You Won’t, But I Will

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 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, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-24 ESV

God has leveled His indictment against the leaders of Judah. From the priests and prophets to the king and his court, they all stand before God guilty of malfeasance. Not only have they neglected their God-ordained duties, but they have used their roles for personal profit and self-advancement. Personally responsible for the physical and spiritual well-being of God’s flock, these men had left the people of Judah in a weakened and vulnerable state. God describes them as scattered and defenseless. And, repeatedly, God accuses His undershepherds of failing to do anything about it.

“…my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. – Ezekiel 34:5-6 NLT

“…you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost.” – Ezekiel 34:8 NLT

These men were guilty of abandonment and neglect. They were so self-absorbed with their own well-being that they failed to provide for the ones under their care. And because of their poor job performance, God declares the prophets, priests, and king to be His enemies.

I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

And God emphatically declares His intentions to step in and rectify the problem these men have created.

I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

Four times in verse 10, God states, “I will.” He will not stand back and watch this travesty of leadership any longer. He will get involved intimately and personally. He offers His personal promise to do what the shepherds should have been doing all along.

In the next 14 verses of Ezekiel 34, God continues to use that same phrase, stating 21 more times that He is about to engage His divine powers on behalf of his neglected and disenfranchised sheep.

His use of the sheep metaphor is quite telling. Sheep are not the brightest of animals. They have a herd mentality and rarely think for themselves. They tend to wander, are virtually defenseless, susceptible to disease, easily frightened, injury-prone, and without proper care, can become filthy, matted, and insect-infested. That’s why they need a shepherd.

Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to His people as sheep and their leaders as shepherds. God appoints leaders to shepherd His flock. He expects them to care for and protect His people. But instead, they tended to fend for themselves and take advantage of the people, leading them into sin and causing them to stumble spiritually. Their lousy leadership was devastating to the nation, and it is chronicled in sordid detail in the history of Israel’s kings. Far too many of them proved to be godless men who led the people astray and caused them to seek sustenance and safety from false gods.

Even the spiritual leaders proved to be more harmful than helpful to the well-being of the people. And God was going to hold them all accountable. Ezekiel 34 is God’s indictment against the shepherds of Israel who had failed to do their jobs. He tells them, “You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty” (Ezekiel 34:4 NLT).

They had failed to do their job. They had left the sheep defenseless and helpless. So, God said He would step in and do what the shepherds had failed to do. Over and over again He says, “I will…” He will search, rescue, feed, care for, tend, bandage, judge, and set over them a true shepherd who will care for them properly.

At the point Ezekiel penned these words from God, the northern kingdom of Israel had been non-existent for hundreds of years. It had fallen to the Assyrians centuries earlier. And, just recently, the southern kingdom of Judah had fallen to the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces had ended their long siege of Jerusalem by breaking through the walls and completely destroying the capital city of Judah. The temple was demolished, the city looted, and the people were taken back to Babylon as captives. Those who didn’t end up as slaves fled for their lives. That is why God describes them as scattered and wandering “through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth” (Ezekiel 34:8 NLT).

But repeatedly declares that He is ready, willing, and able to do something about their plight. In the final verse of this chapter, God emphatically states His relationship with His sheep.

“You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God.” – Ezekiel 43:31 NLT

The psalmists understood this unique relationship between God and His people.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock. – Psalm 80:1 NLT

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3 NLT

And as their shepherd, God promises to do what all good shepherds do: Care for His flock. They had been scattered to the four winds, but He would search for them until He found them. Then He would oversee their return to the land of promise where they will enjoy peace and prosperity once again.

Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 34:14-15 NLT

God is promising a future day when His scattered, skittish, and scarred sheep will find themselves living in the rich pasturelands of Canaan again. It is an image of complete restoration, both physically and spiritually. They will once again be the sheep of His pasture.

The prophet, Micah, echoes this powerful promise from God.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds! – Micah 2:12 NLT

And Micah takes this powerful prophecy one step further when he writes:

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.”
As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:6-8 NLT

But in the midst of all this good news, God delivered a bit of bad news.

I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats.” – Ezekiel 34:17 NLT

It’s hard not to see the foreboding nature of this statement. The warning of separation is meant to convey judgment. Jesus Himself used this same imagery when speaking of the final judgment in His Olivette discourse.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

But in Ezekiel 34, the separation seems to be a statement of judgment against the underperforming shepherds of Israel. He accuses them of having kept the best pastures for themselves. In their zeal for self-promotion and personal gain, they had taken advantage of the people, leaving them in a neglected and weakened state. So, God warns them “I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands” (Ezekiel 34:20-21 NLT).

Then with the sheep restored and the shepherds judged, God promises to give them a new shepherd, a man cut from the same cloth as King David.

“I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23-24 NLT

In the midst of all the turmoil surrounding Judah’s fall, God promises that a day is coming when the people of Israel will be restored and enjoy the protection of a king who, like David, will shepherd them just as David did.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

God will make it happen.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scattered Sheep and Shoddy Shepherds

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. Ezekiel 34:1-10 ESV

While every Israelite was personally responsible for their own sin, God placed blame on the nation’s leadership and held them culpable for the sorry spiritual state of the His chosen people. The civic and religious leaders of Judah had played an undeniable role in the nation’s demise. According to God, these powerful and influential men were guilty of using their positions of authority to mislead and abuse those under their care. Rather than serving as loving shepherds for God’s flock, they had used their God-given authority for personal gain.

Yahweh, the Good Shepherd, accused these men of fleecing His flock. When they should have been protecting God’s people, they had chosen to use their roles for personal profit and self-promotion. And God warns them that He will hold them responsible for their abuse of power.

What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

God is unsparing in His assessment of their crimes. Using the shepherding metaphor to full advantage, God accuses them of neglect, abuse, cruelty, and dereliction of duty.

“You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.” – Ezekiel 34:4 NLT

But who are these shiftless shepherds? Throughout the Old Testament, the term “shepherd” is used to refer to kings, governors, priests, and even prophets. Since God is addressing His chosen people, His reference to shepherds would include the king and his royal court, as well as all the civic and religious leaders of Israel. Anyone in a position of authority would have been included in God’s indictment.

