Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2003 James Melough
“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?”
The shepherds were the leaders of Israel, and
because they had abused their privilege, God here commanded His servant to
warn them that He Himself was about to deal with them as they deserved. They
had failed to feed those whom God had committed to their care: they had
neglected to instruct the people in the knowledge of God, so that they,
knowing His will and doing it, would be blessed. The selfish greedy leaders
had enriched themselves temporally, and had robbed the people of both temporal
and spiritual blessing.
These things, however, are not written just to
inform us of the past: they are meant to warn us against duplicating the folly
of those Old Testament elders. It is instructive to note Paul’s exhortation
to the elders of the churches, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to
all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed
the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” Acts 20:28.
For the most part, however, the elders of the churches have been as guilty as
were the elders of Israel. They too, busy enriching themselves with this
world’s goods, have failed to feed God’s sheep, i.e., to teach those whom God
has committed to their care, with the result that those who constitute the
true Church are spiritually malnourished, and are ravaged by Satan and his
wolves, while the apostate travesty which calls itself the church, plunges on
to eternal ruin, its untaught dupes oblivious of their true state, and
ignorant of the terrible eternity to which they are rushing.
“Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed
(the fatlings): but ye feed not the flock.”
“... fat” here is literally milk; and continuing to
speak of the people as sheep, God charges the leaders not only with having
taken the milk and wool, but with having killed the fattest of the sheep, the
latter reference perhaps being to the villainy of seizing the wealth of
others, the “fat sheep,” by having them put to death on false charges and by
the testimony of perjured witnesses, the crowning example of this wickedness
being their use of such witnesses at the trial so-called of the Lord Jesus
“... but ye feed not the flock.” They seized all,
and gave nothing.
The same evil is duplicated in Christendom.
Consider, for example, the murderous persecution of true believers by the
Roman Catholic “church” in what are well named “the dark ages.” It is evilly
significant that that same “church” is fabulously rich, yet the members of its
congregations are never told what is done with their contributions. Note, for
example, the eighty-six million dollars hush money paid out by Rome in 2003 in
connection with the sex scandals which have rocked it in recent years.
“The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was
sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought
again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost;
but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.”
Israel’s evil leaders had cared nothing about the
weak, sick, or tired of the people over whom they took the place of rulers.
Nor had they bound up the broken, i.e., those who had made shipwreck of their
lives through sin. Note for example, their attitude towards Judas their dupe
when he repented of the wicked service he had rendered them, “What is that to
us? see thou to that,” Mt 27:4.
“... that which was driven away” is more accurately
the strays or stragglers. They represent those who, having been lured by the
things of the world, had ceased to participate in the religious observances of
Judaism. The evil leaders had made no attempt to bring them back; nor had
they made any effort to restore those who may have been led away by false
“... force and cruelty” are also translated,
“violence, harshness, ruthless severity.” They were utterly merciless, as
were also the religious leaders of Christ’s day.
“And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat
to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.”
Without true shepherd care the people had sinned
and thereby incurred Divine chastisement, which sometimes took the form of
scattering, as for example the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Their
becoming meat or prey to all the beasts of the field, means that they became
the victims of the Gentiles, who hated the Jews.
“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.”
Their wandering on the mountains and high hills
undoubtedly refers to their idolatry, for it was on the mountains and hills
that the idol shrines were located. Since, however, mountains and hills are
biblical symbols of governments, they may be used here as metaphors for the
governments of the nations, the mountains representing the great; and the high
hills, the smaller nations, the scattering then having reference to the
Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, in the course of which the Jews were
scattered, not only in these two lands, but in those of the nations allied
with them in their incursions against Israel.
During those dispersions there was no one to seek
their welfare except God Himself.
“Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord;”
“As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my
flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd,
neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed
themselves, and fed not my flock:”
God here swears by Himself to avenge the negligence
of the so-called shepherds that had caused His people to be, as rendered by
other translations, “looted, pillaged, ravaged,” while the wolf-like false
shepherds enriched themselves, and impoverished the people for whom they had
“... beast of the field” is used here
metaphorically to describe the nations who sought to plunder Israel.
“Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord;”
“Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will
require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the
flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will
deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.”
