Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, and more specifically, is found in the thirty-fourth chapter of the book. This particular chapter has long been one that has utterly and completely fascinated me, as it is a passage that deals specifically with the shepherds that were found within the heritage of God’s people. In fact, the passage opens up with these words which were revealed unto the prophet Ezekiel—“And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds…” ()Ezekiel 34:1-2). With these words the stage is beginning to be set for a tremendous controversy the Lord of hosts had with the shepherds that were present within the land of Israel. In the previous chapter we found the prophet Ezekiel once more hearing the word of the Lord confirming that he was to be a watchman unto the house of Israel, and that when he heard the sound of a trumpet and warning within his ear, he was to warn those to whom he had been sent. In a number of chapters prior to that we find the word of the Lord being directed toward and against specific nations which surrounded and bordered the nation of Israel, as well as kings, princes and rulers within those lands. As we come to this particular chapter within the prophetic book of Ezekiel, we discover the word of the Lord coming unto Ezekiel, and one that was directed within the very inheritance and heritage itself. When we read the beginning of this chapter we read the words spoken unto Ezekiel—“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel.” These words aren’t words which you would expect or anticipate from the Lord, yet with and through these words the Lord reveals a controversy He had with the shepherds of Israel. With this chapter our attention and our focus is turned and directed toward the shepherds of Israel—those who were responsible for tending, caring for and looking after the flock of God. What’s so interesting when you begin reading this particular passage of Scripture is how it begins, for it begins with the Lord of hosts pronouncing a woe upon the shepherds of Israel which did indeed and did in fact feed themselves. Those shepherds which were responsible for feeding the sheep and providing food for them were actually shirking their responsibility and turning the attention and focus onto themselves. IN fact, when you finish the second verse of this chapter you not only find the Lord pronouncing a woe upon the shepherds for feeding themselves, but you also find the Lord asking a very specific question immediately following this. The second verse concludes with the Lord asking whether or not the shepherds should feed the flocks.
SHOULD NOT THE SHEPHERDS FEED THE FLOCKS? Please don’t miss the tremendous significance and importance of this question, for this question carries with it a tremendous indictment against those shepherds who bear the responsibility of feeding the sheep, yet they shirk their responsibility and proceed to feed themselves. Those shepherds who should be feeding the sheep entrusted into their care actually care more about their own needs, their own wants, their own desires, their own passions than they do the sheep which have been entrusted into their care. I am going to be incredibly bold and blunt directly from the outset of this writing and speak directly to those shepherds who have been entrusted with sheep placed within their care. If you care absolutely nothing about feeding the sheep who have been entrusted into your care, I would strongly urge and caution you to rethink and reevaluate being a shepherd. If you are a shepherd and have been entrusted with caring for and looking after sheep, and yet you care more about your own needs than the needs of the sheep, I would strongly urge and even caution you to remove yourself from the care of those who have been placed in and under your care. If you are a shepherd who is more concerned with your own passions, your own lusts, your own wants than you are the sheep who have been entrusted in your care, I would dare say that you need to rethink and reevaluate your role as a shepherd. The Lord of hosts needs shepherds whom He can trust with caring for and looking after those sheep who have been entrusted into His care. Perhaps the single greatest question I can’t help but ask at this particular juncture is how many shepherds upon the earth today can in fact be trusted by the Lord. How many shepherds among us in this generation can indeed be trusted by the Lord with the care of His flock. The word of the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel pronounced a great woe upon the shepherds of Israel—a woe that dealt specifically with the feeding of themselves rather than feeding those sheep who have been entrusted into their care. One specific thought that enters into my mind when thinking about and considering this is whether or not the shepherds fed the sheep at all, or whether or not they fed them only the bare minimum. I can’t help but wonder how many sheep within the land were impoverished, and perhaps even malnourished because they weren’t receiving that which was necessary for their well-being and sustenance.
