1. Prophetic Messages Concerning the Restoration of Israel (33:1–39:29)
These messages outline God’s program of restoration for his people. The God who had been faithful in judgment would also be faithful in redemption.
(1) The Watchman and the Fall of Jerusalem (33:1–33)
Chapter 33 can be divided into three sections: (1) warning to heed the watchman (vv. 1–9), (2) exhortation to turn from evil (vv. 10–20), (3) and Jerusalem’s fall and Israel’s failure to heed (vv. 21–33). This message also summarized the principles of the new kingdom: (1) God desired that all people should live (v. 11); (2) the new kingdom would be populated by those who enter by choice as individuals (v. 12); (3) the conditions for entering the kingdom were repentance and faith (vv. 14–16); (4) individuals are free to chose repentance or continue their evil lives (vv. 17–20).
1The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. 5Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. 6But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.’
7“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 9But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
WARNING TO HEED THE WATCHMAN (33:1–9). 33:1–9 This message parallels 3:16–21, where Ezekiel first was appointed watchman over Israel (3:17; 33:7). It rehearses the principle of the watchman in vv. 1–6 and identifies Ezekiel as Israel’s watchman in vv. 7–9. The purpose of returning to this theme was to show that Ezekiel had been faithful to his assignment and to place the responsibility upon Israel to heed his warning. The purpose of the message in the structure of the book is to reintroduce the theme of the prophet calling God’s people to repentance in the context of the watchman’s warning coming true (v. 21). The death of those who hear the watchman’s alarm but refuse to listen is their own fault. A watchman was guiltless if the alarm was sounded but no one responded, but he was guilty of the blood of those who perished if an attack came and the people were not warned (vv. 5–6).
Cities were constructed with towers on the walls where watchmen kept their vigil (Isa 21:5). The “trumpet” (v. 3) was a shofar, or ram’s horn, that was used to sound the warning of an approaching enemy. This horn was used for both military and religious purposes (Josh 6:4; 2 Sam 2:28; Ps 81:3; Joel 3:15; Amos 3:6; Hos 5:8; Jer 4:19). Ezekiel was a divinely called servant whose “trumpet” was his messages for Judah and Jerusalem (chaps. 1–24), sounding the alarm to warn of impending judgment.
Ezekiel’s “alarming” messages were divinely imparted (v. 7) and specifically directed to the people of Judah. As a watchman Ezekiel did not use his own powers of observation but was the channel of divine warning. God explained that when the prophet delivered the messages he fulfilled his responsibility as a watchman whether or not the people heard or responded (v. 9; cf. 2:7; 3:4–11).
Warning others of the consequences of judgment inherent in sin is never a popular assignment. Believers have a duty to be “watchmen” who warn those who are in the world and are without God of the destructive nature of sin and its final irrevocable result—death and hell (33:1–33). Our responsibility is to warn and proclaim as persuasively as possible, but how the message is received is beyond our control.
10“Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’ 11Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’
12“Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.’ 13If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. 14And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right— 15if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. 16None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live.
17“Yet your countrymen say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But it is their way that is not just. 18If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, he will die for it. 19And if a wicked man turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he will live by doing so. 20Yet, O house of Israel, you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But I will judge each of you according to his own ways.”
EXHORTATION TO TURN FROM EVIL (33:10–20). 33:10–11 Verse 10 begins with an emphatic, “You, Son of Man, say to the house of Israel.” These verses bear a close resemblance to 18:21–32, focusing on the responsibility of those who hear the messages of the watchman. Their structure is the reverse of vv. 1–9. There the principle of the watchman is followed by an exhortation. Here an exhortation is followed by the principle of individual responsibility. The people said: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How can we live?” (v. 10). God’s answer was that individuals have the opportunity to repent and are commanded to do so. “Turn! Turn from your evil ways!” (v. 11). This was a call to repent so they could be healed and restored. God took no pleasure in the death of the wicked, so he was always careful to warn of judgment and to call for repentance (cf. 18:23, 32).
33:12–16 As in Ezekiel’s earlier message of individual responsibility in chap. 18, he included some examples to illustrate this theme. People who do wicked things are responsible for their actions, but the wicked who repent will be forgiven. The statement at the end of v. 16 affirms God’s openness to all who repent. They will be accepted because by repenting they (even the wicked) have “done what is just and right” and “will surely live” (v. 16).
