Lessons from a stick

Text Ezekiel 37:15-28 Time 07/10/07 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
If you ask the average Christian if he knows anything from the Book of Ezekiel he may say that he does not know much but he does know Chapter 37. When you question further, however, you will probably find that what he means is that he knows 37:1-14 and the vision of the valley of dry bones. If you ask him about the rest of the chapter, verses 15-28, you may well find that he doesn’t even know what the rest of the chapter contains. Now why is this?
There are probably two main reasons.
1. The contrasting visions – one very spectacular and one not. The first features a valley of dry bones which when Ezekiel prophesies is first reassembled and enfleshed and then actually comes alive to form a vast army. The whole thing must have been an amazing sight. The second features a bit of wood – just a stick really or two bits of stick put together to form one. Hardly very spectacular. The latter we could easily replicate ourselves if we wished. The former is something we could hardly even hope to present even in cinematic form.
2. The applications – the first is again simpler, less detailed and perhaps more obviously encouraging. It is a message of hope and of encouragement with obvious applications to various situations of need and discouragement. As we shall see, in the second part of the chapter although it may be more difficult to extract there is a great deal more again here. So we say
1. Be clear about the picture used
Yet again in 37:15 Ezekiel tells us The word of the LORD came to me. He is told by God (16, 17) Son of man, take a stick of wood and write on it Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him. Then take another stick of wood, and write on it, Ephraim's stick, belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him. Join them together into one stick so that they will become one in your hand. Yes, it's as simple as that – two sticks with names written on them and then joined together.
To fully appreciate this, however, we do need a brief history lesson to explain the significance of the names. It goes back to what happened at the end of the reign of Solomon many years earlier. You recall that although Solomon was a great King he was a hard taskmaster and when his son Rehoboam came along the people pleaded with him for greater leniency. The older and wiser of his advisers could see that this was the policy needed but the younger men in his court took the opposite view and it was these that Rehoboam foolishly listened to. This led to a rebellion under a man called Jeroboam and following a short but bitter civil war, God's people were divided.
In the south you had Judah and little Benjamin, the people of Simeon who were scattered in the land of Judah plus all the Levites who remained faithful to the Temple worship in Jerusalem. Hence the reference on one hand to Belonging to Judah and the Israelites associated with him. This nation had a series of kings after Rehoboam, all descended from him in the same dynasty. Some were bad like him but some, such as Asa, Hezekiah and Uzziah, etc, were good. Eventually, because of Manasseh and other wicked kings they were taken into exile in Babylon.
The other tribes all to the north (hence their designation "the northern kingdom") formed a new nation under Jeroboam the Son of Nebat, their first King. A form of false worship was introduced and things basically went from bad to worse. A series of dynasties came and went. In every case the king was wicked. The worst of them was King Ahab who reigned with his wicked Queen Jezebel. Eventually they were carried into exile by the Assyrians some time before the Kingdom of Judah was also exiled. In their land they were replaced by other pagan peoples who brought in a hybrid religion of their own. These are the Samaritans, so called from the capital city of the north. Here the kingdom is referred to as Ephraim. We have belonging to Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him. Ephraim, you remember was Joseph's son and the most prominent of the ten tribes was named after him.
It is rather complicated, as real life is, but it is good for us to know this material so that we can better understand the Bible, which is the Word of God.
2. Understand the meaning of the picture and what God promises his people
So what about the meaning of all this? Ezekiel is told (18, 19) When your countrymen ask you, Won't you tell us what you mean by this? say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph - which is in Ephraim's hand - and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah's stick, making them a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand. That is the basic promise then. Somehow God is going to gather together the exiled people of God, scattered as they were in Assyria and Babylon and by this time in other places too, and he was going to bring them all together again as one. Now this is quite something. If I have an apple and I cut it in half and then I say I'm going to join the two halves together again you may wonder how I will do it but you can imagine a way. But if I cut and apple in half and throw one half over there and throw the other half over there and then cut it into pieces, then I have a much more difficult task in hand.
Ezekiel is told (20, 21) Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on and say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says. There is a lot more here than at first meets the eye. By joining the House of Israel together as one, once again, God is going to bring about several great and wonderful changes. They are spoken of here.
I have divided them into six to help us explore them. As we look at these, it is important not to be literalistic about our understanding of them. When he says (24) for example My servant David will be king over them. He cannot surely mean that David is literally going to be raised up to reign as King once more. No, Ezekiel is describing things here that begin in the Old Testament period and that extend into this New Testament period in which we now live.
1. Rescue from exile and return home to the Promised Land
I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. … 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children will live there forever .... God's people leaving their places of exile and coming back to the promised Land. Picture it.
This reunion is going to take place back in the Promised Land itself. It involves two parts – the rescue from exile and then the return to live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. And that is what literally happened. You can read about it in Ezra and Nehemiah. The promise is that They and their children and their children's children will live there forever .... And here we must expect something less literal as in fact they were eventually thrown out of the land again following the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. The answer to this is no doubt in the fact that since the coming of Messiah the people of God has been clearly made up not just of Jews but of people from every tribe and tongue and nation under heaven and so geographical location is no longer the factor it was. Our focus is now not on any location on earth but on heaven, where Christ is, and the world to come.
