“For this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am, I myself, and I will search for my sheep and care for them. According to the care of one feeding his drove in the day of his coming to be in the midst of his sheep that have been spread abroad, that is the way that I shall care for my sheep; and I will deliver them out of all the places to which they have been scattered in the day of clouds and thick gloom.'”
The prophesied desolation of Jerusalem and the Jewish exile in Babylon was by no means the end of Jehovah’s dealings with his renegade nation. Another significant aspect, not only of the book of Ezekiel, but of all Hebrew prophecy, has to do with the liberation, restoration and revival of God’s covenanted people. Although the nation as a whole, particularly the leadership, failed to live up to the obligations of the covenant into which their forefathers had entered with God, Jehovah did not stay resentful nor did he cast them off forever, but he extended forgiveness and mercy in a very large way to a chastened remnant.
But the relationship between God and his people was not to be as before. No, in his compassion Jehovah purposed to permanently repair his relationship with the Jews. At least that is what the prophecies relate. But while it is noteworthy that the repatriated Jews did not resume the degrading form of idolatry that they had practiced before their exile, it is also apparent that the prophecy of Ezekiel only had a relative fulfillment with regard to the post-exilic Jewish society. More importantly, the shadows cast by this portion of the prophecy have profound significance for Jehovah’s Witnesses at the coming of Christ, which is the subject of this article.
Following the desolation of Jerusalem Jehovah revealed the means by which he would heal his broken people. No longer would God allow his sheep to suffer under the care of unqualified, uncaring, negligent or self-indulgent shepherds. Jehovah would give them a righteous shepherd/king – “David” – even as Ezekiel 34:23-24 says: “And I will raise up over them one shepherd, and he must feed them, even my servant David. He himself will feed them, and he himself will become their shepherd. And I myself, Jehovah, will become their God, and my servant David a chieftain in the midst of them. I myself, Jehovah, have spoken.”
Thus, in the 34th chapter of Ezekiel Jehovah pronounces woe upon the negligent shepherds of his sheep, saying: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and you must say to them, to the shepherds, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have become feeders of themselves! Is it not the flock that the shepherds ought to feed? The fat is what you eat, and with the wool you clothe your own selves. The plump animal is what you slaughter. The flock itself you do not feed. The sickened ones you have not strengthened, and the ailing one you have not healed, and the broken one you have not bandaged, and the dispersed one you have not brought back, and the lost one you have not sought to find, but with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny. And they were gradually scattered because of there being no shepherd, so that they became food for every wild beast of the field, and they continued to be scattered. My sheep kept straying on all the mountains and on every high hill; and on all the surface of the earth my sheep were scattered, with no one making a search and with no one seeking to find.’”
Although the prophecy was issued in the aftermath of the destruction of Judah, the true fulfillment of the prophecy applies in a spiritual way; to the sheep of Christ’s flock and the shepherds who have been assigned to oversee them during the time Christ’s parousia commences. How might that be discerned? Because, as stated above, the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy relates to the true shepherd and chieftain – “David” – who without question is Jesus Christ; he being the son of David and “the chief shepherd,” even as the apostle Peter described him in the following exhortation to those serving as undershepherds of Christ: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory.” – 1 Peter 5:2-4
As Jehovah’s Witnesses well know, the kingdom of David was not restored to Judah after their return from Babylon (only in a typical way). Neither did Jesus become king over the nation of Israel in the first century. For that matter, neither did the majority of Jews accept Christ’s shepherding when he was upon the earth two millennia ago. However, the sheep who did, and who have since, and who will yet accept Christ as their lord, become part of God’s flock of sheep and are placed under the authority of men who serve as spiritual shepherds.
And yet the prophecy of Ezekiel foretells that Jehovah will gather back his sheep after they are abused, plundered and scattered about. Since the literal nations of Israel and Judah were plundered by Assyria and Babylon, respectively, long before the time when Christ appeared as the God-appointed shepherd, and as already noted, Jesus did not become the chieftain-king or shepherd of the physical nation of Israel anyway, this means that the sheep of Christ’s flock are destined to become plunder and the shepherds who fail them are the duly assigned overseers of the Christian congregation.
Although true Christians have always been persecuted, the prophecy of Ezekiel speaks to a development that far exceeds that which the first century Christians may have suffered. Ultimately the prophecies can only be fulfilled if the entire God-recognized, Christian association is brought to desolation – as were the nations of Israel and Judah originally. Only then can the scattered sheep of God be regathered from their pitiable condition.