Earlier in his book, Ezekiel recorded God’s displeasure with the self-proclaimed prophets of Judah who were purporting to speak for God but were actually propagating false messages that contradicted the words of Ezekiel.

“…these prophets of yours are like jackals digging in the ruins. They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:4-6 NLT

The people viewed these men as spiritual leaders and took their words as having come from God. But their messages were nothing but lies, intended to deceive and designed to provide false hope. They were nothing more than snake-oil salesmen promoting a self-concocted product offering beguiling but completely bogus benefits.

But the prophets weren’t the only ones whom God held responsible. The priests also played a role in the nation’s spiritual freefall. The very ones who should have been promoting obedience and modeling faithfulness were guilty of gross misconduct and failure to fulfill their God-given role. The prophet Hosea recorded God’s stinging rebuke of the priestly order and His intention to punish them for their catastrophic abuse of power.

“My people are being destroyed
    because they don’t know me.
Since you priests refuse to know me,
    I refuse to recognize you as my priests.
Since you have forgotten the laws of your God,
    I will forget to bless your children.
The more priests there are,
    the more they sin against me.
They have exchanged the glory of God
    for the shame of idols.

“When the people bring their sin offerings, the priests get fed.
    So the priests are glad when the people sin!
‘And what the priests do, the people also do.’
    So now I will punish both priests and people
    for their wicked deeds.” – Hosea 4:6-9 NLT

The prophet Malachi provides God’s clear explanation of the priestly role and His blunt assessment of those responsible for carrying it out.

“The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:7-8 NLT

As the spiritual leaders of His people, God held the priests and prophets responsible for the well-being of the flock. They were the teachers and truth-tellers, the guides responsible for leading and feeding the sheep of God’s flock. But they had dropped the ball. Rather than model righteousness and promote holiness, they had led the way in wickedness and unfaithfulness. When God had made His covenant with the tribe of Levi, setting them apart for their role as the priestly order, He declared, “they did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin” (Malachi 2:6 NLT). But all that had changed. Over time, the priests had become corrupt and used their God-ordained roles to promote sin rather than sanctification, and God would hold them accountable.

But there’s one more group of shepherds whom God must expose and excoriate. At the top of the leadership pyramid sat the king and all his royal counselors. As the designated head of state, the king was ultimately responsible for the well-being of the nation. His position as supreme ruler meant that the buck stopped with him. His role as God’s vice-regent provided him with great authority but it came with significant responsibility. The king was to serve as the primary example of submission to God. His power and authority had been delegated to him by God and it was to be used to provide protection and promote godliness. Yet, all throughout the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, there appears a recurring theme. The vast majority of the kings “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 15:9 NLT). They promoted idolatry, encouraged wickedness, and modeled unfaithfulness.

King David had encouraged Solomon, his son and heir to the throne, to remain faithful to God. His ascension to the kingship would require obedience to God.

“Observe the requirements of the LORD your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the LORD will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:3-4 NLT

Yet, Solomon had proved to be far from faithful. While he started out well, he ended his reign by promoting idolatry and causing the people to sin against God. As a result, God divided his kingdom in half, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And both kingdoms demonstrated a propensity for unfaithfulness. The sins of the kings resulted in God’s judgment of the people and their scattering among the nations.

“…my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. – Ezekiel 34:5-6 NLT

God accuses His shepherds of abandonment. Not only had they been the cause of their sin, but they had also done nothing to restore them to God’s fold when they had become scattered. And God declares His intention to hold these men responsible for their actions. And, more than that, He promises to step in and do what they should have done all along.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Shepherding Has Its Rewards

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

At the end of the day, Peter was a highly practical man who knew that theology alone was not enough to help his readers navigate the uncertain cultural waters in which they found themselves. They were drowning in a sea of competing ideologies that stood diametrically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And their status as followers of Christ made them a tempting target for all those who viewed them as a threat to the prevailing status quo. So, Peter went out of his way to apply the promises contained in the Scriptures with the theological lessons found in the life and ministry of Jesus. Peter was a faithful shepherd who cared deeply about the everyday needs of his flock and was determined to help them apply the hope of their future inheritance to their present circumstances.

At this point in his letter, Peter focused his attention on the elders whom God had appointed to shepherd the local fellowships to whom Peter had addressed his letter. All throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, there were individual gatherings of believers that were being shepherded by faithful men. These men played a vital role in guiding and protecting the men and women who were being “grieved by various trials” 1 Peter 1:6 ESV). Since many of these believers were still relative infants in Christ, they were not yet spiritually mature enough to understand and endure the difficulties they were encountering. And that’s why the elders were so vital to the health and overall well-being of each local church.

This rather brief parenthetical statement was aimed at those men who shared Peter’s role as a God-appointed elder in the church of Jesus Christ. He had even opened his letter with the salutation: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:1 ESV). He presented himself “as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV.  Along with sharing their distinctive role as an elder, he brought the added weight of having been a personal eye-witness to the suffering and death of Jesus. In a sense, he was establishing his official status as an apostle of Jesus.

He had been there the day that Jesus had been crucified and killed. But, not only that, Peter had plenty of first-hand experience when it came to the topic of suffering. Ever since the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost, Peter had faithfully preached the gospel of the kingdom and been rewarded with arrest, imprisonment, interrogation, and even disciplinary beatings. He knew what it was like to suffer for the sake of righteousness. And he was calling the local elders to step up their game and lead by example. They too would one day be partakers “in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1 ESV). Any suffering they had to endure in this life would be well worth it once Jesus appeared in all His glory at the end of the age.

So, with that hope ringing in the ears, Peter challenges his fellow elders to shepherd well.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

Like any good shepherd, they were to do their job willingly and not out of some sense of heartless duty. Shepherding was to be viewed as a privilege and not a job. They were to care for the flock of Jesus Christ with compassion and love, not out of greed or for personal gain.

