Scriptures

Ezekiel 34

Introduction

Introductory comments to Ezekiel 34-48

There are three main views of the meaning of this part of Ezekiel, three different ways of interpreting these chapters.

1. They speak of the millennium. Revelation 20:4-6.

2. They speak of the Messianic age, (church age).

3. They speak of the restoration of the remnant of Israel after the Babylonian captivity. (From 539 B.C. onward.)

These different interpretations, and any other understanding of these chapters of Ezekiel, differ because of the way they are approached, the main two approaches being to accept these chapters as either literal or figurative.

Let us look briefly at each of these and consider the pros and cons for each.

1. The Millennium.

Premillennialists almost all agree that scripture should be interpreted literally at almost any cost. There may be some exceptions to this, but the hard-line Premillennialists must go for literal interpretation. Hence on approaching Ezekiel 34-38 there is the immediate problem of knowing that what is there recorded has not happened literally until now, therefore it must be yet future, in the 1,000-year reign period spoken of in Revelation 20:4ff.

Therefore, a totally literal understanding of these chapters puts it all at least 2,569 years (from 1983) from the time Ezekiel wrote it. Some necessary conclusions of this interpretation:

David must be resurrected

Ezekiel 34:23 tells us that there will be one king at this time, David. That taken literally must mean that David is brought back from the dead. Unless of course this is another David. Acts 2:29.

Circumcision will be reintroduced. Ezekiel 44:9

This demands that circumcision will be essential to communion with God. The New Testament clearly says that to do that means to bring in the whole law. Galatians 5:1-4. It also clearly says that two laws cannot coexist, Romans 7:1ff. So, if we go this way we have the inferior, law of Moses, reintroduced at the expenses of the superior, law of Christ, when the 1,000 years begins. That throws the whole of the Gospel ‘literally’ out the window. Hebrews 8:6-7.

Sacrifices for sin will be introduced. Ezekiel 43:19 / Ezekiel 43:22 / Ezekiel 43:25 / Ezekiel 44:27 / Ezekiel 44:29

These passages clearly say, ‘for sin’ and ‘to make atonement.’ There can be no misunderstanding what that means. The same applies here as did the circumcision. The New Testament seems to contradict the need for a reintroduction of sacrificed for sin. Hebrews 10:11-18. Hebrews 10:14 is quite specific that it is for all time. What is? Jesus sacrifice for sin was sufficient for all time. Even if there will be a 1000-year reign on earth by Christ, there will never be the need for any more sacrifice for sin.

Levitical priesthood brought back. Ezekiel 44:15

Once again we are faced with the same difficulties. If we bring back the Levitical priesthood, again we must bring back the law of Moses. Hebrews 7:11ff.

So, to understand this literally as referring to a yet future millennial reign of Christ is to go against the teaching of the New Testament concerning the law.

2. The Messianic Age.

This view simply stated, applies these chapters to the blessings given to God’s people during the time after Pentecost. To do this demands that we understand the whole passage in a figurative way. These chapters have to be symbolic in nature throughout for them to apply to this time.

Figurative Language

We can see from Scripture that God can and does use more than literal speech to mankind. Why he would do that may not be easy for us always to understand, but that he does it is nevertheless a fact. Old Testament prophecy must be interpreted other than literally when the occasion demands. The Bible clearly tells us that there were different ways of prophetic utterance. Hebrews 1:1.

Below are three examples of the different possibilities in prophetic interpretation as shown by the Bible itself.

1. Literal Language.

Micah 5:2 with Matthew 2:1-8. The prophet said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Matthew says it is literal fulfilled.

Isaiah 7:14 with Matthew 1:18-23. The prophet said the Messiah would be born of a virgin. Matthew says it is literally fulfilled.

2. Poetic Language.

Habakkuk 3:1ff. The opening and closing verses of this chapter clearly shows that this is a poem or song. So here a prophet spoke in poetic language.

3. Figurative Language.

Compare Haggai 2:6ff with Hebrews 12:18ff. The prophet said that there would be a shaking of the heavens and earth and of all nations. The Hebrew writer tells us that this shaking took place at the establishment of an unshakeable kingdom which is the kingdom of Christ. Hebrews 12:22-24. So, this is a figurative shaking.

Isaiah 40:3ff with Mark 1:1-4 / Luke 3:3-7 / Matthew 3:3-14. The prophet said there would be some building roads in the wilderness for God. The three New Testament writers tells us that this was fulfilled in the preaching of John the Baptist. John was not a road builder, this too is figurative.

Malachi 4:5 with Matthew 17:9-13 / Matthew 11:7-14. The prophet says that Elijah will come back before the Messiah comes. On two occasions, Matthew records Jesus as saying this was fulfilled in John the Baptist. Isaiah 28:16 / Psalm 118:22 with Matthew 21:42-45 / Acts 4:10-12.