33:17–20 As in 18:25–29, the prophet discussed the charge that God was not just in his dealings with Judah (vv. 17–20). He reaffirmed the justice of God and noted that he judges all on their “own ways” or merits (v. 20). No attempt should be made to understand this passage without also consulting Ezekiel’s earlier message in 18:1–32. God is a champion of justice. Justice demands that he eradicate sin and reestablish universal righteousness (33:10–20). Those who repent and turn to him by faith will be spared (John 3:16–18).
21In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!” 22Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.
23Then the word of the Lord came to me: 24“Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.’ 25Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? 26You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife. Should you then possess the land?’
27“Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. 28I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. 29Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.’
30“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ 31My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
33“When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
JERUSALEM’S FALL AND ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO HEED (33:21–33). 33:21–22 On January 8, 585 b.c., an eyewitness arrived with the news of Jerusalem’s fall (vv. 21–22). The date was eighteen months after the destruction of the city. There was no explanation why it would have taken so long for word to reach Babylon. The time lag seems unrealistic since actual travel time from Jerusalem to Babylon would have been about four or five months. One suggestion is that the “twelfth” year should read “eleventh.” There is only one consonant difference in the Hebrew words for eleven and twelve, and it may have been a minor copyist’s error. The original reading may have been “eleventh” year, in which case the elapsed travel time would have been about six months, which was normal.
A second suggestion is that Ezekiel reckoned by the Babylonian calendar, which began the year in the spring, whereas Jeremiah (Jer 39:2; 52:6–7, 12) and Kings (2 Kgs 25:1) followed the Hebrew calendar, which began the year in the fall. Adjusting the difference would result in a time lapse of a more realistic five or six months. This second explanation is the more probable.
33:23–29 At last the prophet was vindicated as his messages of doom proved true. He might have expected the repentance of those left in Judah and obedient hearts among his fellow exiles. If so, the Lord warned him, he would be disappointed. Those left among the ruins responded with undeserved pride (vv. 23–26). “Abraham was only one man.… But we are many” (v. 24) reflects the arrogance that kept the people from true repentance even in the face of total destruction. God reminded them that they still sacrificed to idols, ate meat with the blood (Lev 19:26), and committed acts of violence and sexual immorality (cf. Acts 15:29), actions detrimental to the restoration, rather than submitting to the standards of God’s word (vv. 25–26).
These refugees among the ruins thought they had escaped judgment because they were left in the land. But God promised that they too would be visited by the sword, wild beasts, and plague, familiar instruments of judgment (vv. 27–28). The land would be devastated, and no one would cross it again. Everyone would know from this judgment that the Lord is God (v. 29). If people do not seek to “know” God through repentance and faith, they will ultimately “know” him in judgment (v. 29; Rev 6:13–17).
33:30–33 Although the response of Ezekiel’s fellow exiles was more encouraging, making him a celebrity, the Lord informed him that his popularity among the people was superficial. They listened to him out of curiosity but had no intention of changing their way of life. They found his words entertaining, but they neglected to put the principles into practice (vv. 30–32).
God was not through, however, making himself known to his people. There was much yet to be revealed in word and in deed. Since Jerusalem had already fallen, “when all this comes true” may refer to the further prophecies Ezekiel was about to proclaim (v. 33). God’s closing words to Ezekiel in chap. 33 are similar to those given him in his call in 2:5. Whether or not the people would hear and respond, Ezekiel was to continue proclaiming God’s word. By his faithful ministry they would know that a “prophet had been among them.” Faithfulness to God by believers often means that the unbelieving world will not take them seriously (v. 32). But faithfulness will one day be vindicated by God (v. 33; cf. Gal 6:9).
(2) False Shepherds and the True Shepherd (34:1–31)
Chapter 34 is a sequel to chap. 22. Both passages present the sins of the nation and the failure of its leaders. Instead of the figures of dross (22:17–22) and the lion (22:25) or wolf (22:27) and its prey, here Ezekiel employed the metaphor of a flock and its selfish and corrupt shepherds. Similarities also can be found with the indictment of the false prophets and prophetesses in 13:1–14:11. One problem of restoration was determining what should be done about the corrupt leaders who led the nation to ruin. Chapter 34 addresses this question. Kings and leaders often were called “shepherds” in the ancient Near East (see Isa 44:28; Jer 2:8; 10:21; 23:1–6; 25:34–38; Mic 5:4–5; Zech 11:4–17). These “shepherds” were more than military-political leaders. They bore a primary responsibility for the moral and spiritual direction of the nation.
