“Woe Be to the Shepherds of Israel”

By Raymond E. Harris

In Ezekiel 34, God calls the leaders of Israel to account for their contribution to the sin and ruination of His people. The shepherds of the flock of God have been negligent. Their unskillfulness, unfaithfulness, inefficiency and treachery is exposed and rebuked.

The shepherds of the Master’s flocks have the great responsibility to “feed the flocks.” However, in this text Jehovah charges that the shepherds had rather feed themselves. The shepherds have drunk the milk (1 Cor. 9:7), eaten the flesh and clothed themselves with the wool of the very sheep they were to care for. They selfishly had advanced and enriched themselves at the expense of God’s own. They had indulged and gratified their own appetites while completely ignoring the needs of the sheep. They were so ignorant, lazy, slothful and unfaithful, that God’s sheep were scattered and became as those that had no shepherd. God’s sheep became “the prey of all the beasts of the field” and “they wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill.”

Further, the Lord God charged that the shepherds had not bothered to strengthen the diseased, heal the sick, or bind up that which was broken. They had not “brought again that which was driven away,” or sought that which was lost. But rather he says that they had 11 with force and cruelty” ruled them.

In this dispensation it is the will of God that every flock (local congregation) have its own shepherds (Acts 14:23). In spiritual Israel shepherds (elders) are to feed the church of God (Acts 20:28). Their responsibility is to “all the flock” over which they have been made overseers (Acts 20:28). They are to “feed the flock of God which is among” them (1 Pet. 5:2). And this feeding is to be garnished with unselfishness, willingness to serve the Great Shepherd and a Christlike example in life.

We believe some parallels can be drawn between the failures of shepherds in Ezekiel’s day and the failures of shepherds in many congregations today.

(1) To begin with, over the past 20 years shepherds in many places have selfishly led the sheep to barren pastures and empty wells by allowing the pulpit to become a circus ring rather than a horn of spiritual nourishment. Theology, psychology and institutional ideology replaced the green pastures of speaking as the “oracles of God.” College presidents, editors of papers and silver-tongued promoters became the sources of authority rather than Peter, Paul and John. Hence, countless numbers will cry out eternally in the torments of hell. They will charge indifferent shepherds with allowing the flocks’ very souls to decay and rot as a result of a constant diet of syrupy sermons, honey coated appeals and frosted promotions. Woe be to the shepherds of Israel!

(2) Meanwhile many shepherds have drunk the milk, eaten the flesh and worn the wool of the sheep. By inviting the promoters for meetings, giving God’s money to the institutions of men and by glorifying the pseudointellectuals in Zion, they enhanced their own stature. Payments were promptly received. Elders who had previously been unheard of and unknown were invited to sit on panels at college lectureships. They were introduced before large audiences at orphan homes and heralded as giants for the cause of Christ in national papers. But why all the attention? The answer is simple: They had put the Herald of Truth, the orphan home and the college in the church budget! Woe be to the shepherds of Israel!

(3) Meanwhile back at the sheepfold, the flocks began to deteriorate spiritually. In a short time many became diseased with Pentecostalism, sick with Calvinism and broken with Modernism. The unfaithful shepherds were reveling in their new found popularity and brotherhood prominence. They had neither the time, knowledge or inclination to “strengthen,” to “heal” and to bind up.

By this time shepherds had turned the flocks over to professional “hirelings.” They had really lost control and pride prohibited them from reversing their course. One false word and they would have been stamped with that incomparable stigma “Anti!” Woe be to the shepherds of Israel!

(4) Hence, the die was cast! For most of these unfaithful shepherds there was no turning back. They were enslaved and chained by brotherhood pressure, popular preachers, powerful institutions and their own weakness.

They have not brought back that faithful remnant that was driven away. They have not sought that which is lost. Rather, many shepherds, skillfully manipulated by forces behind the scene, have crudely ruled “with force and with cruelty.” Woe be to the shepherds of Israel!

(5) Therefore, in many quarters God’s flock is scattered spiritually and doctrinally as sheep without a shepherd. They with anxiety and bewilderment wander through the mountains and high hills of the vicissitudes of life. They have become a prey to the beasts of the field as their starvation diets over the past years have left them weak and unable to discern, much less ward off, the false doctrines of men. Woe be to the shepherds of Israel!

Truth Magazine XX: 33, pp. 522-523
August 19, 1976