International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Ezekiel 34:23-31Lesson Title: God's Promise to Be with Us
Ezekiel was a young priest who had been carried away into captivity in Babylon. His name means "strengthened by God" which was an appropriate name for this young prophet and the ministry to which he was called. If you study the dates recorded in 2 Kings 24:8-14 and Ezekiel 1:2-3, it establishes the time of Ezekiel's prophesy to be around 593 B.C. That would mean that Ezekiel was already in Babylon when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. For twenty-two years he faithfully prophesied to his people, sharing visions that were given him of God.
The first seven years of Ezekiel's prophesy is recorded in chapters 1-24 and focus on judgment against Jerusalem and her coming destruction. Chapters 25-32 deal with judgment upon the nations. There is a shift in Ezekiel's prophesy beginning with chapter 33. Up until that point, the prophet had been preaching a message of doom and gloom. Chapters 33-48 offer a message of hope and restoration that emphasizes the justice and mercy of God. This is the basis for Ezekiel's marvelous vision of the future recorded in Ezekiel 34:23-31.
Ezekiel chapter 34 records the prophecy against the shepherds of Israel. Ezekiel's words are very similar with that of Jeremiah's prophecy of the false shepherds in Jeremiah 23. The shepherds of Israel were her leaders, namely, the prophets, priests, and kings. Among all three there were those who were not faithful to their calling. One such priest was Hananiah who prophesied deliverance from Babylon when the truth was that God was going to send the nation into captivity (Jeremiah 28:1-4). There have always been prophets and preachers who preached what the people wanted to hear instead of the truth of God (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Beginning in verse 11 of Ezekiel 34, the prophet focuses on the end of the age and promises a literal regathering and restoration of the people of Israel to their own land. God's chosen people have been scattered and dispersed for centuries but the day is soon to come when they will be brought back together in Messiah's kingdom. In that day God has promised they will not want for anything (Ezekiel 34:11-16). After the regathering of Israel from among the nations, God will see to it that no one will take advantage of His people again. His words, "...Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats" (Ezekiel 34:16) and "...Behold, I , even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle" (Ezekiel 34:20) means God will sort out the true from the false and not allow the strong "fat cattle" to push around the weak "lean cattle." The "fat cattle" (Ezekiel 34:20) is a reference to the leaders who took advantage of God's people. Certain people and certain groups of people may have the upper hand today when it comes to justice and leadership but thank God the day is coming when there will be no more power plays and religious or political advantage!
A Shepherd and Prince (Ezekiel 34:23-24)
"And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd."
God's people were very familiar with the imagery of shepherds. The metaphor of God as the shepherd of His people is recorded in Genesis 49:24 and Psalm 23:1. Also, some of the most notable Jewish heroes and leaders in the Old Testament were shepherds. Joseph (Genesis 37:2), Moses (Exodus 3:1) and David (1 Samuel 17:34-35) are three of the more prominent ones mentioned in the Old Testament.
Ezekiel is prophesying that God "will set up one shepherd" over the nation. This is a glorious promise given against the background of many leaders who one after another had led the nation deeper into sin and failed to nourish and care for them. First, the "one shepherd" means there will be "one," not several, a group, or a dynasty out of a family. The history of Israel had been such that if one wicked king or one evil priest reigned, the dynasty of his children followed. Thus, the nation could never get out of the spiritual rut of disobedience and neglect from their leaders. Furthermore, the "one" aspect indicates the nation will no longer be a divided nation needing a king in both the southern or northern kingdom.
"Even my servant David" is that "one shepherd." The greater One in David's dynasty (2 Samuel 7:12-16) is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will be Israel's ultimate king over the millennial kingdom (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 31:24-26; Hosea 3:5; Zechariah 14:9). Second, the "one shepherd" that is to come will be a "servant." It is not uncommon in our day to see political leaders and even pastors and church leaders lead and work for themselves instead of God. Presidents, governors, preachers and educators often desire their positions in order to secure a name for themselves instead of ministering and serving. Third, the coming "shepherd" will care. Twice it says, "he shall feed them" which are words magnifying the spiritual nourishment and care of the coming "one shepherd." He will "be their shepherd" means the coming "one" will be focused on being a shepherd to God's people. He will lead and protect them. No distractions. No other motives.
"And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it."
