Friday, April 17, 2015


For the week beginning Sunday April 19, 2015

(The Shepherds of Israel)
Ezekiel 33-34

In Ezekiel 33, verses 1-20, GOD once again reminds Ezekiel that he has been appointed as “a watchman” over his people in Israel (the Church). HE had given Ezekiel this assignment a few years back (Ezekiel 3:16-27), when HE first called him to his ministry, shortly after he had been taken captive by the Babylonians in 597 B.C.
The traditional role of “the watchman” is much like the role of a “security guard” in today’s society. He is given the job of watching over and protecting those people, places, or things that are most important to his employer. He is to always remain at his post, keeping alert for the event of any danger that might threaten the security of that, or those whom he is assigned to protect.
While the watchman’s duty may be limited, it is, nevertheless, extremely important. He is responsible to give an alarm to make those whom he is duty-bound to protect, aware of their impending danger. However, if those, whom he seeks to protect does not take heed to his warning, he cannot be held responsible for their injury or demise.  Here in the opening lines of this chapter (Vs.2-9), the LORD once again gives this message to HIS faithful prophet;

 “Son of man, give your people this message: ‘When I bring an army against a country, the people of that land choose one of their own to be a watchman.  When the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people.  Then if those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die.  They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives.  But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’  “Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.  If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths.  But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself.” (NLT)

In Ezekiel 18 GOD emphasized that each individual is responsible for their own moral and spiritual choices, but here, and in Ezekiel chapter 3, GOD is saying that we, as believers, are also our brother’s keeper. It is up to each of us to warn and witness to others of the dangers of the consequences of sinful behavior, and to urge others to reform, as we ourselves surrender to the call of GOD to reform our lives under HIM. It is a principle that permanently and irrevocably binds us to a limited responsibility to each other, as human beings operating under GOD.
And even though each of us retains wills that are free, those who know the truth about GOD are responsible to share it so that no one will be able to say that they were not informed. Here, if Ezekiel had failed to inform the people of GOD’s warnings, he himself would have been guilty of being disobedient, and thereby, he himself would be subject to death, as well as being guilty of causing the death of those whom he could have informed, but didn’t.
The thought of GOD being unjust is a stupid, stupid thought (v.20). Man has always deservingly suffered for his iniquities through no fault of GOD’s, but rather, by our own doing. Even in the secular world, it is not the fault of “the law” that we break it. We pay the cost for our violations of man’s law simply because we are guilty of not complying with the laws that are established by man. And so certainly we will suffer in life any time we violate the laws that were established by GOD, even before man ever had laws of his own.
Taking up at verse 21, Ezekiel says that during his twelfth year of captivity in Babylon, a man came to him with the news that Jerusalem had been destroyed. A day earlier the LORD had unlocked Ezekiel’s lips so that he would be able to speak again when the man arrived. Then the LORD gave Ezekiel this message to deliver to the scattered remnants of Judah now living in the ruined Israelite cities;

 “Son of man, the scattered remnants of Israel living among the ruined cities keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he gained possession of the entire land. We are many; surely the land has been given to us as a possession.’  So tell these people, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and you murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours?  Murderers! Idolaters! Adulterers! Should the land belong to you?’
 “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those living in the ruins will die by the sword. And I will send wild animals to eat those living in the open fields. Those hiding in the forts and caves will die of disease.  I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride. Her arrogant power will come to an end. The mountains of Israel will be so desolate that no one will even travel through them.  When I have completely destroyed the land because of their detestable sins, then they will know that I am the Lord.” (Vs.24-29) (NLT).

The remnant, who survived the great destruction of Jerusalem, were clinging to the hope that was presented in their knowledge that GOD had promised the land of Canaan to their ancestor, Abraham. However, they at no time ever thought of that promise as being fulfilled in an eschatological era at history’s end. They also never truly realized that, in order to enjoy GOD’s promised blessings continually, it would be a “must” that each generation hold tight to their faith in, and obedience to, GOD. Here GOD points out the reasons for their troubles and suffering, and announces that HE will remove them from the land completely, and leave it desolate for the next seventy years, in order that HE might purge it of the long-term effects of their sinful behavior. GOD’s promises of blessings are always “conditional”, and based upon our obedience.
In verses 30-33, the LORD lets Ezekiel know how he is being mocked behind his back by the very people who come to him to hear HIS words of wisdom;

 “Son of man, your people talk about you in their houses and whisper about you at the doors. They say to each other, ‘Come on, let’s go hear the prophet tell us what the Lord is saying!’  So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money.  You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it!  But when all these terrible things happen to them—as they certainly will—then they will know a prophet has been among them.”

