(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)
Ezekiel 34 is the first chapter in Ezekiel that details the future redemption of Israel. From this chapter on this is the major theme of this book. In Ezekiel 34 the misleading of the leaders of Israel is confronted by God. He shows that they have abused their positions of authority; the shepherds of Israel were attending to themselves instead of the flock (the people) that they were entrusted to look after. Instead of caring for God’s people they have used their positions to instead care for themselves, and because of this the people have been dealt with harshly by them.
Verse 5 sticks out to me: “So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” This makes me think of the reference to wolves in sheep’s clothing that Jesus warned the disciples about. He was talking about false teachers that would try and lead the church astray. They would pervert the message of Christ and the mission of the church. They are referred to as wolves because they prey on sheep. In the old times that the books of the Bible were written in shepherds were a significant part of Middle Eastern culture. They were tasked with protecting a certain flock of sheep, making sure that they got food and water, and guarded them against external threats, including that of wolves. In Ezekiel this reference is to any ruler of the people, from kings and magistrates to priests and prophets, who were tasked with shepherding the flock of Israel. They had denied this task, which left many vulnerable to external threats. Moreover, as a direct result of their abusive leadership many of the people were suffering.
There is a similarity between the shepherds that are mentioned here in Ezekiel and the pastors of the New Testament. Pastors are charged with looking after a certain segment of the body of Christ, feeding it and guarding it from external threats. This includes tending to its spiritual well-being and guiding it towards the direction that it needs to go in. Part of the job of a pastor is to guard his church against external threats, or false doctrine and those who would introduce this poison into the body of Christ. When a pastor ceases to do his job, no longer guards the flock from false doctrine, and stops leading it towards Christ and away from the world, then the church will become vulnerable to a whole slew of wolves to come in and ravage the body of Christ. I believe that this is happening at an alarming rate in the western world today. Many pastors cease to root their church in the truth of Christ and refuse to stand up for issues that will inevitably cripple and kill the body of Christ. The role of a pastor is a very important one, and it is definitely not an easy one. In fact, I would argue that being a pastor is one of the most difficult jobs a man can have. He is the one spearheading the charge of Christ for his congregation, as he is also the one guarding it from attack. How much do you think that makes him a target for attack by Satan? When a pastor leads well and seeks to guide his flock unhindered to the waters of Christ, then the church will thrive, grow, and shine the light of Christ to the world. He will be hated, mocked, and ridiculed because the world hates Christ, but through his leadership the people of God will be tended, fed, and guarded.
Interestingly, all of the issues that the Lord says that the leaders of Israel have neglected to do for His people (Getting fat at the people’s expense, neglecting them, and exposing them to calamity – resulting in their injury), are seen to be the focus of the promise of the Messiah. Jesus healed the sick, fed the people, and cared for them, being the promised ruler that is alluded to in 21-31. Leaders of the church are to submit to the leadership of Christ as the head of the church. All that would come against the church as wolves who seek to ravage God’s people hinges on Christ and His truth. If they oppose who Christ is and the kingdom that He established then they are wolves. A pastor’s submission to Christ is what enables him to lead the church of Christ in the correct direction that they are called to lead the church to. I guess you could say that everything hinges on who Christ is.
So what we can take away from this is that the job of being a shepherd, or any form of leadership in the body of Christ, is a very important one. Those in the body of Christ who are called to this are given the ability to do so by God. For the rest of us; however, we are to support, pray for, admonish, and keep in check those who lead us. We are to take responsibility for our own actions and our own relationship with Christ. We should not be a burden to our pastors or leaders, relying on them alone to learn about the truths of God and the ministry of the people. Too many a pastor has burned out because they are taking on roles that the rest of the church refuses to rise up and embrace. We need to know our place in the body of Christ and submit what God has called us to do to the leadership of the church, seeking their leadership and covering.