“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the Lord. “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:1-4 (NKJV)
One of the glorious pictures the God shows us in Scripture is His choosing, calling, gathering, and tending to His beloved people, whom He lovingly refers to as His sheep. According to His sovereign will, infinite wisdom, and care, God calls and places shepherds in their midst to tend to them, feed them, and protect them. However, such men don’t do so as autonomous agents. They don’t do so as those who can do whatever they want around the sheep, or to the sheep, as if they would never be called to account.
For, indeed, as the Lord pronounced a “woe” against the negligent shepherds, or, literally, pastors in the Hebrew, in Jeremiah 23:1, He clearly communicates accountability as He announces judgment against them for the evil they had done. Now, who were the negligent shepherds God confronted? The Lord likely rebuked the last four kings of Judah, as the kings were to provide pastoral care for their people and failed to do so. What evil had they done? They were destroying and scattering God’s people, instead of gathering, caring for, feeding, and protecting them as they ought. The kings were hurting the people through both oppression and neglect. They were harming and scattering the sheep God dearly loved and had provided good pasture for.
These negligent shepherds were sinning against Him as they sinned against, and did evil against His people, by failing to keep their divinely-appointed charge. The sheep weren’t the kings’ sheep. They belonged to the King of kings. They belong to the Good Shepherd. How dare they scatter God’s flock that was entrusted to them! How dare they drive the sheep away! How dare they not attend to them and neglect them! They were acting like hirelings who cared about their own interests and not about the sheep (John 10:13).
Therefore, notice that God would take action in a two-fold manner:
1) Towards the wayward shepherds, He would attend to them! He would inspect and examine them closely. God would call them to account for their sins in judgment.
2) Towards His beloved, He would gather the remnant of His flock. Remember, the term remnant in Scripture refers to God’s spiritual people, the church. God has always had His remnant according to the election of grace (Romans 11:5). God will fulfill His covenant promises and purposes.
In Jeremiah 23:3, God promised that He would bring His sheep back to their fold. He would cause them to grow and flourish. By what means would He use to do this? Replacing the negligent shepherds with faithful shepherds (v. 4), with shepherds who would feed them with the pure milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2), attend to them, encourage them, and provide for their needs.
Beloved, give much thanks to the Lord your God for what He has ordained in the governance of His church! As there continues to be much neglect and scattering of sheep by clown-shepherds today, give thanks for His provision of faithful under-shepherds, ministers and elders, who know and love the One we serve, and who seek to be faithful in carrying out the charge Christ has given us regarding His flock. This passage in Jeremiah 23 should not only grab the attention of and humble, by God’s grace, any and all negligent shepherds who read it, but it also must be an eye-opening call to examination and zeal for dutiful obedience to all faithful shepherds. Fellow ministers and elders, in obedience to Christ, may we all seek to be consistent in our love, care, discipline, and visitation of His precious lambs.
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” – Jeremiah 23:5-6
Praise God that King Jesus, the foretold Branch of righteousness has come. All glory and honor be to the Good Shepherd for our salvation, for His righteous rule, as well as His loving care and protection of His church!