God's purpose was always that the Son of God would come into this world as Messiah. In order for that to happen he had to be born to a people who lived in a certain land under certain laws and customs and who spoke a certain language. It was God's purpose that this people should be the Jews, living in the land of Palestine or Israel, living under the laws set out in Scripture, following various customs and speaking Hebrew (and Aramaic). At this point in history it looked as though this was simply never going to happen. The Jews were a divided people, in exile, finding it very difficult to keep God's law, in a foreign culture and speaking a foreign language. And yet here is the promise that all will be well.
And in Christ that promise still stands – the promise of rescue and return. We are as it were, by nature, exiles – exiles from heaven and from God and from all the joy of his promises. But he is willing to bring us back. He is willing to draw us to himself and to his people and eventually to heaven if we will trust in Jesus Christ. And so I say to you "Return. Come back. Know the joy of being back with him and the prospect of eternity in heaven. "
2. Continual unity under one king, Christ
22-25 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. … Take note of verses 24 and 25 My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd ... and David my servant will be their prince forever. They will be a happily united people in the land under the rule of King David. This previously divided nation will be reunited once again. Not only that but they will have a king over them. It is worth noting that Israel had no king after the exile. Although on their return the heir, Zerubbabel, was governor, it was foreign kings who ruled. Indeed the royal household fell into obscurity although the information was preserved – we have it in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that show that Jesus of Nazareth through his mother and earthly father was the rightful heir to the throne of David. Here he is spoken of as David himself, the king, the one shepherd, their prince forever.
And that is fulfilled in the unity that God's true people have under the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember how Jesus prayed on earth - Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name - the name you gave me - so that they may be one as we are one. I know that Christians can argue and fight but there is an essential union between them that cannot be lost. They serve the same God through the same Saviour. It is the same Holy Spirit who works in them all. They read the same book and ultimately they will all be in the same place together under the same Great King, Jesus Christ. Is he your king? Are you one with us – one with the people of God?
3. Purity from idolatry and sin and a covenant relationship with God
23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offences, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. It is worth remembering that the history of Israel up until the exile is the history of a people constantly falling into idolatry. Ezekiel learns you remember how it was even going on in the Temple itself. They were surrounded by such things and they often fell into it and into other gross sins also. But after the exile, formally at least, they were not like that at all. They were monotheists of the first order – this is one reason why they resist the idea of the Trinity so strongly. Here that transformation is promised. Again, we must not stop with its literal and partial fulfilment in Israel but see how it points to the saving of many the world over from paganism and idolatry and all the wickedness that so abounds in this world. Have you stopped defiling yourself with your idols and vile images? Have you turned from your offences against God? Call to God to save you from sinful backsliding and to cleanse you. In Jesus Christ you can enter into covenant with God – he will be your God and you will belong to him. I urge you to come and to be reconciled to God today. Call him my God. Ask him to receive you under his gracious covenant today.
4. Careful obedience to God’s Law
They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. Again, use your imagination and think of the way when the Jews returned from exile they began again to study and implement God's Law as found in the Scriptures. You know that after the exile the synagogues began and you have the rise of the Pharisees who although they were marred by many faults, at least by the time of Jesus, they were essentially seeking to keep the law of God as they understood it.
In Jesus Christ God's new covenant people are not under the old ceremonial and judicial laws of Israel but the moral law still stands and that they seek to keep. They often fail in that but God is willing to take their sincere desire to keep the law as evidence of following it and being careful about it. If you are not trusting in Jesus Christ it is impossible for you to do even one thing in line with God's law. Again that is why we all need to trust in Jesus Christ.
5. Covenant peace, prosperity and growth
In 26 God says I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers. Again, the terms are quite general but you can imagine entering into an ancient covenant perhaps – a conquering suzerain or overlord agreeing terms with the people and agreeing to support them and allow them to prosper. You can imagine them growing in numbers and in prosperity over the years. Again we can see a literal fulfilment following the resettlement of the people in Israel but there is more than that – there is the covenant of peace with God in Christ. Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God. We are at peace because we are no longer rebelling against god through Christ and because he is no longer angry at us because of what he has done. There is also that peace of God which transcends all understanding that guards the hearts and minds of believers and that peace between them which we have spoken of earlier. As for prosperity, believers may not always be rich in this world's goods but when it comes to the things that count they lack no good thing. All things are yours says Paul to the Corinthians. And in principle they are. It is the meek, I remind you, who will inherit the earth. As for numbers, there are more and more Christians all the time. Every day, more and more people are coming into the kingdom as the gospel goes out in the nations of the world. Today, especially, the Lord's Day, no doubt there will be many people converted in different paces (perhaps here). Christianity's doom has often been spoken of but in fact nothing can stop its growth. Are you a Christian? Are you knowing the forgiveness of sins and the peace and prosperity found in Christ?
6. God’s covenant presence, a witness to the nations
Finally and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.
Picture the Temple that was rebuilt when they returned to the Promised Land. Once again they knew the immediate presence of the Lord there. The Second Tempe wasn't as impressive as Solomon's Temple but it was to that site that Messiah eventually came. When he was just six weeks old, his parents brought him there and Simeon blessed him. He was there again when he was twelve and many times after. There he turned out the money changers and taught the people. He is God incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us. He has now sent his Holy Spirit who is active in all the world bringing God's presence near. He is here now. What a glorious privilege. It is a witness too to the nations. No other nation knew what Israel knew. No religion even promises what we know as believers – Christ in you the hope of glory. You can know it. Come to Christ today.

Can these bones live? Any hope?

