31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
We may not know Ezekiel as well as Jeremiah and Isaiah. His visions and actions are often strange, though this vision is easy enough to follow. Ezekiel preached in the years before and after Judah’s defeat and occupation by Babylon. His prophetic words combine criticism of injustice with hope for Israel’s future. Let’s see what Ezekiel has to say to us this morning.
Ezekiel 34:1-24 (pg. 803-804)
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel:
Let’s start out by getting our parts straight so we can understand this passage. Who do you think Ezekiel and God mean by the shepherds of Israel? Who are the sheep in this passage?
We’ll find out more about this in a minute, but why do you think God might want Ezekiel to prophesy against Israel’s leaders? Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer, the passage will get to it, I just want to get our brains warmed up by thinking about where we might be headed.
2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.
What’s a shepherd’s job? How is a king or business leader like a shepherd? What’s their responsibility to the people they lead? What does it seem like these leaders were doing instead?
Check this out: Ezekiel says that Israel’s shepherds, Israel’s leaders, are so bad that they aren’t really shepherds at all.
5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
What happens to sheep without a shepherd? What does being scattered mean in this case? How does God feel about this situation?
7Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
God warns the shepherds, the leaders of Israel, that they haven’t done their job. They haven’t taken care of the sheep, so God is going to kick the shepherds out and take care of the sheep himself. In other words, even though it seems like the powerful can take advantage of the weak forever, even though it seems like the leaders of society can ignore the needs of others and pile up riches for themselves, it won’t always be that way. God is going to step into the picture and take care of people in need. God is going to take his flock back from the selfish leaders and give them the care they aren’t getting from their shepherds.
11For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
God’s sheep, God’s people won’t always be scattered in the wilderness. Israel and Judah are exiled from their land now, but it won’t always be that way. One day God will bring back the exiles and make sure everyone has good land to feed on. God will make sure everyone has enough.