Ezekiel 34:1-31

YHWH’s “word” or message (“word of prophecy” [Targum]) came to Ezekiel. (34:1) As at other times, he was addressed as “son of man,” a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. The message for him to make known was directed against the “shepherds [rulers or leaders] of Israel.” Through Ezekiel, the Lord YHWH declared, “Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves. Should not the shepherds feed the sheep?” Instead of being actively concerned in promoting the welfare of the people subject to them, the rulers oppressed and exploited them. (34:2) Their harsh actions toward the people were like those of uncaring shepherds who ate the “fat” or best part (consumed the “milk” [LXX]) of the sheep, clothed themselves with the wool, slaughtered fatlings, and, instead of leading the flock to good pasture, did not feed or tend the sheep. (34:3)

The “shepherds” or rulers had no regard for the poor, afflicted, or suffering people. They were like shepherds who did nothing to strengthen or help the weak, tend the sick so that they might recover, bandage the injured, bring back the ones that had strayed, and search for the lost one of the flock. Instead, the rulers dominated over the people with severity and with harshness. According to the Septuagint, they exhausted the strong ones with toil. (34:4) In view of there being no caring “shepherd” or ruler over them, God’s people (his “sheep”) became the victims of foreign powers (“food for every wild animal of the field”) and were scattered. The Targum indicates that the people were “handed over for destruction to all the kingdoms of the nations.” (34:5) Like sheep, the people wandered “over all the mountains and on every high hill.” They came to be scattered “over all the face of the earth” or over an extensive area far beyond their own land. The people were like lost sheep, but no one searched for them or endeavored to find them (lead them back [LXX]). (34:6)

“Therefore (on account of their failure), the shepherds or rulers of Israel were called upon to “hear” or to pay attention to the “word [or message] of YHWH.” (34:7) With words formulated like an oath (“as I live”), the Lord YHWH solemnly declared, “Because my sheep have become spoil and my sheep have become food for every wild animal of the field [victims of foreign powers], for there was no [caring] shepherd and my shepherds [the rulers who themselves were Israelites or God’s people] did not search for my sheep, and the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed my sheep [the rulers had no concern for their subjects]” (34:8), “therefore, you shepherds [rulers], hear [pay attention to] the word of YHWH.” (34:9) “Thus says the Lord YHWH, Look, I am against the shepherds [rulers].” The word rendered “look” focused attention on what YHWH had determined regarding the “shepherds,” “I will require my sheep at their hand,” holding them accountable for their failure to exercise their authority for the benefit of the people. “I will stop them from tending the sheep,” depriving them of all power over them. “The shepherds will no longer feed themselves,” exploiting their subjects and oppressing them. YHWH’s word continued, “I will rescue my sheep from their mouth [the mouth of the shepherds], and they will not be food for them.” No longer would YHWH’s sheep have to endure the oppressive domination of rulers who exploited them for their base objectives. (34:10)

Regarding what he would do for his sheep, the Lord YHWH is quoted as saying, “Look, I myself” (or, “here I am”), “and I will search for my sheep and look for them.” After the troops under the command of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and devastated the territory of the kingdom of Judah and after the remaining survivors in the land fled to Egypt, all the people who had been scattered or taken into Babylonian exile, including those who were exiled with King Jehoiachin, found themselves in circumstances comparable to those of scattered sheep. (34:11) Through Ezekiel, YHWH promised that he would not leave his people in this vulnerable condition. Like a shepherd searches for any scattered animals of his flock when he is among his sheep, YHWH promised to seek out his “sheep and rescue them from all the places to which they had been scattered in a day of cloud and gloom.” This “day of cloud and gloom” was the time when the people from the territory of the kingdom of Judah were taken into Babylonian exile, for it was a time when these exiles had no hope of ever being able to return to their own land. (34:12; see the Notes section.) Through Ezekiel, YHWH expressed his purpose regarding his people, “I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the lands and will bring them to their own land and tend them on the mountains of Israel by the wadis and in all the inhabited places of the land.” This was fulfilled after Babylon fell to the troops under the command of the Persian monarch Cyrus. Through the agency of Cyrus, YHWH made it possible for a remnant of his exiled people to be gathered from the regions to which they had been scattered, to return to the territory of the former kingdom of Judah, to rebuild Jerusalem, and to restore the devastated places. (34:13)

