Yehezkiel 33 is an expansion on Yehezkiel 3:16-27. The prophet is instructed to be a watchman for the people–to warn them to return to righteousness in order to avert catastrophe. If he fails to warn them, their blood will be on his hands. If he warns them, and they fail to heed his call, their blood is on their own hands. This chapter also reiterates that everyone will be judged for his own deeds, and not for those of his father or his son, as detailed in chapter 18.
Chapter 34 condemns the leaders of the Israelites for their failure to “shepherd” the “flock.” Instead of being stewards of that over which Hashem has given them charge, they have neglected their duties and preyed on the vulnerable. The leaders, secular and religious, are corrupt. Hashem will now obliterate the leadership, removing from them their offices of authority. They will no longer have the opportunity for corruption.
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 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. 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. 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. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 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.” -Yehezkiel 34:11-16
In describing this intent, Yehezkiel strongly echoes Tehila (Psalm) 23:
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.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of darkness,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithfulness shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall return to dwell in the house of the Lord
for the length of days.
However, Yehezkiel warns, the redeemed flock is not an innocent flock. It has been neglected and permitted to acquire bad habits. Those habits will be disciplined. Some of the sheep are in better shape than others. The flock must be culled. This is not simply an act of mercy for Hashem; he is setting thing to rights–bringing order from chaos, as He did in the Beginning.
Eventually, a new shepherd will be appointed. In a nod to the Psalmist, Yehezkiel refers to the new “shepherd” as David, rather than as a descendent of David. Note that Yehezkiel never refers to this future leader as a king. Instead, he is called “a prince among them [the flock].” This prophecy was fulfilled twice. First, Yeconiah was eventually freed from prison and placed in a position of authority in the Chaldean court (Yermiyahu 52:31-34). Second, and a more thorough fulfillment, the Zerubavel was made provincial governor under Persian rule.
Once order has been brought to the flock and a trustworthy authority placed over them, the Israelites will regain the opportunity to be prosperous as Hashem’s people. Here, we return to the reference to Tehila 23:
“I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.”-Yehezkiel 34:25-31
Note that the metaphor of the flock continues throughout the whole chapter. The “wild beasts” that will cease from the land at 34:25 are human “beasts”, just as the Israelites are “human sheep” at 34:31. There will be peace and prosperity in the land. This passage refers back to the Blessings of Devarim (Deuteronomy) 28:1-14. These Blessings are conditional. They only continue so long as we (the “sheep” and “shepherds”) adhere to our end of the bargain (following the Law and being wholly faithful to Hashem). Yehezkiel’s readers understood that those Blessings are backed up with Curses (Devarim 28:15-68)–the consequences of failing to adhere to our end of the covenant–and they do not need to be listed by Yehezkiel to be brought to mind. In this case the Curse of Devarim 28:68 is particularly relevant, since some of the remnant did indeed go back to Egypt and Israel did indeed seek assistance from Egypt and neither effort resulted in anything good for the Israelites.
And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer. -Devarim 28:68
Chapter 35 is a prophecy against Edom (and Seir within Edom). This prophecy is in line with Yesheyahu and Yermiyahu’s extensive prophecies against Edom. It fits in well with the prophecies of chapters 25-32
, which I previously discussed.
Chapter 36 continues the promise of restoration begun in chapter 34. As much as Edom and the other nations will be brought low or obliterated for their iniquity, so shall Israel be cleansed of hers and made holy again. Once cleansed, Israel will be prosperous, and her people will regret Israel’s prior iniquity. And that is what happened. Israel was restored under the Persian conquest of Chaldea, and with the prosperity of that redemption came the determination of a new generation to honor Hashem (as related and led by Ezra and Nehemiah). It is unfortunate that it did not last.
Chapter 37 is the famous vision of the valley of dry bones. The dry bones represent all of Israel, unresponsive and disjointed as they were, and so unclean and unholy as to be akin to corpses. It is a vision, and not literal, as indicated by the text itself in a variety of ways. When the bones reassemble themselves, they join together Yehudah (Judah) to Israel and Yoseph to Ephraim. The time has passed for petty internal conflict, and now all the house of Israel must be one. Once united and organized, Israel will again enjoy the opportunity to live in prosperity under the Law and under the Covenant. However, part of that Law is the Curse (Devarim 28:15-68), and Hashem never said He would remove free will from his sheep. We must choose with the “hearts of flesh” He gave us to honor that Covenant in order to reap its rewards.
Chapters 38 and 39 continue the reiteration of Yesheyahu and Yermiyahu’s prophecies against the nations.