Text Ezekiel 37:1-14 Time 30/09/07 Place Childs Hill Baptist ChurchThe first part of Ezekiel 37 is about the valley of dry bones and it is the most famous part in the whole book. Indeed this is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Now those of you who have been following this series from the beginning have the advantage of seeing it against the background of all we have had so far.
Remember, the prophet Ezekiel is in exile – he is far away from the Promised Land in Babylon where he and others have been taken against their will. He has been prophesying that things are going to get worse again before they get any better and he has recently heard the terrible news of Jerusalem's overthrow.
Meanwhile, the people are still given over to idolatry and are still unwilling to humble themselves before God and turn from their sins. They listen to Ezekiel, yes, but they are unwilling to respond to him in the way that he wants. He is just like someone singing songs to them – 'yes, very peasant Ezekiel but I'm not going to change my life'.
It is all very depressing then. There seems little to be encouraged about. Now I would suggest to you that our own situation in this country at the present time is very similar. In general, people have given themselves up to idolatry. They live for things not for God. Church attendance is very low and even where people do attend they are often not hearing the gospel or if they do hear it, they reject it. It is generally felt that the exciting things in this world are all happening away from where Christ is exalted. People have no time for God's Word or for prayer or for thinking about their sins and how to turn from them, of heaven and the world to come.
We can then perhaps identify with Ezekiel as he must have been feeling at this point. Now it is at this point that God brings the amazing vision to Ezekiel that we see here. The story is in three parts. Firstly, Ezekiel is shown a valley full of dry bones. Secondly, as ludicrous as it may have seemed at the time, at God's command Ezekiel prophesies to these bones. Thirdly, an application is made. So let's consider these three elements together.
1. Realise just how bad things areEzekiel tells us that at this point that The hand of the LORD was upon him. We have had this expression before to explain how the Lord came to Ezekiel and granted him various visions. This time he tells us that God brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley. He does not tell us anything more about the geographical location of this valley. That clearly was not important. The important thing was that it was full of bones. It would seem that this was a defeated army somewhere - killed, stripped and plundered, then left to rot.
From the first moment he saw that valley Ezekiel could see it was full of bones but God wanted to really impress upon him exactly what was there. And so he does two things. First he gets Ezekiel to
1. Take a good look at the bones
He says (2) He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones he adds that were very dry. They had clearly been there for some time. Rates of decomposition vary but Ezekiel is not seeing dead bodies as such nor even skeletons but bones and very dry bones at that. These bones must have belonged to men who had died at least a year or two before.
Secondly, he has to
2. Hear God's question3 He asked me, Son of man, can these bones live? Now there's a question! Can mere bones live? Could these very dry bones whose owners had clearly died some while ago come together again so that they would live? Ezekiel knew that Elijah and Elisha had been used by God to raise people from the dead but these were people who had died only a short while before. He knew of many other miracles such as the crossing of the Red Sea and the other miracles in Moses's time, the lengthening of the day in the time of Joshua and later of Ahaz, the lengthening of Hezekiah's life and so on but just look at these bones – can they live? Can they be raised up? Surely not. And so Ezekiel gave what sounds like a very diplomatic answer. He says that he didn't full of optimism say 'Yes, of course' nor did he say pessimistically 'no way, that's impossible'. Rather, he tells us I said, O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.Now even before Ezekiel is told any more, no doubt certain things were running through his mind and perhaps we can make some early and obvious applications to ourselves too.
1. Take a good look at the bones. So imagine yourself in a valley of dry bones – very dry bones. Don't you feel as though you are in such a valley sometimes? Everything looks rather discouraging. You feel like your bones are all dried up and there's no hope. Now our inclination at such times is to run. We feel like we just want to get out and up on the hills somewhere. However, look what God makes Ezekiel do. He makes him take a good long hard look at the situation. He wants to impress on Ezekiel just how bad things are. Part of my task as a preacher is to walk back and for among the bones as it were and show you how many there are and how very dry they are. It's not pleasant work but it is necessary. We need to be desperate. We need to see how very bad indeed our plight is by nature. Superficial answers are not going to help us. There were prophets in Ezekiel's days, as in ours, who were very quick to say 'peace, peace' but there was no peace. But let's be realistic – about ourselves and our own spiritual state, which is often not good; about the church here – small and struggling is an honest description; about the nation in general – morally degenerate, drifting further and further from the truth. There is a shortage of ministers, of candidates for the ministry, of church planting efforts, of conversions, of holiness, etc.
2. Hear God's question. Then we need to hear the question that God asks Ezekiel. Can these bones live? Now when I was a younger man there were days when my answer to that sort of question would be a very positive 'Yes'. Can you improve spiritually? Yes! Can this person be converted? Yes! Can we fill this place? Yes! Will we see revival in this land? Yes! But these days I have to confess that some times I find myself thinking 'No'. I'm not going to grow any further in grace. This person and that are not going to be converted. We'll never fill the place. Revival will not come in my lifetime. Perhaps you can identify. Let's pray that God will give us the grace to say O Sovereign LORD, you alone know. Let's cast aside the often false optimism of youth and the shameful and negative pessimism that often accompanies old age and with faith let's say O Sovereign LORD, you alone know. I find it hard to believe that I can grow in grace, that people can be converted, the place filled and revival come but you know what will happen Sovereign Lord and so we look to you.