"And I the LORD will be their God..." emphasizes a part of the coming kingdom that we often miss. The coming kingdom is not only about Israel having a shepherd, it is also about the Lord once again being "their God." During the history of Israel the nation often committed idolatry and leaned upon false gods. Ezekiel's messianic prophecy reminds us that what is to happen in the future is as much about "God" as it is about us. Just as much as God's people needs a true shepherd to led, protect and feed them, God wants to be restored to His people. In other words, He wants to "be our God!"
The prophet Hosea said, "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days" (Hosea 3:5). "The LORD" Yahweh Himself is the God of the coming kingdom. And "David a prince among them" is the one God has chosen. This "prince" is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The term "prince" in this context is more than a king-in-waiting as we might think of a "prince" in our culture. He is a ruler, one who has and exercises great authority. He is "David a prince among them" meaning he is not some kind of strange individual but rather one of us, a human as David had been. John tells us who this "prince" is when he said, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
"I the LORD have spoken it" is the authority behind the coming kingdom. We should understand this statement to mean that God is serious about what He has said and this is a solemn word from God. Let's be honest. How many times have our favorite politician or leader said, "Trust me," and then couldn't deliver. Men often deceive us and have no intention of changing anything or doing what they say. But, many times they do mean well and really want to lead right and make things better but they just can't deliver. The Lord says, "I the LORD have spoken it." Praise God it will happen (John 14:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:24).
A Secure Peace (Ezekiel 34:25-29)
The blessings promised to Israel upon her return and restoration during the millennial kingdom is comprehensive.
"And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods."
This "covenant of peace" God "will make with them" refers to the New Covenant recorded in Jeremiah 31:31-34, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
In contrast to the Mosaic Covenant under which Israel as a nation failed, God promised a "New Covenant" to Israel and also to individuals that promised access to the blessings of salvation to them who know Christ in saving grace. This "covenant of peace" will be in full operation during the millennial kingdom. It will be a time of "peace." Biblical "peace" involves more than the end of wars. It includes personal well-being and blessings. This only happens when nations or individuals are at "peace" with God. And the only way to be at "peace" with God is through the salvation offered in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20). Obviously, if everyone was saved by God's grace, there would be peace. Jesus Christ is "peace" (Ephesians 2:14).
This coming "peace" is conveyed by Ezekiel to the people through the imagery of the absence of "evil beasts" preying upon humans and the reality of being able to "dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods." The thought is there will be nothing that preys upon or takes advantage of God's people. The false shepherds and leaders of the nation had been like "evil beasts" preying upon the people and taking away from them any security and peace. But that will all come to an end with the coming Messiah.
"And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing."
Not only is the picture of God's future kingdom one of safety but it is also one of "blessing." "My hill" is a reference to Jerusalem and in particular Zion, where God's people came to worship. The imagery of animals no longer preying upon God's people is significant. Those hearing Ezekiel's words must have thought upon all the surrounding nations that had preyed upon them and their homeland. There is also an agricultural implication in verse 26. Israel has always been a productive agricultural nation when the rain comes at the right time. In the future kingdom there will be no need for irrigation because God "will cause the shower to come down in his season" and "there shall be showers of blessings." These promises mean God will provide in both a timely and appropriate manner exactly what the people need for the land to produce to its full capacity. This is vastly different from what the exiles were then experiencing and how they remember the desolation and barrenness of their homeland.
"And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand of those that served themselves of them."
The promise of "fruit" and the "earth shall yield her increase" was also significant. Blessings of abundant fruitfulness were a vital part of Israel's heritage and her encouragement. But the real blessing of this verse is "...and they shall be safe in their land." Often times Israel would have fruitfulness and great increase only to see her enemies come and take it away. In the future kingdom God has promise they will "be safe in their land." There is nothing more devastating and discouraging than to have and then have it taken away, to get your head above water and then slowly begin to sink again. That had been the history of Israel but all of that will change in the coming millennial kingdom.
As these promises are fulfilled and Israel sees and experiences the "fruit" and the "increase," they "shall know that I am the LORD" and witness Him deliver them from "the bands of the their yoke...and out of the hand of those that served themselves of them." The words "those that served themselves of them" refers to those who enslave God's people and those who take advantage of God's people. God will deliver His people from "those who enslave." These words would remind God's people of how it was in the past when God delivered them from the Egyptians and other national oppressors. These words gave them hope and expectation.