The more I consider this particular passage, the more I feel that it is important from the beginning to direct our attention to the words of David, which are recorded in the twenty-third chapter of the Old Testament book of the Psalms. This chapter is perhaps one of the most beloved, well known, and most quoted passages in all of Scripture, and there are very few within the church who aren’t able to quote at least some particular portion of this chapter. Consider if you will the words which David—the psalmist and king of Israel—wrote within this beloved chapter found in the book of the Psalms. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. HE maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my mine enemies: thou anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:1-6). Upon reading these words, I can’t help but be reminded of the words Jesus Himself—the Son of David—declared, which are recorded for us in the New Testament book of John. Contained within the tenth chapter of the New Testament book of John is a profound contrast between those whom Jesus was speaking, and Himself. Consider the words which the apostle John recorded in this particular chapter—words which aren’t recorded in any of the other New Testament gospels. “Verify. Verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth for his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers…Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear th: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the world coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catceth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and care the not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:1—50, 7-18).
Notice if you will how David—David who was at one point a shepherd of his father’s sheep—declared of the Lord that He was his shepherd. Please don’t be too quickly beyond that first declaration, for to do so would be to miss the tremendous significance and importance of what was written. The psalmist David declared of the Lord that He was his shepherd, and what so strikes and moves me about this particular phrase is that David not only made such a declaration because it was a reality that was present and manifested within his life, but David made such a declaration of the Lord because it was something he knew and understood he needed. Permit me to be incredibly bold right here at this juncture and ask whether or not you think or even feel as though you need a shepherd. Are you in a place in your life right now where you know and understand that you need a shepherd? Have you found yourself in a place where you not only feel within your heart, but you also know within the very depths of your spirit that you need a shepherd? I do not believe David wrote these words simply to make a declaration concerning the reality of who the Lord was within his life, but rather as a statement of need within his own life. One cannot truly declare of the Lord that He is their shepherd until and unless they have reached the point where they are willing to admit that they need a shepherd. The Lord cannot truly be your shepherd if you within your heart and mind perceive there to be absolutely no need of a shepherd. As I am sitting here right now, I can’t help but be completely and totally overwhelmed with the reality of whether or not I myself am presently in the place where I need the Lord to be my shepherd. It is not enough merely to quote these words from memory simply because we have been taught and trained to do so. It is not enough to read and quote these words simply because they sound good in the hearing of others. In all reality, I would dare say that if you are not willing to admit your need of and your need for a shepherd, you have absolutely no business even quoting such words. The Lord can only, and the Lord will only be a shepherd to and for those who truly recognize and understand their need for a shepherd. To admit that the Lord is your shepherd suggests and implies your dependence upon someone other than yourself, and is a statement and declaration that you cannot be self-sufficient—and even self-supporting. Are you one who truly understands and recognizes that you actually need a shepherd? What I so absolutely love and appreciate about this particular passage is that David doesn’t merely declare that the Lord is his shepherd, but David goes on to reveal what the Lord—as his shepherd—does within and does for him within his life.
When you read the twenty-third chapter of the book of the Psalms you begin reading David’s declaration that the Lord is his shepherd, but within the first three verses we discover and encounter some very specific actions the Lord performs within his life. Within the first verse we not only discover that the Lord was indeed David’s shepherd, but because the. Lord was David’s shepherd, he would not, he could not, he should not be in want. I SHALL NOT BE IN WANT BECAUSE THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD! Pause for a moment and speak those words out loud wherever you are right now. Take a moment to declare in the secret close of prayer that you shall not be in want because the Lord is your shepherd. BECAUSE THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT BE IN WANT. Can you hear yourself speaking these words in the hearing of the Lord within your secret closet of prayer? Can you hear yourself declaring before the Lord that because He is your shepherd, you shall not be in want. One thing I can’t help but consider is whether or not those who have the Lord as their shepherd should even have any wants period. Is it possible for the Lord to truly be your shepherd, and yet find yourself living in a place of want? Is it possible to declare that the Lord is your shepherd, and because He is your shepherd, you have not want. I can’t help but get the strongest sense within my heart and spirit that those who have made, and those who have found the Lord to be their shepherd shall not and should not have any wants. To help illustrate this reality even more, I feel it is absolutely necessary to read the words of the apostle Paul. Read if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote when writing to the Philippian congregation—words which are recorded in the fourth chapter: “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ with strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:10-13). I am also reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote when writing to the Corinthian congregation within his first epistle—“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we fluffier it: being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day” (1 Corinthians 4:10—13).
