Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The latter part of the Book of Ezekiel, after the fulfilment of the great judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem, is consolatory in its character, and full of rich promises to the afflicted people of God. But as this necessarily involves denunciations of the oppressors and enemies of the people, it will aid in obtaining a clear view of the whole to make a brief summary of the contents of Ezekiel 34-39 in their literal interpretation. Ezekiel 34 announces that the Lord will deliver His people out of the hands of the selfish and wicked shepherds who have injured and oppressed them, and will Himself feed, protect, and bring blessings to them through His servant David. Ezekiel 35 : Because Edom has always hated Israel, and sought to possess itself of her land in the time of her distress, therefore its own land shall become a perpetual desolation. Ezekiel 36 : On the other hand, Israel’s land shall be restored to prosperity for the Lord’s own sake; His people, gathered from the nations, shall be cleansed from their sins, renewed in heart, and greatly multiplied, and their land made like a garden of God. Ezekiel 37 : The house of Israel, which has become like dry bones, shall be raised to new life, its two divided kingdoms re-united, and their sins forgiven; and God will make them dwell in their land, under the sovereignty of David, with a perpetual covenant of peace with Himself, and He will establish His sanctuary among them for ever. Ezekiel 38, 39 : Finally, although the Lord will bring their enemies against them with a powerful array, yet He will ultimately destroy these foes, have compassion on Israel, and hide His face from His people no more for ever. The meaning of these prophecies will be more fully discussed in its place.
Ezekiel 34 consists of three parts: in the first (Ezekiel 34:1-10) the unfaithful shepherds are denounced, and God promises to take His flock out of their hands; in the second (Ezekiel 34:11-22), He declares that He will Himself take charge of the flock, gather it together, feed it in good pastures in Israel, and root out the evil from it; while in the last part (Ezekiel 34:23-31) He promises to appoint David as His shepherd over it, to make with them a covenant of peace, and to bless the land with all fruitfulness, so that they shall recognise Him as their God, and that there shall be communion between them. The whole chapter may be looked upon as an amplification of the short prophecy in Jeremiah 23:1-8.
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?(2) Shepherds of Israel.—This is a common Scriptural expression for rulers, and the whole context shows that these are the persons here intended. In the passage in Jeremiah 23 they are treated under this name separately from the prophets and priests, and also in Jeremiah 2:8 they are distinguished from prophets and priests. The name itself is a peculiarly appropriate one, and seems to have been in use throughout the East, but especially in Israel, from the time when David was taken from the care of the flocks to feed the Lord’s people. (Comp. 2Samuel 5:2; Psalm 78:70-71.)
That do feed themselves.—This selfishness is characteristic of the unfaithful shepherd (comp. John 10:1-17), and is enlarged upon in Ezekiel 34:3-4. The history shows that for a long time it had been eminently true of the rulers, and especially of the kings of Israel.
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.(5) They were scattered, because. . . .—The calamities of the people are attributed to the fault of the rulers, not because the people themselves were free from sin—the contrary has already been abundantly asserted in this book—but because the people’s sins were largely due to the evil example, the idolatries, the oppressions, and the disobedience of their rulers.
My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.(6) My sheep wandered.—In the pronouns, my sheep and my flock, God again claims the people for His own. Without proper guides, they have indeed strayed far away from Him, and there has been none to inquire after or seek them out in their lost condition. The two words search and seek refer, the former to asking or inquiring, the latter to searching after.
In such a state of things, plainly the first act of mercy to the flock must be the removal of the unfaithful shepherds. This is promised (Ezekiel 34:7-10), but, after Ezekiel’s manner, with reiterated declaration of the unfaithfulness of the shepherds.
For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.(11) Behold, I, even I.—The rich promises of the following verses are all essentially contained in this, that Jehovah Himself will be the Shepherd of His flock. It is the same assurance as that given by the Saviour in John 10, and here, as there, must necessarily be understood spiritually. In the following verses many promises are given of an earthly and temporary character, and these were fulfilled partly in the. restoration from exile, partly in the glorious deliverance of the Church from its foes under the Maccabees. But these deliverances themselves were but types of the more glorious Messianic deliverance of the future, and necessary means whereby it was secured. The promise of that deliverance could only be brought at all within the comprehension of the people by setting it forth in earthly language, just as even now it is impossible for us to understand the glories of the Church triumphant, except by the aid of the sensible images in which Scripture has portrayed them. Far less was it possible to this people, so much behind us in spiritual education and enlightenment.