The dynamic link between these leaders and the future hope of restoration is reflected in these messages. The false shepherds’ failure on the one hand was presented in contrast to the hope of the coming ideal Shepherd, the Lord. Chapters 34 and 36 abound in references to restoration hope under the leadership of this ideal future King. Because of God’s determination to redeem Israel and Judah, the people will return to the land (34:13–16; 36:1–12, 24, 35; 37:11–14, 21); in the land they will be cleansed and converted (36:25–27), reunified as one nation (37:11, 15–23), ruled by the Messiah (34:11–16, 23–24; 37:24–28), victorious over enemies (34:27; 36:7, 12; 38:17–23; 39:1–6), and will achieve lasting peace and security.
Chapter 34 comprises figurative messages to the leaders of Israel as shepherds (vv. 1–16) and to the people as sheep (vv. 17–24), followed by a literal message to the people (vv. 25–31). The figurative message to the shepherds consists of condemnation and the announcement of their removal (vv. 1–10), then the Lord’s announcement that as owner of the flock he would take over as shepherd (vv. 11–16). In the figurative message to the flock, God announced his determination to judge and to deliver (vv. 17–24). The final message to the people is a promise to provide them with a “covenant of peace” (vv. 25–31).
1The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4You 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. 5So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6My 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.
7“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8As 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, 9therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10This 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.
CONDEMNATION OF CORRUPT SHEPHERDS (34:1–10). 34:1–6 Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy against the “shepherds” of Israel (v. 1). Any examination of the history of the Northern Kingdom beginning with Jeroboam I (1 Kgs 12:25–33) will reveal the apostasy of the leadership that proved to be Israel’s ruin. Jeroboam immediately introduced idolatry by erecting two golden calves at Dan and Bethel. From this spiritual low point Israel descended even further into the depths of sin and immorality until the nation was destroyed in 722 b.c. (2 Kgs 17:5–7). Ezekiel already emphasized that Judah did not learn from the judgment that befell her harlotrous sister Israel (23:1–49). After Josiah the last kings of Judah were all corrupt. They led the nation to spiritual and political ruin. A prophetic preview of the monarchy’s effects on the life of the nation found in 1 Sam 8:11–18 was a sobering prediction of these events.
The indictment against these shepherds is in vv. 1–6. First, they did not seek to meet the needs of the people but only used the people for their own selfish ends (vv. 2–3). Second, they did not take special care of those in need, the helpless members of society. Rather, they met weakness and injury with callous cruelty (v. 4). For lack of positive moral or spiritual leadership the people wandered from the Lord and became a prey to idolatry and immorality (vv. 5–6).
34:7–10 For their irresponsible and selfish lack of leadership the Lord counted them guilty of violating his trust and announced their removal. The Lord himself would come to the aid of his flock and rescue them out of the mouths of their corrupt leaders (cf. Matt 20:25–28).
11“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12As 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. 13I 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. 14I 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. 15I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16I 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.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE Lord AS SHEPHERD(34:11–16). 34:11–16 Ezekiel contrasted the exploitation of the corrupt shepherds with the diligent care he himself would exercise on behalf of his flock. The role of Yahweh as a shepherd was a familiar one in the Old Testament. The title “shepherd” was one of the oldest designations used for God and appeared in Gen 49:24. Perhaps the best known example of his shepherd image was that presented by David in Ps 23. David provided insight not only into God’s role as “Shepherd” but also into the responsibility of kings to be rightly related to God. The king was to be the undershepherd and God the true King and Shepherd. Psalm 23 was David’s personal commitment to this principle. “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps 23:1) was a personal declaration that he, David the king, had a King/Shepherd, who was Yahweh.
Ezekiel 34:11–16 abounds in first person promises. God repeatedly promised, “I will” go after them, and “I will” meet the needs of my people. While there is some overlap and repetition, there are twenty-five such promises in this and the following paragraphs of the chapter. These promises include elements of judgment as well as deliverance. Yahweh promised to hold the shepherds accountable for the sheep, remove them from tending the flock, rescue his flock from their mouths, search for and look after his sheep, look after and gather them, rescue them from clouds and darkness, and gather them from among the nations. He would bring them to their own land, place them on the mountains of Israel, tend the flock in good pasture so that they could lie down in safety, search out the lost and the strayed of the flock, bind up the injured, and destroy the strong who oppose the flock. In addition he would shepherd the flock with justice, judge between one sheep and another, judge between the fat and the lean sheep, save the flock, place over them one shepherd, be their God, make a covenant of peace with them, bless them, send showers in season, and provide for them (vv. 10–29).