2. Understand what we need to doSo what is Ezekiel told to do here? It comes in two stages.
1. Consider the first command and what to do1 The first command
Well, where would you begin in a situation like that? Medicine is not the answer is it? First aid is no good! Entertainment is even less likely to work on them. 'Hey. Come on bones, we can laugh about this in a way, hey?'! Some sort of electric shock treatment? No - there is nothing that can be done.
But God says to Ezekiel Prophesy to these bones. Speak to them, he says. You are a prophet Ezekiel, so prophesy say to them, Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Now we are not told how Ezekiel reacted to this idea but before he could raise any objections the Lord told him (5) This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD. It is not that Ezekiel or his preaching can do anything as such. However, as he prophesies the bones are going to join up, the flesh is going to come onto them and the whole army is going to come alive.
God says something similar to us in our dry bone conditions too. When we 're all dried up and shrivelled he says to us 'Get your Bible out and start reading'. We object that it's not going to do any good and we've tried it before but he urges us to it. He calls on us to preach the Word. Again, we have our doubts, but that is what God calls on us to do. It is through the foolishness of preaching that the world can be turned upside down.
2 The first result
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. The word was having an effect. This is the verse that inspired the famous negro spiritual 'Dem bones, dem bones' - The foot bone connected to the leg bone, The leg bone connected to the knee bone, The knee bone connected to the thigh bone, etc. You know the sound your bones can make when they crack, and perhaps you've heard folk musicians playing the bones. Well, imagine the rattling sound as all these came together. Then (8) I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them. Amazing! What a change.
People are paying to go into the British Museum at the moment to see the famous Terracotta Army from China. I'm sure it's quite impressive – but this would have been far more impressive.
But having said that, like the terracotta army ... there was no breath in them. Oh yes, preaching is the answer, let's be in no doubt about that. It is as the word is preached and heard that changes come about. Who knows what preaching might not do. But we also need to see that preaching is not enough. Of itself, even though it is the Word of God, it cannot change people. Something more is needed.
2. Consider he second command and what to do1 The second command
9 Then he said to me, Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live. It's prophecy again but, if you like, it is not preaching prophecy but praying prophecy. He is to speak to the breath and pray Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live. As you know, the word breath is the same as the word spirit and it is to the Holy Spirit here that Ezekiel is called on to cry out to, to come and make these people live. You know how important oxygen is to live. It can be a life saver. Well, it was a little like that for these people – the bones were re-assembled, the flesh was there but they had no oxygen, no breath.
It is a reminder to us that we must not only preach but also we must pray. Prayer is vital. I am set aside not only to preach to you but also to pray for you. We are not all called to preach in the formal way that I preach but we are all called to pray and prayer, it is clear from this passage, is an absolutely vital part of raising up dry bones from the dead. No raising up of dry bones without prayer. Listen to these words in an old hymn by Philip Doddridge

And can these mouldering corpses live?
And can these perished bones revive?
That, mighty God, to thee is known;
that wondrous work is all thine own.

Thy ministers are sent in vain
to prophesy upon the slain;
in vain they call, in vain they cry,
till thine almighty aid is nigh.

But if thy Spirit deign to breathe,
life spreads through all the realms of death;
dry bones obey thy powerful voice;
they move, they waken, they rejoice.

2 The second result
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast army. What a wonderful change. Now, not just skeletons clothed with flesh but an army standing, alive, and ready to fight. At Ezekiel's bidding the Spirit of God has come into them and he has brought them to life. Do you know the phrase 'the divine afflatus'? It's another way of speaking about inspiration. Afflatus is Latin but it comes from Plato I believe. When a poet, for example, wrote really well, they would speak in terms of the gods having breathed on him. Well, when God breathed on this army by his Spirit, when we might say the divine afflatus came, then they came alive.
And isn't that what we need most of all? For the Holy Spirit to come and breathe life into us. That's what you need if you're not a Christian. And if you are a Christian, it is that constant filling of the Holy Spirit that is so needed. Isn't that what our meetings need? Not necessarily better singing and better preaching, etc – but more of the Spirit of God. We need him to come and to enliven us and make us what we ought to be in Christ. Let's pray for this then. Let's call on the Spirit of God to come and to to do his work among us. Preaching, if you like, is a matter of hoisting the sails on a sailing ship – without the wind of God's Spirit, nothing will happen.
3. How all this applies to us todaySo I have tried to say something about the meaning of this vision as we have gone through but the actual application is only brought in at the end of the section in 11-14. Three things then to close
1. We often feel there is no hope11 Then he said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off. The valley of dry bones was a picture of Israel, the people of God, and how they felt at this particular time. They would actually say, some of them, Our bones are dried up. They felt so hopeless. They were supposed to be the people of God, the ones to whom Messiah would come in the Promised Land. But most of them were now in exile. They had been turned away from the Temple in Jerusalem, which itself had ceased to function. They had no real king to speak of. It all looked pretty bleak indeed.
And as I have said parallels can be drawn with our situation as a church and as a nation and may be personally you feel pretty dry too. We certainly have reason to. It is small comfort, I know, but we are not the first to feel like that. And further ....
2. But here is a message of hope12, 13 Therefore prophesy and say to them: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. Here just when it was as bad as it could be comes a wonderful message of hope. We have seen how the burden of Ezekiel's message for much of the book has been to announce judgement on Israel, although along the way there have been hints of encouragement. But now he is saying 'Look, yes we are in exile, and that is bad news. But this isn't the end of the story. You're in your graves now but there is going to be a resurrection. I am going to bring you back to the land of promise and then you, my people, you will know that I am the LORD.'
