One might ask how the story of Jonathan's victory against the Philistines, aided only by his servant, fits with chapter thirty-four of Ezekiel, a warning to the shepherds who did not care for their sheep. And how the two texts might be applied to the orthodox, those going to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly and those waiting and listening at home.
After going to bed at midnight and awaking at four in the morning I decided that Scripture study from my devotional was an option. Amazingly, I discovered that both chapters spoke about bad leadership. 1 Samuel 14 demonstrates, without saying so, bad leadership on the part of king Saul, Jonathan's father. Ezekiel 34 describes, with very graphic metaphor, the ruin of the sheep because of the callousness of their leaders, who, among other evils, muddied their water, dominated them and caused them to scatter.
Jonathan, after winning his battle, returned to the other soldiers and found honey on the ground which he ate not knowing that his father had commanded the people to fast all day. The story ends with Saul demanding death for the person who ate, but the people instead demanding that Jonathan be saved because of his great victory. But, as they say, there is more to the story.
Saul in his arrogance demanded the fasting so that he could be avenged of his enemies. As the text states "Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself of my enemies." Not only did he place his son's life in jeopardy, he caused the people to sin, because in their hunger when they had beaten back the Philistines they took the Philistine's cattle killing them on the ground in the midst of their blood and eating the bloody meat, something the food laws of Israel condemned. Going beyond this he seemingly missed God's blessings on his son's bravery.
Saul was constantly, arrogantly, disobeying the word of God and in doing so he lost his kingdom, his family and his future. More importantly he lost the blessings and fellowship of God.
Ezekiel 34 is God's warning to those leaders in Judah who disobeyed the word of God because they were totally absorbed in their own desires. This is the verse that stands out (to me) so clearly in its application to matters in the denomination today:
Thus says the Lord God, Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought the lost, but with force and with severity dominated them. (2b-4)
Too many of those in leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are failing to teach and proclaim the pure word of God. They do not feed the sheep. Instead they constantly twist and tear apart the text in order allow for sin without repentance.
The denomination is full of broken and diseased people who are being told that they are fine just as they are. At the same time, many, including whole churches, are scattering, in various directions. Add to that the many in the denomination, and outside, who are disconnected from the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ. The old fashioned word for this is 'lost.' They are lost. And the denomination seeks for communities of diverse people but they do not seek for the lost.
But God has the solution. He replaced the arrogant and disobedient Saul with David. And he promised David that a Son of his would rule on his throne forever. That the Son would rule with righteousness.
The same is true in Ezekiel. God's promise to the suffering sheep is of his own care. Here the metaphor of the evil shepherd is turned to unruly and dominating sheep, goats and rams:
Therefore, says the Lord God to them, "Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, therefore, I will deliver my flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another.
And then the promise:
"Then I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David and he will feed them himself and be their shepherd."
I am aware that many of the orthodox both going to GA and staying at home are full of grief, with joy, it is true, but still grief. There is the sadness of knowing that many that need healing and transformation are and will be misled by their own leaders. There is the sadness of knowing that many in leadership, rather than repenting are attempting to find ways to send away hurting congregations with empty hands. There is the deeper grief of seeing in various places in leadership the Lord of the Church placed at the level of one among many options.
This is all deeply painful, and yet there is the promise which came first to Israel but is now like a shining diamond in our midst, God will, and did, deliver his flock by and through his messiah. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, who will feed his flock. There is sweetness, the found honey, the goodness and righteousness of Christ and his word.