EZEKIEL 34:1 – 36:38 and REVELATION 4:1–11
This chapter presents a contrast of two different types of shepherds. One of the titles of the Lord is that of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). The primary characteristic the Lord uses to define His role as the Good Shepherd is that He lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus certainly fulfilled that role and task. A good shepherd is one who feeds and looks after the flock that he has responsibility over. This quality is seen in David and it is his qualities that helped prepare him to reign (Psa 78:70-72). David was qualified in his hidden role as a shepherd boy. Oftentimes we are tested for leadership roles by how we handle day to day responsibilities.
One of the primary problems in Israel that led to the captivity in Babylon was that they were ill represented by their leaders, especially in the area of the priesthood. Jeremiah described the priesthood as those who served God by their own means. In other words, they ministered in a way that was self serving (Jer 5:31). We catch a fairly good picture of what these Priests (shepherds) were like from the first 4 verses.
1) They fed themselves and not the flocks
2) They did not strengthen those that were diseased and in need
3) They did not seek after those who went astray
4) They ruled with force and cruelty
Essentially the shepherds were in the habit of feeding themselves. They demand service and commitment from the flock but choose a standard of living that does not reflect the Gospel. When Jesus sent forth His disciples, He sent them forth two by two without the comforts of life. It was a ministry of faith and yet all their needs were met. Their focus was on meeting the needs of others. As Christian leaders, we need to be very careful with regard to the trappings of this life. The key for a true minister of God is to have a bountiful eye that focuses upon others. The Lord then has the ability to more than recompense those who give of themselves in such a way. These qualities are reflected in the way we present our tithes and offerings to the Lord. If we learn to give with a cheerful heart, we open ourselves up for blessing so that we can be an even greater blessing to others. A true shepherd is one who takes full responsibility for those who have been entrusted to him. In the case of Jesus, it was the giving of His life.
In verses 5-10 we see some of the fruits of shepherds who are self-serving. The people of Israel were scattered with no solid leadership to guide them. This is a huge indictment upon the leadership seeing that they did not seek out the wandering aimless members of their flocks. The remedy for sheep that are wandering is to have shepherds who can teach and instruct in the ways of God. Jesus had great compassion upon those who were scattered by teaching them. This is one of the primary reasons there is a failure in the area of Good Shepherding; there is a dearth of good, solid teaching.
Mar 6:34 And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
Another fallout from poor shepherding is the flock being left exposed to the enemy (vs 7-8). The Lord makes clear that these shepherds will one day give an account. There will come a time when God will remove the grace and anointing from ministries that function in this manner. A good example of a priesthood that reflects this type of shepherding would be the sons of Eli (1 Sam 2:17-22). You would also have to include Eli in this category seeing that he did not exercise his priestly role on behalf of God. Sadly, these are not just Old Testament accounts; there are far too many shepherds of this sort in today’s church environment.
The balance of this chapter displays the attributes of the Good Shepherd (vs 11-31). The very first quality mentioned is that of seeking after the sheep so as to know of their condition. Are they safe, are they provided for etc? This illustrates a heart that is selfless and committed towards the welfare of his sheep. He takes pleasure in binding the wounds of those in need. The parable of the lost sheep illustrates this truth in profound fashion. Though there is the safety of the 99, it is the one who is lost and wayward that consumes the heart of the shepherd (Luk 15:3-7). It captures perfectly the heart of the Good Shepherd who happens to be the Lord Jesus Christ. What a contrast this is to the evil shepherds that are characterized in verses 1-10. This chapter closes with a picture of the Good Shepherd as He will be in the millennium (vs 25-31). He will make a covenant of peace with man and with beast (the animals) seeing that they will safely coexist with man. There will be an abundance of provision and fruitfulness. The key to being a true shepherd is the ability to serve one another joyfully and faithfully. It is the fulfilment of the two great commandments (Math 22:36-40). The church in these last days is dividing into two streams. One of the areas that helps to define and distinguish these two groups will be in the area of shepherding. There are two distinct groups in Ezekiel 34 and there are two similar groups that can be seen today. Which of the two groups will we flow in?