And that's exactly what God did, didn't he? He brought them back after 70 year exile, under Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Temple was rebuilt and eventually many years later, there in Bethlehem, the Messiah was born, the one who is the Saviour of the World. And when they crucified him what happened? He was literally raised from the dead.
Now such facts ought to encourage us greatly, especially when we are feeling discouraged and down because of our sins. God will not forget us. If we go on preaching and praying then he will be gracious and rescue us and raise us up. There is hope.
3. And here is a promise of the SpiritWe close with verse 14. God says I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD. That is a great promise. It is a promise of restoration and of the Spirit. It has been fulfilled in part in the return of the children of Israel to their land but it still stands as a promise of blessing for all dry bones. I will put my Spirit in you says God and you will live and you will know the joys of life in Christ, firstly here on earth and then in heaven above. Believe that promise and act on it.

Doomed to destruction, sure to be saved?

Text Ezekiel 35, 36 Time 23/09/07 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I want us to look today at two chapters of Ezekiel – Chapters 35 and 36. You'll see that the first of these chapters is a prophecy against Mount Seir in Edom. It is another word of judgement against Israel's south eastern neighbours, Edom. The second of the chapters is a prophecy to the mountains of Israel - the Promised Land itself, as it were. This chapter, although it refers to sin, is altogether more positive and encouraging. The chapters point us to the way that at the end of time there will be a final judgement. Remember how Jesus put it in terms of a shepherd dividing his flock between sheep and goats. This is how it will be – the goats will go to his left, Edom will be destroyed, the enemies of God will be judged. The sheep he will receive on his right hand, his people, the true Israel, they will enter their rest.
In a gathering like this there are some, no doubt, who belong to God, who are his but then, it may be, that there are others who do not. They are opposed to God and to his people and if they go on in that way then they will be judged. So let's look at these chapters then and first at
1. Edom doomed to destruction – an example of how God deals with those who oppose him
So firstly The word of the LORD comes once again to Ezekiel. God says (2) Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir; prophesy against it and say certain things. Let's
1. Consider the sin these rebels were guilty of
This comes out in several places. In verse 5 we learn that this judgement is Because you harboured an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword at the time of their calamity, the time their punishment reached its climax. When the Babylonians were ravaging the land, Edom showed no sympathy with his brother Jacob but even betrayed him. Verses 12, 13 speak of how God had heard all the contemptible things you have said against the mountains of Israel. You said, They have been laid waste and have been given over to us to devour. You boasted against me and spoke against me without restraint, and I heard it. Their idea was that (10, 11) These two nations and countries will be ours and we will take possession of them, even though as God says I the LORD was there. They are to be treated then in accordance with the anger and jealousy you showed in your hatred of them. 6b Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you. 15a Because you rejoiced when the inheritance of the house of Israel became desolate, that is how I will treat you.
When God's judgement comes upon sinners it will be for many reasons but one thing in particular that angers God is the way that sinners mock his people. Some are more obvious in their mocking than others. If you look on the internet you'll find no end of anti-Christian sites.
For example there is Derrick's Atheism Page - "Ex-Christian showing errors and contradictions in the Bible"; Godless B* - "Tired of and offended by unsolicited inane Christian rhetoric? Well then, it’s time to give those bet-hedging, weak-willed, gullible and delusional cowards a taste of their own medicine"; The Anti-Christian Phenomenon - "for people who are strongly opposed to the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), and their long legacy of pointless war, atrocity, stupidity, bigotry, political and social manipulation, philosophical domination, etc"; Skeptic Atheist - "Ex-Christian website examining the Christian delusion"; Case Against Faith - "Essays critical of Christian theology, etc".
Others are more subtle but let's make no mistake, God takes note of it all. I remember once being with a friend and being told off about something by an older boy. We didn't listen and made fun of him. As we came round the corner the boy's father suddenly appeared. 'I told him to say that to you' he said, rather angrily. It shook me. He'd been listening all the time. What about you? Do you despise believers? Are you glad when they fall? You may not say anything but God knows your heart. He's watching.
2. Observe the judgement pronounced on them for their sin
1. God will be against them 3a This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, Mount Seir. God opposes those who sin in such ways and to have God against you is worse than having the whole world against you. Sometimes there are votes – who is for, who is against? In such situations it is the majority that decides. But if God votes against, it does not matter how many others vote for you.
2. Their land will be deserted 3b, 4 and I will stretch out my hand against you and make you a desolate waste. I will turn your towns into ruins and you will be desolate. The place they held so dear will be turned into a desert. It will not be fit to inhabit.
3. It will be depopulated and deserted 6b-9 ... I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. I will make Mount Seir a desolate waste and cut off from it all who come and go. I will fill your mountains with the slain; those killed by the sword will fall on your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines. I will make you desolate forever; your towns will not be inhabited. ... A wholesale slaughter is going to decimate the population. Imagine them falling all over the mountains of Edom. None are left.
4. It will continue to be deserted. 14, 15 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: While the whole earth rejoices, I will make you desolate. Because you rejoiced when the inheritance of the house of Israel became desolate, that is how I will treat you. You will be desolate, O Mount Seir, you and all of Edom. To this day it is true that Edom is a deserted and lonely place just as it is prophesied here.