Since there is nothing in the history of Christianity or the modern history of the Bible Students or Jehovah’s Witnesses that approximates the absolute devastation that befell Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians, it must be concluded that the true congregation of God is destined for an unanticipated and unprecedented calamity at a future time. Christ’s prophecy regarding the desolation of the holy place during the tribulation will find its true realization upon the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
THE GOVERNMENTAL SHEPHERDS OF THE PROFESSED SHEEP?
As painful as it may be for Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider these things, the purpose of e-watchman is to vigorously tear down and strip away the Watchtower’s erroneous interpretations of these vital prophecies so as to allow God’s prophetic word to speak for itself – unfettered by the clever constraints imposed upon it by committees of would-be interpreters. In so doing, my intention is to imitate the course of the Hebrew prophets in announcing Jehovah’s judgments upon his people and organization.
In view of the foregoing, what does the Watchtower teach regarding the 34th chapter of Ezekiel? The Society’s last significant commentary on the prophecy was in the book The Nations Shall Know that I am Jehovah, How? – published over 35 years ago, in 1971. So, the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses – most of whom have become such since 1971 – are probably not familiar with what Bethel espouses on this important question.
So, what does the Watchtower teach regarding the meaning of the “shepherds of Israel” being replaced by the messianic chieftain? As absurd as it may seem the Society actually teaches that the negligent shepherds to whom Jehovah entrusted his dear sheep are the so-called “governmental/political shepherds” of Christendom. Below is a quote taken from the 16th chapter of the “Know Jehovah” publication:
“By virtue of their religious claims the church people of Christendom were Jehovah’s “sheep.” The professed Christian political rulers should therefore have been very careful of how they treated the sheeplike subjects, inasmuch as these were not the property of the political rulers but the property of the God whom they professed to worship.”
Let the reader take note of the fact that the Watchtower cleverly intimates that the subjects of Christendom’s political rulers (“governmental shepherds”) are not really God’s true sheep. They merely claim to be God’s sheep and merely “profess to worship” God. For that matter, the shepherds are not really God’s appointed overseers either. According to the quotation above they are merely “the professed Christian political rulers.” Yet in spite of the pretense of both the people and the rulers (according to the Society’s interpretation) Jehovah intervenes to save the people from their abusive rulers, even though they are not his people.
But there are a number of questions thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses ought to reason upon.
One: Why would Jehovah refer to the God-defying rulers of the nations as shepherds of his sheep when they do not even claim to be such? The Society’s reasoning is that the prophecy originally applied to the rulers of Judah, and therefore, by extension, to the rulers of Christendom. But did the kings, princes, priests, the older men and judges of Judah and Israel merely profess to be the shepherds of God’s people? No. Absolutely not! All the tribes of Israel were in a legally binding covenant with Jehovah God, which specifically authorized the rulers of his people to properly teach and righteously judge the people under their authority. In that sense they were God-ordained shepherds of the flock.
Two: If the abused subjects of Christendom’s “political shepherds” are not really God’s sheep but only falsely claim to be such, why does God refer to them in Ezekiel as “my sheep,” as he does about 17 times in the 34th chapter of Ezekiel? Also, if the sheep are not really true worshippers why does God state that he is personally going to rescue his sheep from the abusive shepherds and heal them?
Here is another set of questions for thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses: Why would God expect the despots and dictators of Christendom to feed and care for his sheep anyway? For that matter, how would “political shepherds” even go about binding up the wounds of one of God’s battered sheep? What social program might they enact to regather the scattered sheep of Jehovah’s flock? And lastly: Is it just or reasonable of God to condemn the political rulers for failing to accomplish an assignment that was never their responsibility in the first place?
The Watchtower claims that the scattered sheep of Ezekiel’s prophecy are the masses belonging to Christendom’s diverse flocks and that God will supposedly remove the abusive “governmental shepherds” at Armageddon (as well as slaughter the battered “sheep” under their care).
Confused? But the Society’s reasonings are even more torturous.
Alternatively, the very same publication states that Jehovah has already initiated the prophesied rescue of his abused sheep. But according to the Society, even though Jehovah has already placed his sheep under the care of the shepherd/king, the true sheep are also destined to be scattered by the “political shepherds”! That, of course, does not at all follow the pattern established in the Scriptures. According to the Bible, first the nation (organization) is destroyed. Then the sheep are scattered and fall prey to the plunderers. Next, the shepherd-king regathers and heals Jehovah’s sheep and they are protected to the extent that they shall no more become plunder for the rapacious, beastlike nations.
