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.

The Legacy of Autonomy

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his servant.
27 May God enlarge Japheth,
    and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
    and let Canaan be his servant.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died. Genesis 9:18-29 ESV

God has pronounced His blessing upon Noah and his family. He has issued His mandate to multiply and fill the earth. And He has communicated His covenant commitment to never use a worldwide flood to destroy mankind again.

At this point, Noah’s three sons “went forth from the ark” (Genesis 9:18 ESV). They left the safety of the ark behind because they had a new assignment. No longer were they to seek refuge in the massive boat they had helped their father build. The floodwaters had receded and the threat of death had passed. Now, they were to obey the Lord’s command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).

There is a hint of irony in the statement that these three young men “went forth,” because it doesn’t appear that they went very far. Even their father appears to have stayed within close proximity of the ark’s final resting place. But Moses relates that from the three sons of Noah, “the people of the whole earth were dispersed” (Genesis 9:19 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “dispersed” is נָפַץ (nāp̄aṣ) and it was used to refer to something that smashed and its pieces abruptly scattered. It conveys the idea that these “people” did not disperse willingly but were forced to do so by God. God had commanded Noah and his sons to “fill the earth.” And yet, we read that Noah “began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20 ESV).

Why did Moses feel this detail was pertinent to the story? Of course, it becomes painfully clear that the fruit of Noah’s vineyard eventually produced the wine with which he became drunk. But there seems to be more to the story than that. Noah made an executive decision and chose to settle down and become a farmer. There is nothing inherently wrong with his career choice, but nowhere in the passage does Noah receive a directive from God to become a farmer. This appears to be an autonomous decision on Noah’s part. Perhaps he wanted to ensure that he and his family would have enough food to eat. One of the consequences of the flood was that all vegetation had been destroyed. So, it made sense that Noah would see farming as a viable and logical pursuit in the denuded post-flood landscape. But Moses’ choice of words is significant. He states that Noah “began to be a man of the soil.” The Hebrew word for “soil” is אֲדָמָה (‘ăḏāmâ), the very same word used for the “ground” from which God had formed Adam. And it’s important to note that, when God cursed Adam, He stated:

“…cursed is the ground (‘ăḏāmâ) because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground (‘ăḏāmâ),
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 2:17-19 ESV

In his decision to become a farmer, Noah had chosen to embrace the curse. He had returned to the ground from which Adam had been formed. In a sense, he had returned to his roots. But that ground had been cursed by God. It would produce fruit, but only through hard work and accompanied by thorns and thistles. Noah had chosen the difficult path. He had decided to feed his family by working the cursed ground rather than enjoying the “clean” animals that God had graciously provided.

It’s important to recall what God told Noah immediately after releasing him from the ark.

“Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” – Genesis 9:3 ESV

God had expanded man’s diet by providing the “clean” creatures as a food source. Noah had been instructed by God to place seven pairs of these animals on the ark and, now, in the post-flood world, they would have needed Noah’s care and protection. So, it would have made more sense for Noah to become a keeper of flocks and herds. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Noah chose the career path of Cain. Chapter four revealed that “Cain was a worker of the ground” (Genesis 4:2 ESV), while his brother Abel “was a keeper of sheep.” 

Again, there is nothing about sheepherding that makes it more righteous than farming. The question is whether Noah was following the will of God in his choice of profession. And the context tends to indicate that Noah’s decision was not according to God’s will because it produced bad “fruit” that would have long-term implications for mankind.

Noah planted a vineyard and then waited for his first harvest. This process would have taken time, and while Noah waited for the vines to grow and the eventual grapes to ripen, he was failing to fulfill God’s mandate to “fill the earth.” And rather than disperse, Noah’s sons stayed right by his side. They created a little commune in which to live. There is mention of Noah’s grapes, but no word regarding Noah’s grandchildren.

And in time, Noah harvested the fruit of his labors. He turned his first season of ripened grapes into wine, and then drank himself drunk.

He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. – Genesis 9:21 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been a lot of speculation as to what this verse actually means. What exactly happened that fateful day? Moses simply states that, in his drunken stupor, Noah left himself uncovered in his tent, and his son, Ham, saw him in this compromised state. There are those who suggest that Ham committed an immoral act with his father. They make this determination based on the phrase, “Ham…saw the nakedness of his father” (Genesis 9:22 ESV). There were occasions when those words were used to refer to immoral acts. But there is nothing in the context of Genesis 9 to suggest that Ham committed a homosexual act with his father. There is also nothing that would support another purely speculative conclusion that Ham committed incest with his mother. The most logical explanation for what happened is that Ham, a grown man who would have been 100-years-old at the time, walked into his father’s tent and saw him lying drunk and naked. But rather than show his father respect by covering his nakedness, Ham decided to have fun at his father’s expense.

