God exposes the leaders of Israel as shepherds who have failed to perform their duties to their flock.
Lessons from the text
The Shepherds Who Lost Their Sheep When God judges the leaders of Israel, He does so on the basis that they have failed to perform their obligations to the people; instead of supplying the needs of the people, they have feed off of them. In response, God will take their sheep from them and, ultimately, put them in the care of His Son, Jesus. Consider Jesus’ parable to the Pharisees.
There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another… [L]ast of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Mt. 21:33-41 emphasis added
If a leader fails to perform the obligations of his leadership, God will remove him from authority. The removal may not be immediate, but it will occur. An example of this is Saul; God declared in his second year as king that He would give the kingdom to another but it was not until years later that David became king (I Sam. 13:1-14, II Sam. 5:4-5). The point is, whatever God gives us, if we abuse the privilege, He will remove it from us. If God has placed you in a role of leadership, be careful to use your authority for the benefit of others, serving them in love, sincerity, and righteousness. If you fail to perform your obligations to those under your authority, God will replace you with someone who will take care of the people.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1-10 The shepherds of Israel are the spiritual and political leaders of the nation. The spiritual leaders—the priest, scribes, and prophets—should be acting as watchmen, shouting warnings to the people to kept them from sin. Because they have failed to do so, God will judge them, requiring the sins of the people (the flock) from their hands (Eze. 33:2-9). The political leaders are not any better, concerning themselves only with the aggregation of wealth. The corruption is so sever that God describes the leaders as feeding off of the people. Both types of leaders have failed to serve the people. This is noteworthy; God explicitly lists the qualities of a just leader, that he should feed the people, strengthen the diseased, heal the sick (physical illness or sin sickness), put back together what is broken (referring to things, systems, and people), and seek to bring home those who are lost. The spiritual leaders are to address the spiritual aspects of the above list, but such is closely connected to the physical needs supplied by the political leaders. Ideally, a leader is one who serves others by addressing the physical, social, economical, and spiritual needs of the people. 11-16 God will do what the human leaders have failed to do; He will take of all the needs of the people.
17-31 The final component to being a leader is the ability to discern righteous judgment. Since the human leaders have failed to discern right from wrong, God Himself will show forth judgment. He judges between the fat cattle (those who have been abusing the system to accumulate wealth) and the lean cattle (those who have been taken advantage of and deprived of resources) by killing all the fat cattle and edifying the lean cattle. This is accomplished through the Babylonian captivity where God is sending the sword, famine, and pestilence to destroy the wicked from Israel (Jer. 14:10-12, Jer. 24:8-10). The lean cattle will be edified when the shepherd identified as David rules over them. This is Jesus Christ who came to earth through the line of David to rule on David’s throne (Isa. 9:2-7). When Christ returns to earth to take the throne of David, He will make a “covenant of peace” with the lean cattle and give them “showers of blessings,” promising that they will never again have to worry about enemies, bondage, or hunger. This is a tremendous promise: when Christ reigns, God’s people will be eternally safe from harm. See Isaiah 65:17-25 and Revelation 21:1-4. God also repeats that the purpose for His judgments is so that all may know that He alone is God (Eze. 33:29).
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