There are a couple of other passages that are found in the apostolic writing of the apostle Paul, but before I attempt to delve into those passages, I feel it is both necessary and important to consider the words which Jesus spoke in His famous Sermon on the Mount. Beginning with the twenty-fifth verse of the sixth chapter we read these words which Jesus spoke to those who stood and sat listening to Him speak—“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeders them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Swherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:25-34). TAKE NO THOUGHT FOR YOUR LIFE! TAKE NO THOUGHT, SAYING, WHAT SHALL WE EAT? WHAT SHALL WE DRINK? WHEREWITHAL SHALL WE BE CLOTHED? SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS! TAKE NO THOUGHT FOR THE MORROW! I am convinced it is absolutely and completely necessary to read and consider these words, for these words help confirm and further reveal the reality that when the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not have any want(s). If we are willing to make, and if we have made the Lord our shepherd, we have absolutely no reason to be in or with any want. If we truly believe that the Lord is indeed, and is in fact our shepherd, why and how could we even think that we could or should have any want. In all reality, I would dare say that if the Lord is truly your shepherd, it is absolutely impossible to be in or have a single want within your life. I am convinced that you cannot truly have and say the Lord is your shepherd, and yet find yourself living in a state and position of want. If the Lord is truly your shepherd then it is possible to live in the place of having absolutely no want.
Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in his first epistle to Timothy who was his spiritual son in the faith—“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which down men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O many of God, flee these things: and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, petulance, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:6-12). I am also reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote which are recorded in the sixth chapter of his second epistle to the Corinthian congregation. Beginning with the fourth verse of the sixth chapter we read these words—“But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watching, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceived, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). Consider also if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the eleventh chapter of the same epistle which he wrote to the Corinthian congregation—“Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeying often, in perils of waters, in periods of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and pain fulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will gory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (2 Corinthians 11:23-31).
When writing the twenty-third chapter of the book of the Psalms, David began by declaring of the Lord that He was his shepherd, and then went on to declare that because the Lord was his shepherd, he would not be in want. I don’t believe it was merely a matter of whether or not David would be in want, but it was also about David cannot being in want. I wholeheartedly believe that if the Lord is indeed our shepherd, there is absolutely no rhyme or reason why we should or could be in want. Why? Why should not David be in want? Why could not David be in want? Why would not David be in want? The answer to this has its foundation in the reality that the Lord was indeed his shepherd, but David goes on to describe what the reality of the Lord being his shepherd actually looks like. HE MAKES ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES! HE LEADS ME BESIDE STILL WATERS! HE RESTORES MY SOUL! HE LEADS ME IN THE PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR HIS NAMES’ SAKE! The words we read in this particular chapter within the book of Psalms are absolutely incredible, for because the Lord was David’s shepherd he should not want, but with the Lord as His shepherd, David would be made to lie down in green pastures. With the Lord as David’s shepherd, he found himself being led beside still waters. Because the Lord was David’s shepherd, his soul was restored, and he was continually led in the paths of righteousness. If there is one thing we must recognize and acknowledge about this particular passage is that while it is true the Lord does make us to lie down in green pastures, and while it is true the Lord does lead us beside still waters—that doesn’t mean our lives will always be about green pastures and still waters. In fact, I am convinced there are a number of men and women in this generation, and even in previous generations who have grown offended with the Lord because they read a passage like this and focus solely on lying down in green pastures and being led beside still waters, and yet they find themselves at some point walking through the valley of the shadow of death. This is incredibly important, for just because the Lord is our shepherd, that doesn’t mean we cannot and will not walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The thought that comes to my mind is what it could be like walking through the valley of the shadow of death without the Lord as our shepherd. Have you ever tried walking through the valley of the shadow of death without the Lord as your shepherd? I am convinced that it is not so much about our walking through the valley of the shadow of death that we should be concerned with and concerned about, but the fact that we can walk through such a valley with the Lord as our shepherd. FROM GREEN PASTURES TO THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH! FROM STILL WATERS TO THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH!
