
            All this demonstrates that God’s sheep lack a true shepherd. So God says he is against the shepherds and will hold them accountable, removing them from their position so they can no longer feed themselves at the sheep’s expense, and so that the flock might be rescued from them (34v7-10). No doubt this was fulfilled in exile, but it looks to Jesus’ rejection of the leaders in his day.
            In what follows, God declares that instead he himself will do what the shepherds failed to do. He will search out his sheep, care for them, rescue them from the nations they are scattered to, and bring them back to their land as pasture. There he till tend them, and they will lie down and feed on the best grass. Moreover, God himself will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak (34v11-16). Yet he will also justly destroy the sleek and strong – because their good health has been at the expense of the others (see 34v3, 20). One cannot but think of Psalm 23 and John 10, where Jesus declares himself the “good shepherd,” and displays this in his healing miracles. It is in him that God shepherds his people, once more showing that the rescue from the oppression of exile was ultimately achieved when Jesus drew Jews to faith in himself, bringing them to the green pasture of the new creation. Yet he also shepherds them through his under-shepherds – the apostles and church ministers who fetch, feed and care for the flock with God’s word.
            The LORD adds that he will judge between sheep, and between rams and goats. Here he charges the shepherds with not only feeding and drinking the best of the pasture, but of ruining the rest so the other sheep don’t benefit. The picture is of how strong sheep bully the weaker ones, taking the best food and water (34v17-21). Jesus’ application to him judging on the basis of whether people display a true faith in caring for his people is therefore entirely apt and profoundly challenging. Not to, makes people liable to hell itself (Matt 25v31-47). And so through Ezekiel, God states he will judge between the fat and lean sheep, saving the weak so they are no longer plundered. And it is here he explicitly states he will place a Davidic descendent as shepherd over them, to tend them whilst he acts as their God. In the light of his prior promise to shepherd them himself, there are hints to this shepherd-king also being divine (34v22-24).
            In this context God promises a new covenant of peace, in which he rids the land of wild beasts so his people can live in safety, and be blessed with showers that will ensure good pasture. Here he moves from the illustration to simply state that the people will enjoy abundant harvests, and security in no longer being plundered. In being freed from their captivity to this, they will also know God is the LORD, and that he is with them as his people – the sheep of his pasture (34v25-31). This is a picture of the final judgement in which all who might oppress are excluded from the new creation so that God’s people can live not just in a world of abundance, but one of security. This should encourage us as we face evil in the present.
            Chapter 35 sees Ezekiel prophesying against Mount Seir – the geographical location of the Edomites. God declares he will stretch out his hand in judgement, making it a waste and causing its towns to be ruined, after which Edom will know he is the LORD. The reason is that, because of a long standing hostility to Israel, Edom somehow handed them over to Babylon – perhaps by joining the fight against them. God therefore swears by his own life that he will give them over to bloodshed (the punishment fitting the crime) and pursue them – no doubt a reference to an enemy chasing them. He adds that the slain will cover the land of Edom, stressing again that they will then know he is the LORD (35v1-9).
            What follows implies the reason for their betrayal of God’s people was a desire to posses their land – both north and south. God denounces this in particular because it expressed jealousy at Israel’s land, and anger at the Hebrew people despite the fact that God was with them – in the temple. He therefore says that as he judges Edom he will be making himself known to his people. Edom will then know the LORD heard all the things they said against Israel by claiming that in being laid to waste, the land was being given over to Edom to devour. God describes this as boasting against him, no doubt in presuming to be able to take the land he desired that Israel have. So he declares that because they rejoiced when Israel was desolate, they will be desolate when the whole earth rejoices (36v10-15). This may imply that Edom’s demise would occur when the rest of the world was celebrating the fall of Babylon. Once more, however, we see the punishment aptly fit the crime. We also see the seriousness of acting against God’s people.
            The reason for the prophesy against Edom being here is probably because of her particular sin with respect to the fall of Jerusalem which has just been noted, but also to display God’s commitment to remove the wild beasts who might otherwise devour his sheep when he gathers them from their exile (as 34v28).
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his care in coming to shepherd us himself in Christ. Pray for the raising up of faithful shepherds throughout the church.
Thinking further:
None today.

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