No longer would any human figure mediate between God and his people. Only God and his Messiah (v. 23) would be the “Shepherd” of his people. This message of hope is a glaring contrast with the picture in 34:1–15 with its message of the neglect and exploitation of human kings. The proliferation of “I wills” in 34:10–29 suggests Yahweh’s determination personally to be involved in the lives and destinies of his people.
17“‘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. 18Is 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? 19Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
DETERMINATION TO JUDGE AND DELIVER (34:17–24). 34:17–22 Here the Lord ceased addressing the corrupt shepherds and began speaking to his flock. Not only would he rescue and tend, but the coming divine Shepherd also would be a righteous judge. Former “shepherds” allowed and even participated in the oppression of the weak of the flock (vv. 17–19). The Lord would oppose those who were “greedy for unjust gain” (33:31) and who took advantage of the weak. Like a shepherd who must judge between sheep to be bred or sold or butchered, the Lord will judge between people who need his care and those who deserve his judgment. Yahweh has promised to be a righteous judge who would “save” his flock and distinguish between those who were truly his and those who were not (v. 22; cf. Rom 2:28–29; 9:6–8).
34:23–24 These verses are transitional to the final section on the covenant of peace (vv. 25–31). They are clearly unified by the repetition of “my servant David” in both verses and by the parallelism between the last clause of v. 23 and the first clause of v. 24 (literally): “And he will be to them for a shepherd / and I Yahweh will be to them for a God.” Nevertheless, v. 23 continues the figure of shepherd/flock, whereas v. 24 abandons it for the literal “prince/people” in anticipation of the literal message in vv. 25–31 (which reverts to the figure in v. 31).
The coming Shepherd will be known as “my servant David” (v. 23; see 37:22–26 for a parallel passage). He was one from the line of David who was a fulfillment of the promise made in the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7:16. He will establish an everlasting throne of David. The use of “my servant David” represents the hope of a future resurrection of the golden age of Israel. David was characterized as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). Unlike the corrupt former Davidic rulers who only served themselves, this new king will be a servant of the Lord (cf. Matt 4:10; 6:24; 12:18; 20:28; Luke 1:69; Acts 3:13, 26; 4:25–30). He will also be God’s personal representative, who will reconfirm the Davidic covenant of 2 Sam 7:12–16. He will tend the Lord’s flock, be Yahweh’s shepherd (Ezek 34:23) and a prince among them (34:24).
25“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of wild beasts so that they may live in the desert and sleep in the forests in safety. 26I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27The trees of the field 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. 28They 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. 29I 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. 30Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”
PROMISE OF A COVENANT OF PEACE (34:25–31). 34:25–31 Ezekiel concluded this series of messages with the Lord’s promise of a “covenant of peace” with his people (v. 25), referring to what Jeremiah called the “new covenant” (Jer 31:31). The designation here indicates that this new covenant relationship will provide his people with peace (cf. Num 25:12; Josh 9:15; 10:1; Pss 29:11; 85:8; Isa 54:10). It was peace and rest which humanity lost through sin (Gen 3:15; 4:8) and which the Mosaic covenant promised as a result of obedience (Lev 26:6). But in spite of Israel’s disobedience, the prophets envisioned a coming restoration of peace and all the other characteristics of life before the fall (Isa 9:6–7; 52:7 53:5; 66:12; Jer 30:10; 33:6, 9; Hag 2:9). This will come to pass in the Messianic Age with the restoration of the ideals of life as it was lived in Eden (see “Restoration of Edenic Ideals,” p. 349).
This covenant is the same as the one promised in Ezek 16:60 (see discussion of 16:53–63), which will establish an unbreakable bond between God and his people. By it he will assure their well-being and personally act as covenant mediator (v. 25).
“I will bless them” (v. 26) begins a list of the benefits of the “covenant of peace.” There will be showers at the right season (v. 27a) that produce bountiful crops. The people will dwell in security and freedom (v. 27b–28). There will be no famine or threats from enemies (v. 29). The people will know that God, their Shepherd, is with them and that Israel his flock is his people (v. 30).
This covenant anticipates events and promises never realized in the first return of Israel from captivity. When the people came back to the land after 535 b.c., they were under the control of every world-dominating power including Medo-Persia, Greece, and finally Rome until a.d. 70 when the nation was destroyed by Rome.