Now the very same judgement here in embryo is the one that will come on all who seek to oppose God. God is against such people and he will drive them out from where they are. They will be exiled forever and ever.
3. Note the purpose of this judgement
In 4, 9 and 15 we have that repeated refrain that we have referred to before Then they will know that I am the LORD. One day we will all know the LORD – even those who oppose and despise him. All will bow the knee. You must realise that. Resistance is futile.
2. Israel sure to be saved – as will all God's people
1. Realise that a distinction will be made
As we come into Chapter 36 it is clear that a distinction is going to be made. Already in 35:11 God says and I will make myself known among them (Israel) when I judge you (Edom). That idea is developed in Chapter 36 and the prophecy to the mountains of Israel. Ezekiel is to say O mountains of Israel ... The enemy said of you, Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession and so he is to reply in God's name Because they ravaged and hounded you from every side so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations and the object of people's malicious talk and slander, therefore, O mountains of Israel, ... This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, to the desolate ruins and the deserted towns that have been plundered and ridiculed by the rest of the nations around you - ... In my burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, for with glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland. And so he is to say in God's name I speak in my jealous wrath because you have suffered the scorn of the nations. ... Therefore ... I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn.
Now at first, the distinction does not seem great. On the one hand, God's people have been punished for their sin and now their enemies are also going to be punished too. It is difficult to see the difference at first but it is one that becomes clearer over the years.
God does not treat everyone in the same way. He makes distinctions, and if we are wise we will recognise that this is the case and live accordingly.
2. Notice the promises made to God's people
1. Positive
8-12a But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favour; you will be ploughed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of men and animals upon you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before .... I will cause people, my people Israel, to walk upon you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance. The promise is put in material terms and includes a return to the Promised Land, rich crops, a large population, prosperity, security. Oh what blessings belong to the true people of God! How gracious he is to them!
2. Negative
12b-15 you will never again deprive them of their children. ... Because people say to you, You devour men and deprive your nation of its children, therefore you will no longer devour men or make your nation childless, ... No longer will I make you hear the taunts of the nations, and no longer will you suffer the scorn of the peoples or cause your nation to fall, .... The exile is over, there will be no more troubles and no more mocking and taunting. All will be well.
3. Israel's sin and God's grace – understand why God saves his people
In verses 16-21 we have perhaps some of the most interesting verses in this chapter. Ezekiel is told next Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman's monthly uncleanness in my sight. So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. Now what was the result of this? And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land. I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. But now God is going to restore his people. Why? (22, 23) It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. This is the note the whole chapter ends on once again - Then they will know that I am the LORD – and it is so important to get.
We have spoken of God making a distinction. Many people think the distinction is on the lines that some are good and some are bad, yet in fact it is not really like that. Rather, it is despite their sins that God saves his people. It is by his own mighty hand and for his own glory that God saves his people. There is warning here then – none of us are good enough for God. To think you are is sheer pride. We can never save ourselves. There is also an encouragement – though there is nothing good in us (we have all fallen short of God's glory) we can come to God, however, by his grace.
4. Understand what God does for his people
Now in the rest of the time we have I want us to explore some of the wonderful things that God does for his people, that are referred to here. There are eight things.
1. He gathers them together
Think of the people coming back to the Promised Land from every place. 24 For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. God gathers his people to himself. Today he begins by calling individuals. The message goes out as it is going out today – Come everyone who is thirsty and drink; come all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Those who hear that message speaking irresistibly to their hearts come to the Lord and trust in him. And so the church is gathered. And we come together like this first on earth but then one by one we are called to the greater gathering above – where one day we will all gather in God's presence. Have you come to Christ? Have you heard his call?
2. He cleanses them
Think of a shower or a bath, being washed or a sheep dip. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. By nature we are full of sin but all who hear God's call are washed clean from their sins by the precious blood of Christ. His death atones for their sin and so as they trust in him they are washed, made clean, purified. Have you been forgiven? Have you known all your sins washed away in Christ? He alone can do it.
3. He renews them in heart and spirit
Think of a heart transplant – the old diseased heart is removed and a new heart is introduced, here a brand new one, never used by that person before. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. We need not only cleansing but also renewing. Ezekiel has spoken about this already back in Chapter 11. When a person comes to the Lord, they are not only forgiven but they receive a new heart or spirit. The person becomes a new creation in Christ. Are you a new creation in Christ? Have you received a new heart of flesh? All who are born again know such blessings.
4. He gives them his Spirit and obedience
Think of having someone by your side, always telling you the right thing to do. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. When a person becomes a Christian he is not just renewed but the Spirit of God comes on him and remains on him. He now has the ability to obey God – an ability he never had before. Do you have God's Spirit on you and in you? Are you able to obey God through the Spirit? Are you obeying him and doing God's will?
5. He enables them to enter covenant life
Think of entering into an agreement with someone and shaking hands on it. He agrees to do one thing, you another. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. This sums up the covenant of grace. God commits himself to being our God and from us he expects that we should live as his people with all that involves. Are you in the covenant by faith? Can you say of God 'he is my God'? Do you belong to him? That is what being a Christian is all about.
6. He blesses them abundantly
Think of a bumper harvest. Those who belong to God he provides for, he blesses. They lack no good thing. 29, 30 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Is God providing for you? That may not mean that you are rich but it does mean that you will have all you need. He will provide for you. You will not lack.
