We can study Ezekiel like a play in four acts. Act 3 focuses on the role of leaders and followers who have been scattered away from Jerusalem.
Act 3: “Shepherd the Exiles” (Ezekiel 25-36)
Ezekiel’s performance now turns to the territories outside Jerusalem, and the audience expands beyond the elders to his fellow exiles in Nippur. Those who left Jerusalem are like lost sheep, refugees seeking temporary dwelling places in hopes that God would allow them to return to Jerusalem quickly. Ezekiel offers them a different kind of hope. Instead of returning to a place now destroyed, the prophet invites them to become the community that the residents of Jerusalem never experienced.
The exiles could have easily blamed the Jerusalemites for their problems and likely did. After all, they are the ones who lost control of the kingdom. Ezekiel reminds the exiled communities that they behave no better than the Jerusalemites. In fact, their leaders act more like greedy Pharaohs (Ezekiel 32) than faithful followers of God. Their greed in commerce and industry and their mistreatment of the aliens and the poor have revealed similar problems as those back home. Even though this behavior has had severe consequences, God has chosen mercifully to save them and recreate the community.
|Sheep in a pen|
To do so, Ezekiel calls them to recapture their identity as wandering Israelites leaving Egypt. Drawing on memories and parallels with the Exodus generation, the residents of Nippur can reclaim memories and practices as theirs. With no place to return and no capital to call home, their community awaits a promised land. God is going to give them opportunities to repent and change, much as he offered Pharaoh. If they want God to “melt their hearts of stone,” however, new identities and behaviors must emerge.
Their leaders should imagine themselves as Moses-like shepherds (chapter 34) of a wandering people awaiting a new kind of territory to be revealed. They are to be visionary leaders with a new sense of direction and purpose. They reject their old conduct as business leaders who followed the corrupt practices of their former lives (Ezekiel 25:12-36). Instead, they care for and guide the people in their vocations and occupations. The way they conduct their business represents their faithfulness to God as much as their worship on Sabbath.
As sheep under God’s care, their flock retells the Exodus for their generation, remains faithful to the first commandment, and observes Sabbath.
The shepherd imagery is a popular one in the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament. How do leaders shepherd people today? What is their responsibility to the flock?