“Literally, the ancient Hebrew says that Ham “told with delight” what he saw in his father’s tent. He determined to mock his father and underminine his authority as a man of God. ” – Guzik, David. “Study Guide for Genesis 9.” Blue Letter Bible. 21 Feb, 2017. Web. 3 Jan, 2022. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-Gen/Gen-9.cfm&gt;

Ham shamed his father. He maliciously maligned the patriarch of the family in front of his two brothers. And these two sons, rather than joining Ham in his ridicule of their father, choose to salvage their father’s dignity by covering his sin.

Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. – Genesis 9:23 ESV

Notice the emphasis on their refusal to see their father’s nakedness. This seems to eliminate any thought that this phrase carries hidden meaning. They simply chose to respect their father’s privacy and maintain his dignity, while he was in a compromised state. And when Noah eventually sobered up, he discovered Ham had done and was incensed. Moses states that Noah “learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done” (Genesis 9:24 ESV) and immediately leveled a curse against Ham’s son.

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” – Genesis 9:25 ESV

As retribution against Ham, Noah pronounced a curse upon his own grandson. This action by Noah does not suggest that God was punishing Canaan for his father’s sin. Noah was unwittingly declaring a prophetic declaration that the sin of Ham would be passed down to his future generations. Ham’s propensity for wickedness would be inherited by his progeny.

For Moses’ original audience, the mention of Canaan would have been a sobering reminder of the Canaanites who had occupied the land of promise. These people were particularly wicked and immoral, and they proved to be a constant source of temptation and trials for the Israelites as they attempted to occupy the land given to them by God. The descendants of Ham would be cursed to live in constant opposition to the descendants of Shem and Japheth. And Noah prophesied about this ongoing state of internecine conflict.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
    and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
    and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
    and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:26-27 ESV

But all of this could have easily been prevented. Had Noah not made the fateful decision to settle down and plant a vineyard, no grapes would have grown, no wine would have been made, and no drunkenness would have taken place. Had Noah followed the path of Abel and become “a keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2 ESV), none of this would have happened. But even in Noah, the man who walked with God, we see a post-fall propensity for doing things his own way. He had spent years faithfully constructing an ark and now he was ready to settle down and enjoy the “fruits” of his labors. But the flood had not cleansed the curse God had placed on the ground. This new Adam (āḏām) would find the soil (‘ăḏāmâ) just as difficult to cultivate as the first Adam. And the fruit it produced would be accompanied by difficulties and heartache.

From this point forward, the Genesis account will display mankind’s consistent trajectory away from God. The temptation to “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV), will grow stronger with each passing generation. And even the righteous and blameless Noah proved to be a man who struggled with a desire to live life on his own terms. After the flood, Noah would live an additional 350 years and then die. He would experience the very fate that God had prescribed for Adam and his descendants.

“By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19 NLT

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.

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.

 

Not An Easy Job

1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.Amos 1:1 ESV

Amos describes himself as a shepherd from Tekoa, a city located 10 miles south of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. And later on in his book, he elaborates on his background by adding a few additional facts: “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:14-15 ESV). Amos’ somewhat adamant-sounding statement, “I was no prophet” may seem strange, considering the fact that he admits that he was called by God to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel.

But Amos was only trying to make the point that he had not always been a prophet. For most of his adult life, Amos had been a herdsman (bôqēr), a Hebrew term that was often translated as “shepherd.” Over the centuries, biblical scholars have speculated that Amos was actually far more than a lowly shepherd. In the opening verse of his book, he refers to himself as a being “among the shepherds of Tekoa.” The term he uses there is nōqēḏ, which can be translated as sheep-raiser or sheep-dealer. It is the same term used in 2 Kings to describe the king of Moab.

Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder (nōqēḏ), and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. – 2 Kings 3:4 ESV

Either Amos worked as a shepherd-for-hire, contracting himself out to the sheep breeders of Tekoa, or he was one of them. When he refers to himself as a “dresser of sycamore figs,” he seems to be describing the process of “gathering” (bālas) the fruit of the tree. This involved the scoring or cutting of the skin of the fruit so that it would ripen. So, it could be that Amos was nothing more than a seasonal day-laborer, who made his living by hiring himself out as a shepherd or field hand.

