The Shepherds of Israel

Dear Child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

'Tis the season when, the Chosen People grow weary of shepherds watching... first in the fields, and then by a manger bed. Understandably, the constant reminders of conflicting beliefs are a source of irritation, to many.

But have you ever considered that the very fact, that there were Jewish shepherds in those fields, is a testimony to the Lord's faithfulness to Israel? Nearly 600 years earlier, Jerusalem had been ransacked, the Temple destroyed, and the people had been carried away captive to Babylon.

The Lord had spoken through godly prophets to forewarn Israel of this destruction, and to present His case for judgment: "...Because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah, which they have done to provoke me to anger, they, their kings, their princes, their priests, and their prophets, and the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem... they have turned unto me their back, and not the face: though I taught them, rising up early and teaching them, yet they have not hearkened to receive instruction..." (Jeremiah 32:32-33).

Yet, in the same breath that He speaks of judgment, He promises restoration: "Behold, I will gather them out of all countries whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury, and in great wrath; and I will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely..."(vs. 37). Jeremiah wept to see the destruction of his beloved land, city, and people. A higher Hand blotted his tears:

10 Thus says the Lord; again there shall be heard in this place, which you say shall be desolate without man and without beast, even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, and without inhabitant and without beast:
11 the voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say,
Praise the Lord of Hosts: for the Lord is good; for His mercy endures forever...
For I will cause to return the captivity of the land, as at the first says the Lord.
12 Thus says the Lord of Hosts; again in this place, which is desolate without man and without beast, and in all the cities thereof shall be habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down.
13 In the cities of the mountains, the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah shall the flocks pass again under the hands of him that tells (ie., counts) them, says the Lord." (Jeremiah 33:10-13)
So, the very presence of Israeli shepherds (whether in Jesus' day, or in our own) attests to the Lord's faithfulness to His promises. He dispersed His people, but He also brought (and is bringing) them back.

Why then do we read (in Ezekiel 34:2-10): "Thus says 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 diseased have you not strengthened, neither have you healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up that which was broken, neither have you brought again that which was driven away, neither have you sought that which was lost..."

Here, the Lord is addressing, not herdsmen, but those who are charged with the care of His people. (See the list of responsible persons, in Jeremiah 32:32, cited above.) Because they would not properly tend to His flock, God says that He will relieve them of their duties: (Ezekiel 34:11-24)

"For thus says the Lord God, Behold I, even I will both search my sheep, and seek them out...I will bring their own land... I will feed them... I will feed my flock... I will seek for that which was lost... 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."
[ Of course, He is speaking of the Messiah. ]
This passage from Ezekiel meshes well with Jeremiah 33, which we considered earlier. There, following the Lord's promise that shepherds would again abide in Israel's desolated fields, He says: "In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of Righteousness to grow up unto David..." (Jeremiah 33:14-16)

Why does He emphasize the time factor, "in those that time"?
Was Israel to expect the Shepherd when they again saw shepherds in the land?
Could it be that the One, who comes to seek and to save the lost, would Himself be found first by shepherds? or, that the One, who came to feed the flock of God, would Himself first fill a feeding trough? [Luke 2:8-20)

Is it not our Messiah who calls to us:

"I am the good Shepherd, the good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. ...My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:11,27,28)
A friend

The Scriptures are rich with the who, what, when and why of the promised Messiah. In fact, there are over 300 prophecies related to his first coming in the Hebrew Bible. To investigate more of these, see Understanding the Bible- Lesson 5- Bible Themes: Messiah (on the Resource Menu).

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