It was Jesus who used Himself as an example of the “good shepherd.” He was a caring and completely selfless shepherd who put the needs of the flock ahead of His own – even to the point of laying down His life for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. – John 10:11-13 NLT

And Peter wanted these local shepherds to remain at their posts, refusing to run at the first sign of trouble. Their ministry as shepherds was to be marked by a deep desire to serve God, and it was to manifest itself in a determination to stand beside the flock even in the face of life-threatening circumstances. They must be willing to lay down their lives just as Jesus had done for them. By following His example, they would become examples to their flock. And Peter reminded them that there would be a reward for their faithful service.

…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:4 ESV

All of this discussion of sheep and shepherds was near and dear to Peter’s heart because he couldn’t help but view it through the lens of his own experience. Even as he wrote these words, he must have had a fateful scene from his past in mind. It was after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead when Peter had a face-to-face encounter with the one whom he had earlier denied even knowing.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17 NLT

Jesus had handed over to Peter the responsibility of caring for His sheep. And that was not something Peter took lightly or for granted. Peter had denied Jesus three separate times, but now Jesus had pressed him to confirm his love three times. And Jesus explained that the way for Peter to prove His love for Him would be by loving and caring for His sheep.  And that is exactly what Peter charged these elders to do.

Peter’s mention of the  “unfading crown of glory” seems to be for motivation. It is intended as an incentive to do their jobs well in this life because there is a reward to come in the next life. But it unlikely that Peter is referring to a literal crown. He is talking about the eschatological reward of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. It is the same reward he mentioned in the opening chapter of his letter.

an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. – 1 Peter 1:4 ESV

The greatest “crowning” achievement of these men will be their faithful carrying out of their role as God’s humble and obedient shepherds. And their reward will be the joy of living in the Kingdom of God – for eternity.

Even if their reward ends up being a literal crown, the book of Revelation reveals that, in the coming Kingdom, no one will stand before God glorying in their own achievements. Instead, they will recognize that all glory and honor goes to God alone.

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
    to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
    and they exist because you created what you pleased.” – Revelation 4:9-11 NLT

The greatest reward any of us can receive is to live in the presence of God forever. Anything else will pale in comparison.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Good Shepherd Has Come

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. Luke 2:8-21 ESV

For the third time in his gospel account, Luke records the appearance of an angel delivering a divine announcement. Zechariah and Mary had both received visits from the angel Gabriel, who delivered to each of them the news regarding the pending births of John and Jesus respectfully. But with the actual birth of Jesus, God sends another angelic messenger to earth to announce the news of His Son’s arrival. And this time, the audience didn’t consist of family members or even close relatives. Instead, God sent His messenger to a group of unnamed shepherds who were “keeping guard over their flock at night” (Luke 2:8 NLT).

Everything about this story is intended to display the sovereign will of God. The timing of every event has been according to His will. God sent each of the angelic messengers with a specific message for a particular individual. And as each divine announcement was made, the pieces of God’s redemptive plan began to fall into place. Now, with the birth of Jesus, God sends yet another angel with a message “for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). The timing of this particular message was the middle of the night and the recipients just happened to be a group of lowly shepherds

Because of our familiarity with this story, it’s easy for us to overlook the fact that more than 30 years will separate the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the actual beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. God chose to have His Son born in the obscure and diminutive village of Bethlehem. He selected an unknown and inconsequential Jewish girl to be the mother of the Messiah. Then He decided to have the “good news of great joy” regarding His Son’s birth announced to a ragtag group of men whose occupation put them well outside the ranks of polite society. Shepherds were the garbage collectors of their day. No self-respecting parent wanted their child to grow up to be a shepherd. It was considered a bottom-rung career choice that was a dead-end when it came to financial or social advancement.

And yet, more than 3 decades before His Son would actually begin His earthly ministry, God made the sovereign choice to send an angel to this nondescript collection of nameless men. And their divine encounter would be far greater and more spectacular than anything Zechariah and Mary had experienced.

As these men were enduring yet another long and mind-numbing night of shepherding sheep in the middle of nowhere, their world was rocked by the appearance of an angel. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the dark night sky was filled with a bright light that Luke attributes to the glory of the Lord. The entire hillside was lit up like a scene from Friday Night Lights, and this spectacular display left the shepherds in a state of shock and petrified with fear. But the angel quickly addressed their concerns.

“Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 NLT

Much to the shepherds’ relief, the angel was there to bring them good news. Based on the circumstances, it would have been easy for these men to assume the worst and to think their lives were over. But the angel was there to proclaim joyful news that even lowly, uneducated shepherds would have understood. The heavenly messenger announced the birth of their Savior, someone he described as the Christ. And this message did not escape the shepherds. The Greek word Christ is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. These Jewish shepherds were being told that their Messiah, Lord, and Savior had just been born in the city of David. The long-awaited Messiah of Israel had finally come.

And as if to put an exclamation point of the night’s proceedings, the angel was suddenly joined by a vast, heavenly army. The night sky was filled with a numberless host of angels declaring:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:14 NLT

The angels declare the glory of God because this news was the result of His glory, grace, and goodness. It was God who had chosen to send His Son (John 3:16). This was all the work of God and it had been part of His plan from the very beginning. And with the arrival of His Son, mankind would be able to know true peace for the first time. Jesus was entering a world plagued by sin and marked by turmoil. It was characterized by darkness and under the dominion of the evil one. Jesus would later declare Himself to be the light that illuminates the darkness.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” – Luke 3:19 ESV

His arrival was meant to be good news. But the sad fact is that many would refuse to accept Jesus as the light of God. They would continue to prefer living in the darkness of sin rather than accepting the sin-exposing, life-transforming light of the world.

The heavenly hosts declare that God is offering peace, but only to those with whom he is pleased. This is a somewhat confusing statement that can easily be misunderstood. Are the angels suggesting that God’s peace can be earned? Can sinful men be restored to a right relationship with God by doing righteous acts? A better translation of verse 14 is “peace to men on whom his favor rests” (NIV). With the coming of the Messiah, there would be those who believed in Him as their Savior, but there would be many more who would reject Him. Not all would enjoy the peace He came to offer, but as Jesus Himself said, “whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15 ESV). They can be made right with God through faith in the Son of God. They can enjoy restored peace with God by placing their hope and faith in the Savior sent by God.