But regardless of whether Amos was a wealthy sheep breeder or a lowly sheepherder, he found himself going through a mid-life career change that was divinely ordained. Amos was called by God to leave behind the figs and flocks and begin his new life as a prophet. And whether Amos was rich or poor, highly successful or barely making ends meet, this would have been a significant change in his career trajectory.

A prophet (nāḇî’) was considered to be an “inspired man” – a divinely commissioned spokesman who operated under the influence of the Spirit. The Hebrew word actually means “to bubble forth, as from a fountain.” A prophet of God was divinely inspired to speak on behalf of God. And that is exactly what God had commissioned Amos to do.

“Go, prophesy to my people Israel…” – Amos 7:15 ESV

What is interesting is that Amos, a citizen of the southern kingdom of Judah, was being called to go as a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. Ever since the end of King Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel had been divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom was comprised of ten of the original 12 tribes of Israel. Samaria was its capital and Jeroboam II was its king at the time Amos was called. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and their king was Uzziah, who ruled from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

It is important to note that this division of the kingdom of Israel had come about because of Solomon’s disobedience and unfaithfulness. As the son of David, Solomon had inherited a powerful kingdom that was marked by peace and prosperity. And while Solomon had been gifted by God with great wisdom, he ended up amassing a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. And the author of the book of 1 Kings makes it clear that Solomon’s actions were far from acceptable to God.

King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” – 1 Kings 11:1-2 ESV

Solomon allowed his love of women to diminish his love for God. In order to appease his many foreign wives, he allowed them to worship their foreign gods. But eventually, he became influenced by their idolatry and began to promote the worship of false gods within the land of Israel.

…when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. – 1 Kings 11:4-6 ESV

As a result, God determined to punish Solomon for his unfaithfulness by splitting his kingdom in half. Solomon would be allowed to finish out his reign, but his son would inherit a kingdom much diminished in power, size, and influence.

“Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.” – 1 Kings 11:11 ESV

By the time Amos comes along, the two kingdoms have co-existed for hundreds of years, but their relationship was strained and marked by constant conflict. From its inception, the northern kingdom of Israel had been plagued by idolatry and apostasy. Its very first king, Jeroboam I, had commissioned the creation of two golden calf idols, placing one in Dan and the other in Bethel. Then he instructed the people of Israel:

“You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” – 1 Kings 12:28 ESV

From that point forward, the people of the northern kingdom of Israel were effectively “paganized.” They no longer kept the Law of God or made the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate the prescribed feasts and festivals. Instead, they made their way to their own sacred sites to worship their own man-made gods. And Amos will declare God’s dissatisfaction with them.

“Come to Bethel, and transgress;
    to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three days;
offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
    and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
    for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
declares the Lord God. – Amos 4:4-5 ESV

And God will use Amos to call the rebellious people of Israel to repent.

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:

“Seek me and live;
   but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
    or cross over to Beersheba;
for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,
    and Bethel shall come to nothing.” – Amos 5:4-5 ESV

And Amos, the newly appointed prophet, will begin his career by calling his northern neighbors to give up their idolatrous ways and return to the worship of Yahweh.

Seek good, and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
    as you have said.
Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
   will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. – Amos 5:14-15 ESV

But Amos will find his new job to be much more difficult than tending sheep or dressing figs. He will quickly discover the obstinance of the people of Israel and, eventually, he will be required to deliver a sobering message to their king, Jeroboam II.

“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile
    away from his land.’” – Amos 7:11 ESV

Just imagine the change that took place in Amos’ life as a result of God’s call. His world was turned upside down. He went from herding sheep to haranguing kings. Rather than scoring figs so that they might ripen, he was now excoriating the faithless so they might repent. Amos would quickly learn that being a prophet was a far-from-glamorous job that required great commitment and total reliance upon God. Despite the divine origin of his message, he would find his audience unreceptive and his presence unwelcome. He spoke on behalf of God but was treated as a pariah by the people of God. They didn’t want what he was selling, and they will repeatedly reject the God he was representing.

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

Sheep Without a Shepherd

15 And when he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?” And he answered him, “Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” 16 But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” 17 And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” 18 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” 19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.”

