Ezekiel 34: 1-6, 11-17 NIV 1344
Ezekiel 34: 1-6
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
Ezekiel 34: 11-17
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.
- Take a moment and re-look at the scripture for today. Seems strange, doesn’t it to be part of the Scripture that we read for Advent. – it’s all about shepherds. The Prophet Ezekiel is making a comparison about the kings of Israel as shepherds —- he speaks in a “shepherd language instead of a king’. In the first six verses, Ezekiel is highly critical about the kings of Israel, but he says in Verses 11-16 – that a shepherd is coming that will transform Israel – transform the world.
- 11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
- Look at some of the action words in the scripture — I will search, I will rescue, I will bring them out, I will tend them, I will bind up the injured, I will shepherd the flock with justice.
- This is what the Messiah will do!
- A little later this morning, I will put this Scripture together with the third name of the Messiah – Everlasting Father and work to tie in our Advent readings from Isaiah 9 —
- 6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
- Over the last couple of weeks, we have looked at the first two names assigned to the Messiah as found in Isaiah 9, Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God.
- Wonderful Counselor —- the coming of the Holy Spirit – the Comforter!
- Mighty God—the creator God – the mighty God.
- Today we come to the third Name of the Messiah, “Everlasting Father.”
- As with the first two names, the context of the prophecy is important for understanding what Isaiah had in mind when he referred to the king as “everlasting father.”
- The prophet wrote at a time in which the father was the head of the family.
- The father exercised the most power and had the most responsibility in the clan or tribe.
- To say that this father is “everlasting” conveys a reliable steadfastness over time.
- The “everlasting father” is expected to exercise care, protection and leadership on behalf of the family through the generations.
- There are several things we can say about the interpretation of this figure of faith in our text.
- First, it is not surprising that in a patriarchal society, father imagery would come to be a compelling way to speak about God.
- Second, it is not surprising that the fatherly tasks of God were assigned to the Israeli king who was seen to be the “son of God.”
- And it’s about kings that the Ezekiel reading is all about – and he is using shepherds as the comparison to the weakness and strengths that the kings of Israel need.
- Let’s delve a bit into each of these.
- First, it makes perfect sense that in the context of an ancient biblical era society, the image of “father” would be used as an image for God.
- In this way of thinking, God is the creator. The supreme father of all that is. The Hebrew tradition is full of speaking about God in this way.
- For example-in Exodus (4:22) God speaks of Israel as “my firstborn son”
- Jesus starts the Lord’s prayer – “Our Father who art in Heaven”
- The Hebrews’ father is likened to a potter, the one who decisively shapes Israel.
- But in all of the examples, the Old Testament prophecies anticipate that God’s love will win out, that God’s compassion and mercy will prompt God to act on Israel behalf.
- We do the same thing when we trust that our own parents’ love will move them to maintain relationship with us, even when we do something that disappoints, angers or grieves them. Don’t we as parents want to have a lasting relationship with our adult children? I think so.
- While there is no doubt that father language dominates the Hebrew scriptures, even Israel acknowledges that a one-dimensional patriarchal image of God is inadequate.
- So, there are also maternal images of birth, the womb, and a nursing mother that come into play.
- The maternal instinct to protect the young, the orphan, the widow and the most vulnerable in society also is ascribed to God, and ancient Israel was called to care for and protect precisely these vulnerable ones that God, as loving parent, is attentive to.
- Now today, using father language for God has been viewed by some people as problematic in the past few decades.
- For those who have suffered at the hands of a human father or a church priest, the image evoked by calling God “father” is not a positive one, and understandably so.
- On the one hand we must be sensitive to the needs of those who have been hurt by abuse, and we need to respond to those wounds by speaking the truth about abuse whenever we encounter it and by being a place of healing and hope.
- Let it never be said that we diminish, much less deny, the pain inflicted by fathers—and mothers, for that matter—who do not epitomize the love and compassion of our Everlasting Father.