Shockingly, though, according to the Watchtower’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s prophecy we would have to assume that Jesus is an inept shepherd too, since the “chief shepherd” apparently cannot protect the sheep Jehovah has placed under his care from being scattered and plundered either. Here are a couple more paragraphs from the “Know Jehovah” commentary:
“In the case of ancient Israel of Ezekiel’s day, Jehovah delivered his sheep out of the mouth of the self-feeding shepherds in governmental places by having Jerusalem destroyed and the land of Judah desolated. The king and princes had to vacate their governmental office, being captured by the Babylonians and deported. Some were killed as a penalty for their rebellion. In Babylon they were put in prison or subjected to restraints, being stripped of any rulership. In modern-day antitype, the destruction of Christendom in the approaching “great tribulation” will absolutely deprive the professed “Christian” political rulers of the religious clergy, for the latter will be put out of religious office by the executional forces of Jehovah. Christendom’s clergy will cease to exist. Any worldly politicians surviving Christendom’s annihilation will be reserved for execution in the final part of the “great tribulation,” namely, in the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at the world situation called Har–Magedon.
Thus the death-dealing removal of all the governmental overseers of the entire worldwide system of things, including the professed Christian rulers of Christendom, will free Jehovah’s true “sheep” from the oppression and self-serving operations of the political “shepherds.” No more will those unfaithful shepherds feed themselves at the expense of Jehovah’s flock of Christian’s witnesses. No matter how scattered these may find themselves because of the opposition and persecution carried on by political elements, Jehovah knows where his true “sheep” have been dispersed. Like a loving Shepherd, he will search for them and regather them into one fold.”
Judging from the Society’s statement above, it would appear as if Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the shepherd/king will arrive on the scene and regather the dispersed flock and free them from the oppression of the “political shepherds” after the war of Armageddon destroys all of God’s earthly enemies. But that is not the case. As is typical of the Society’s interpretive legerdemain, the very next paragraph states that the shepherd-king actually has already liberated the sheep. And when did this marvelous event take place? Why, in the spring of 1919! Here is another excerpt:
“…Even now, before the outbreak of the “great tribulation” in which Christendom and all the rest of Babylon the Great will be destroyed, the Heavenly Shepherd Jehovah has demonstrated his ability to gather the scattered remnant of spiritual Israel into a religiously free, spiritually nourishing relationship with Him… Babylon the Great, however, failed to maintain her oppressive hold on the true-hearted remnant of spiritual Israelites. In the spring of 1919 Babylon the Great suffered a severe fall from her position of religious power over Jehovah’s people, and the shackles of their bondage to her were broken. This was a thing that could have occurred by the power of no one else but Jehovah through his Greater Cyrus, Jesus Christ. As far as their religious rights and privileges from God were concerned, this remnant no longer let themselves become the prey or “food” of the governmental “shepherds” of Christendom… War-bruised Christendom and all the rest of the world had to take note of the regathered, reunified condition of this Christian remnant of spiritual Israel when they held their first postwar international assembly at Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A. Thousands of the once scattered remnant gathered here, and there was a public attendance of 7,000 listeners at the lecture entitled “The Hope for Distressed Humanity,” on Sunday, September 7, 1919.”
Here are more questions thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses ought to seriously ponder: If the International Bible Students were relieved from the tyranny of the “political shepherds” in 1919 and were ushered under the care of the foretold great shepherd back then, how can it be explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses since then have been mercilessly persecuted by numerous tyrants comprising what the Watchtower terms the “governmental shepherds”? For example, according to the Society’s interpretation of the 34th chapter of Ezekiel Adolph Hitler was one of the bad “governmental shepherds” to whom Jehovah entrusted his sheep. But if Jehovah’s scattered sheep had already been rescued from the bad shepherds how would it have been possible for Hitler and his Nazi regime to skin, scatter and slaughter thousands of Jehovah’s sheeplike people?
Another glaring contradiction inherent in the Society’s arcane prophetic interpretation is that supposedly the Anglo-American nations fulfilled the prophecy in the eighth chapter of Daniel, which calls for a king fierce in countenance to bring to ruin the holy ones, the sanctuary and constant feature of Jehovah’s worship. But if God’s people had been permanently released from such oppression back in 1919 how would it have been possible for the nations to plunder God’s possession again? After all, Ezekiel 34:28 says: “And they will no longer become something to plunder for the nations; and as regards the wild beast of the earth, it will not devour them, and they will actually dwell in security, with no one to make them tremble.”
Besides the aforementioned incongruities, the commentary quoted above contradicts itself. How so? The previously quoted paragraph states:
“No matter how scattered these may find themselves because of the opposition and persecution carried on by political elements, Jehovah knows where his true “sheep” have been dispersed. Like a loving Shepherd, he will search for them and regather them into one fold.”