24 Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, “How did the Spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?” 25 And Micaiah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” 26 And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micaiah, and take him back to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, 27 and say, ‘Thus says the king, “Put this fellow in prison and feed him meager rations of bread and water, until I come in peace.”’” 28 And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!” 1 Kings 22:15-28 ESV

Imagine the scene. Micaiah, the prophet, has been forcibly dragged before King Ahab, who is seated on the dais with his guest, King Jehoshaphat of Judah. Surrounding the two potentates are 400 prophets of Baal, each taking turns declaring their version of the truth. For hours, they have been telling King Ahab exactly what he wants to hear: “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king” (1 Kings 22:12 ESV). One of them, a man named Zedekiah, had even crafted a pair of iron horns and used them as a prop to support his message to the king: “Thus says the Lord, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed’” (1 Kings 22:11 ESV).

Then Micaiah shows up. Unlike the 400 yes-men who have been masquerading as spokesmen for the false god, Baal, Micaiah was a prophet of Yahweh. And, as such, he was obligated to speak only those words given to him by God. Which is exactly what Micaiah had told the man who had come to fetch him.

As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.” – 1 Kings 22:14 ESV

Yet, when King Ahab asked Micaiah to reveal what his God thought about the planned attack of Ramoth-gilead, Micaiah simply repeated the words of the false prophets. He basically told the king, “Go for it!” But Ahab sensed the thinly veiled sarcasm behind Micaiah’s answer and demanded that he tell him the truth. Ahab knew from past experience that Micaiah and his God were going to oppose his plans. He had even revealed to King Jehoshaphat just how much he loathed Micaiah, telling him, “He never prophesies anything but trouble for me!” (1 Kings 22:8 NLT).

Micaiah knew that it really didn’t matter what he told Ahab because the king would do what he wanted to do. Ahab’s stubbornness and arrogance would prevent him from hearing and heeding the message of Yahweh. But Micaiah shared it anyway.

“In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.’” – 1 Kings 22:17 NLT

Ahab was infuriated because Micaiah had just predicted Israel’s defeat and the king’s own death. But this less-than-encouraging message was just what Ahab had expected from the prophet of Yahweh. Just like Elijah, Micaiah proved to be a messenger of doom and gloom, bent on delivering nothing but bad news concerning Ahab’s kingly aspirations.

But Micaiah was not done. He next revealed how God had chosen to implement His plan for Ahab’s demise.

“Listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’

“There were many suggestions, and finally a spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I can do it!’

“‘How will you do this?’ the Lord asked.

“And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’

“‘You will succeed,’ said the Lord. ‘Go ahead and do it.’” – 1 Kings 22:19-22 NLT

Micaiah had been given a vision of a conversation that had taken place in the throne room of God Almighty. In the vision, Yahweh is portrayed as a king surrounded by his advisors and his army. He is soliciting input from the heavenly host, asking for their counsel on the best way to get Ahab to proceed with his attack on Ramoth-gilead, which will result in his death. A spirit speaks up and offers to deceive the prophets of Baal by giving them a false message of victory. God approves the plan and sends the spirit on his way. Then Micaiah informs Ahab that this is exactly what has happened.

“So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets. For the Lord has pronounced your doom.” – 1 Kings 22:23 NLT

Amazingly, Micaiah tells Ahab the stark reality of all that had just transpired. The 400 prophets had been unwittingly declaring a lie, enticing Ahab to go through with his plan to attack Ramoth-gilead and, inadvertently, bringing about his death.

Yet, even when faced with the truth, Ahab stubbornly refused to give up his plan. He ordered Micaiah’s arrest and imprisonment and commanded that he be given nothing but bread and water until he had returned safely from his battle for Ramoth-gilead. But before being hauled off to prison, Micaiah made one final pronouncement to the king and all those who stood within earshot.

“If you return safely, it will mean that the Lord has not spoken through me!” Then he added to those standing around, “Everyone mark my words!” – 1 Kings 22:28 NLT

The problem with Ahab was not just his stubbornness and idolatry. It was his refusal to shepherd the people of Israel. All his self-centered acts of self-promotion had done irreparable damage to the nation of Israel. He had led the people into apostasy and idolatry. And, as a king over God’s chosen people, he would be held responsible for his failure to care for Yahweh’s flock. Hundreds of years later, the prophet Ezekiel would declare a foreboding message from God concerning all those kings who, like Ahab, had left the people of God like sheep without a shepherd.

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “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. 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 34:1-6 NLT

This motif of shepherdless sheep goes all the way back to the days of Moses. When the great deliverer of Israel was nearing the end of his life, he had appealed to God, asking Him to provide the people of Israel with a new shepherd.