In the capacity of their shepherd, YHWH promised to care for his sheep or the remnant of his restored people. “I will feed them in good pasturage, and their pasture will be on the mountains, [on] the heights of Israel. There they will lie down in good pasture, and they will feed on fat [lush or rich] grazing land on the mountains of Israel.” The Septuagint refers to their “folds” as being on the “high mountains of Israel.” There they would “sleep,” and there they would “rest in fine luxury” (or in a flourishing condition). (34:14; see the Notes section.) Instead of having the oppressive shepherds of the past, the restored people would have YHWH as their caring shepherd. His promise through Ezekiel was, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will let them lie down [rest (LXX)].” The Septuagint then adds (but not P967, the oldest extant Greek manuscript), “And they will know that I am the Lord.” (34:15; see the Notes section.)

Like a caring shepherd, YHWH would search for any lost sheep, bring back one that had strayed, bandage any injured sheep, strengthen or care for the sick one. Any member of the flock comparable to a sheep that injured the others and became fat or strong at their expense would be annihilated. YHWH would feed bad sheep with “judgment” or “justice,” executing the deserved punitive judgment against them. According to the Septuagint, God would “watch the strong one.” The Greek text then concludes with the words, “and I will feed them with judgment.” (34:16)

Regarding his “sheep” or his people, the Lord YHWH said, “Look, I will judge between a sheep and a sheep, between rams and he-goats.” The introductory word rendered “look” focuses attention on the judgment. This judgment of the sheep or the people would be based on the way each person treated fellow Israelites. In the context, the “rams and he-goats” represent leaders of the people and others who made themselves guilty of oppression and exploitation. (34:17) They are the ones who were described as animals that fed on “good pasture” but then trampled down what was left after their grazing. These oppressive ones were like rams and he-goats that drank of clear water but then stamped around in the remaining water, muddying it for the rest of the flock. (34:18) The experience of YHWH’s “sheep” or people was comparable to that of animals that were forced to graze on the pasture which the rams and he-goats had trampled and to drink the water that the rams and he-goats had muddied with their hoofs. (34:19)

“Therefore,” in view of what had been the lot of the oppressed people, the Lord YHWH said to the oppressors, “Look, I, I myself will judge between a fat [strong (LXX)] sheep [rich man (Targum)] and an emaciated [a weak (LXX)] sheep” [poor man (Targum)]” — the prosperous oppressor and the struggling lowly oppressed one. (34:20) The leaders of the people and other oppressors were like animals that pushed with their “flank and shoulder” and thrust with their horns against “all the weak ones” until they had “scattered them abroad.” In the Targum, the oppressors are identified as men who oppressed others with “wickedness and force” and, with their strength, crushed all of the weak ones. The corrupt leaders and other evil exploiters were responsible for the loss of YHWH’s care, aid, and protection. Therefore, the scattering of the sheep was attributed to them. In the Septuagint, the reference is to afflicting the “abandoned” (or faint) one. (34:21)

YHWH promised to save or deliver his “sheep” or flock, liberating those whom he regarded as his own from being an object of plunder. He would “judge between a sheep [ram (LXX)] and a sheep [ram (LXX)]” (“a man and a man” [Targum]). At the time for judgment, the wicked oppressors would be held accountable for their actions and would be punished. (34:22; see the Notes section.)

To replace the oppressive “shepherds” or rulers of the past, YHWH purposed to set over his people one shepherd who would “feed” or care for them. This one would be his “servant David,” the ruler who would truly “feed” the people and be a shepherd to them. After a remnant of Jewish exiles returned to their own land after the fall of Babylon, they did not have a king in the royal line of David over them. Therefore, the reference is to the future “son of David,” the promised Messiah or Anointed One, who appeared in the first century CE and came to be known as “Jesus” or Jehoshua and is the highly exalted king by God’s appointment since his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, the invisible spirit realm. The time will come when he, as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” will exercise the complete authority his Father and God granted him over everything in heaven and on earth. Even today, all who accept his authority over them benefit from his care and help as a loving shepherd. By reason of what he accomplished when surrendering his life, his “sheep” are forgiven of their sins and restored to a relationship of oneness with him and his Father. (34:23; see John 10:1-18; Acts 3:13-26; 1 John 2:1, 2.) YHWH’s promise to these “sheep” is, “I, YHWH, will be their God, and my servant David a leader [ruler or prince] in their midst. I, YHWH, have spoken.” This indicated that those whom YHWH recognized as the “sheep” would have his approval as their God, and they would benefit from the rule of his “servant David,” the Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ. (34:24)