The Old Testament writers speak of a stone which would be the foundation of Zion. Jesus and Peter say that Jesus, a man, was that foundation, fulfilling these prophecies. A figurative fulfilment.

Hosea 7:16 / Hosea 8:13 with Hosea 9:3 / 2 Kings 17:1-6. The prophet speaks of Israel going into captivity in Egypt. The fulfilment of this however is captivity in Assyria. A figurative and literal fulfilment. Captivity, literal, Egypt, figurative.

We see from this and from what we have seen in the book of Ezekiel already, that we should not necessarily be surprised to come across figurative language in the Bible. God is pleased to use it as he wants. We need not be afraid of figurative speech but be willing to accept it as part of God’s revelation to man.

However, we should not go overboard and seek to figurize everything we read. We must also work at understanding how to handle non-literal speech in the Bible.

When do we figurize?

Jim McGuiggan in his book, gives 4 guiding principles for figurizing which are helpful. When do we figurize a passage or statement? If understanding it literally:

Results in an absurd conclusion. Matthew 8:22 / Luke 13:32.

Results in an immoral conclusion. Luke 14:25ff.

Results in a contradiction of a Bible writer’s interpretation. e.g. Malachi 4:5 with Matthew 17:11.

Results in a contradiction of plain scripture. e.g. Priesthood question, Ezekiel 44:15 with Hebrews 7:11ff.

We must work at understanding non-literal speech so as to understand it correctly. Sometimes we find something can be used as a figure to mean different things in the same or different places. e.g. Sleep

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 sleep is used figuratively twice in these verses to refer to two different meanings.

1. Sleep, 1 Thessalonians 5:4-7 it refers to the sinner in a lost state.

2. Sleep, 1 Thessalonians 5:10 it refers to physical death. Matthew 27:52 / John 11:11-14.

It is good Bible study to figurize scripture when required to. Sometimes it may take hard Bible study to work out whether we have literal or non-literal speech.

In relation to Ezekiel 34-48 it is not then unreasonable to figurize in this section. But to understand this section as applying to the Messianic period we are forced to look for a total figurative interpretation. It does mean that these chapters are not immediately relevant to the remnant in exile 586 B.C.

Of course, by that argument neither was Isaiah 53 relevant to the Jews in 700 B.C. If we accept this understanding, we must see this as a promised blessing for a future generation of Jews. It would make it the largest single Messianic prophecy of all.

3. The Restoration of the Remnant.

Those who go this way would suggest both a literal and a figurative explanation. A glance at the events and buildings etc. outlined in these chapters make it clear that it is not possible to literally place them in the history of the Jews from 539 B.C. Some of these things then must be figuratively understood.

However, the principles of return to the land, rebuilding of a temple, etc. can be literally accepted. e.g. It is literally true that the Jews who returned were given a new temple, but it is spoken of in a figurative way in the prophecy.

This is a simple enough view of the chapters, but it is not without its problems. Ezekiel 34 talks of a king. But never was there a king until Jesus. None of the high priests who often ruled during this time, not even any of the Hashmoneans ever took the title king. Certainly, the Idumeans, Herod’s family, could not be who Ezekiel 34 is talking about.

What then do we make of these chapters? Do we understand this all literally? What then of Ezekiel 38-39? Do we understand it all figuratively?

But we are not forced to take it all so, some prophecies came literally true. It would seem possible to take the two latter suggestions and consider a dual fulfilment, i.e. a fulfilment for the remnant and a fulfilment through the Messiah.

Perhaps two points, simple but important might be kept in mind:

1. These chapters must refer to a future from 586 B.C. and therefore must be to have a different message to Ezekiel 1-33.

2. These chapters must have some relevance to the remnant in Babylon other than a Messianic promise. Ezekiel was so much a prophet to his time as were all the prophets.

In considering this it would be good for us to remind ourselves of the attitude and feeling of the people in Babylon at this time. Psalm 137 sums up this to some extent.

Outline of exile’s feelings in this psalm:

They have lost their dignity. Psalm 137:3.

They are separated from the temple services. Psalm 137:1-3.

They are removed from the land and city of God. Psalm 137:5-6.

Their enemies have overcome them. Psalm 137:7-9.

There were of course those amongst the exiles who perhaps were never too concerned about the moral and spiritual implications of their exile. But certainly, the righteous Jew would feel the pressure of the judgement of God upon them.

They had lost a land, city, freedom, their ability to worship Jehovah in the temple, their royal line was no longer sovereign in Judah, they were humiliated by defeat, and many believed, totally forsaken by God.

So, to these broken people, God comes through Ezekiel to offer them hope for the future, to comfort the people. The best way he can do that is to offer them back all that they had lost and all that they held dear. To sum up this, God makes 5 promises to them in these chapters, which we will now outline, but also makes a condition.

5 Promises, means 5 Covenants

1. Royalty restored.

If the Jew could have any king, he wanted he would ask for David without hesitation. God will restore the right of the family of Judah to rule again. This is Ezekiel 34.