Then Moses said to the LORD, “O LORD, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the LORD will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” – Numbers 27:15-17 NLT

And centuries later, long after Ahab had died, Jesus would appear on the scene, offering His own assessment of the spiritual state of the people of Israel.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:35-36 NLT

The Good Shepherd couldn’t help but look at His own people and see them as shepherdless sheep, wandering about confused and helpless. For centuries, they had been misled and mistreated. Their political and spiritual leaders had used and abused them. Those who should have been feeding and caring for them had ended up taking advantage of them. They had followed the example of Ahab. But Jesus had arrived on the scene as the Son of David, emulating the example of the man after God’s own heart. Jesus was the quintessential shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who would lay down His life for the sheep. And like His forefather, Jesus would shepherd the flock of God with care and compassion.

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

At the end of the day, Ahab’s greatest problem was that he was a lousy shepherd. His chief sin was that he had failed to care for God’s flock. He had made his own needs a higher priority than the needs of the people. Like most of the kings of Israel and Judah, Ahab had abused his divinely ordained power and position. And he would have to answer to the Great Shepherd of Israel.

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 40:11 NLT

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 King Whom God Will Choose

14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. – Deuteronomy 17:14-25 ESV

In yesterday’s post, we saw that a day would come when the people of Israel would reject God as their rightful King and demand that He provide them with a human king. They would make their request known to Samuel, the prophet of God.

“…you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” – 1 Samuel 8:5 NLT

Samuel would find their demands offensive, but God would command him to do exactly as they had requested.

“Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:8-10 NLT

It would be easy to assume that God was simply acceding to their demands and giving them just what they had asked for: A king to judge us like all the other nations have. But that would be a false assumption. As today’s passage indicates, God knew that the day would come when the people would ask for a king.

When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, ‘I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me…’” – Deuteronomy 17:14 NLT

God knew in advance what the Israelites were going to do and he had already planned for it. In fact, God let them know the kind of king they should select.

“…you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king.” – Deuteronomy 17:15 NLT

Notice God’s stipulation. He was more than willing for them to select a king for themselves, but it was going to have to be the man He chose. This man would have to have God’s blessing, and he would have to meet God’s standards, which included Israelite citizenship. No non-Jew was to rule over God’s people. And, while they would demand a king just like all the other nations, God was not going to allow this man to emulate the ways of these foreign potentates.

“…he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so…” – Deuteronomy 17:16 NLT

Stables filled with fine horses might characterize the kingdoms of other rulers, but God was going to expect His king to remain set apart, wholly distinct from all other human-appointed rulers. This would include a ban on accumulating wives and concubines, a typical manifestation of royal power and privilege.

“…he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold.” – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

The people were going to demand that they be given a king who looked like every other king. They would be thinking in terms of power, position, and prominence. The kind of king they had in mind would have all the familiar trappings of kingship, much like Pharaoh had enjoyed.

But God was not interested in placing the care of His chosen people in the hands of just any king. There would be rules and requirements involved. This man would have to rule and reign according to God’s will. He would have to obey God’s commands. But to do so, he would have to be intimately familiar with those commands, which is why God commanded:

“When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-19 NLT

A godly king would need to know God’s law. And he would have to rule over God’s people in a way that reflected his knowledge of God’s will. There was no place for pride or arrogance. God’s chosen king would serve as His representative, treating the people of God with the same care and concern He would. And if he did, God promised that “he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:20 NLT).

But years later, when the people of Israel would bring their demand for a king to Samuel, God would warn them that He was going to give them exactly what they were asking for. He would give them a king just like all the other nations.

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the LORD will not help you.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-18 NLT

Their preferred version of a king would end up coming back to haunt them. God warned them that He would give them exactly what they demanded. He would give them their hearts desire, even though it would not turn out well for them in the long-run. But, in spite of God’s warning, they would refuse to relent on their demands.

“Even so, we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.” – 1 Samuel 8:19-20 NLT

God was not opposed to Israel having a king. In fact, He would eventually give them David as their king, a man after His own heart. But before David reigned over Israel, they would suffer under the lousy leadership of Saul, a man who would end up being a king just all the other nations had. And David’s own son, Solomon, would end up disobeying God’s commands, eventually amassing a harem consisting of “700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines” (1 Kings 11:3 NLT). And most of his wives would be foreign-born and idolaters. They would eventually lead him astray, causing him to forsake God and set up idols all throughout his kingdom. And for this indescretion, God would split his kingdom in half, forming the two nations of Israel and Judah.

It was not that God was against Israel having a king, it was that He preferred a king who shared His heart. He wanted a man who would rule and reign as God’s representative, shepherding His sheep as David would eventually do.

