Israel’s Rejection of the Good Shepherd.

THE DESOLATION OF THE HOLY LAND. — V. I. Open thy doors, O Lebanon, the district on the northernmost border of the Holy Land, that the fire may devour thy cedars. Instead of describing the destruction of the land outright, the prophet calls upon its border to open its doors for the consuming fire. V. 2. Howl, fir-tree, the cypresses which occupied second place among the trees of the Lebanon forests, for the cedar is fallen, because the mighty are spoiled. Howl, O ye oaks of Bashan, the northernmost district of the Holy Land east of Jordan, for the forest of the vintage is come down, the high, the inaccessible forest is laid low. V. 3. There is a voice of the howling of the shepherds, those occupying the rich meadow-lands of Bashan, for their glory, the fine pasture on which they depended, is spoiled; a voice of the roaring of young lions, for the pride of Jordan, the thickets along the river, which offered excellent opportunities for dens, is spoiled. The description is short and bold, but comprehensive enough to indicate that the Lord is speaking of another desolation of the Holy Land, by which everything that was great and mighty in the country would be overthrown and the Holy Land once more become a wilderness. It is an evident reference to the conquest of Palestine by the Romans.

THE GOOD SHEPHERDS. — V. 4. Thus saith the Lord, my God, in formally engaging the prophet as His pastor with regard to the congregation of Israel, Feed the flock of the slaughter, those suffering with oppression at the present time, v. 5. whose possessors slay them and hold themselves not guilty, the buyers and masters of the covenant people dealing with them as they pleased, without incurring blame; and they that sell them say, Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich, the expression fitly describing the self-satisfaction felt by the hard-hearted masters in enriching themselves at the expense of the flock; and their own shepherds pity them not. One is compelled to think of the attitude of the rulers of the people at the time of Jesus and before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. V. 6. For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the Lord, no longer spare them after a last effort to save them; but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbor’s hand, so that internal strife and dissension would ruin the country, and into the hand of his king, the foreign emperor or governor; and they shall smite the land, oppressing it in various ways; and out of their hand, out of the power of such oppressors, I will not deliver them. V. 7. And I will feed the flock of the slaughter, rather, “I fed the flock,” for the prophet here describes how he undertook the commission which the Lord gave him, even you, O poor of the flock, those in his charge being in a very sad condition, lacking in spiritual knowledge. And I took unto me two staves, such as shepherds used in their work; the one I called Beauty, or “loveliness, favor,” such as the Lord intended to show His people through the work of His servant, and the other I called Bands, to indicate that the Lord wanted to have His people feel the blessings of true unity over against the oppression of all their enemies; and I fed the flock, performing his work as pastor according to the names of the two staves. V. 8. Three shepherds also I cut off in one month, the wicked civil authorities, the priests, and the scribes of the Jewish nation being probably meant, who were removed from power in a very short time; and my soul loathed them, since he, the type of the one Good Shepherd and Ruler of His Church, became impatient with their perverse impenitence, and their soul also abhorred me, the sheep foolishly refusing to follow the kind leadership of their shepherd. V. 9. Then said I, I will not feed you, he declared that he would no longer be their shepherd; that that dieth, let it die, he would let them rush to their own ruin since they refused to be guided by him; and that that Is to be cut off, let it be cut off, destroyed. by the power of the oppressor; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another, in the civil war, such as preceded the final destruction of Jerusalem. V. 10. And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, to indicate the withdrawal of God’s favor from His people, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. The person of the prophet here merges into that of his antitype, of the Good Shepherd Himself, for it is He who finally withdrew the blessings of His solemn promise from His former chosen people. V. 11. And it was broken in that day, the covenant being annulled by Israel’s disobedience; and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me, the lowly among the people, those who were Israelites in truth, knew that it was the word of the Lord. It was from among the poor and lowly that the Lord, even in those days, recruited His Church, even as St. Paul speaks of it, 1 Cor. 1. V. 12. And I said unto them, to the flock that did, not recognize the things of its peace, If ye think good, if they desired to recognize and acknowledge the services rendered them, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver, the value of a slave that had been killed, Ex. 21, 32, the ordinary price of a female slave, Hos. 3, 2. Cp. Matt. 26, 15. V. 13. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter, thereby rejecting the insult which they offered. A goodly price that I was prized at of them! this being said in impressive irony. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord. This statement has no meaning in this connection, but it receives a meaning through its fulfillment, for the thirty pieces of silver which the rulers of the Jews weighed to Judas for his betrayal of the Lord were by him cast into the Temple, the money later being used for the purchase of a potter’s field. Cp. Matt. 27, 1-10 and Jer. 32, 6-15. V. 14. Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel, so that, by the punishment of God, there might be lasting dissension in the Jewish camp, a peculiarity which, in the later history of the people, contributed much toward the rapid overthrow of the nation. Sin is a reproach to any people, but the height of folly is the denial and rejection of the Messiah, the one Good Shepherd.

THE FOOLISH SHEPHERD. — V. 15. And the Lord said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd, of a wicked hireling, who bears the insignia of a true shepherd, but cares nothing for the sheep. V. 16. For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, one assuming the functions of a true shepherd, which shall not visit those that be cut off, paying no attention to those who perish, neither shall seek the young one, those that have gone astray, nor heal that that is broken, suffering with broken limbs, nor feed that that standeth still, those who are strong, but in need of food; but he shall eat the flesh of the fat and tear their claws in pieces, in order to get even the last vestige of meat from the bones. V. 17. Woe to the idol shepherd, the worthless shepherd, that leaveth the flock, neglecting his chief duty toward its members. The sword shall be upon his arm, causing him to lose this important member of his body, and upon his right eye, also a most precious possession; his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened. It will hardly do to limit this prophecy to an earthly, temporal power. It seems rather that the Spirit of the Lord, looking forward in the history of the Church, outlined in a few strokes the kingdom of Antichrist erected in the midst of those who rejected the Redeemer in the fullness of His grace and mercy, indicating at the same time that his power would be broken by the power of the Lord, as it was in the Reformation.