Whether the shepherds fully understood what the angels had said is not clear. But they sought to know more and left their sheep in order to verify what the angel had told them. Luke records that the men “went with haste” to Bethlehem where they soon discovered the infant, Jesus. It seems likely that they would have found the surroundings of Jesus’ birth to be a bit incongruous. If He was the Messiah and Savior of Israel, why had He been born in such lowly circumstances? Where were the priests and dignitaries? Why had a host of angels announced His arrival, but no one bothered to show up to welcome Him?

But despite all their questions, these men were impacted by what they had heard and seen, and they began to spread the news of Jesus’ arrival.

the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:20 ESV

Little did they know that 30 years would pass before anything of significance happened. They probably expected to hear further news of the Messiah’s birth in the days ahead. They must have assumed that word would get out and the arrival of the Savior of Israel would begin to spread. But while their story of the angelic visitation made people wonder, it would do little to change anything about the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. The people remained in a state of moral darkness. The shepherds went back to their field and flocks. Life went on as usual. And “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 ESV).

Eight days later, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised, according to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. At that time, they announced the name of their newborn son. While His name was a common one, its meaning holds particular significance: “Yahweh saves.” This Jesus would be unlike any other Jesus. His was more than a name, it was His identity and mission. He was the Savior of Israel and He had come to earth on behalf of His Heavenly Father so that He might redeem and restore those who were enslaved by sin and death. But for the next three decades, the Messiah would live in relative obscurity among those He came to save. The Savior had come, but His mission had not yet begun. The arrival of the Good Shepherd had been announced to a group of earthly shepherds, but it was not yet time for His work to begin. But that day would come soon enough.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Greater Love

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” John 15:12-17 ESV

It’s rather odd to hear Jesus speaking about love when you consider the fact that He is just hours from His own death. And for the disciples, all His talk about dying and leaving them behind must have sounded like a strange way to show His love. Yet, for these men and all who would come to faith through their future ministry, the cross would become the greatest expression of love.

Just a short time earlier, in the upper room after Judas had departed, Jesus had disclosed to His remaining disciples a new commandment.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV

Notice the point of qualification that Jesus adds: They were to love one another, “just as” He has loved them. Jesus made this statement just hours before He would hang on a cruel Roman cross as the payment for their sin debt. He was going to follow through on His earlier promise concerning His role as the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 NLT

And it would not be until Jesus had died, resurrected, and ascended back into heaven, that the disciples fully grasped the full import of what Jesus meant about loving as He had loved them. In a later letter, John would disclose His Spirit-enabled understanding of Jesus’ incredible expression of selfless, sacrificial love.

If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. – 1 John 3:14-16 NLT

The sacrifice Jesus was about to make on the cross was totally motivated by love, and not just His own. The death of Jesus was going to be a priceless expression of God’s love for mankind. This is exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 NLT

The apostle Paul was blown away by this reality and saw the death of Jesus as ongoing evidence of the Father’s love for him.

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 BSB

God had loved Paul in the midst of his sinfulness. He didn’t require Paul to get his spiritual act together. It was while Paul was still firmly entrenched in his rebellion and sin that God sent His Son to die in Paul’s place. And the same thing is true for each and every follower of Christ. Paul makes that point clear later on in his letter to the believers in Rome.

…he [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all… – Romans 8:32 NLT

And Paul would encourage the believers in Ephesus to use the selfless love of God as a model for their own lives.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 BSB

According to Jesus, the greatest expression of love was someone willingly sacrificing their life for the sake of another.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

The disciples were not ye able to grasp the full significance of this statement. But in time, they would come to understand and appreciate what Jesus had meant. They would stand by and watch their friend and mentor die a gruesome death on a cross. They would weep and mourn as His life slowly and painfully ebbed away. They would see His broken and beaten body removed from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. And in the days following this hope-shattering event, they would gather together in sorrow and self-pity, as they tried to wrap their minds around what had just happened. But then they would receive the shocking and mind-blowing news: “he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6 ESV). The would discover the tomb to be empty, Jesus to be alive, and their lives to be forever changed.

But on the other side of the cross, Jesus called His confused and concerned disciples to love one another. He referred to them as His friends, further indicating His love for them. He did not view them as servants or slaves, but as close friends to whom He was sharing the most intimate details concerning His life. Rather than leaving them in the dark, Jesus was disclosing the content of His private conversations with His Father.

“…all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” – John 15:15 ESV

They were the recipients of privileged information, passed down from God through His one and only Son. And Jesus makes it clear that the time they had spent with Him had been divinely ordained.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” – John 15:16 ESV

He had chosen them. But as Jesus will disclose in His high priestly prayer, God had been the guiding hand behind His selection of these men.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

While each of them had chosen to follow Jesus on their own accord, they were actually operating according to the sovereign will of God. Their selection by Jesus had been preordained by God and He had great things in store for them. The events of the last three years would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in the days ahead. Their greatest days were ahead of them because Jesus loved them and was going to lay down His life for them. That selfless, sacrifical act of love would make possible the fulfillment of the promise He had made to them.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the one believing in Me, the works that I do, also he will do. And he will do greater than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12 BSB

They didn’t realize it at the moment, but they were going to bear much fruit, just as Jesus had told them.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

But their fruitfulness would be accompanied by access to God. The imagery of the vine and the branches comes into play here. God, as the vinedresser, would fulfill His will through the Vine, producing lasting fruit through the branches. This interdependency between the Father, Son, and the Son’s faithful followers, would result in a harvest of lasting fruit. And the disciples will experience the joy of desiring to do the will of the Father. Like Jesus, they will learn to say, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). Their desires will change. Their requests of God will become less selfish and more selfless. And Jesus assures them that His words are meant to produce in them a love for one another. But it will be His actions, not His words, that make that kind of selfless, sacrificial love possible. His death, as the ultimate expression of God’s love for sinful mankind, will provide the power they need to keep His commands, love one another, bear fruit, and do greater things.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Good Shepherd

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” John 10:1-21 ESV

In this teaching, Jesus continues His use of contrasts, using His own mission and ministry to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel. John has arranged his gospel account in such a  way that the religious elite’s growing antipathy for Jesus is clearly evident. Their hatred for Him is clear. But their disdain for the people under their care is also hard to miss. They showed no signs of empathy for the blind man who was given the gift of sight. Angered by his glowing praise of Jesus, they callously cast him out of the synagogue. These were the same men who had publicly humiliated a woman by dragging her before Jesus and accusing her of adultery. To them, she had been nothing more than another tool used to construct their case against Jesus. They despised her for her sinfulness and would have had no problem seeing her stoned for her blatant disregard for God’s laws.