With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:72 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

 

 

 

Filling A Void.

After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel. 2 Samuel 15:1-6 ESV

There are many things we could say about Absalom – many of them negative. But he was anything but impatient. He had spent two full years plotting his revenge against Amnon. Then he had spent three years living in self-imposed exile in Geshur, waiting to see what his father would do in reaction to his murder of Amnon. When David finally agreed to allow Absalom to return, he waited another two years, confined to his home, because his father refused to either pardon or punish him. And as we will see in the next section of chapter 15, Absalom will bide his time for another four years, quietly and patiently plotting his next move. Yes, Absalom was patient. He was willing to wait. But all the while he waited, he used the time to his advantage and was far from idle.

After David had restored him to favor, Absalom got busy. He had become well aware of a flaw in his father’s leadership abilities. He had personally experienced David’s predilection to procrastination and inaction. He had also been the beneficiary of David’s reluctance to enact justice as God’s appointed judge of Israel. And as Absalom made his way around the capital of Jerusalem, interfacing with the people of Israel, he became more and more convinced that his father‘s weaknesses could be exploited to his own advantage. Absalom was an ambitious young man who had shown his willingness to take matters into his own hands. When David had done nothing to punish Amnon for his rape of Tamar, Absalom had stepped in. When Joab had refused to respond to his repeated requests for an audience with David, he got Joab’s attention by having his barley fields set on fire. Absalom was a doer. He was driven and determined. And when he saw the flaw in David’s armor, he determined to strike a blow.

But Absalom was also cunning and clever. He would have made a great politician. He didn’t personally attack David or expose his weaknesses to the press. He simply began a quiet campaign to win over the hearts of the people. He slowly and subtly created doubt and suspicion in their minds regarding David’s leadership over them and love for them. First of all, he began a carefully crafted publicity campaign. He had been out of sight for five years, so it was important that he establish an image with the people. And the first thing he did was come up with plan to portray himself as a leader. It didn’t hurt that he was good looking.

Now Absalom was praised as the most handsome man in all Israel. He was flawless from head to foot. – 2 Samuel 14:25 NLT

And he was a family man.

He had three sons and one daughter. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she was very beautiful. – 2 Samuel 14:27 NLT

Now, all he needed was the trappings of success. So he bought himself some wheels.

Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him. – 2 Samuel 15:1 NLT

Next, he took his show on the road. And what a sight he made each morning when he arrived at the city gate. Nobody would have missed his arrival or wondered who he was. This was Absalom, son of the king. He was handsome, apparently successful and, on top of that, he was a man of the people. You see, Absalom knew that the key to successfully running the nation was to win over the hearts of the people. So he devised a plan to do just that. His strategy of going to the city gate each morning was brilliant. It was at the city gate that all business was conducted and justice dispensed. The people would come there to have their disputes mediated and complaints heard. David was to have his appointed judges and rulers ready to hear from his people and help with their problems. But evidently, David had been lax in providing the judgment and justice a growing city required. And the people were not happy. The crowds gathered each day, expecting justice, but walked away with their expectations unmet. So Absalom exploited the situation.

His arrival each day would not have gone unnoticed. And he went out of his way to ensure that the people saw him as not only a person of power and influence, but a man who cared about their needs. The text tells us, “When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from…” (2 Samuel 15:2 NLT). He would listen to their problem and then he would assure them, “You’ve really got a strong case here! It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it. I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!” (2 Samuel 15:3-4 NLT). Like the serpent in the garden, Absalom sowed seeds of doubt and led the people to question the care and concern of David for their needs. Without attacking David directly, Absalom undermined his father’s credibility with the people. After all, Absalom was there at the gate. He was talking and listening directly to the people. Where was David? Was he too busy to take care of his people? Was he too good to show up at the gate and listen to the problems facing the citizens of his kingdom?

Absalom was sly. He was crafty. And he was coldly calculating in all that he did. When the people began to see him as someone who cared and who might be willing to assist them with their needs, they would treat him with honor and respect, bowing down before him. But Absalom did the unthinkable and unexpected. Instead of allowing the people to honor him as some kind of dignitary, he would embrace them in his arms, treating them as his equal. And his ploy worked.

Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel. – 2 Samuel 15:6 NLT

An interesting side note in all of this is found in the book of Deuteronomy. There we find a somewhat obscure law regarding what to do with a rebellious son. And the fascinating thing about this law is where it was to be enacted: At the city gate.

