Proper 19 • Ezekiel 34:11–24 • September 12, 2010
by Jonathan F. Grothe
Editor’s Note: The following homiletical help is adapted from Concordia Journal, March 1984. Please note that the homiletical help covers only verses 11–16 in detail.
Chapters 33–48 of Ezekiel are dominated by the themes of restoration and renewal. But the corruption of the recent past is always in the picture, as a foil to the future restoration. That this is the case in Ezekiel 34:11–16 is most evident from the context. Yahweh’s promise to tend his flock in justice (v. 16) comes in association with a scathing denunciation of the “shepherds of Israel” (34:2–6) and, indeed, is given in response to their faithlessness (vv. 7–9).
These shepherds, of course, signify the kings and princes of the people, an Oriental figure of speech of Egyptian, Mesopotamian (Hammurabi), and Israelite (1 Kgs 22:17; Jer 23:1–6) provenance. Their sins are recounted (vv. 2–6): their self-serving ways resulted in the scattering of the people. (The people themselves are not hereby acquitted; but the leaders must bear a higher degree of responsibility.) The solution is their utter rejection and replacement by God himself.
The preacher may go from this promise itself directly to its fulfillment in John 10 [or in the case of today’s gospel, Luke 15:1–10. —Ed.]. The royal and divine claims inherent in Jesus’s “I am the Good Shepherd” will be at once evident. The loving attention of the shepherd for the needs of the sheep (Ez 34:14–16) is expressed, ultimately, in “I lay down my life for the sheep” [cf. Lk 15:5–6]. And the universal aspect of God’s gather- ing of his people is expressed in John 10:16 [again, cf. Lk 15:7].
But the preacher may also choose to wrestle with the subject of the divine and the human leadership of God’s people. The Judaean princes held their authority only as from God, the true, sole king of his people. They have been deposed and replaced by the Good Shepherd, Jesus, true God. Jesus calls and appoints shepherds, pastors, over his people, through whom he desires to accomplish his ministry to his people. As “under-shepherds” of the Good Shepherd, the present-day human leaders of God’s people have a responsibility to work in his service at his kind of care for his flock. If they do not, they face the prospect of a more severe judgment.
Verse 11 begins with an eminently emphatic intrusion of God into the action. Human faithlessness has frustrated his intentions; if it is going to get done, God will have to do it himself. wedarashti contrasts with we’er doresh of verse 6, but mevaqesh of that verse is replaced by wuviqqartim here. C. F. Keil (Keil-Delitzsch Commentary, IX, vol. 2, p. 87) suggests baqar means “to seek and examine minutely,” and “involves the idea of taking affectionate charge.”
Verse 12 refers again to this careful seeking (ba-qarah, verbal noun) of a shepherd who finds himself “in the midst of” a “scattered flock.” Yahweh has a people. When he comes to be with them, he discovers they are scattered. He must carefully seek them out. “Rescue” (wehitstsalti) implies that they have fallen into danger or under oppression. The “day” referred to is the day of judgment in the past when they were scattered. The same imagery is used of the future day of judgment (Zep 1:15; see Joel 2:2).
Verse 13 speaks to exiles the promise of a geographical return and a prosperous life, qavats is regularly used in the piel of God’s gathering his dispersed people (Mi 2:12; 4:6; Jer 31:10; Is 54:7). ‘aefiqim (RSV “fountains”) are channels = river beds, ravines (Is 8:7; Ps 126:4; Ez 31:12).
Verse 14 continues the picture; all that a Good Shepherd does for the welfare of the flock Yahweh will see to.
Verse 15 reiterates the emphatic ‘ani (see v. 11) in a summary statement and appends the formula designating this as an oracle of Yahweh.
Verse 16 elaborates upon the topic of Yahweh’s shepherding care; it does so at some length and in apparent contrast to verse 4. Walther Eichrodt (Ezekiel, O.T. Library, pp. 470–471) helpfully points out that Ezekiel 34:4 introduces six categories of sheep: 1) weak, 2) sick, 3) crippled, 4) strayed, 5) lost, and (following a proposed repointing based on the LXX) 6) strong. Of these the first five are related; the sixth is another matter. Four of the first five are now dealt with again in verse 16, in reverse order and omitting the first one (“weak”). Then comes a word about the (fat, robust— omitted by LXX—and the) strong.
The Masoretic Text reads: “and the strong I will annihilate” (’ashmid). Many emend this to ’eshmor, which equals the LXX’s phulaxo (see also poimena kai episkopon, 1 Pt 2:25, if that is an allusion to this passage): “and the strong I will keep guard over in justice.” This thought is an appropriate antithesis to the end of verse 4, and shamar can mean “tend” a flock (Gn 30:31).
But C. F. Keil (Commentary, IX vol. 2, pp. 88–89) argues that the LXX corrections (also the kai boskeso auto) at the end of verse 16 are in error. In the following verses (17–22) it is the fat and the strong sheep who spoil the pasture and water for the rest. The Lord promises to judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. In this context, it may not be incorrect to read in verse 16: “and the fat and the strong I will annihilate.” The coming of the Lord in mercy for the weak and broken also means judgment for those who have made themselves fat and strong at the expense of the ones entrusted to their care.