The context of that comment is in reference to a future scattering of the sheep. However, the Know Jehovah commentary also contradictorily states:
“As far as their religious rights and privileges from God were concerned, this remnant no longer let themselves become the prey or “food” of the governmental “shepherds” of Christendom.”
So, the very same publication teaches that since 1919 Jehovah’s people can no longer be the prey of ruthless political rulers, but in the very same context the Society also states that Christ will rescue the sheep that are dispersed during the persecution to come. This is a classic example of what Jehovah describes in Ezekiel as “double-faced divination.” That is, having two different interpretations of the same prophecy in order to conveniently bend reality to fit their teaching.
The falsity of the Watchtower’s teaching is apparent in view of the Bible’s clear statements regarding the accountability of elders before God. For example, an oft-quoted scripture among Jehovah’s Witnesses is Hebrews 13:17, which reads: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account…” And again, James 3:1 states: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.”
No reasonable Christian would argue that God is going to hold ruthless political rulers responsible for neglecting to shepherd and spiritually care for his dear sheep. As every one of Jehovah’s Witnesses knows it is Christian elders who have been charged with the responsibility of caring for the sheep of the flock.
But if Christian overseers and teachers are to “render and account” and “receive heavier judgment,” this begs the question: When does the foretold judgment of God’s shepherds take place? According to the teachings of the Watchtower Society, Christ has already judged his slaves who were assigned to feed the servants of his household.
But even if that were true, in what way did the overseers and teachers of God’s congregation “render an account” or “receive heavier judgment” back in 1918? Obviously, they did not. Besides, the organization’s present elder arrangement did not even exist back then. And that entire generation of International Bible Students has passed on in death anyway. Not only that, but the prophecy indicates that once Jehovah’s messianic shepherd is installed then that is the end of the era during which God allows earthly shepherds to have authority over his flock. So, when does the foretold judgment of God’s shepherds take place?
“IN THE DAY OF CLOUDS AND THICK GLOOM”
The context of Ezekiel’s prophecy reveals that the judgment takes place during the dark night brought on by the world’s yet-to-unfold, greatest time of trouble. That is apparent from Ezekiel 34:12, which reads: “According to the care of one feeding his drove in the day of his coming to be in the midst of his sheep that have been spread abroad, that is the way that I shall care for my sheep; and I will deliver them out of all the places to which they have been scattered in the day of clouds and thick gloom.”
According to the prophecy under consideration God’s sheep are delivered from being “spread abroad” all at once; not gradually or individually over a century of time. It is also apparent that the sheep are all scattered – the entire flock – not just a few individual lambs. Furthermore, the scattering takes place “in the day of clouds and thick gloom.”What might that signify? According to the Know Jehovah commentary the symbolic “thick gloom” covered the earth in 1914. But if that were actually true that would mean that the gloomy conditions that enveloped the world back then have since lifted and that the human political scheme of things has saved itself from doom.
But rather then accepting the Society’s interpretations at face value let us follow the Berean approach to the teachings of the apostle Paul and carefully examine the prophetic Scriptures for ourselves as to whether these things are so. Or as the wise apostle John also exhorted: “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.”
Elsewhere in prophecy Jehovah uses the exact same symbolism of “clouds and thick gloom” to denote the great tribulation. The vision of Zephaniah, for example, reads this way: “The great day of Jehovah is near. It is near, and there is a hurrying of it very much. The sound of the day of Jehovah is bitter. There a mighty man is letting out a cry. That day is a day of fury, a day of distress and of anguish, a day of storm and of desolation, a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick gloom, a day of horn and of alarm signal, against the fortified cities and against the high corner towers.”
Another instance is found in the book of Joel, which reads similarly: “Blow a horn in Zion, O men, and shout a war cry in my holy mountain. Let all the inhabitants of the land get agitated; for the day of Jehovah is coming, for it is near! It is a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick gloom, like light of dawn spread out upon the mountains.”
Let the discerning reader take note of the fact that both Zephaniah and Joel connect the “day of clouds and thick gloom” with “the day of Jehovah.” And not even the besotted spiritual inebriates in Bethel’s Writing Department suppose that Jehovah’s day occurred in 1914.
Hopefully it is apparent to the relatively few spiritually sober persons examining the prophecy of Ezekiel that God’s sheep are destined to be scattered – as well as regathered – during “the day of Jehovah,” which is to say, during the now-oncoming great tribulation.
Although the elders and the Watchtower Society itself are unquestionably responsible for stumbling countless numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses and are doubtlessly guilty of neglecting to tend to the many lost and straying individual sheep, apparently that is not the primary reason Jehovah is going to ask for his sheep back from the hands of his appointed shepherds. What is the reason then?