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” – Deuteronomy 21:18-21 ESV

So, here we have Absalom, the king’s son, who has already murdered his brother, now plotting the overthrow of his father’s kingdom. And where is he attempting sow the seeds of doubt that will later blossom into the fruit of rebellion? The city gate. The very place where Absalom should have been brought to have his crime against Amnon judged and his execution enacted, was where he would begin his rebellion against David.

Once again, we see David’s failure to act decisively coming back to haunt him. We must ask ourselves why it was so easy for Absalom to win over the hearts of the people. Had they become disgruntled and disenchanted with all of David’s well-publicized moral failings? There is little doubt that rumors regarding David’s affair with Bathsheba had gotten out. Most likely, the news of Uriah’s death had spread and the questions regarding the circumstances surrounding his death would have been many. The whole situation with Amnon and Tamar would not have gone unnoticed by the people of Jerusalem. The murder of the king’s son by his brother would have been headline news. And the very fact that Absalom had returned and seemed to be doing quite well for himself had not escaped the notice of the people. There is also the likelihood that David was too busy with affairs of state to effectively listen to and address the needs of his people. It was probably about this time that David was busying himself with the construction of his palace and a place to house the Ark of the Covenant. He was also making preparations and plans for the future construction of the temple. David was a busy man. But had he become too busy to care for his own people? This reminds us that David had been called by God to “shepherd My people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2). But somewhere along the way, David had begun to lose the respect of his sheep. They had wandered and were easy prey for someone as crafty and cunning as Absalom. David had left a void and Absalom was more than willing to fill it. The sheep were hungry for justice and Absalom was prepared to feed them right from his hand and win their hearts.

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

Last, But Certainly Not Least.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” – 1 Samuel 16:1-11a ESV

The story of the life of King David, considered to be Israel’s greatest king, starts off in a rather less-than-flattering manner. He was born in the city of Bethlehem, the eighth and youngest son of Jesse. David was a member of the tribe of Judah. Judah was one of the sons of Jacob, and it is significant to note that, when Jacob blessed his sons on his deathbed, he said of Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10 ESV). This prophetic word from Jacob revealed that there would be a king, a sovereign, who would rise up from the tribe of Judah. And of this king, Jacob predicted, “your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8 ESV).

Which brings us to 1 Samuel, chapter 16. The prophet, Samuel, has been sent by God to the city of Bethlehem to anoint a new king. The current king, Israel’s very first king, had disobeyed God and was going to be replaced. King Saul had been the people’s choice. After the up-and-down period of the judges, when Israel had no king, the people had demanded that they be given one. They were tired of being ruled by judges. In fact, the people told Samuel, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 ESV). Samuel’s two sons were judges, but they were dishonest and ungodly men, which prompted the demand for a king. Samuel became angry that the people would ask such a thing, but God told Samuel to give the people exactly what they wanted: A king to judge us like all the nations.

“Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:7-9 ESV

But Saul’s reign didn’t last long. He ended up being just what the people ordered. God had warned them that Saul would prove to be a less-than-satisfactory king (see 1 Samuel 8:10-18).  On top of that, Saul proved to be disobedient to God. And God was forced to remove him as the king, commanding Samuel to break the news to him:

“But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:14 ESV

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” – 1 Samuel 15:28 ESV

Which brings us to the city of Bethlehem and the house of Jesse. God sent Samuel to Bethlehem with the clear directions to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be Saul’s replacement. Samuel was a bit reluctant, because Saul was still the king, and he feared what Saul might do if he caught wind that another king had been anointed. But God insisted that Samuel do just as He had commanded. And when Samuel invited Jesse and his sons to a sacrifice where he consecrated them.  When he got his first glimpse of Eliab, the firstborn, he immediately assumed he was the one, saying, “Surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him” (1 Samuel 16:6 ESV). But he was wrong. God responded to Samuel with one of the most revealing statements in the entire Bible.

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV

Saul, Israel’s first king, had been chosen based on sight. He is described as “a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2 ESV). But looks can be deceiving. And Samuel had allowed himself to be deceived by Eliab’s outward appearance. But it is important to remember what God had commanded Samuel to tell Saul: “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). This time, the selection process was going to be different. No more kings by consensus. God was looking for a man of character, not stature.

So Samuel had Jesse parade each of his sons in front of him, but one after the other, God repeatedly rejected them, forcing Samuel to announce, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one” (1 Samuel 16:8 ESV). The time came when Jesse ran out of sons and Samuel held the flask of anointing oil in his hands – unused. Samuel, a bit perplexed, asked Jesse if he had any other sons, and Jesse responded, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11 ESV).