The term “Lord God” declares the omnipotence of the
One Whom the false shepherds had made their enemy. He would destroy them, and
take His people out from under their cruel tyranny.
“For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep,
and seek them out.”
The section beginning here is clearly
eschatological. He Himself will search for His scattered sheep, seeking out
every last one until He has recovered them all, and brought them into the
blessings of His millennial kingdom.
“As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep
that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of
all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.”
As a shepherd seeks his sheep which have been
scattered afar in all directions, so will God seek His lost sheep of the house
of Israel, the dark and cloudy day being the day on which Israel (the ten
tribes) had been carried captive to Assyria; and the later day when Judah and
Benjamin had been carried away to Babylon, and the Diaspora which finds them
still scattered among the nations, except for the remnant that has been
returning to Palestine since 1948, that return being evidence of the imminence
of the Tribulation and the succeeding Millennium.
“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
He would bring them back from the people and
countries where they had been carried, or had fled, when their own land was
invaded by Assyria and later by Babylon. He Himself would settle them in
their own land in lush pastures and beside unfailing streams.
This has had partial fulfillment in the past when
He brought them back from Assyria and Babylon; but unquestionably the ultimate
reference is to their settlement in millennial Canaan, for their return from
Assyria and Babylon was followed by their world-wide scattering in AD 70,
which has left them still dispersed, except for the remnant that has been
returning to Palestine since 1948.
“I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel
shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture
shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.”
This continues to point to something far better
than their two previous restorations to the land, for there can be little
doubt that the description here is of millennial peace and abundance.
“I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God.”
In that coming halcyon age, the blessing, so long
forfeited by her disobedience, will be enjoyed by the repentant converted
remnant, the new Israel that will emerge from the crucible of the Great
“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
The Lord Himself will search for the lost, bring
back the strayed, bind up the injured, and heal the sick; all of this
continuing to point to millennial blessing.
Relative to the last two clauses of the verse, the
KJ rendering describes judgmental destruction of “the fat and the strong,”
i.e., the evil leaders; but some commentators understand it in a good sense,
e.g., will watch: protect: tend: keep. Since, however, Strong’s
Exhaustive Concordance renders “destroy” as desolate: destroy: bring to
nought: overthrow: perish: pluck down utterly; and Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee
Lexicon to the Old Testament renders it as to destroy: lay waste: cut
off; and Young’s Analytical Concordance, as, to destroy: cut
off: waste, I fail to see any reason to take it other than as referring to
“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.”
“... cattle” in the present context means sheep,
and the judgment mentioned has no bad connotation; but “the rams and he goats”
represent the evil leaders, God’s judgment of them, in the present context,
implying their destruction.
“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?”
The “good pasture” may refer to temporal blessings,
or to the spiritual riches available to them in the Scriptures, and certainly
these false shepherds had been given an abundance of both; but they weren’t
satisfied. They wanted more temporal riches, and would deprive the poor of
any opportunity to also enjoy them; and while they had no use for the
spiritual riches available to them, they, by their false teaching and tyranny,
robbed the poor also of even those riches.
Water is one of the symbols of God’s Word as that
which is given for man’s cleansing and refreshment, and is here portrayed by
the “deep waters.” The evil leaders had those waters available to them, had
drunk of them, i.e., knew them, but refused to believe them and live by them;
and in addition had so muddied them by their false teaching, that they were of
little use to the people who were dependent on the wicked leaders for
The spiritual significance of this will be
understood only to the degree that we understand the obligation upon elders
and teachers to study the Word, to rightly divide it, and to be faithful in
teaching it to God’s people. And only the spiritually blind will fail to see
that the deplorable conditions rebuked here relative to Israel’s evil rulers,
are duplicated today in Christendom by equally evil so-called elders and
“And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and
they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet.”
The only spiritual food available to the people was
that which their wicked leaders had so corrupted as to make it the equivalent
of trampled muddied pasture, and roiled water, unfit to eat or drink. Many
so-called elders and teachers today are guilty of the same wickedness.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord God unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge
between the fat cattle (sheep) and between the lean cattle (sheep).”
