Ezekiel 34:15 (ESV) … “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.”
The great love and concern God has for his people is seen clearly in Ezekiel 34. They are like a flock of sheep who have been neglected by their earthly shepherds, but the heavenly shepherd vows, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them’ (v. 11).
This love for the sheep reaches its height in verse 23, ‘I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.’
Derek Thomas has written:
Having declared that he will be their Shepherd (Ezek. 34:11–16), God now suggests that his servant David will be their shepherd. There is no contradiction, for the passage speaks of the coming of Christ, who is God, of course!… This passage is a glimpse of the one who called himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), and elsewhere is referred to as the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) … This passage is not to be taken as a promise that David himself will return (resurrected) to rule over Israel. Ezekiel is speaking of the return of one like David … It is this idealized David, Jesus Christ, that is in view here.
There is nothing more amazing than the love of God. These sheep were obstinate, stubborn and rebellious (see Ezek. 2:3–5) but still God reached out to them. They were guilty of great sin but even then there was mercy and forgiveness offered if they would repent. God’s love is not soft and weak, as if it cares nothing about sin, but, rather, exactly the opposite. He cares deeply and sin grieves him. While he will not tolerate it or excuse it, he will pardon it, and it is against this backdrop of divine holiness that God’s love shines most brightly.
The apostle Paul describes the undeserved nature of God’s love for us in the lovely words of Romans 5:6–8: ‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ God shows love to the ungodly. ‘Ungodly’ means ‘unlike God’. Mankind was made in the image of God but sin has so disfigured this image that the whole human race is now ungodly, not loving God or knowing God; the Bible says that people are enemies of God, alien and hostile, at war with God.
The apostle John brings before us this staggering description of divine love: ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:10).
Ungodly man does not love God, nor seek to be loved by God. Man’s nature and mind are so darkened by sin that he is ignorant of God’s love and mercy. He takes the blessings of life for granted: health, food, breath, and the beauty of creation are never acknowledged as gifts of God. We talk about Mother Nature, while the Bible talks about the Creator God. We talk about the Laws of Nature, while the Bible talks about the will and providence of God. Because we exclude God, we do not seek him. But he seeks us! In Jesus, God came to seek and save the lost. It was not that we loved him but that he loved us. And what a love!
Divine love is not an empty, sentimental pity, but it demonstrates itself in an act of propitiation. Propitiation is the word the New International Version translates as atoning sacrifice and it means that on the cross, bearing our sin and guilt, Jesus endured the wrath of God instead of us, and paid fully on our behalf the debt we owed to God for breaking his holy law. On the cross our Saviour cried, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46). The holy God forsook his Son because he was our sin-bearer: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us’ (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus was ‘stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted’ (Isa. 53:4). On the cross, the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah 13:7 was being fulfilled: ‘ “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd …” ’ The sword was the sword of judgement, and Jesus tells us clearly that this verse speaks of him (Matt. 26:31).
In other words, at Calvary, our Lord made it possible for a holy God to pardon us, even though we were sinners and had broken his holy law. God dealt with the problem of sin in the only way that could satisfy his holy justice and enable him to move in and break the power of Satan in the lives of lost sinners. He did this by punishing the only man that qualified to be our substitute by virtue of his sinlessness, and the only man who, after enduring the wrath of God equivalent to our being in hell for all eternity, could take up his own life again and rise from the grave, that is, a man who was also God himself.
In the Old Testament, the job of being a shepherd was a most menial one. If a man had several sons, it was the youngest that looked after the sheep. David himself was the youngest of Jesse’s sons and that was why he was a shepherd. What right did David (or any of us) have to call the holy sovereign God his shepherd? Indeed, is it not rather irreverent to refer to so majestic and awesome a being in this way? The answer to both questions is that the title of Shepherd is one that the Lord had given to himself! David did not invent it, nor did he refer to his Lord as Shepherd because he himself happened to be a shepherd. Even if he had been a fisherman or a shopkeeper, he would have still used this title, shepherd, because from the earliest times in Scripture the Lord had revealed himself to his people in using the picture of a shepherd.
In Genesis 49:24 we read of the dying Jacob speaking to his children and reminding them that their God is the Shepherd, and Rock of Israel. Isaiah, in chapter 40, is likewise reminding Israel who their God is. There is always the tendency to forget the greatness of the Lord, and twice the prophet rebuffs the people: ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard?’ (vv. 21, 28). He then paints a marvelous picture of our great God as the one who sits upon the circle of the earth, before whom the nations are like a drop in a bucket. In the middle of these thrilling words, the Lord is described as tending his flock like a shepherd (v. 11).
Ezekiel tells us that there are false shepherds who would lead the people of God astray. Nevertheless, the Lord says, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them’ (Ezek. 34:11). Then he goes on to say, ‘I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd’ (v. 23). The person referred to as David in this verse is not the king who wrote Psalm 23, but David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Ezekiel is prophesying of the coming of the Messiah, as, too, is Zechariah, ‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd … strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’ (Zech. 13:7). The day before he died, Jesus quoted this verse and applied it to his death on the cross (Matt. 26:31).
No wonder David delighted in his Shepherd, and the same is true of all believers. All we need, we can find in Jesus. To the troubled heart he can bring peace; to the weary, rest; to the penitent, pardon; and to the weak, strength. Christians lose so much of the joy of salvation by concentrating on what they can do for the Shepherd instead of on what the Shepherd has done and continues to do for them.
The flock is the constant object of his love. He knows every sheep and lamb by name. No human shepherd could be like that—but Jesus has our names engraved on the palms of his hands. There is not a second when his eye wavers from us, not a moment when his prayers and intercession desert us. He sees us all as individuals and loves us with an everlasting love. Therefore, the greatest privilege any human being can have is to know Jesus as his or her Shepherd.
‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ is an amazing statement and everything else in Psalm 23 follows on as an inevitable consequence of it. This is not some theoretical proposition and neither is it wishful thinking; it is far more even than just a theological statement. This is the experience of all God’s people! This is what we are saved to, and the reality of what we are saved to is known as we submit to the care of the Shepherd. There is no use saying, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd,’ and then worrying yourself sick about where you are going to find green pastures. If the green pastures and quiet waters are found as a result only of your efforts, you don’t need a Shepherd. But the fact is that we all make a terrible mess of life, and we need Jesus to be our Shepherd.