- At the same time, rather than ditch the language of father altogether, I believe there is a place to reclaim it, by practicing the traits of loving parentage of both genders, mother and father. — and I trust that you do the same!
- We never push someone to accept the parenthood of God before they are ready or able, but we don’t abandon it either.
- We endeavor, instead, to model the love and compassion of the true Everlasting Father.
- Now, it’s time to move back to today’s Scripture
- In Isaiah’s world, it would have been routine to view an earthly king as a regent or surrogate for God, and thus, the king would be expected to perform the role of God in society.
- In the same way that God, as “everlasting Father”, cared for the needs of the human family, the king was charged with the duty of pastoral justice toward the poor and needy. But many failed.
- That’s why in the first six verses, the prophet Ezekiel issues such a severe reprimand for the kings whose failure in this regard led to the exile of Israel.
- The shepherd kings are rebuked for engaging in self-indulgence to the neglect of the realm.
- They have failed to act as fathers and that dereliction of duty has resulted in the scattering of the nation.
- After this critical indictment, God declares that God himself will now do those things the shepherd kings have failed to do. Now the language turns positive: I will seek out my sheep…they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. (Ez. 34:12-16)
- Too often the reality of Israel’s kings was that they were self-indulgent to the neglect of the most vulnerable and needy under their care.
- When we hear Isaiah prophesying about the new king as “Everlasting Father,” it anticipates that the royal office will again be reliable over the course of generations in order to assure the well-being of all.
- The “Everlasting Father” as king is the guarantor of shalom for the entire community.
- But there is also another sense in which Jesus takes up the task of fatherhood.
- Time and again Jesus takes a protective, family-making, family forming function.
- He welcomes children into the family circle.
- He makes sure to leave his mother cared for after his death. He calls his followers, “his children” and promises that he will not leave them orphaned.
- Finally, it is to his newly formed family that Jesus gives his most radical commandment which was to be lived out in the midst of intimate community: Love one another as I have loved you.”
- There was a man who had two sons. One son decided he didn’t like being around dad anymore, so he asked for his inheritance early. A low, horrific thing to do…essentially telling his father that he wished he was already dead and was unwilling to wait. In an act of great mercy, the father gives his son his share of the inheritance and the son sets off for the distant country. There, he squanders his father’s wealth. At the bar, with women, on unnecessary extravagance. And before he knows it, he’s broke. All that his father had worked his entire life for was wasted on what amounted to nothing. And in a glorious twist, then the famine hits. The son ends up eating pig slop and decides to go home, tail between his legs. The father sees him from a distance and run to him. And here is this showdown…this awful conversation that has to take place as the son explains what happened.
- Let me ask you this: what would your father have done in this moment? -some of you would never have come home because the famine was better than your father. -some of you wouldn’t have had to worry about this conversation because dad would not have been there. -for others, if dad were there, he wouldn’t have been looking for you. -for others, dad would have been armed and ready with abusive words, a belt, maybe a fist. He would have made you feel an inch tall with his harsh criticisms.
- But here is what the perfect Father does… Here is what the Everlasting Father does.
- “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20b-24 NIV)
- With Jesus’ birth, he came as the carrier of the family promises, and when he died, he passed that responsibility on to us, the church.
- We are to embody the traits of the Eternal Parent.
- We are to bear the burdens, hopes, the joys and the sorrows of God’s tribe, which is to say, for all people of the earth.
- We are to love others with the same family love with which Christ loves us.
- We are to care for the least, the lost, the disenfranchised, the angry, the sick, the hopeless.
- It is not a job we can do by ourselves, and indeed, Jesus promised to leave us with the same power that raised him from the dead to enable us to carry out the fatherly tasks he was leaving us to do.
- This third title, Everlasting Father, that Isaiah assigns to the king is one that invites us to ponder how we relate to God as a loving parent and to examine how we need to make Advent preparations to both give and receive the love of God.
- Thanks be to God!
 7 December 11, 2016 M. Michelle Fincher Calvary Presbyterian Church