Yet, sadly enough, the people looked up to these men. They revered and even feared them. In the eyes of the average Israelite, these men were the enforcers of the Mosaic law, policing the behavior of the people and punishing all those who disobeyed. But what made it worse was that these men appeared to be icons of virtue, constantly promoting their own spiritual superiority and religious zeal. They proudly presented themselves as models of righteousness who had earned special favor with God for their faithful adherence to His laws.

But in these verses, John records the words of Jesus that paint a starkly different image of these men. Jesus never addresses them directly, but it is easy to see that He has them in mind. Immediately after they had callously cast the formerly blind beggar out of the synagogue, Jesus had taken the effort to find him and reveal Himself to Him. And the result was that the man believed and worshiped Jesus as the Son of Man. This man received far more than his physical sight. He was given the opportunity to see the one who had healed Him and who could also deliver him from a life of spiritual darkness due to sin.

In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel.  This imagery would have resonated with His audience because of its familiarity. Everyone would have understood the nature of the shepherd’s role. And they would have been well aware of the differences between a good and a bad shepherd.

So, when Jesus began to outline these differences, everyone would have understood exactly what He was talking about. The real question would have been who He had in mind when He talked about the thief, robber, and stranger. It was quite obvious that Jesus was presenting Himself as the alternative, even referring to Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11 ESV). So, who were these bad shepherds Jesus seemed to be comparing Himself to? And who did He have in mind when He referred to the “hired hand” who “cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13 ESV)?

It’s not clear whether anyone in the crowd connected Jesus’ words with the religious leaders. All John tells us is that “there was again a division among the Jews because of these words” (John 10:19 ESV). Even these well-educated and intelligent men seemed to miss the point of what Jesus was saying. They weren’t able to see that Jesus was exposing their failure to shepherd well the sheep whom God had placed under their care. Jesus had exposed them as thieves, robbers, and hired hands, who cared more for themselves than they did for the sheep. And Jesus was simply echoing the words of His Heavenly Father, recorded hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Ezekiel.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-2-6 NLT

Because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, the scribes and Pharisees should have made the connection but, once again, they reveal their spiritual blindness by failing to comprehend the truth found in the Word of God.

Yet, Jesus fully understood what Ezekiel had written and presented Himself as the true shepherd who knows His sheep and calls them by name. He was the fulfillment of the promise made by God centuries earlier.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep.  I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day.” – Ezekiel 34:11-12 NLT

“I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:16 NLT

Jesus had come to redeem and restore the lost sheep of God’s flock. He presents Himself as “the door” through which the sheep of God must come. There is no other way into the abundant pastureland God has prepared for His sheep than through His chosen Shepherd: His Son.

In this passage, Jesus deftly weaves together a series of metaphors concerning Himself that present a vivid portrait of His divine mission. He portrays Himself as the Good Shepherd who leads and feeds the flock of God with tender compassion, calling them by name and guiding them to safety. But He is also the door of the sheepfold, the very means by which they find access into the abundance of God’s presence. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of David’s portrait of the faithful shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
   He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

But Jesus would do more than simply lead and feed. He would provide protection against the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would lay down His life on behalf of His Father’s sheep. It would be just as John the Baptist had declared. Jesus would become the sacrificial Lamb of God who sacrifices His life so that the sheep of God might have access to His heavenly sheepfold.

Jesus makes it quite clear. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 ESV). He is the exclusive access point to the Father. He will later reiterate this bold claim to Thomas.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6 ESV

But Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the manner in which the sheep find access to the Father. It will be through His death.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

The religious leaders were not about to sacrifice their lives for anyone. They weren’t even willing to bow the knew before the Son of God. They refused to submit their wills to that of the Father. And when the Good Shepherd appeared in their midst, they were unable to hear His voice. But there would those who, like the formerly blind beggar, would hear Jesus ask, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and would respond, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:35, 38 ESV). Jesus reveals that there will be others.

“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” – John 10:16 ESV

This is His veiled reference to the Gentiles, who will also become part of God’s flock. Like the Samaritan woman, they too will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and respond in belief. They will recognize the call of God, coming from the lips of the Son of God, offering them living water, the bread of life, and the promise of an eternity marked by peace, contentment, joy, and righteousness.

But it would only come one way. The Good Shepherd would have to lay down His life for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. – John 10:14-15 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Will Reign

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem. – Micah 4:6-8 ESV

Guided by the Spirit of God, Micah provides the people of Judah with a prophetic glimpse into the future of their nation. Yet, the events he describes remain unfulfilled even in our day. They entail a period of time that he refers to as the “latter days” or what is oftentimes called the end times. Jesus spoke to His disciples about this future event, warning them that it would include a time of great tribulation, to be followed by His own return to earth at the Second Coming.

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” – Matthew 24:21-22 ESV

The Tribulation will last seven long years but will be “cut short” by Christ’s return. And Jesus describes the momentous nature of His return.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

There are a great number of events that will take place when Christ returns, including the Battle of Armageddon and the Great White Throne Judgment. And all of these things will be tied to Christ’s role as the victorious King who returns to claim His throne.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:31-34 ESV

And Micah adds another vital detail to the future narrative that portrays Christ gathering His scattered flock from the four corners of the earth. Along with His role as the conquering King who defeats the enemies of God, He will serve as the Good Shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of Israel and restores them to a right relationship with God.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also wrote about this coming day, recording the promise made by God that He would one day seek for and save His scattered sheep. This promise would be fulfilled through His Son, the Shepherd and Savior of Israel.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:11-16 NLT

Ezekiel also records God’s plan to fulfill the promise He had made to David to raise up one of his sons and establish his kingdom and throne forever (1 Chronicles 17:11-12).