7. He grants them repentance
So the Christian is one who has been called and cleansed and renewed, who has the Spirit and who obeys God, who is under his covenant and knows his blessing. However, he is not immediately made a perfect person. Rather he is given the gift of repentance. Cf 31, 32 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel! Now here's a paradox. The believer, on the one hand, is able to obey and to a certain extent he does obey and yet he is also ashamed that he does not better obey. Repentance is part of his daily routine. He has to confess his sins daily and turn from them.
Are you repenting every day? It has to be part of our lives. We can't save ourselves. Remember your evil ways and wicked deeds ... loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices ... Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct ... !
8. He restores them to paradise
The whole thing comes to a climax in the closing verses of the chapter. 33 On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited. Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. ... Once again I will yield to the plea of the house of Israel and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep, as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people.
Here is the promise of Paradise for God's people – an Eden restored. We are thinking of heaven itself – the reward for all who trust in Jesus Christ. Set your heart on it. When Ezekiel spoke these words the idea of return from exile must have seemed unreal but it happened. Heaven is real too – for all who are in him. Are you doomed to destruction or sure to be saved? If you are trusting in Christ, you will be saved.

Shepherds false and true

Text Ezekiel 34 Time 16 09 07 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Ezekiel Chapter 34 is about shepherds and about sheep – chiefly the shepherds - about what the shepherds should have been, what they were and what God will do and how one day by God's grace the Good Shepherd will come. Most of you have seen sheep I'm sure and you know that they are looked after by shepherds. Perhaps you've seen them in Wales or Yorkshire or elsewhere. As you know, many of the people we read about in the Bible, unlike most of us, were very familiar with sheep and with shepherds and that whole world and so from time to time God speaks in his Word in such terms. We are familiar with verses like Isaiah 53:6, 7 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. ... he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Psalm 23 is even more well known, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, etc. The Lord Jesus himself is both the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world and the Great and Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep.
When we read about shepherds and sheep in this chapter then what should we chiefly be thinking of? In the first place, we should be thinking of leaders and people. The leaders in those days were the King and the High Priest and also the priests and the prophets. When we come into the New Testament era it is the Apostles and prophets at first and then particularly pastors and teachers. The people are throughout presented as sheep – valuable but vulnerable and easily exploited. They are prone to wander and easily get lost. So with those few words in mind let's consider this chapter – once again the word of the LORD as it came through Ezekiel, a prophecy. I want to say four things.
1. Consider this word of woe against wicked shepherds
First of all Ezekiel is told (2) Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: This is what the Sovereign LORD says. He is to pronounce a woe upon them from God because of their failure and he is to pronounce God's punishment on them.
1. Note their failure and what happens today
God says through Ezekiel Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. There is a selfishness about these men. Instead of taking care of the flock they are only concerned with looking after number one. They are happy to eat the curds from the ewes' milk, and clothe themselves with wool from the sheep and eat the choice animals when they are slaughtered but they don't care about the sheep. Ezekiel itemises, using pictures from the work of shepherding.
1 Weak sheep – sheep that couldn't keep up with the flock. You have not strengthened the weak. Some of the people were weak – they found it hard going and needed strengthening but that did not happen.
2 Sick or injured sheep. Or healed the sick or bound up the injured. Others were actually sick with diseases but they were neglected and still others were injured but again they were neglected.
3 Straying and lost sheep. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. There was a tendency to wander away from the truth but the shepherds were not concerned for these strays.
4 Harsh and brutal shepherding. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. In general there was a tendency to be rather brutal with the flock. There was a distasteful harshness about these men.
Now obviously when we come to a passage like this one I have to look at myself first. I'm called pastor (shepherd) but am I doing the work of a pastor? I am happy to take the money you provide me with and other benefits but am I strengthening the weak? Am I healing and helping the sick and the injured? Am I endeavouring to bring back the strays and searching for the lost? Is there a gentleness and care about my approach? I have to confess before you that such a list causes me shame and reminds me that there are certain areas where I'm falling down and where there needs to be change.
But then to go wider, what is it like among ministers today more generally? I think we would have to say that although there are many faithful men there is also a great deal of neglect and one fears that some are in the ministry simply for what they can get out of it. The weak are not strengthened from God's Word, the spiritually sick and the injured are not cared for as they should be. There is a general failing to really go after the backslider and to reach out to the unbeliever. Generally speaking people are happier to receive sheep from others than go find them for themselves. There is also evidence of harshness even brutality in some cases.
Such facts should make us mourn before God and pray that he will forgive his ministers and change them so that they may begin to be the sort of people that they ought to be. Pray for us that we may better resemble the ideals set out here.
2. Note the problems this caused and what happens today
The result of all this we read about in verses 5 and 6 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. What a tragic picture – sheep wandering on the hills without a shepherd. This is an oblique reference to the idolatry that went on up on the hills in Ezekiel's day. The people were divided and they were in danger. They were turning to false gods in their ignorance and neglect.
And don't we see the same sort of thing today? Division, confusion, all sorts of false worship. Now it can't all be blamed on ministers but that is where a great deal of the problem springs from.
3. Note their punishment and what God might do today
In verses 7-9 God says Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: This is what the Sovereign LORD says. God speaks first about his attitude and then what he will do.
1 Note God's attitude. I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. Such people may claim to be the leaders of God's people and technically they were, but the truth is that God is against the shepherds. He is determined to hold them accountable for his flock.