I’m sitting here this evening and I can’t help but consider how it is possible that in order to get to the green pastures, we might need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I can’t help but wonder if there are times in our lives when in order to find ourselves beside still waters, we might need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. What’s more, is that I can’t help but wonder if the Lord doesn’t make us to lie down in green pastures, yet before He leads us beside still waters, He causes us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. WHEN THE VALLEY COMES BETWEEN GREEN PASTURES AND STILL WATERS! What do you do when you find yourself in that place? What do you do when you have lied down in green pastures, and yet instead of immediately being led beside still waters you find yourself walking through the valley of the shadow of death? One thing I love about the language that David employs in this chapter is that he didn’t speaking of walking “in the valley of the shadow of death,” but rather, “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” When I think of “walking in” the valley of the shadow of death, I think of the children of Israel who wandered and walked in the wilderness for forty years and would eventually die and perish within that wilderness. That generation was intended on passing and walking through the wilderness, yet because of and as a result of their disobedience and rebellion, they wound up walking in the wilderness rather than walking through the wilderness. When David uses the language “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” what he is in all reality speaking of is not only a starting point, but also an ending point. The fact that David spoke of walking “through” the valley of the shadow of death meant that it was possible to come out on the other side. The fact that David used the word “through” rather than the word “in” suggests that the valley of the shadow of death was and is never something we are to remain in. While it is true we may find ourselves walking through the valley of the shadow of death, there is an exit on the other side. THE EXIT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH! I absolutely love that not only did David speak of walking “through” the valley of the shadow of death, thus suggesting that it was only temporary, but he also spoke of death as being nothing more than a shadow. A shadow can only be cast when light shines forth and shines upon that which it has been directed. Death can only cast a shadow because of the light that shines upon it.
THE EXIT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE VALLEY & THE SHADOW THAT CAN ONLY BE CAST WHEN THERE IS LIGHT! The fact that David speaks of death as being a shadow is actually quite remarkable, for there can be no shadow without the presence of light. SHADOWS CANNOT BE CAST WHERE THERE IS NO LIGHT! SHADOWS CANNOT BE CAST WHEN THERE IS NO LIGHT! Have you ever tried to cast a shadow in the midst of complete and utter darkness? Have you ever tried to locate a shadow in complete and utter darkness? How absolutely incredible it is that David speaks of death as being only a shadow, and the valley as having an exit. WHEN DEATH IS ONLY A SHADOW AND THE VALLEY HAS AN EXIT! DEATH IS A SHADOW AND THE VALLEY HAS AN EXIT! When the Lord is our shepherd death is and can only be a shadow, and every valley has an exit! When the Lord is our shepherd, we cannot, we shall not, we should not, we will not want. When the Lord is our shepherd, we can lie down in green pastures—despite the fact that we might have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death in order to get there. When the Lord is our shepherd, we can be led beside still waters—despite the fact that we might have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Notice the word “in” is used when speaking of green pastures, and the word “through” is used when speaking of the valley of the shadow of death. I am utterly and completely convinced there is something absolutely incredible and remarkable when reading these words, for David’s use of the word “in” speaks of and suggests a place of rest, and a place where we can abide. How absolutely wonderful it is that David spoke of lying down in green pastures, yet only walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Notice that David didn’t word it the opposite way—“He maketh me to walk through green pastures” and “yea, though I lie down in the valley of the shadow of death.” In all reality, I am convinced that there are many of us who live as though this were the reality David wrote of within this passage of Scripture. There are many men and women who feel as though they have been relegated to passing and walking through green pastures rather than lying down in green pastures. The incredible and unbelievable truth that is found in this reality is that we were created to lie down in a place of rest, and only pass and walk through a place where the shadow of death is cast. The fact that David wrote of lying down in green pastures means that it is in that place we are to remain and abide in for as long as the Lord would have us remain there. Oh that we would quit lying down in the valleys we have been created to walk through and quit walking through those green pastures we have been called to lie down. Oh, how many of us walk and pass through when we have been called to lie down? Oh that we would get this word deep within the very depths of our spirit, for we are to be led, and we are to lie down. LED BESIDE AND CAUSED TO LIE DOWN! MADE TO LIE DOWN, LED BESIDE, AND WALKING THROUGH!