Like many churchgoers today, the Israelites would make it a habitual practice to go to the temple to be entertained by music, church talk, and eloquent sounding preachers who really aren’t saying anything that is spiritually productive to the congregation. Few come to hear and put into practice, those things that are life-changing and pleasing to GOD. And sadly, in today’s Church, such spiritual help and growth is not even available to those who do come with the right motive. Even in churches that are trying to do the right thing by GOD, the people may come to hear, but they have absolutely no intention of actually doing what they hear. GOD says terrible things will come to those who come to HIS House under the guise of worshipping HIM, but in reality, only wants to be entertained by those who are supposed to be leading the service to praise GOD, instead of glorifying themselves in the process.
The “shepherd” metaphor that is often used to describe the function and role of a “leader” in the Church, is one of the most endearing analogies that can be found, anywhere in all of Scripture. Ezekiel 34, and many other passages, help us to understand that role in regards to GOD’s people who are called to, or, who wish to serve, in the leadership capacity.
In Ezekiel 34:1-6, each “negative accusation” by the LORD, actually implies those “opposite”, “positive traits” that one should look for in any person who functions as a leader in a Christian church, family, community, or government. However, by presenting us with these contrasting negatives traits of the condemned leader, the LORD is actually showing us what the ideal leader should contain, and maintain in his or her character.
Here in this passage, several examples of “negative leadership” are highlighted, and they include;

·         Those who take care of themselves only, and could not care less for those who GOD assigned to them to shepherd.
·         Those who profit in an ungodly manner off of those who are being shepherded. 
·         Those who “actually physically, emotionally, or spiritually harm those who follow
them in the wrong direction.
·         Those who fail to strengthen the weak, by correctly teaching (feeding) them the word of GOD, and prayer.
·         Those who fail to seek the lost, and, “rule harshly and brutally over the flock that they do have.

These kinds of leaders are in sharp contrast to the “ideal spiritual leadership” we find in CHRIST JESUS, the ultimate GOOD SHEPHERD (Vs.11-16). GOD is seeking leaders who are willing to pattern themselves after the example of CHRIST, and we, as Christians, have a right to expect human spiritual leaders to commit to doing just that (1 Peter 5:1-4). And while each individual is responsible for his or her own moral and spiritual choices (Vs.17-19), it is the leaders who set the tone for the Christian community, who are most accountable to GOD.
GOD has taken a stand against bad leadership, and ultimately, HE will remove such leadership from their positions. HE will not hold blameless, those government, church, community, and family leaders who fail to pattern themselves in accordance with the vivid picture of leadership, that CHRIST JESUS has presented to us already, during HIS three-year earthly ministry (Vs.9-10).
GOD charged the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy against the leadership of Israel in the sixth century B.C. because HE wanted them to be strong, caring shepherds who would guard the spiritual safety of their flock with all diligence, and here in the twenty-first century, HIS desires for us to embody those leadership qualities, like all things concerning GOD, has not changed.
Then and now, too many shepherds have neglected their sheep and, as a result, the sheep were, and are, scattered away from the fold. It is time to call the shepherds to judgment for their actions and hold them accountable for the neglect and abuse of those who were entrusted to their leadership, by GOD.
As Christians, we thoroughly understand that Ezekiel wasn’t just speaking about the return of the Jews to their homeland from Babylon, as he closed this particular chapter of his prophesy. He was, indeed, also foretelling something far into the future regarding the blessings that await all earnest Christians when the LORD JESUS comes upon the scene for a second time.
In the Greek, the word New Testament writers often use for “earnest expectations”, or, “hope for the future” is “apokaradokia”. It describes the attitude of a man who scans the horizon, with his head stretched forward, as he eagerly anticipates the first signs of the coming of the glory of GOD.  Life for the Christian should always be a throbbing and vivid expectation of the joy that awaits them at the end of their Christian race.
When the GOOD SHEPHERD returns, HE will already know how HE will separate the “wheat from the tare”, and the “sheep from the goat”. And the bad shepherds, who did not serve in the manner of which GOD called them to serve, will all be judged in a manner preserved especially for them, because they failed in their positions of higher responsibility to GOD. And this goes also for the “false shepherd”, or “wolf” that just showed up wearing sheep’s clothing, and was not sent by GOD, but rather, made himself a “hireling”.
But let us also remember that, even if we don’t have an official title in the church, we are still leaders as parents, or, as the only Christian in our workplace, or, as the only Christian in our family, extended family etc. And so we still have to set a good example of Christian servant-hood and leadership, at all times, wherever we are, and, wherever we go.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website

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