Even as the apostles were all stumbled and scattered when Jesus was put to death – in order that the prophecies might be fulfilled – so too, the flock of God in existence at the beginning of the day of Jehovah is destined to be scattered.
Just as the prophecy of Zechariah foretold that the shepherd would be struck and the sheep scattered, which the inspired apostles interpreted to apply to Christ and themselves, the context of the prophecy allows for a grander fulfillment during the day of Jehovah. Zechariah 13:7-14:2 reads: “’O sword, awake against my shepherd, even against the able-bodied man who is my associate,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies. ‘Strike the shepherd, and let those of the flock be scattered; and I shall certainly turn my hand back upon those who are insignificant … Look! There is a day coming, belonging to Jehovah, and the spoil of you will certainly be apportioned out in the midst of you.’”
Although the arrest and execution of Jesus accomplished the fulfillment of one facet of the prophecy of Zechariah, obviously it did not initiate the day of Jehovah. At the present moment the “day coming, belonging to Jehovah” is still coming.
It appears then, that, the reason God will ask for his sheep back from the men appointed to watch over them is because the shepherds will not keep the flock intact during the coming day of confusion: “This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘A calamity, a unique calamity, look! it is coming. An end itself must come. The end must come; it must awaken for you. Look! It is coming. The garland must come to you, O inhabiter of the land, the time must come, the day is near. There is confusion, and not the shouting of the mountains.” – Ezekiel 7:5-7
The primary reason the apostles were thrown into confusion and scattered when Christ was struck down is because they were spiritually blind and simply could not grasp the simple truth when Christ spoke about his impending death.
Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses have no inkling of what is to befall the organization. And the Bethel leadership, by their own ignorance and sheer arrogance, has insured that the flock will remain in a state of blindness up until the day of Jehovah erupts in all its fury – when they will then all be scattered and plundered. Any well-meaning brother or sister who might try to shed light upon the present situation using God’s prophetic word would be summarily disfellowshipped from the congregation for daring to contradict Bethel’s edits.
In this and other ways Jehovah’s word is true regarding the relationship of the elders and the flock: “but with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny.”
“AND I MYSELF, JEHOVAH, WILL BECOME THEIR GOD”
Jehovah’s asking for his sheep back from his earthly shepherds marks the end of the Christian congregational arrangement as it has existed in its various forms from the time of Christ until the present. Just like the Jewish system of things, the earthly organization composed of Christian institutions will by then have also served its purpose, at which point Jehovah will cease from using it as his instrumentality, and subsequently have it destroyed by an earthly political agency assigned by prophecy beforehand to do the task.
The resulting tumult and trauma will serve as the means by which God will humble, discipline and refine his people.
In place of the present organizational arrangement God will then implement an entirely new arrangement for the benefit of those who love him – the kingdom of God. By means of the kingdom, God will establish what Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to as “spiritual paradise.” That is what is foretold at Ezekiel 34:23-27: “And I will raise up over them one shepherd, and he must feed them, even my servant David. He himself will feed them, and he himself will become their shepherd. And I myself, Jehovah, will become their God, and my servant David a chieftain in the midst of them. I myself, Jehovah, have spoken. And I will conclude with them a covenant of peace, and I shall certainly cause the injurious wild beast to cease out of the land, and they will actually dwell in the wilderness in security and sleep in the forests. And I will make them and the surroundings of my hill a blessing, and I will cause the pouring rain to descend in its time. Pouring rains of blessing there will prove to be. And the tree of the field must give its fruitage, and the land itself will give its yield, and they will actually prove to be on their soil in security. And they will have to know that I am Jehovah when I break the bars of their yoke and I have delivered them out of the hand of those who had been using them as slaves.”
What does it mean – “Jehovah will become their God”? It does not mean that Jehovah was not their God before. Obviously, Jehovah was the God of the Jews before they were plundered and went into exile among the nations. Yet, after their repatriation Jehovah cleansed them, so that Ezekiel 37:23 similarly says: “And they will no longer defile themselves with their dungy idols and with their disgusting things and with all their transgressions; and I shall certainly save them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and I will cleanse them, and they must become my people, and I myself shall become their God.”
So too, Jehovah is the God of Christians even before antitypical Jerusalem is desolated and the chosen ones go into captivity to the nations. So, the expression “I shall become their God” denotes a positive change in the relationship between God and man. They become his people by virtue of an act of God to reconcile his people to himself by forgiving their error.
As regards the anointed, Jehovah becomes their God and “conclude