This prophesy is a word given against Edom. It is very similar to what Obadiah wrote concerning Edom. Mt. Seir is the principal mountain in Edom. To understand Edom’s perpetual hatred for Israel we need to go back to the time of Jacob and Esau. The covenants and the promises God made to Abraham should have been given to Esau. He despised the birthright and lightly regarded the things of God. A common trait of one who forfeits a blessing or loses an anointing is that they become envious and jealous of those who carry it. This was the case with Saul as the anointing departed from him. An evil spirit provoked him against David until his dying day. When a person rejects God and the gifting and favor that comes with it he leaves himself open for other spirits to enter in. These spirits of envy and jealousy provoke and drive that person to move against those who are moving on in God. Sadly, this will be seen in greater measure in the church of the last days. There will be those who uphold the Laws of God and pursue holiness and they will be opposed by those who choose to live by a status quo type of Christianity.
In verses 6-9, we see that the Lord’s hatred and disdain for Edom is eternal. There are several places in scripture where God’s sentiments towards Edom are made known. The Lord makes a clear distinction between Esau and Jacob in Malachi 1:1-3. Why such a vehement hatred for Esau? Why is there no hope for repentance for Esau? (Heb 12:17) Perhaps in going back to the root of where the enmity began we can gain a clue. Jacob obtained the birth right from Esau by deceit with the help from his mother. God, in His foreknowledge declared that the elder would serve the younger and indeed this came to pass (Gen 25:23). It was not God’s intention that Jacob fulfil scripture by deceit. He suffered greatly for his treachery by serving in his Uncle Laban’s house for 20 years but was eventually cleansed of his iniquity. What we oftentimes fail to focus on is how cheaply Esau forfeited his right of inheritance. A God given right of inheritance that was the promise of the Father to Abraham was discarded quickly over a bowl of beans. He had absolutely no regard for God or for his promise. He esteemed his stomach and appetite as being more worthy than anything pertaining to God. Throughout scripture, we see God granting forgiveness and repentance for all manner of indiscretions and for many types of characters. This is not the case with Esau. A precedent was established in his selling out of the birth right. All it took was a moment of hunger and lust to satisfy an appetite to make a decision that he would eternally regret. This decision not only affected him but it affected his lineage. This act resulted in a perpetual hatred that Edom would have for Israel. In a moment of passion, we can make decisions that can have eternal consequences. In Esau’s case, he fulfilled a lust at the price of a birth right of promise. A simple bowl of beans was deemed more worthy that an eternal promise from God. This was a trade-off that God could not and would not forgive. The example of Esau and Edom has many messages but one of the primary ones should be in the area of our appetites. What is it that we truly hunger for? More than ever we need to be among those who fulfill the Beatitude from Matthew 5:6.
Mat 5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
In these challenging days, we need to do a health check on our appetites. It applies to both the natural and spiritual elements of our lives.
This is a beautiful chapter of Restoration. It will cover a personal restoration that God gives to man as well as the restoration that will come to Israel as a nation in the last days. One of the reasons why the Word of the Lord comes against Edom in the previous chapter is that they were eying the mountains of Israel to take as a possession. Edom was gloating over Israel’s destruction and they were looking to take advantage of their calamity. The Lord gives reassuring words to Israel that they will be vindicated in the end. When the people of God come under a judgement or are under duress you will find the enemy seeking to take advantage. It is at such times where we need to present ourselves before God in humility and trust. The cup of iniquity rises higher in the enemy at such times and it is important that we allow God to be the one to vindicate. Once again, the Lord makes clear that He will deal with Edom and the enemies of Israel in the end (vs 1-7).