The blessings that the “sheep,” God’s people, would enjoy under the rule of the “son of David” are portrayed in terms of security and prosperity. YHWH would make a “covenant of peace” with his people, assuring them of a life free from insecurity. Any danger of attack by wild animals (or like threats) would be banished from the land so that even wilderness regions where beasts of prey formerly roamed would be safe for habitation and forests would be places where people could sleep without fear. (34:25; compare Leviticus 26:6 and see the Notes section.) YHWH would make his people and the places “round about [his] holy hill [the elevated site in Jerusalem where the temple was located] a blessing,” probably meaning the object of his blessing. According to the Septuagint, God would “give” the people a place of dwelling “all around [his] mountain.” The Targum interprets the words of this verse to mean that God would settle his people “all around [his] holy temple.” YHWH promised to send down rain for his people “in its season” or when needed. The rains would be “showers of blessing,” for they would make it possible for crops to flourish. (34:26) Trees would be productive, and the land would yield abundant harvests. The people would then reside in security on their land. Upon their liberation from the oppressive yoke they had formerly borne and their rescue from the “hand” or power of those who had enslaved them, the people would “know YHWH,” or recognize him as the God who had brought about their deliverance. (34:27) They would cease to be the prey of other nations, no longer being submitted to enemy invasions and conquest. No wild animal would “devour” or harm them. They would reside in security (“in hope” [LXX]), and no one would make them afraid. (34:28)

YHWH’s raising up for his people a “plantation for a name” (“plant of peace”) could relate to his granting permanent productivity to the land or to his raising up the “son of David,” his servant “Sprout,” Shoot, or Branch (Zechariah 6:12, 13) as king. (Isaiah 11:1-5) The renderings of numerous modern translations make the application to the productivity of the land. “I will make their land famous for its crops.” (NLT) “I will make their fields produce large amounts of crops.” (CEV) “I will give them fertile fields.” (TEV) “I shall make their crops renowned.” (REB) “I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops.” (NIV) “I shall make splendid vegetation grow for them.” (NJB) “I will prepare for them peaceful fields for planting.” (NAB, revised edition) A case could be made for these interpretive renderings in view of the words about famine that follow. The people would not be “removed” or destroyed by famine or hunger in the land. According to the Targum, they would never again be wanderers on account of famine. The people would no longer have to endure the “reproach of the nations,” evidently because of no more coming to be in distressing circumstances from famine or enemy invasion. (34:29) They would then know that YHWH their God was with them, and that he acknowledged them as his people, the “house of Israel.” As his people, they benefited from his blessing. (34:30)

YHWH is quoted as identifying his “sheep, the sheep of [his] pasture,” as men (literally, “man” [collectively]) or as mortals dependent upon him, and he was their God, the Eternal One, the one on whom they could rely for everything. (34:31; see the Notes section.)


The wording of verse 12 in the Septuagint differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It refers to the shepherd as seeking “his flock by day, when darkness and cloud” are “in the midst of the sheep separated [from the flock].” Like a shepherd, God would seek his “sheep and drive them away from every place to which they had been scattered in a day of cloud and darkness.”

In verse 14, the wording of the oldest extant Greek text (P967) differs in a minor way from other Greek manuscripts. “In good pasture, I will feed them on a high mountain of Israel, and their flock will be there, and they will sleep, and there they will rest in fine luxury, and they will be fed in fat [lush or rich] pasture on the mountains of Israel.”

In the Hebrew text of verse 15, the quoted words of YHWH are attributed to him with the expression that may be rendered, “Thus says the Lord.” In the Septuagint, the words, “Thus says the Lord Lord” could be understood to introduce the text of verse 16.

For the wording in verse 22, the oldest extant Greek text (P967) does not include the phrase, “and I will judge between ram to ram.”

According to the Septuagint rendering of the words in verse 25, God would make a “covenant of peace” with David.

In verse 31, the Septuagint does not include the words that identify the “sheep” as “men” or mortals.