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Bad shepherds (Ezekiel 34)

Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet who served in Babylon. During that time, Judah was in exile there. His book shows us the remarkable visions which he had from the LORD, the God of Israel. Some of his passages are well known. For example there is the vision of the valley of dry bones (chapter 37). A lot of the book is not known well at all. Verses from Ezekiel are often sadly misused by preachers in Kenya who have little understanding of prophecy, and used to lead God’s people astray.

Chapter 34 of Ezekiel is about shepherds – bad shepherds. It was written about the leaders of Israel at that time. It is a warning needed by every spiritual leader today. Leadership brings both power and responsibility. Leading God’s people is an awesome thing, because the Son of God himself, who has eyes that blaze like burning fire and a double-edged sword coming from his mouth to slay the wicked, will judge his servants (Revelation 1:14-16, 1 Corinthians 4:4). Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, and so it is no surprise if his servants disguise themselves like the servants of truth. They will receive a terrible punishment on the last day (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). Ezekiel 34 is written to give us a clear warning. If we have gone down the wrong path, it pleads with us to turn back to the Lord in repentance, and flee from the wrath which is coming before it is too late. If we know shepherds like those in Ezekiel 34, we should try to change them, warn them and if this fails we should depart from them (Romans 16:17). What, then, do the bad shepherds in this chapter look like?

They were self-centred

A servant should serve others. These leaders of Israel served themselves. “Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep” (Ezekiel 34:2-3). As a result, the sheep suffered and were left to all kinds of dangers: “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. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts” (v4-5). The leaders’ duty was to care, but they were careless. Their selfishness was seen both in greed as they benefited themselves, and in neglect as they forgot the people.

It is not the duty of any pastor to build up his ministry. It is his duty to build up his flock and call in the lost ones, and let the Lord take care of everything else. We never find that Peter or Paul spent their time in forming “Dr. Apostle Peter’s International Mission” or enlarging “Bishop Paul’s World Harvest Ministry”. They forgot about themselves, and gave themselves to the people, just as Jesus forgot about himself and went to the cross. They did not give themselves titles, or draw attention to themselves at all; their eyes were all on Jesus. Paul wrote, “I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11) and also wrote “Christ is all” (Colossians 3:11). Do those words describe your ministry, and your desires? John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Do you have the same Spirit as he had?

They were hard and harsh

Sadly, the Christian ministry sometimes seems to attract and encourage some of the very worst behaviour in people. When God’s word does not make someone better, it often makes him worse. The same sun which melts the ice also hardens the clay. Paul warned Timothy against those who were “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). Touching holy things leads some towards holiness, and their consciences grow softer. With others, their consciences grow harder until they know almost nothing in a spiritual way.

The leaders of Israel were like this. They not only neglected the sheep, but actually “slaughtered” them (v3). Ezekiel said, “with force and harshness you have ruled them” (v4).

This is sadly another feature of many Kenyan pastors. As well as being greedy and selfish, when they do deal with their people they are hard, distant and uncaring. If any trouble comes up in the flock, they put it down in a way that is unfeeling and harsh and causes much damage. They humiliate their people in front of others, instead of tenderly and sensitively restoring them. They look upon difficult people in their flocks as trouble-makers to be opposed and destroyed, instead of brothers to be brought back. The result is that the people of God suffer – at the hands of those who should be giving them care.

They did not teach the Word

The third feature of these shepherds is that they did not feed the sheep. This goes together with the first two features. They were too self-centred and unfeeling to care properly. The result was that they did not give food to the flock. The flock were feeding their pastors, by being devoured by them.

The food which Christian leaders are to give to their people is sound teaching. We must shine the light in this dark world and give “understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). When the apostle Paul was leaving this world, he gave clear instructions to Timothy to carry on the work: “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”, and “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 2:2, 4:2).

Instead of obeying these instructions, many Kenyan pastors give their people teaching that is not in the Bible, teaching that is false, and teaching that they have not studied hard to prepare but have put together in a few spare moments (whilst they spend the rest of their time on other activities – perhaps drinking chai, politics or money-making). As a result, Kenyans do not know how to tell the difference between truth and error. Millions think that God wants them to have easy, comfortable, prosperous lives on earth – when Jesus said that his disciples would be hated, must take up their crosses and lose everything to follow him, and must be ready to be poor in spirit, mourn, be persecuted, reviled and spoken evil about (Matthew 5:3-12, 10:24-25, 16:24-26). Millions think that all their problems come from Satan, when the Bible shows us that God himself uses sufferings to purify and refine us and make us holy and ready for heaven (1 Peter 1:6-8, Romans 8:28-31). Millions think that Jesus is the one who will lift us up to glory in this life, when the Bible says that in this life we will have trouble and to wait for glory in the life to come (John 16:33, Romans 8:18). Across Kenya, people look into the Bible (especially the Old Testament) for prophecies about politics and their personal health, and fail to realise that Christ himself and faith in him is the great subject of all true prophecy (John 5:39-40). This is the teaching their “pastors” have given them. Meanwhile the pastors, telling them through these false teachings to “plant a seed” by giving some money, make themselves rich.

God’s judgments on false pastors, and the conclusion

Ezekiel warned Israel’s leaders about the terrible judgments that God would send on them. God himself was opposed to those men: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand” (v10). The power of God made the universe: when that power turns against a wicked man, woe to him! The Bible says that on that great day of God’s judgment, they will call out to the rocks and the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:16-17).

Under the New Covenant, God has given us one true, great Shepherd – the Lord Jesus Christ. He is tender, gentle and kind and cares for the sheep. It is especially sad if today his “under-shepherds” do not follow him. The judgment which they will receive at last will be much worse than anything the Israelite leaders faced – and what they faced was more awful than we can imagine (Luke 23:28-31).

Experience in Kenya shows that very few of these “bad pastors” ever repent and change. If you are suffering in such a church, then often your only option is to leave. If you are a spiritual leader, you should try to lovingly call your brother to repent (Matthew 18:16-18). Pray with all your heart that he might be restored. But do not continue to suffer in such a church if you can go elsewhere to be fed and cared for. The people in the days of Ezekiel could not choose to abandon Israel. We cannot choose to abandon the church, but we can move to a particular local church where Christ is loved and served, instead of one where he is dishonoured and his people are harmed. We pray that the Lord will give wisdom and grace to everyone who reads this article.