Does God care about the downtrodden, the poor, the hungry, the slave? Does he care about people who are going through pain? We can wonder about this when we are the downtrodden ones, when we are poor, hungry and enslaved. As we continue studying Ezekiel 34, we learn about God’s heart.
Ezekiel’s prophecy in chapter 34 is about how Israel’s shepherds mistreated and neglected their sheep. We learned in the previous post, the God wasn’t talking about shepherds and sheep. He was using shepherds and sheep to talk about Israel’s kings and people. Through the prophecy God declares that he has some rehab work to do because there were so many bad kings, and the people looked to human kings, as well as foreign kings, to save and protect them, rather than to God. We read about this remedial work in Ezekiel 34, verses 16-22.
God starts by noting that he will reach out to rescue and care for the lost, the injured and the weak sheep. We expect the owner of the flock to do just that. What he does next, though, can sound controversial. He says that the strong and sleek he will destroy.
Woah. What does God have against the strong and sleek?
It can seem that God is biased in favor of the poor and hurting, the marginalized, those who have faced injustice. Here we see God’s heart for justice, as he goes on to describe how the strong have committed injustice against the weak. The strong have allowed the weak to live in a world where they are floundering rather than flourishing.
In verses 17-19, we learn that the weak have been beaten down at the hands of the wealthy and powerful. The strong are like sheep who not only have their fill of the lush grass, but they also stomp on the uneaten grass, thus leaving none for any other sheep. The strong are like sheep who not only have their thirst quenched by clean water, but they also muddy the water, making it non-potable for the rest.
Note that God is speaking in general terms. He is not saying that these principles of injustice are at work in every single case. Sometimes the poor are poor because they made bad decisions. Sometimes the poor are poor because they spend their money unwisely, or they are lazy or gluttons. But often, far more often, the gap between the rich and poor is widened because the rich have the access and power to control the wealth gap, and they want to keep it that way. This is precisely what happened in ancient Israel. The wealthy powerful kings made sure that they stayed rich and powerful at the expense of the people.
At this point, God finally stepped in, saying, “Enough!” He allowed Assyria to defeat Israel to the north, and he allowed Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and Judah to the south. When God gave Ezekiel this prophecy, there was no more Israelite monarchy. Not in the north and not in the south. It was over.
Notice how God illustrates his intervention by describing that he will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. The fat ones are the wicked kings of Israel who abused and drove away the lean skinny sheep, who represent the powerless starving people. Now God says that he will shepherd a new flock, a flock made up of the skinny sheep. God will be the shepherd of the skinny sheep. God’s heart, in other words, beats for the downcast, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the refugee. This is a theological principle we see over and over and over in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. God calls us to follow his heart, meaning that we should have a passionate concern for the marginalized as well.