2. Property restored.

If the Jew could have any land he wanted he would ask for promised land. Not a piece of Babylonia, but that promise to Abraham’s descendants. Genesis 13:14-17 / Exodus 23:31. This is Ezekiel 34-36.

3. Unity and dignity restored.

This they had lost to the Babylonians. They had been trodden under by Nebuchadnezzar and scattered throughout the empire and were taunted by their captors. Psalm 137:3. This after they had split themselves in two. They humiliated themselves, and then had been humiliated by the Babylonians. They wanted to take their place again amongst the nations round about them. This is Ezekiel 37.

4. Security restored.

The first three would be no use without this one. They had those, but Nebuchadnezzar took it away from them. So, God promises them His protection against any enemy. This is Ezekiel 38-39.

5. Religious system restored.

Then we get a picture of the temple, priesthood, sacrifices and all that goes along with the Jewish system, brought back. This is Ezekiel 40-48. One condition Every promise given by God is conditional upon something; there is always the ‘if’ clause. Deuteronomy 28:15ff / Psalm 89:30ff / Colossians 1:23 / Hebrews 2:1ff. This was one of the big mistakes the Jews prior to 586 B.C. had made, to miss or ignore the condition in God’s covenants.

So as God makes them these promises for the future, he also puts conditions down. He asks of them, holiness. Ezekiel 43:1-12. There is no doubt they were short on holiness before 586 B.C. God says that after 586 B.C. you are going to have to live holy lives. This holiness is described in the form of keeping the law. Ezekiel 45:10 / Ezekiel 46:11ff.

It seems to me that this section has a duel fulfilment. There is a part literal, part figurative fulfilment for the remnant, and a totally figurative fulfilment for the Jew in the Messiah and His kingdom.

The restoration of Israel and destruction of Gog of Magog. Ezekiel 34-39

Summary of Ezekiel 34

A condemnation of the shepherds of Israel. A new, true shepherd is coming. The sheep are promised a pasture. Ezekiel now deals with a prophecy about the lost sheep of Israel. Ezekiel summarizes the basic message of his entire ministry, that Israel’s spiritual leaders have led the people to slaughter.

God is going to gather his scattered people back to Palestine, as Canaan will become known. and that one day he will raise up a Saviour for his people, the Messiah, who will be the good shepherd.

‘The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So, they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. ‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. Ezekiel 34:1-10

The No-Good shepherds

Why does God say prophecy against the shepherds of Israel? As if no one knew, Ezekiel outlines the way the leaders of Judah had failed miserably. This is not just the odd mistake of a leader which is condemned, but a deliberately chosen wrong attitude and way of leading.

‘You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with wool’.

It was the shepherds job to feed the sheep, instead they fed themselves. It was their job to look after the weak, they looked after themselves, instead of feeding the flock they had fleeced it, and so on. These shepherds did not do their job and therefore they lost it, God took it from them.

This was accomplished with the end of the shepherding of Zedekiah in 586 B.C. The idea of shepherding the flock goes back a long way and perhaps David being the shepherd king, identified it even more closely, 2 Samuel 5:2 / Psalm 78:70-71.

The shepherd is not only in a position of responsibility it is a position of trust and confidence, and if he turns out to be an unworthy shepherd for whatever reason the people will suffer. They scatter because they had no shepherd.

‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I 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. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.’ Ezekiel 34:11-16

Jehovah will be Shepherd

God himself will take on the job of shepherding his people Israel. He will seek his flock and gather it together from dispersion, lead it to good pasture, and sift it by the destruction of the bad sheep. After Zedekiah no king ruled in Judah. Ezekiel 21:25-27.

‘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. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?’ Ezekiel 34:17-19

The Chief Shepherd

God will act justly as a shepherd unlike those before him. Any who are wicked will be judged by this shepherd, there will be justice.

‘Therefore, this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 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. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.’ Ezekiel 34:20-24

The good shepherd

God also shows he is going to delegate the work of shepherd to someone else. A prince of the dynasty of David was to be their shepherd. He is here called a prince as was Zedekiah in Ezekiel 12:10 / Ezekiel 21:25. Certainly not for the same reason. Perhaps as Ellison says,

‘the use of NASI is meant to stress that God’s king will not obscure the kingship of God, he will represent, not misrepresent Him’.

However, the name shepherd is obviously used metaphorically, and so is forced to mean king, for it is always so used. There was no better king than David until Jesus came. Matthew 21:41ff.

‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ Ezekiel 34:25-31

The new covenant

Blessing for the people. The Sheep are promised a pasture. Under a new, true shepherd, God promised them a good future with him as their shepherd. Their land will be restored.

God promises three things:

1. Security.

2. Fruitfulness.

3. Blessings.

Wild beast will be banished, Isaiah 11. They will lie down with man.

Go To Ezekiel 35

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

1 Peter 5:7

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