And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.(13) Bring them to their own land.—It is not to be forgotten that this is a part of the same figurative language with “the cloudy and dark day” of the preceding verse, and that they must be explained in the same way. God’s people have wandered in the gloom, and they shall be gathered back to Him again.
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.(16) The fat and the strong.—While fatness is in general an emblem of prosperity, it is frequently used in Scripture, as here, for that prosperity which begets hardness of heart and forgetfulness of God. (See Deuteronomy 32:15; Acts 28:27, &c.)
With judgment.—This does not mean, as the ambiguous sense of the English word might make it possible to suppose, with wisdom, but with righteousness and authority, as is plainly seen from the connection with the following verses.
And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.(17) Between cattle and cattle.—In other words, between one and another of the flock. They are not all alike to be saved and blessed, but only those who turn in penitence and submission to God, their Shepherd. The same contrast is again expressed in Ezekiel 34:20; Ezekiel 34:22. It is not between “the cattle” on the one side, and “the rams and the he-goats” on the other, but between the cattle themselves, and also between the rams and he-goats themselves; all the evil, of whatever class, are to be rejected. Ezekiel 34:18-19 are addressed to those who will be rejected.
Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?(18) Tread down . . . foul the residue.—The charge against them is that they not only first supplied and took care of themselves, but with careless insolence destroyed what should have been for others.
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.(23) Set up one shepherd.—He is one both with reference to the many evil rulers who have gone before (and this implies the perpetuity of His rule), and also with reference to the two kingdoms of Israel, which are hereafter to be for evermore united in the one Church of God. Obviously this prophecy can find its accomplishment in no merely human ruler.
My servant David.—The name of David is here put simply, as in Ezekiel 34:24, Ezekiel 37:24-25; Jeremiah 30:9; Hosea 3:5, instead of the more usual designations of the Messiah as the Son, the Branch, the Offspring of David; but there can be no possible doubt of the meaning, any more than of who is meant by Elijah in Malachi 4:5, in view of our Lord’s own interpretation in Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:11-14. Yet it should be remembered, if any one should incline to understand this whole prophecy literally, that if one part is to be so understood the rest must be taken in the same way; if we are to think that the prophet here foretells the literal restoration of the two kingdoms of Israel to their own land, and their union under one governor, then that governor must be David himself. The absurdity of such a supposition is one important element in showing that the whole is to be understood of a promise of spiritual blessings, and of the gathering of God’s people into His Church as one flock under their Almighty Shepherd. (Comp. John 10:14-18.) David, as the head of the theocracy and the ancestor of our Lord after the flesh, constantly appears in the Scriptures as the type of the Messiah, and there can be no reasonable doubt that this prophecy must have been so understood, even at the time when it was uttered.
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.(26) Bound about my hill.—“My hill” is Zion. (Comp. the similar figurative language in Isaiah 31:4.) The centre of the old theocracy is always spoken of in Scripture as also the centre from which goes forth the new covenant of salvation, and this was historically fulfilled in the coming of Christ and the cradling of His Church in the Jewish Church. The continuity of the Church was preserved quite as fully through the Christian era as through the Babylonian captivity, quite as large a number of the Jews having embraced Christianity as ever returned from the exile in Chaldea.
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 any more.(29) Will raise up for them a plant of renown.—Better, a plantation for renown. The same Hebrew word occurs in Ezekiel 17:7; Ezekiel 31:4, and means plantation. The thought is that God would provide Israel with such a fair and fruitful land as should make them famous for their blessings. The idea of the word is not that which seems to be implied by our version (with its marginal references to Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5), a plant or a branch, referring to the Messiah; a different word is used here, which occurs, besides the places named, only in Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3, and Micah 1:6, in all of which it is translated planting.
And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord GOD.(31) The flock of my pasture.—The chapter closes with the strongest and tenderest assurance that the object of its figurative language is to point out the renewed and close communion which is to come about between God and His people. They are to be His flock, and He is to be their God. Yet still, the vast and infinite distance between them is not left out of view, but rather brought prominently forward—they are men; He is God. They were not yet prepared to understand how this infinite chasm could be bridged over; only it should be by their shepherd David. We know that He was the Mediator, both God and man, thus uniting both in one.