Written by Victor Stanley Jr.*
Ezekiel 34 paints a picture of the wicked and unfaithful shepherds over Israel. These shepherds misled the people and took advantage of them. They allowed the “sheep” to remain weak, lost, sick, and desolate, only taking care of themselves and gaining off of the spiritual destruction of the children of Israel. In John 10 Jesus says that the shepherd who came before him were thieves who came only to kill and destroy which is what God accused the leaders of Israel of in Ezekiel 34. These shepherds Jesus speaks of in John 10 abandoned the sheep and left them to be devoured by wolves, again the shepherds over Israel are said to do the same thing in verse 5 of Ezekiel 34. So both passages show the failure of those God appointed over his people prior to Christ’s coming.
Despite the failure of the shepherds, or hired hands as Jesus calls them, God promises to gather his sheep and place a new shepherd over them. Furthermore, he says that it is he himself who will feed his sheep and protect them, and the he will be their shepherd. The fulfillment of this promise is found in Christ, and Jesus states this explicitly in John 10 where he declares that he is the good shepherd.
In declaring himself the good shepherd Jesus shows that he is the fulfillment of the promise from Ezekiel, and with that that he is God. He also provides a model for what a good shepherd should look like, and these attributes can be applied to leadership. Jesus shows that a good shepherd cares for and loves his flock, that he is self-sacrificing to the benefit of the flock. Christ shuns the selfishness of the hired hands and promotes selflessness when he says that he will lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus also emphasizes the importance of knowing and being known by God and with this demonstrates the need to submit to and be led by the Father. Jesus says that his charge comes from the Father, so in the same way Christian leaders must recognize that their position and authority come from God.
The Christian leader must recognize the nurturing, selfless, God-honoring attributes of the good shepherd in contrast to the irresponsible, self-serving, God dishonoring nature of the shepherds condemned in both Ezekiel and John. In heeding the condemnation of the wicked shepherds and adhering to the nature of the good shepherd the Christian leader will effectively lead as he or she is being conformed to the image of Christ.
*Adapted from a lecture by Dr. Gabriel Etzel Administrative Dean of the Liberty University School of Divinity