There are only two possible conclusions concerning the meaning of the “covenant of peace” and the promises of Ezek 34:23–31. Either the restoration Ezekiel envisioned was only an unrealistic hope and therefore never came to pass or the prophecy concerned some future return beyond the scope of the return in 535 b.c. under Zerubbabel and later returns under Ezra and Nehemiah. Even the author of Ezra-Nehemiah recognized that the restoration community was not the final fulfillment of Old Testament promises of redemption (see comments on 11:17–21). Yet God’s promises themselves and the incomplete fulfillments that God’s people have experienced gave the people of Ezekiel’s and later times renewed strength and courage to face daily trials, knowing that God is faithful and will bring it to pass (Pss 31:24; 37:9; 42:11; Isa 40:31; Lam 3:19–40; 2 Cor 3:12; Col 1:5; 1 Thess 1:3; 4:13; 5:8; Heb 6:19; 1 John 3:3).
The four remaining messages in chaps. 35–39 expanded the promises of the covenant of peace in 34:11–16. The message against Edom (35:1–15) expanded the promise of security and victory over plundering in 34:27–28. The cleansing and restoration of the land in 36:1–37:14 was an expansion of the promise to return to the Israelites’ own land in 34:13, 26. The message of the resurrection of the nation and the reunification under one shepherd in 37:1–28 was an expansion of the “one shepherd” promise of 34:20–24. The defeat of Israel’s enemies in 38:1–39:29 was an expansion of the promise of peace and security in 34:25–31.
The central figure of chap. 34 is God’s ideal Shepherd-King, who was the antithesis of the corrupt leadership that resulted in the exile. Eight character traits about this promised future King may be gleaned from 34:11–31. These characteristics were fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. But their significance was not exhausted by analogies with his first earthly ministry. They also characterize his future earthly and heavenly ministries.
First, he has a special relationship with Yahweh. In vv. 11–16 the shepherd is God (34:16), but in vv. 23 and 24 the shepherd is “my servant David.” The use of the personal pronouns “I” more than thirty times and “my” more than fifteen times suggests that this shepherd would be God in a personal form. The same phenomenon may be found in the good Shepherd passage in John’s Gospel in which Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; cf. 1 Tim 2:5).
Second, he will feed his sheep (34:13, 26–27, 29). Like the shepherd of Ps 23:1, his sheep will not “want.” Jesus is the Bread of life (John 6:31–35) and the Water of life (John 4), satisfying the needs of his “sheep.”
Third, he will gather his sheep together (34:12–13). No longer were they to be a scattered flock. In the New Testament the church was unified through Christ (Matt 12:30; Eph 4:3–7). Ezekiel envisioned the day when the Messiah would gather all his sheep in a wonderful union (see Matt 13:30–31).
Fourth, he will reestablish his people peacefully in their land (34:14–15). This echoes Ps 23, which tells of the shepherd’s care for his flock. Under his rule the flock has no want (23:1), no worry (23:2), no weakness (23:3), no wickedness (23:4), no death (23:4), no fear (23:4), no defeat (23:5), no deficit (23:5), no judgment (23:6), and no end (23:6), all qualities that promote peace and security (see John 1:1–42; 14:27).
Fifth, he will rule with justice and compassion (Ezek 34:16). Jesus began his public ministry by claiming the role of the servant of the Lord: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness for the prisoners” (Isa 61:1–2; cp. Luke 4:16–21). Justice and compassion also will characterize his reign in the latter days (Rev 20:4).
Sixth, he will personally judge his people (34:17, 20, 22). Unlike the ruthless kings of Israel and Judah, he will judge with equity and righteousness. Jesus was presented as a righteous judge of his people who rendered to each a just reward (Rom 14:10–12; 2 Cor 5:10–11; 1 Cor 3:11–15).
Seventh, he will be the only true shepherd (34:23). There will be no rivals to his ministry. Jesus was and is the way, the truth, and the life (John 10:9, 11–12, 14; 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Eighth, he will mediate a covenant of peace (Ezek 34:25). When people enter a covenant of peace with the Shepherd, they also make peace with God (John 10:27–28). This covenant of peace is an everlasting covenant (Ezek 16:60; Isa 54:10; John 10:29).
Perhaps this is another one of those passages that Ellison had in mind when he said that the prophets often spoke more than they knew. We can see much more in this passage than Ezekiel was privileged to see. He only saw the promises as a future hope of redemption to be realized. On the other hand, we can see them both in their historical setting and in their fulfillment in Christ. Ezekiel 34:1–31 is closely related to both Ps 23:1–6 and the Good Shepherd passage of John 10:1–42. A comparative study of the three passages reveals similar characteristics of God’s ideal Shepherd. The hope of the Messiah soared with God’s promise of “one shepherd” (v. 23) who would regather the people and reinstate the line of David to bring people to a personal knowledge of God.
—New American Commentary