God calls His people “sheep,” and calls our spiritual leaders “shepherds.” But spiritually-abusive pastors harm God’s people, and make us fearful of the very people (shepherds) and the very place (church) that we need in order to be healthy, growing sheep.
After being harmed by wolves-in-shepherds clothing, it is difficult to come to a place of balance and trust with future shepherds, elders/pastors, and churches we encounter. God’s Word understands this.
In Ezekiel 34, God notes his deep care for sheep who have been wounded and scattered by violent, self-seeking faux-shepherds, and speaks a stern word of judgment against these selfish spiritual leaders.
As a follower of Jesus, and a church member, my heart’s desire is to rightly understand God’s Word in regard to what He wants from shepherds/pastors that care for His people. I’m so grateful for my pastors and elders, and want to be a blessing to them. Part of how we can be healthy ‘sheep’ is to have a biblically-informed sense of:
- what a biblically-faithful shepherd looks like, and also,
- what the Bible says about violent, spiritually-abusive, self-focused pastors.
WHY WRITE OUT THE “OPPOSITE” OF A BIBLE PASSAGE?
In 2011, I took my first biblical counseling class, and one session focused on the “Anti-Psalm.” The goal was to better understand what a text is saying by carefully thinking through the exact opposite meaning. It can be insightful to turn a text upside-down; seeing the stark “opposite” can clarify the actual meaning.
With this understanding of ‘why’- here is my attempt to write the opposite of Ezekiel 34:1-16.
First, the original, in the CSB:
The 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 Lord God says to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed their flock? 3 You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fattened animals, but you do not tend the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd; they became food for all the wild animals when they were scattered. 6 My flock went astray on all the mountains and every high hill. My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and there was no one searching or seeking for them.
7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. 8 As I live—this is the declaration of the Lord God—because my flock, lacking a shepherd, has become prey and food for every wild animal, and because my shepherds do not search for my flock, and because the shepherds feed themselves rather than my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord!
10 “‘This is what the Lord God says: Look, I am against the shepherds. I will demand my flock from them[a] and prevent them from shepherding the flock. The shepherds will no longer feed themselves, for I will rescue my flock from their mouths so that they will not be food for them.
11 ‘For this is what the Lord God says: See, I myself will search for my flock and look for them. 12 As a shepherd looks for his sheep on the day he is among his scattered flock, so I will look for my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and total darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples, gather them from the countries, and bring them to their own soil. I will shepherd them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the land. 14 I will tend them in good pasture, and their grazing place will be on Israel’s lofty mountains. There they will lie down in a good grazing place; they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I will tend my flock and let them lie down. This is the declaration of the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak, but I will destroy[b] the fat and the strong. I will shepherd them with justice.
THE OPPOSITE OF EZEKIEL 34
Here’s my proposal for its opposite:
Evil, human, unreliable words came to me:
“Say excellent things about the Faux-shepherds! Tell them, ‘God is pleased with you! Feast! You Faux-shepherds have done enough for those ungrateful sheep; shouldn’t you make sure you’re taken care of? You deserve the good portions, and to be well-dressed. Of course you had to kill off the best of the flock for their meat and wool; you’re the whole reason they were there, after all. You don’t need to concern yourself with the weak, sit around with sick and hurting, or go after those who have wandered off or aren’t a part of the group anymore! It’s only natural that you’ve lost your temper, attacked some sheep, and been cruel and careless in regard to their wounds and weaknesses. Those sheep wandered off from your church, even though they had you, Faux-shepherd– what dummies! When they left your church and got nipped at by foolish people, devoured by wolves, and taken in by all sorts of false teachers, there was no need to go searching and seeking for them.
Therefore, Faux-shepherds, hear these evil words:
- because those sheep had a Faux-shepherd, and yet wandered off to be attacked and shredded,
- because you Faux-shepherds don’t go after them,
- because you Faux-shepherds keep right on eating and taking care of yourselves and not my sheep,
therefore, Faux-shepherds, hear these evil words: This is what evil men say: “Look, I am totally in the corner of the Faux-shepherds. I’ll let those great faux-shepherds go right on feeding themselves on sheep. God’s gonna abandon those dumb sheep who ran off, anyway.
God won’t bother to search for them. They’ve skittered off into rocky places, and it’s their own fault. If they’re wandering in darkness, the Lord won’t value them enough to go after them. Wherever they’ve gone, good riddance! He won’t gather them up. Those scattered sheep can’t expect gentleness, care, good pasture, fresh air, or to see the big picture from a high vantage point. They won’t be able to rest in safety, be cared for, strengthened, or healed, or have any connection to God. They won’t get any TLC, nurturing, or justice from here on out.
It’s tricky to do this with such a stark passage, and some of the language may not be an exact opposite, but I still think it’s helpful.
Here are the big themes I see:
- God cares how His sheep are shepherded.
- Even though human shepherds are “only” human, God’s standards are high for how those shepherds (pastors) are to treat, care for, seek, and nurture His sheep.
- After encountering ungodly church leaders, our tendencies can be like the sheep in Ezekiel 34:
- we might be wounded and find that our wounds have gone untended
- we might scatter
- we might wander into rocky places, dark places, or find ourselves deep in a valley
- we might become prey for other evil leaders or violent people
- we might feel abandoned, or unwanted
- God cares about each “class” of sheep–
- He cares about the ones who have been devoured by a fat, proud faux-shepherd
- He cares about the ones who have been used for what they produce/provide to the faux-shepherds
- He cares about the weak ones who needed (but did not get) strengthening
- He cares about the sick ones who need healing
- He cares about the ones who needed bandaging and tending after being wounded
- He cares about the ones who skittered off, or somehow got lost in the shuffle
- He cares about the ones who, after running off, get devoured by others
- Ultimately, God is the Shepherd we look to meet our needs for rest, feeding, nurturing, healing, and justice.
- God’s shepherding will, ultimately, give us what our souls long for:
- He will seek us (v 11-12)
- He will rescue us, no matter where we are (v 12)
- He will bring us out and establish us in a good place (v 13)
- He will care for us no matter where we are. (v 13)
- Ultimately, He will assure that we are well-fed, and can lie down in safety (v 14-15)
- He’ll find every sheep that is His
- He’ll deal with every wound.
- He’ll give strength to each one that is weak
- He’ll give true justice.
What did you notice?
What stands out to you about God’s warning to the evil shepherds, but also God’s concern for the sheep?
How does Ezekiel 34 speak to your heart today?
Grace and Peace,