The Babylonian captivity will bring great desolations to the mountainous areas of Israel. In fact this was prophesied by Moses in Deu. 29:23 where he likens these areas to the condition of Sodom and Gomorrah after judgement rained down upon them. The Lord gives a future promise of restoration to these beautiful regions of Israel. It will again be repopulated; it will be fruitful and be a habitation of blessing and joy. There has been a partial fulfilling of this promise but its ultimate fulfilment will come at the time of the 2nd coming into the millennium. God specializes in taking the taunting and mocking of the enemy and turning it for good. This will be clearly seen in the days of Nehemiah when he comes on the scene. God had no such leaders at this time but there would come a day of future restorers who God will be able to work through to bring about both a natural and spiritual revitalization of God’s purposes. This chapter helps to put the message of Restoration into a more comprehensive perspective. There is still continued sin in Israel even after being brought into captivity. This goes to show the power of sin and depravity of man in the midst of judgement. People just love their sin too much (vs 16-20).
The Word of the Lord now begins to speak to the promise of Restoration. In spite of all that Israel had done in their sin and rebellion before God He will have mercy upon them and bring them back to their homeland. It needs to be understood that there are several different fulfilments to this promise.
1) The time of Zerubbabel and then later Ezra and Nehemiah.
2) The period of Israel returning to their homeland in 1948 after their destruction by the Romans in 70 AD
3) The final restoration at the time of the 2nd coming just prior to the millennium.
There is a spiritual restoration that God speaks of in verses 25-28. The primary purpose of Babylon was not only to judge Israel for their idolatry and rebellion but it was also to give them a new heart (Jer 24:7). This is what is lost on much of today’s Christianity. The captivity of Babylon represents seasons in the life of a modern day believer. It is given to those who come to know the ways of God (Psa 103:7). An appointed “Babylon” in the life of a believer allows the Lord to get at root issues in one’s life. The sad thing is most of the church does not recognize these moments. They dismiss it as something that God would not allow and then go after doctrines that get them out of this area of discomfort. One of the best Biblical examples that conveys this truth is the years that Jacob spent living under his Uncle Laban. There was a nature of deceit that God desired to work out of Jacob. The best way for this to happen was to be subjected to a greater deceiver than himself. This is exactly what happened to Israel in Babylon. Their idolatry led them to be subject to a nation of gross idolaters. The result was a cleansing that put to death once and for all any taint of idol worship.
Joe 3:21 For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.
God desired to give Israel a new heart and a new spirit. This is the power of Restoration. This should encourage us as we ponder over people and loved ones who may have gone astray. It can encourage us in seeing how God is able to reconcile the backsliders. It is one of the great promises of the last days. Our God loves to restore. This again speaks of the New Covenant that God seeks to establish with the church; to put the law of God into our minds and write them upon the fleshly tables of our heart (Jer 31:33, Heb 8:10).
The Restoration of God is complete and thorough. His death on the cross not only saves us from hell but it has the ability to save us to the uttermost. This means that we can actually become like the Lord Himself. When we are born again the righteousness of God is imputed to us. In other words, we are seen as being righteous through His righteousness. As we walk in the ways of God, the blood of Jesus has the ability to cleanse us and work within us the righteousness of God. This means that we can become righteous as we appropriate the power of His shed blood while walking in the light (1 John 1:7).