You cannot just act as you please with God's people, with those he has under his care. To fail here is to be in great trouble indeed.
2 Note God's action. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. Such false shepherds will be removed. They cannot last. God has his ways of removing them.
We see such things happening in our day and it should not surprise us when such people are removed – rarely by being arrested, sometimes by being found in immorality but also through ill health or unpopularity. In the end God will remove all false shepherds.
2. Recognise God's concern for his flock
This is all rather negative but midway through verse 10 we begin on a more positive and encouraging note. God says I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. God will not allow such situations to continue. He goes on to speak of gathering his flock and caring for them.
1. He will gather them
(11, 12) I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
God is the Great Shepherd. He will protect his people and care for them. He will not neglect them. Specifically he speaks again about what will happen after the exile - I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. Their current leaders were utterly failing but God himself would one day gather the people and bring them into the Promised Land again.
This is what God himself does – despite the false shepherds he gathers a people to himself, for himself. In the end all his own will be safely gathered in and there shall be one flock.
2. He will care for them
I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. After the exile, God will bring his people back to the Promised Land again (14) I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
Here are the most encouraging words (15, 16) I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. The very problems that the false shepherds had so neglected – the strays, the injured and weak, he will deal with - I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but, and this is the other side of the coin, the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
God not only gathers his people to himself but he cares for them and provides for them. He is our shepherd and so we lack nothing. He leads us in green pastures and he makes us lie down by quiet waters. He restores our souls. When we stray, he brings us back; when we are injured, he binds up our wounds; when we are weak, he strengthens us.
3. Hear God's judgement between the warring sheep
In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales he describe a very attractive poor parson, probably a Lollard or something of that kind. One of his sayings was 'If gold rust what will iron do?' in other words, 'Like pastor like people'. Poor pastors are likely to produce poor congregations. However, it would be very foolish indeed to suppose that all the problems in a church can be put down to its leaders. And so here God makes clear that although Israel's leaders were clearly at fault the people were not without fault themselves. They need to be spoken to as well. Hence verse 17 As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.
1. A word of warning to the strong
18, 19 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
Think of a flock a sheep again. In general sheep are not aggressive animals but rams and goats (kept with the sheep) can be so. Some sheep are bigger than others too and so there is room for problems. Like all animals they can be selfish as well. In that time there was a certain amount of what can only be called bullying – one person taking advantage of another.
Such things can happen today too; a congregation can become quite self-centred in its thinking. Are you living merely for yourself? Are you forgetting about the needs of others?
2. A word of comfort for the weak
20-22 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.
God is not only going to deal with the false shepherds but the warring sheep too and so there is hope for the weak, those who have been mistreated by other members of the flock.
Sometimes we can get quite discouraged when we think of what happens sometimes in church life – divisions and splits, a lack of care towards people on the fringes or to outsiders – but here God speaks full of tenderness I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. God will have his people. Despite all, he will save them himself.
4. Give thanks for the Good Shepherd and the new covenant
Finally, in 23-31 we come to the most interesting and powerful part of the chapter. Here we are taken forward to the coming New Covenant in Jesus Christ. There are three main things here, things that we ought to give thanks for.
1. Give thanks for the Christ
23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken. This is a clear prophecy of the coming of Messiah Jesus Christ. In the New Testament he reveals himself as the Good Shepherd. Remember how he looked on the people with compassion as sheep without a shepherd. He had a shepherd heart. Eventually he laid down his life for the sheep – he died that his people might be forgiven. John 10 is the chapter to read. Give thanks that the Good and Great Shepherd of the sheep Jesus Christ has come for his people.
2. Give thanks for the new covenant in Christ
God goes on (25) I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of wild beasts so that they may live in the desert and sleep in the forests in safety. We get these intimations in the Old Testament of a new covenant that is going to be brought in. It is in one sense the same covenant of grace that we read of all through Scripture but the coming of Messiah means that it is brought in now with great freshness and in a new way. The eternal covenant can be summed up as here (30, 31) Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD. It is God being God and those in the covenant being his people. Or if you prefer – God as Shepherd and those who belong to him, his sheep.
3. Give thanks for our covenant privileges in Christ
Several wonderful things are alluded to here but we can put them all under the headings of security and blessing.
1 Security. See verses 27b and 28 the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. They were becoming slaves to the Babylonians and those who succeeded them – they were under a yoke. But God was going to break the bars of that yoke. Sheep in open country can be in danger of attack from wild animals. These sheep had come under attack, if you like but a time was coming, says God, when They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid.
That time is here now and it can be yours in Christ. Trust in Jesus Christ and you will be safe and secure. He will rescue you from the slavery of sin and from the power of the world and the devil and you will live in safety, and no one will make you afraid.
2 Blessing. Two or three pictures are used to illustrate.
Refreshing showers. I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. Think of the soft refreshing rain coming down on a hot day – how refreshing, how good. So it is when God comes to his people and he gives them new strength.
Abundant fruitfulness. 27a The trees of the field will yield their fruit. Think of a tree full of fruit. God works in the lives of believers to make them fruitful – full of good works. It goes on - and the ground will yield its crops. Then verse 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. The abundance of harvest is another way of picturing the blessings that come under the new covenant.
To sum up (30, 31) Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Do you know the Lord is with you? Do you have a sense of his presence? Do you belong to the Lord? Can you say 'The Lord is my shepherd'? If you turn from your sins and trust in Jesus Christ then you can. Every blessing follows from that.