"Shall know that I am the LORD" means their understanding of God's power and sovereignty will dawn upon them when they sense their freedom and experience His delivering power. What encouragement and hope this must have been to a people who were under Babylonian captivity at the time of Ezekiel's prophesy.
Question: What bands and yokes have you bound today? Jesus Christ can set you free from your oppressing enemies today. His power alone can deliver from sin and bondage.
And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid."
This verse seems to be a summary statement of all that has previously been said by Ezekiel. The fear of being a "prey to the heathen" must have been a powerful fear in the lives of God's people so God once again reminds them that "shall no more be." They will one day live in security and there will be nothing that "shall make them afraid." The "beast" and the "heathen" will never again be a threat to them.
Question: What is threatening you today? What fears dominate your life? Israel's fears came from the heathen around them and the constant threat of the beast of the land attacking and killing them. Their fears were real. And so is yours. The fear of family divisions, financial difficulties, future decisions and a host of other things can loom as large in our lives as the "heathen" and the "beasts" in the life of the Jew. While some things will never fully disappear and be removed until Jesus comes again, we should remember what the Psalmist said, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee" (Psalm 56:3). We don't have to wait until the millennial kingdom to trust!
And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen anymore."
It is great to be able to "dwell safely in the wilderness" (v.25), "sleep in the woods" (v.25), have "showers of blessing" upon your crops (v.26), see "the tree of the field yield her increase" (v.27), be "delivered...out of the hand of those that served themselves of them" (v.28) and never again be a "prey to the heathen" (v.28). Add to that the promise that God will "raise up for them a plant of renown." This "plant of renown" which the Lord will "raise up for them" is most likely referring to an over productive harvest. This is more than the most intelligent farmer could produce. This is more than would result from showers of blessings and protection from heathen nations coming in to steal the harvest. Famine will be gone and the land will be like the Garden of Eden again. This is God's doing alone!
"...Neither bear the shame of the heathen any more" are words most of us cannot appreciate because we have never been in that position. Think of the "shame" and embarrassment of being in slavery to someone else. "Heathen" nations, leaders, and people who did not know Jehovah God constantly dominating the lives of God's people must have resulted in a shame that was at times unbearable. When Messiah's kingdom comes it will be "no more."
A Special Presence (Ezekiel 34:30-31)
"Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them, and that they, even the house of Israel, are my people, saith the Lord God."
All of the promises and blessings that Ezekiel gave to Israel were encouraging and filled with hope. But the joy of Israel as God's people was not so much what He promised them and gave them. It was the fact that they were His people. "Thus shall they know that I the LORD their God am with them..." is a promise of His continuing promise and presence. It is impossible that this promise could have been fulfilled when the exiles returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. As wonderful as that was there were harassment, crop failures and difficulties they had to battle and overcome. This special promise of God's presence will only fully be realized in the future messianic kingdom.
"And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God."
Our lesson text began in verse 23 with the language of sheep and shepherds and it concludes in that same manner. "And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture..." are words that once again make crystal clear the relationship of God to His people. Israel is His "flock" and they are nourished, protected and led by their Shepherd, God. Just as a shepherd cares for his "flock" in the "pasture" he has selected, so God cares for Israel.
This verse is a beautiful statement of God's relationship with His chosen people. It is also a beautiful reminder of the relationship between Christ and His church. Jesus applies the role and relationship of shepherd to himself. He says, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). Christ was our shepherd who willingly gave His life that we might be saved. He is "now" our Shepherd, watching and ministering to our souls as Peter said, "For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (1 Peter 2:25). And hallelujah, one day soon we will see Christ as our "chief Shepherd" when He comes to reward His children (1 Peter 5:4).
Knowing something and remembering something are often two different things. Just because you can't remember something doesn't necessarily mean you don't know it. Sometimes people need to be reminded of who we are in Jesus Christ. The lines get blurred. The information from the world is so depressing and hopeless. The lies and empty promises of our leaders would be comic if they were not so tragic. The bondage of life and the roars of obligation create fear and speculations about whether or not we can survive. And yet, we know what God has said and what He has promised in His word.
It would have been easy for the Israelites in exile to conclude that God had forgotten them or else He was not powerful enough to overcome Babylon. That is reflected in their testimony, "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land" (Psalm 137:1-4). Yet, God had not forgotten Israel and He has not forgotten you. He has a plan and you are part of it!
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