The fat sheep were the evil rulers; and the lean
sheep, the common people. It is to be recognized, however, that their being
called sheep doesn’t necessarily imply that all of them belonged to God, the
Lord Himself making the distinction in John 10:26-28, “But ye believe not
because ye are not my sheep ... My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and
they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never
perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
Even on earth the Lord judged between those who
were His sheep and those who weren’t, but the ultimate judgment of both will
occur in eternity: that of believers being at the judgment seat of Christ, Ro
14:10; and that of unbelievers, at the great white throne, Rev 20:11-15.
“Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the
diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad;”
Metaphorically the evil rulers, like belligerent
muscular rams, with rump and shoulder had butted the common people aside, and
gored them with their horns, so that they were scattered. By misuse of their
authority as leaders, they had tyrannized the people ruthlessly. Their
counterparts are the so-called elders who rule despotically, there being many
an assembly languishing under such rule today.
“Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will
judge between cattle (sheep) and cattle (sheep).”
God had placed a limit upon the time He would
permit the tyranny to continue, that testing time strengthening the faith of
believers, and affording opportunity for the wicked rulers to repent and
change their ways; but with the expiration of that period of grace He would
execute judgment and deliver His oppressed people, His judging between sheep
and sheep having reference to His separation of believers from unbelievers.
The ultimate fulfillment of this will be during
Christ’s judgment of the nations at the end of the Great Tribulation, when the
unbelievers will be cast bodily into hell, and the believers will be invited
to enter into the enjoyment of the millennial kingdom, as it is written,
“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world,” Mt 25:34.
“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.”
“And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I
the Lord have spoken it.”
The inauguration of David was the partial
fulfillment of this promise, but complete realization awaits the Millennium,
when a literal descendant of David will sit upon the throne in Jerusalem,
and the Lord Jesus Christ, the true David, will reign over the earth from the
Some take this to mean that David will be
resurrected to reign in the Millennium, but there is nothing in Scripture to
even hint that any resurrected saints will return to earth in that era or at
any other time: their eternal abode is heaven.
And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil (wild)
beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the
wilderness, and sleep in the woods.”
This continues to describe millennial conditions
when wild beasts will cease to exist, not by their annihilation, but their
transformation as described in Isa 11:6, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion
and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them....” Peace and
safety will be universal in that halcyon age.
“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
“... them” refers to millennial Israel; and “... my
hill,” to the hill of Zion, the truth declared here in poetic language being
that Israel will be chief amongst the nations, Jerusalem being the
governmental center from which blessing will be dispensed world-wide, “the
places round about my hill” being the nations of the millennial earth.
There will be neither destructive storms nor
desolating drought: God will give the needed rain in just the right amount,
and at just the right time. The showers will indeed be showers of blessing.
“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 Divine Artist continues to add details to His
picture of the millennial earth. There will be phenomenal productivity as
described also in Amos 9:13, “Behold, the days come saith the Lord, that the
plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth
seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt
(flow with wine).”
“... those that served themselves of them” means
those who had enslaved the Jews. God will deliver His people, and as noted
already, promote them to dominion over the millennial nations.
“And they shall no more be a prey to the heathen (the Gentiles), neither shall
the beast of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall
make them afraid.”
No nation will ever again have dominion over
Israel; nor will any wild animal hurt them. They will enjoy their God-given
land in peace and safety.
“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
“... a plant of renown” is also rendered a soil
renowned for fruitfulness: vegetation renowned for its growth: splendid
vegetation. They would never again suffer hunger, or be subjected to the
ridicule and taunting of the other nations.
“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.”
That generation of Israel that will pass out of the
Great Tribulation into the Millennium will have the phenomenal transformation
and abundance of the earth as the evidence of God’s power to do all that He
promises, their transcendent blessings being the equally clear evidence that
they are His people, and He their God.
“And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith
the Lord God.”
They will then be God’s sheep, enjoying His
abundant pastures; mere weak helpless men, but it is in such that His strength
is made perfect, as it is written, “My strength is sufficient for thee: for my
strength is made perfect in weakness,” 2 Cor 12:9. It is by admitting his
utter weakness that man makes himself the recipient of the fulness of God’s
blessing. The man who has God has everything.