Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jesus' Fulfillment of the Old Covenant and Its Institutions in Ezekiel 34

Over the years I've noticed how difficult it is for people to read the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way. It seems like we are always applying the Old Testament to America, and we rarely handle things like the land of Israel in a way that is in accord with the New Testament. A friend asked me to look at this passage from Ezekiel 34 so I did. It is just a brief overview, but maybe it could help others to see how Jesus fulfills Old Testament institutions such as king, land, and old covenant curses (exile) and blessings (safety, fruitfulness, etc.) --Bill

Dear ____, you wanted me to look at Ezekiel 34, so here goes:

34:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

Comment: In verse 2 he is addressing the shepherds of Israel. Who are these shepherds? Shepherds were a metaphor for the kings of Israel, so it appears to be a metaphor pointing to the leadership of the nation.

What is the content of the prophecy? It is an accusation against these leaders of Israel. Instead of serving the sheep they used the sheep for their benefit. The result of their misrule was that the sheep were scattered, a metaphor for the exile (v. 6).

The Lord is angry with Israel's rulers (v. 10). The shepherds will have to give an account to the Lord who is judge. The Lord himself will come to rescue the sheep (v. 10), which is a metaphor for the people of Israel.

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

Comment: In verse 11, the Lord again promises to search for his sheep himself. The metaphor of shepherd is now applied to him. Verse 12 speaks of his rescuing his people in the context of judgment: "a day of clouds and thick darkness." Certainly, the cross was a judgment, and by that judgment we are saved (propitiation).

After speaking of rescue, the Lord now speaks of gathering his people to their own land in verse 13. This was certainly fulfilled partially by the exile, but fully by Christ. But Christ's kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). So the land promise has been fulfilled in Christ in a new way as the shadows of the old covenant are fulfilled by the reality of the new. Israel's land has now been "christified" and raised to heaven with Christ.

Jesus the good shepherd feeds his sheep, with a heavenly manna. We dwell in Christ (Israel dwelt in the land) and feed on him by faith.

In verse 15 we can see from our vantage point that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. God came to rescue the sheep in the person of his beloved and eternal Son. Christ is a good shepherd who feeds, gives rest, heals, and strengthens his own. He is also a king who destroys the fat and the strong, symbolic of independence from the Lord. Jesus taught that anyone who enters the kingdom must receive it like a little infant. Infants are characterized by total dependence on their parents, and so in the matter of salvation, no man can save himself but is totally dependent on what the Lord has accomplished by his death and resurrection.

Verse 20 is pointing to the fact that when Christ came he divided people. Only the humble find salvation for God resists the proud.

So far, the shepherd has been described as the Lord himself, but now in verse 23 the shepherd is described as David. Jesus is the God-man, the Lord incarnate but also the Christ who descended from David. Verse 24 points to the close link between God's kingdom and the davidic king.

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.”

Comment: Verse 25 is speaking about the new covenant. The wild beasts are a metaphorical reference to the nations which were always invading the land of Israel, which was their inheritance. Under the new covenant, our inheritance is no longer threatened by foreign invaders, because it is heavenly, not earthly. 1 Peter 1:3-4: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you . . . ."

This new covenant reconciles us to God and brings us the blessing of peace.

Christ's people (v. 26) are to be a blessing to others. We are a heavenly people, for "the hill" is pointing to the heavenly Zion, which is our home already by faith. We have received every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3), and we share that blessing with those around us here on earth. Thus, the heavenly-minded, who dwell with the Father and the Son by faith, are the ones who do earthly good!

Verse 27 is a metaphorical picture of an old covenant blessing that is used to point to new covenant blessing. Verse 27 speaks of the fruitfulness and peace of believers. Verses 28-29 reiterate our safety. Unlike Israel which was constantly subject to foreign invasion, we are safe in Christ. No man can take away our inheritance as they could take away Israel's inheritance. The reason for this is that our inheritance is found in Christ in heaven. Therefore, what can man do to us? At his worst, all he can do is kill our body, but even then, death for Christians is merely an entrance into eternal life.

Verses 30 and 31 reiterate the great blessing of covenant relationship with the Lord---that he is our God and we are his people. He is present with us!

So, how does this passage substantiate your view of things, _____? It is merely a passage that points to Jesus Christ's coming as our good shepherd. Israel, no doubt had bad shepherds, and many Gospel passages contrast Jesus with the bad leadership of Israel.

Jesus came as the good shepherd and he remains the good shepherd of his people. While it is true that there are still undershepherds of the good shepherd, each undershepherd will have to answer to the Lord for how he ministered. Ultimately, the task of shepherds today is to point people to the One who is the Shepherd of our souls. Like John the Baptist we say, "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

Was Jeremiah 5 the other passage?

When I get time I will look at that one too.


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