Some of the finest men I have ever known are elders and circuit overseers among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most of Jehovah’s Witnesses would no doubt readily agree that the majority of overseers are honest, hard-working, self-sacrificing Christian men. Be that as it may, the privilege of tending to Christ’s sheep as a Christian shepherd is a privilege, not a right. It is also an enormous responsibility, which necessarily makes overseers more accountable before God. The reason that is so is because Jehovah’s sheep are very precious to him.
Surely, most human parents have the same parental love for their children as does Jehovah for his. For example: When human parents entrust their children to the care of others, such as baby-sitters, day-care staff, doctors, or school teachers, there is always an assumed understanding of the responsibility and accountability involved. But what parent would be reassured and comforted if most of the children in a particular day-care center did not die from abuse or neglect? Obviously, no amount of neglect or abuse is acceptable when it comes to something as precious as a child.
Should we therefore imagine that it is any different with God? Jehovah holds shepherds accountable for the spiritual condition of every single individual sheep in the flock under their care. When it comes to Jehovah’s dear sheep there is no acceptable level of neglect or abuse.
Jesus invites us to consider how precious each individual is to his Father by means of a beautifully simple illustration. At Matthew 18:12-14, Jesus asks: “What do you think? If a certain man comes to have a hundred sheep and one of them gets strayed, will he not leave the ninety-nine upon the mountains and set out on a search for theone that is straying? And if he happens to find it, I certainly tell you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that have not strayed. Likewise it is not a desirable thing with my Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish.”
It is a sad fact that some wandering sheep are irrecoverably lost; which Jesus also noted in his illustration, when he said—“if he happens to find it” —leaving open the possibility that even the diligent shepherd might not happen to find a straying lamb. But, the important thing is that the shepherd “set out on a search for the one that is straying.”
Now, the question: If Jehovah has such depth of feeling and keen interest in finding just one straying sheep, how must he feel about an entire flock of his sheep, should they become lost? And if indeed an entire flock should wander off or become plunder or prey, or are otherwise abused, how may Jehovah judge the shepherds who must report the loss of his sheep during their watch?
There is no need to speculate about God’s feelings on the matter. The entire 34th chapter of Ezekiel is devoted to revealing Jehovah’s future judgments concerning both the sheep and the shepherds of his flock:
“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.” (Ezekiel 34:1-6)
First, who are the shepherds of Israel that Ezekiel is told to prophesy against; and also, is there any modern-day counterpart to the shepherds in this prophetic denunciation?
The shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel’s day were the nation’s leaders. They were the Levitical priests primarily, as well as the king and his princes. But like many prophecies, this portion of Ezekiel applies to spiritual Israel, more so than to ancient Israel. How do we know? Because the 23rd and 24th verses foretell that Jehovah purposes to regather his lost sheep under his David-like shepherd—Christ. There we read: “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.”
The 34th chapter of Ezekiel describes God’s sheep becoming plunder for the wild beasts of the earth. Elsewhere in prophecy, the political governments are symbolized as wild beasts; while ungodly men are similarly portrayed as animalistic and beast-like.
In a minor fulfillment of the prophecy, history records that the Israelites and Judeans were plundered and enslaved by the animalistic Assyrian and Babylonian empires. However, when Cyrus conquered Babylon and God regathered his scattered people, they were not then given another king to sit upon David’s throne. The one shepherd and chieftain who is to shepherd Jehovah’s scattered flocks can be none other than Jesus Christ. This should help all to appreciate that Ezekiel’s prophecy really applies to Christians at Christ’s return.
But, how can it be positively determined that the prophecy is not simply referring to the 1st century Christian sheep of Christ? Well, consider Ezekiel 34:25-30, which reads: “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. 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. And I will raise up for them a planting for a name, and they will no more become those taken away by famine in the land, and they will no longer bear the humiliation by the nations. And they will have to know that I, Jehovah their God, am with them and that they are my people, the house of Israel,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.”’