“I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23 NLT

God is not promising to resurrect King David himself but is revealing His intention to raise up a descendant of David, another man after His own heart, who will rule and reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. This is a clear reference to Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of David, the God-man who will rule in perfect, sinless righteousness over the regathered and restored nation of Israel.

Ezekiel goes on to describe how this “offspring” of David will lead the people of Israel into a period of peace, prosperity, and perfect obedience to God during His 1,000-year reign on earth, what is often referred to as the Millennial Kingdom.

“Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Ezekiel 37:21-27 ESV

And Micah makes it clear that these events will all take place in city of Jerusalem, the very same city that was fated to suffer defeat and destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. God was going to judge the nation and its capital city for the centuries of rebellion and unfaithfulness that had taken place within its walls. Ever since the days of Solomon, the kings of Israel had proven to be unreliable leaders who failed to follow the righteous example of King David. They had led the people astray, seeking to serve other gods and placing their hope in the alliances they made with foreign powers. But while God had plans to put a temporary end to David’s dynasty, He also had a plan to restore it. And though He intended to destroy the city of David, He would one day reestablish it as the home of Israel’s King.

As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:8 NLT

The prophet, Isaiah, predicted the two-fold nature of Christ’s advent. He came to earth the first time, born as an innocent baby in a manger, in order to die for the sins of mankind. But in His second advent, He will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His reign will bring righteousness and justice to the world.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

God predicted the fall of Jerusalem and its occurrence is a historical fact. But God also predicted the Second Coming of His Son and the restoration of the people of Israel. He has yet to break a single promise He has made. So, we can rest assured that these events, while still unfulfilled, will take place. God has a plan and we can trust Him to bring it to pass – down to the last detail.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Charlatans, Not Shepherds

1 And I said:
Hear, you heads of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?—
    you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people
    and their flesh from off their bones,
who eat the flesh of my people,
    and flay their skin from off them,
and break their bones in pieces
    and chop them up like meat in a pot,
    like flesh in a cauldron.

Then they will cry to the Lord,
    but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
    because they have made their deeds evil. Micah 3:1-4 ESV

Once again, Micah uses the two designations, Jacob and Israel, to direct his message to all 12 tribes of Israel. He is addressing both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and letting them know that they are all equally guilty and deserving of God’s judgment. But in these opening lines of chapter 3, Micah, speaking on behalf of God, turns his attention to the civic and religious leaders of the 12 tribes, accusing them of negligence and injustice. As the leaders of God’s chosen people, they were supposed to know right from wrong. God had given them His law and had made perfectly clear His expectations concerning the conduct of His people.

But sadly, these men were “the very ones who hate good and love evil” (Micah 3:2 NLT). They were modeling the worst kind of behavior, encouraging the citizens of Israel and Judah to follow their idolatrous and immoral example. And God pulls no punches in describing the nature of their sin:

You skin my people alive
    and tear the flesh from their bones.
Yes, you eat my people’s flesh,
    strip off their skin,
    and break their bones.
You chop them up
    like meat for the cooking pot. – Micah 3:2-3 NLT

This is a metaphorical description, not a literal one. But it paints a vivid and unflattering image of these men and reveals just how abhorrent their conduct was to God. Their lousy leadership had been no less horrifying and shocking than if they had literally skinned and eaten their own people.

The prophet Ezekiel shared a similar stinging indictment of God against the civic and religious leaders of Israel.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.” – Ezekiel 34:2-4 NLT

Shepherds were intended to feed the sheep under their care, not fleece them for personal gain. The image here is one of stewardship, in which the shepherds or leaders of Israel were working for God, the Great Shepherd. The sheep belonged to Him and these men had been tasked with providing for their daily care and protection. But they had failed at their jobs.

“…though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve.” – Ezekiel 34:8 NLT

God was going to hold these men personally responsible for their dereliction of duty.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

During the good times, these so-called leaders had abused their positions of power, taking advantage of their authority to line their own pockets. And their actions were no less egregious than if they had cannibalized their own people. God had delegated to them His divine authority to care for His flock. And to get some idea of what God expected from these undershepherds, all we have to do is look at the words of the psalmist concerning King David, the consummate shepherd of Israel.

He chose his servant David,
    calling him from the sheep pens.
He took David from tending the ewes and lambs
    and made him the shepherd of Jacob’s descendants—
    God’s own people, Israel.
He cared for them with a true heart
    and led them with skillful hands. – Psalm 78:70-72 NLT

Elsewhere in Scripture, David is referred to as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). David shared God’s love for the people of Israel and exhibited the same care and concern that God had for their physical and spiritual well-being. And the prophet Isaiah provides a wonderful description of God’s shepherd’s heart.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. – Isaiah 40:10-11 NLT

David shared God’s heart for the flock. He cared for them as God would. And one day, another servant of God would appear who would also be a man after God’s own heart. In fact, according to Hebrews 1:3, this man would be “the exact representation of His nature.”

And this man would be the Son of David, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who would shepherd the people of Israel just as His ancestor had done. But unlike David, Jesus would not just care for them with a true heart and lead them with skillful hands, He would lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus would perform the role of the true shepherd, giving His life in exchange for the spiritual and physical well-being of God’s flock.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. – John 10:11-13 NLT

Unlike the shepherds of Micah’s day. Jesus would prove to be a faithful servant of God, willingly sacrificing His own life in order that the flock of God might find safety and security from those who would harm them.

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.” – John 10:7-9 NLT

But the shepherds of Israel and Judah were guilty of neglect and injustice. And when the Great Shepherd decided to hold them accountable for their actions, they would beg Him for mercy.

“Then you beg the Lord for help in times of trouble!
    Do you really expect him to answer?
After all the evil you have done,
    he won’t even look at you!” – Micah 3:4 NLT

But their remorse will prove to be too little, too late. They should have been caring for the sheep all along. They should have taken their God-given roles more seriously and loved the flock of God as He did. But their hearts were not in it. They loved the trappings of leadership and all the perks that came with authority. But they had no love for the people under their care. As Jesus so aptly described them, they were nothing more than thieves and robbers.