There is a lot of conjecture as to why David was not invited to the festivities to begin with. The passage does not indicate that Jesse knew the purpose behind Samuel’s visit. But when Samuel invited Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice, David was left out in the fields to tend the flocks. He was the youngest, the low man on the totem pole. While all his brothers were being consecrated, he was left to care for the family’s livestock.

It is interesting to note that when Jesse informed Samuel about David, he said, “he is keeping the sheep.” The Hebrew word is ra`ah and it can literally be translated, “he is shepherding the sheep.” David was faithfully caring for and protecting the helpless sheep. He was doing his job to feed, guide, and nurture those who had been placed in his care. In Psalm 78, we are given a glimpse into the shepherd heart of David, the one who was about to be anointed the next king of Israel.

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 was going to choose David because of his heart, not because he was handsome. God was going to anoint David the next king of Israel, not because he was famous, but because he was faithful. Yes, he was the last in line of all the sons of Jesse, but he was far from the least in the eyes of God.

There is a song written by Kittle L. Suffield that sums up the situation with David quite nicely.

Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem too small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

David was left in the field by his father. But he was not left out of God’s plan for the future of Israel. David was an afterthought in his father’s thinking, but he would be thought worthy by God to become the shepherd of the flock of God. David was unknown and insignificant, shepherding sheep in the fields of Bethlehem. But God was about to do something with his life, the likes of which neither he nor his father could have ever imagined.

2 Chronicles 18

Sheperdless Sheep.

So Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘Their master has been killed. Send them home in peace.'” ­– 2 Chronicles 18:16 NLT

When it came time for Macaiah to deliver his word of prophesy from God to Ahab, what he had to say was somewhat strange and rather cryptic. God had given him a vision in which he had seen the people of Israel represented by sheep who were wandering without a shepherd. Why? Because their shepherd had been killed. It is a sad image of helplessness and hopelessness. Without a shepherd, sheep are completely defenseless and lacking in any ability to fend for themselves. They lack leadership and end up wandering all over the place, susceptible to predators, injury and death. It seems that from the context of the message, both God and Macaiah are more concerned about the state of the sheep than what happened to the shepherd. Even Ahab gets it that the vision does not bode well for him. He is going to die. And his death will have dire consequences on the people of Israel. But he doesn’t care. All he can think about is himself. He is self-centered, self-promoting, and self-worshiping. His world revolves around himself and his own desires.

But God has a love for his sheep. In fact, He uses that metaphor throughout the Scriptures, often referring to His people as His sheep. When Moses knew that he was not going to be able to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, he asked God to provide a new leader to do the job: “O LORD, the God of the spirits of all living things, please appoint a new leader for the community. Give them someone who will lead them into battle, so the people of the LORD will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:16-17 NLT). Years later, when the people of Israel were living in exile in Babylon, God would prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. 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. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 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, along with their right to feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey” (Ezekiel 34:8-10 NLT). The kings and prophets of Israel had failed to care for God’s sheep. He had placed them under their protection and given them responsibility for their well-being. Now the people of Israel were literally scattered, living in captivity in the land of Babylon.

But God would not leave His sheep sheperdless or defenseless. He would intervene. “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 to which 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 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 lush mountain pastures. I myself will tend my sheep and cause them 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 bind up 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).

God cares for His sheep. He sent His own Son to help rescue and redeem His lost sheep from captivity to sin. When Jesus came, He saw the great need among the people of Israel. “He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 NLT). He even referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will leave the sheep because they aren’t his and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he is merely hired and has no real concern for the sheep. 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. And I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15 NLT).

Ahab had neglected the sheep. He had abandoned his responsibility as a shepherd of God. And most the kings to follow him would do the same thing. The people of God would suffer for years due to lousy leadership and irresponsible shepherding. But God never abandoned them. He continued to act as their Great Shepherd, watching over them and ultimately rescuing them from captivity. And God has cared for us as well, rescuing us from captivity to sin and leading us back into His fold through the efforts of His Son, the Good Shepherd. Where Ahab and others like him had failed, God would succeed. He would be the shepherd the people needed. He would provide the care, comfort, protection and provision they needed. And He still does.

Father, You are the Great Shepherd and You care for me each and every day of my life. You watch over me in ways that I can’t even see. You provide for me in ways that go unnoticed by me. While men may fail me, You never do. Thank You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org