Heb 7:25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
The final act of Restoration will come upon the land itself (vs 34-38) When the people of God respond in obedience to the Word of the Lord the land they return to also experiences a healing. How often do we quote 2 Chr 7:14? If a people repent and call upon God He will hear from heaven and send healing to our land. This is a prayer and cry that needs to be made today, particularly in America. This is a beautiful chapter that speaks of the potential of God’s restorative powers. The judgments are now coming upon Israel for their sins but the merciful God speaks of a future Restoration. It begins with the collective nation of Israel and then becomes personalized for individuals. It closes with a future promise of healing to the land. It will be at the time of the 2nd coming when the earth will come to know of a great cleansing at Armageddon. It will be followed by a 1000 year reign of Christ and His priestly saints upon the earth until the ushering in of a new heaven and a new earth. Can we truly appreciate the extent of God’s ability to restore? Let faith arise so that we begin to a see a fulfilling of the restoration of the hearts of fathers to children. (Mal 4:4-6)
This begins a new section where the visions that will be shown to John will be for the end of the church age. The first 3 chapters were relative to John’s day even though there are truths that can speak to us today. The visions that relate to the church age will be covered in chapters 4 through 19. This chapter begins with John being shown an open heavenly door. What did he see? The throne room of God was displayed in its glory and awesome splendour. It is a similar picture that Ezekiel had the privilege of bearing witness to. The Lord was seated upon the throne being surrounded by a rainbow, which speaks of the 7 spirits of God. There were jasper stones, which speaks of His majesty, the sardine stone, which refers to judgement, and the emerald, which speaks of His mercy. In verse 4 it speaks of 24 elders that surround the throne of God. This refers to the 12 patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles that represent the church age. In one glimpse, the Apostle John is seeing a composite of God in His full majesty and glory surrounded by the representatives of Israel and the New Testament church.
The 7 spirits of God are again seen in the form of the 7 lamps that were burning. These 7 spirits of God are attributes of the Holy Spirit that are expressed in Isa 11:2-3. What was also notable around the throne was a series of thundering and lightning’s taking place along with voices. It denotes the holiness of God. This is a similar scenario that the children of Israel experienced at the foot of Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Law. It was here where the children of Israel disqualified themselves in being priests unto the Lord. The Law was offensive and they appointed Moses to be the only mediator between God and themselves (Exo 20:18). If we desire to be close to the Lamb of God then we better take note of these events. It is God’s intent that the church consist of both kings and priests (Rev 1:6, 5:10) but not all believers will qualify. As we meditate on this scene let’s ask the question as to where would we be if we were with Moses at the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai? What John is seeing here strongly resembles that Mt. Sinai event especially when considering the thundering and lightning around the throne.
There is a greater elaboration of the throne in verses 6-7. John is viewing a sea that is likened to glass before the throne of God. This speaks of the absolute purity that surrounds the throne. What is the condition of our heart? Is there purity of heart in our pursuit of God? “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Math 5:8). John then sees 4 creatures that surround the throne. These 4 beats or living creatures are also seen in Eze 1 and Isa 6. Here is a description of these beasts and their related meaning.
1) The Lion-Revealing Christ as the king of Kings
2) The Calf-Revealing Christ as the high priest
3) The Man-Revealing Christ as the Son of Man
4) The Eagle-Revealing Christ who soars and lives in heavenly places
These living creatures and their related ministry are also described in Ezekiel 1. They have responsibility for the administrative matters of heaven. They have eyes and motion that is limitless. Their ministry is reflected in the familiar verse from 2 Chr 16:9 where it speaks of the eyes of the Lord searching to and fro to show the Lord strong on behalf of His people whose hearts are perfect towards Him. They also never rest and continually worship before the throne with cries of Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts. What an awesome open revelation John is being given. It is amazing to think that God gives each of us the ability to become Holy as He is Holy. God is so loving and gracious and it is hoped that this truth would provoke us to press on in all that God has for us.
We see a window in how we are to worship and appreciate the Lord by how these 4 living creatures function before the throne. They constantly give honor, glory and thanksgiving to God forever and ever. They are ever giving thanks and praise. We tend to be more seasonal in our model of worship dependent on how things are going at the time. This is not acceptable; our praise, love and thanksgiving must be at all times. The reality, as seen from these glimpses of John is that praise and worship will carry on throughout eternity. It all culminates in verse 11 where the 24 elders join with the living creatures in worshipping the one who is worthy. We were created for this purpose and are given every opportunity to be part of this glorious eternal scene in heaven. A key is to learn how to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth today. I feel to the extent we come into this experience will be to the extent we qualify to be in this glorious company. “Worthy is the Lamb for He is worthy to be praised!