And it is interesting to note a life-altering conversation Jesus had with Peter just days after His resurrection. This is the same Peter who had denied Jesus three separate times, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction. Yet, when Peter shared a meal with his risen Lord, the conversation did not center on Peter’s past denials but on his future responsibilities as a shepherd of God’s flock.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:15-17 NLT

Three separate times, Jesus encourages Peter to prove his love for Him by caring for the flock of God. Jesus had laid down His life for the sheep. Now He was asking Peter, along with the other disciples, to serve as His under-shepherds, providing ongoing care for all those for whom He had died.

And this message from Jesus had a lasting impact on Peter. Years later, he would write to a group of elders, leaders in the local churches to whom he ministered, reiterating the very same words He had heard from the lips of Jesus Himself.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Shepherds are to be those who share the heart of God for the flock of God. There is no place for personal gain or the pursuit of selfish interests. Our model is Jesus Himself, who sacrificed His life for the sheep.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Tale of Two Visions.

1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa..

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. Acts 10:1-16 ESV

Peter is in Joppa, the guest of Simon, the tanner. He is continuing his ministry among the believers there and sharing the gospel with the Hellenistic Jews who lived there. But his world was about to get rocked. While Peter had apparently become open to the idea of Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews coming to faith in Christ, he was about to learn that God had much broader, bigger plans for the gospel. Up until this point, it appears that Peter and the other apostles were somewhat reluctant to take the gospel to the Gentiles. It seems that their self-imposed requirement was that the gospel only be shared with those who had a pre-existing relationship with Judaism. Thus, they had been willing to approve of Philip’s work among the Samaritans, because of those individuals were technically part-Jewish and worshiped Yahweh. And it seems that those who came to faith in Lydda and Joppa had been Greek-speaking or Hellenistic Jews. Even Simon, the tanner, with whom Peter was lodging in Joppa, was most likely a Hellenistic Jew who had come to faith in Christ. So, it appears that some formal link to Judaism had become a necessary requirement before anyone could hear the gospel message. But all that was about to change.

 First, Luke introduces us to Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman cohort who lived in Caesarea, a city located up the Mediterranean coast, about 30-miles north of Joppa. This man was a Gentile, but Luke describes him as “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2 ESV). As an officer in the Roman army, it is doubtful that Cornelius had taken steps to become a full proselyte of the Jewish religion. That would have required circumcision and would been an extremely dangerous thing for a man in his position to do. After all, he was part of the Roman army that occupied Palestine and whose responsibility it was to enforce Roman law. But Luke makes it clear that this man worshiped the God of the Hebrews and was favorably disposed to the Jewish people. He regularly gave financial gifts to the poor and needy and even prayed to Yahweh. And it was during the ninth-hour, the Jewish hour of prayer, that Cornelius received a vision from God.

It is significant to note that God appeared to Cornelius long before any human representative did. In essence, God was giving His divine approval of not only Cornelius, but of all those who, like him, were outside the Jewish faith, but predisposed to having a relationship with God. This man had been drawn to God. He worshiped and prayed to God. Now, he was actually having an encounter with God. And the word he received from God, through the mouth of an angel, was quite clear:

4 “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” – Acts 10:4-6 ESV

Cornelius received instructions to send for Peter. God was very specific. He wanted Peter to be the one who to play a part in this man’s conversion. And so, Cornelius, petrified by what he had seen and heard, obeyed and sent two men to Joppa to find and bring back Peter.

Meanwhile, 30 miles away in Joppa, Peter was given his own vision from God. And his was dramatically different, and no less disturbing. Peter had gone up the roof of Simon’s house in order to pray and, while praying, he fell into a trance. It’s important to note that Luke describes Peter as having been hungry when he started his prayer time. His physical condition of hunger is going to play an important part in the overall context of the vision he was given by God. While waiting for his lunch to be prepared, Peter fell into a trance and had a dream about food. Not exactly an abnormal or unlikely scenario, but it is the nature of the food in Peter’s dream that make it significant. In his dream, he saw a giant sheet being let down from heaven, and in that sheet “were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air” (Acts 10:12 ESV). And we know from Peter’s reaction, that these creatures were all considered uncommon and unclean to Jews. They were all from the list found in Leviticus 11.

You may not, however, eat the following animals that have split hooves or that chew the cud, but not both. The camel chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The hare chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you. – Leviticus 11:4-8 NLT

10 But you must never eat animals from the sea or from rivers that do not have both fins and scales. They are detestable to you. – Leviticus 11:10 NLT

13 “These are the birds that are detestable to you. You must never eat them: the griffon vulture, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, 14 the kite, falcons of all kinds, 15 ravens of all kinds, 16 the eagle owl, the short-eared owl, the seagull, hawks of all kinds, 17 the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, 18 the barn owl, the desert owl, the Egyptian vulture, 19 the stork, herons of all kinds, the hoopoe, and the bat. – Leviticus 11:13-19 NLT

Added to this list were various winged insects. Any and all of these creatures were forbidden and declared unclean by God. The Jews were not allowed to eat or touch them. To do so would make them ceremonially unclean. And yet, when the sheet descended from heaven, it was filled with nothing but these kinds of creatures. To make matters worse, a voice from heaven commanded, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.” The sheet had come from heaven. The voice had come from heaven. But the creatures were unclean. They were unacceptable and unholy. Why in the world was God commanding Peter to satisfy his hunger by consuming what was forbidden? Peter, shocked and outraged by the mere thought of doing such a thing, vehemently told God, “No!” and proudly stated, “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:14 NLT). This little exchange between Peter and God reminds me of another awkward moment that took place some time earlier between he and Jesus.

Jesus had just finished telling Peter and the other disciples that He was headed to Jerusalem, where He was going to be arrested, tried and executed. But He had also informed them that He would be raised from the dead. But Peter wasn’t listening. Instead, he took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.

But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

Later, on the very night Jesus was betrayed, He told the disciples that each of them would end up denying Him. But Peter had responded, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33 NLT). But Jesus broke the news to Peter that he would actually deny Him three times. To which Peter responded, “No! Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” (Matthew 26:35 NLT).

Peter had developed a habit of arguing with Jesus and now, he was doing the same thing with God the Father. Three separate times, God told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). And I don’t think Luke’s mention of these three repetitive declarations by God is unimportant. If you recall, Peter had ended up denying Jesus three separate times on the night that He was betrayed. And, when Peter had encountered the resurrected Jesus, they had had an exchange, where Jesus asked Peter three separate times, “Do you love me?” And each time, Peter had responded, “Yes!” But with each of Peter’s statements of affirmation, Jesus had repeatedly commanded him to “Feed my sheep!” In fact, His exact words were:

“Then feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 NLT

“Then take care of my sheep.” – John 21:16 NLT

“Then feed my sheep.– John 21:17 NLT

Peter had been commanded by Jesus to care for His sheep. And now, Peter was going to learn that his definition of what it meant to be one of Jesus’ sheep was quite different than that of Jesus Himself. In fact, Jesus had clearly spoken concerning His sheep:

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd. – John 10:14-16 NLT

There were sheep, “that are not in this sheepfold”, for whom Jesus had died. And Cornelius was one of them. Much to Peter’s chagrin, the gospel message was not reserved for the Jews. It was not restricted to those who had some kind of ethnic alliance with the Hebrew people. It was for any and all. Peter was about to learn what Paul would later write: “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Reluctant Redeemer.

Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” – Ruth 4:1-12 ESV

Boaz wasted no time in settling the matter regarding the redemption of Naomi and Ruth. Because there was a closer relative who, by law, had the responsibility and right to act as the kinsman-redeemer, Boaz went out of his way to make the matter known to this individual. He met him at the gate of the city, the place where official business was done. Finding the man for whom he was looking, Boaz enlisted ten elders of the city to act as witnesses, then proceeded to inform the man of the situation. Interestingly, Boaz began by telling the man that Naomi, as the widow of Elimelech, had property to sell that had belonged to her deceased husband. Since her two sons were also dead, Naomi was legally free to sell it. Boaz informed the kinsman-redeemer about the availability of the land and the man readily agreed to buy it. Then Boaz seemed to surprise the man by revealing a second “opportunity” available to him. As the kinsman-redeemer, he not only had the right to buy Naomi’s property, he also had the responsibility to take on Naomi and Ruth. More specifically, he was obligated to marry Ruth and perpetuate her deceased husband’s lineage. Boaz told the man, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the wife of our deceased relative, in order to preserve his family name by raising up a descendant who will inherit his property” (Ruth 4:5 NLT). In other words, the man who bought the land must also marry Ruth, and any son they had as a result of their marriage would become the rightful heir of the property. Once this part of the transaction was made known, the potential kinsman-redeemer had a quick change of heart. “Then I am unable to redeem it, for I would ruin my own inheritance in that case. You may exercise my redemption option, for I am unable to redeem it” (Ruth 4:6 NLT).

The man forfeits his right to the land because he fears the future financial costs of having to marry Ruth and any son they have becoming the rightful heir to the property. He saw the whole deal as a bad investment. It would seem that he had no feelings of obligation toward Naomi or Ruth. While the land had interested him, the thought of having to redeem two widows and marry one of them was not something he found appealing. So he refused and opened up the door for Boaz, as the next in line to act as the kinsman-redeemer, to take his place. What is fascinating about this part of the story is that the Mosaic law had a clause for dealing with anyone who refused to redeem a widow and perpetuate her deceased husband’s name.

And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.” Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, “I do not wish to take her,” then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, “So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, “The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.” – Deuteronomy 25:7-10 ESV

While this situation was avoided in the case of Ruth because Boaz readily stepped in and took on the role of kinsman-redeemer, it reveals just how significant the redemption process was to God. It was not to be taken lightly. And Boaz knew full well what he was doing. He told the elders, “Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place” (Ruth 4:10 ESV). The property was a secondary issue for Boaz. His primary goal was to marry Ruth and to honor the name of her deceased husband. Boaz took the role of kinsman-redeemer seriously. He probably didn’t need more land. There was no indication that he had been looking for a wife. But from the first moment he had laid eyes on Ruth that day in his field, he had been intrigued by her character, as well as the consequences of her life. She was a woman of integrity and honor. She was selfless and sacrificial, putting her mother-in-laws needs ahead of her own. And Boaz was committed to doing whatever was necessary to care and provide for Ruth.

It would seem that the main emphasis of these verses is the contrast provided between Boaz and the other kinsman-redeemer. Both had a legal right and responsibility to rescue Naomi and Ruth from their predicament, but one refused. He counted the cost and cut his losses. He weighed the benefits and found them to be not in his favor. On the other hand, Boaz knew going in what the cost entailed and he was more than willing to pay whatever price was required to redeem Ruth. He had a shepherd’s heart – a caring, compassionate heart that prompted him to risk all for the sake of one in need. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus comparing Himself to the false shepherds who were self-serving and nothing more than hired hands who had no real love for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.” – John 10:11-13 NLT

As has been noted earlier, Boaz, as the kinsman-redeemer, acts as a kind of Christ, a foreshadowing on the One to come. He is an imperfect and incomplete illustration of the Savior who would come to redeem mankind from its bondage to sin and death. While Boaz was not required to lay down his life for Ruth, he was willing to put her needs ahead of his own. His redemption of Ruth cost him. It required of him a commitment and a sacrifice of his time and resources. The man who forfeited his rights to redeem Ruth was like a hired hand, obligated by the head shepherd to care for the sheep, but who ran at the first sign of personal cost. He showed no compassion for Ruth or Naomi and refused to care for their needs. But Boaz provides us with a glimpse of the great redeemer who was to come.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” – John 10:14-15 NLT

How fortunate for Ruth that Boaz proved not to be a reluctant redeemer. How amazing for us that Jesus proved not to be a reluctant redeemer, but a selfless, sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line shepherd who loved us enough to die for us.