What Jehovah is vividly describing in prophecy is what the Watchtower refers to as a “spiritual paradise.” In fact, at Ezekiel 36:35 Jehovah likens the restored spiritual condition of his nation of people to the Garden of Eden. First Century Christians did not inhabit any sort of spiritual paradise. Neither is the “Eden” of prophecy reflected in the so-called spiritual paradise that Jehovah’s Witnesses imagine presently exists among the worldwide brotherhood.
The paradise of complete spiritual security depicted in prophecy is a sublime condition that remains hidden from Jehovah’s Witnesses dimmed spiritual vision and which far surpasses what the Watchtower Society has erroneously taught about spiritual paradise. The real spiritual paradise is something Jehovah will yet create for his faithful people during the tribulation—as an immediate prelude to the final suicidal attack by the symbolic Gog of Magog.
But what does the Watchtower have to say regarding the shepherds who do not properly tend to God’s flock—as described above? Strangely, according to the August 1st, 1953, Watchtower, as well as other more recent publications of the Watchtower Society, the negligent, self-feeding shepherds are not Christian shepherds at all! Supposedly, they are the “political shepherds” of Christendom.
Just what are “political shepherds” anyway and what scriptural justification is there for such an odd interpretation? The Watchtower’s bizarre interpretation of prophecy is derived from their dogmatic insistence that apostate Judah and Israel prefigure Christendom, and therefore, the kings and princes of ancient Israel must therefore picture the modern political leaders of Christendom’s realm; hence, the artificial expression—“political shepherds.” Incredibly, the Watchtower even applies Ezekiel’s prophecy of the negligent shepherds to the atheistic communistic leaders!
But is that even reasonable? No, it is not reasonable at all. It is, in fact, an absurdity to suppose that the rulers of pre-Christian Israel typify the presidents, kings, emperors and dictators that have ruled the nations of Christendom.
For one thing, it is nonsensical to suppose that God would expect the politicians and despots of this world to feed and care for his sheep. The logical question thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses ought to ask is why would Jehovah expect a so-called “political shepherd” to look for his lost sheep in the first place? For that matter, what would a “political shepherd” be expected to do if he happened to even find one of Jehovah’s lost sheep? How would a “political shepherd” feed one of God’s little lambs with spiritual food? And why on earth would Jehovah adversely judge a politician based upon his failure to minister spiritually to his people? The very notion is unscriptural, unreasonable and frankly—ludicrous!
“MY SHEPHERDS DID NOT SEARCH FOR MY SHEEP”
The self-feeding shepherds that Jehovah denounces are not “political shepherds” at all, as the Watchtower would have Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. The shepherds can only be the duly appointed Christian elders, to whom Jehovah has entrusted his sheep. That the shepherds of prophecy are without question Christian overseers and not the so-called “political shepherds,” as espoused for the last half century by the Watchtower, is self-evident in the context itself. Consider the fact that at Ezekiel 34:8, Jehovah calls them “my shepherds,” saying of them: “My shepherds did not search for my sheep, but the shepherds kept feeding themselves, and my own sheep they did not feed.” Now, Jehovah’s Witnesses surely recognize the fact that Jehovah’s sheep are his special property, by virtue of the fact that Jehovah himself declares them to be “my sheep,” surely, then, the shepherds, too, must belong to God as his dedicated servants since he also calls them “my shepherds.”
It ought to be somewhat disquieting for any man presently serving as a congregational shepherd to consider the lengths to which the Watchtower is willing to go in contriving such mythical entities as “political shepherds” and other such drivel. The transparent motivation for doing so can only be to attempt to nullify and deflect Jehovah’s pre-recorded judicial decisions, which are unquestionably directed to the spiritual shepherds of God’s congregation at the time of Christ’s return.
When Jesus, the Fine Shepherd, was on earth he did not entrust Jehovah’s precious sheep to the care of any sort of “political shepherd.” Instead, Christ entrusted his “little flock” and “other sheep” to the care of the apostles and appointed older men. The apostle Peter was personally charged by Jesus to “shepherd my little sheep.”
Years later Peter indicated in his writings that Christ was still entrusting his sheep to yet other men, who were to serve as spiritual shepherds up until Christ returns to lead his little flock to heaven. 1 Peter 5:2-3 says: “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.”
The vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses would probably vigorously object to applying Ezekiel’s condemnatory prophecy to Christian shepherds today. After all, from all appearances Jehovah’s Witnesses are spiritually well fed and cared for within the organizational pen. There is hardly ever a meeting where Jehovah’s Witnesses are not reminded of how well the “faithful and discreet slave” cares for them. Nevertheless, God has a more far-ranging perspective than men.
Considering Jehovah’s sheep are so precious to him, it should not be surprising that God holds his shepherds accountable for all the sheep entrusted to their care. You may recall, how on the night of Jesus’ arrest, the Son of God gave an account of his own shepherding; saying to his Father in prayer, that he had not lost even one of the sheep that Jehovah had entrusted to him, except Judas. The question is: Can the Christian overseers of Jehovah’s Witnesses give a similar accounting of themselves before God, as did Jesus? Or may the Bethel elders who oversee the entire flock around the world honestly claim to not have lost one sheep entrusted to them? The answer, regrettably, is definitely not! It is simply a fact that countless Jehovah’s Witnesses have either been abused in some fashion or neglected by congregation elders. Doubtless there are many thousands of examples of such, but one shall suffice to illustrate the point.
As one instance, some years back e-watchman received an email from a sister relating how her aged mother had recently become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but tragically she developed the cruel, memory-robbing Alzheimer’s disease and had to be put in a nursing home. The daughter repeatedly requested the local elders to call on her mother in the nursing facility in order to give her some spiritual encouragement. Months went by and the sister begged the elders to look in on her newly baptized mother—to no avail.
In the interim, one of the residents at the nursing home kindly invited the Alzheimer’s-stricken sister to attend her church services—it also being the former religion of the sister. She accepted. Apparently the elders heard of it and finally went to make a “shepherding visit.” But, instead of ministering to Jehovah’s straying sheep in any meaningful way, the elders came prepared with a pre-written letter of disassociation. They asked her a few questions to determine her attitude about going to church and then they had the ailing sister sign her own letter of disassociation! In their twisted judgment the sister was irretrievably lost, since she had gone back to Christendom!
In view of the heartless judgmental actions of the elders in this case, Jehovah would seem to be fully justified in applying the following assessment to them: “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…” (Ezekiel 34:3)
In all fairness, though, not all elders would have dealt so outrageously with Jehovah’s ailing sheep, as did these elders. But, before jumping to the conclusion that the situation was an anomaly—think again! All elder bodies receive the same training and instructions from the Watchtower Society. More than likely, the elders who demanded the sister’s disassociation imagined in their own minds that they were doing their duty to protect the congregation from what they perceived as potential spiritual contamination. And therein lays the root of the problem, that being: The destructive tendency to idolize “the organization”—placing its image and dictates above the spirituality of the individual. It seems, in fact, that it is now Bethel policy to hunt down inactive Jehovah’s Witnesses and try to force them to either get reactivated or disassociate themselves from the organization and elders are expected to enforce such policies!
The idolization of the Watchtower is very subtle—yet real. At first the Bible Students simply saw themselves as being Christ’s congregation. Yet many of them virtually idolized Charles Russell. J.F. Rutherford squashed the cult of personality surrounding Russell, but at the same time the Watchtower organization itself, what has come to be regarded as “Jehovah’s visible organization,” gradually began to take to itself more and more importance and authority over the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Near cult-like congregational uniformity to the faceless “slave” has now replaced the cult of personality.
For example, at a district convention a few years ago one of the speakers derided certain styles of dress and grooming and condescendingly told the audience that if Jehovah’s Witnesses have fashion questions they should simply consult the pictures of the Watchtower magazine so that they would know how God wants them to look. Even in the most personal matters, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told how they must behave in order to have God’s blessing. The so-called organizational “mother” tells her children how to dress, the kind of movies to avoid, the kind of music not to listen to, how to speak, what to say at the door, and above all—what to believe.
As Jehovah observes at Ezekiel 34:4b: “But with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny.”
Over time, the Watchtower institution has exalted itself to become the very mouthpiece of God. Not only must Jehovah’s Witnesses teach everything the organization teaches and believe everything they are told to believe, some members of the Governing Body have even gone so far to say that any brother or sister who even thinks a thought that is not in harmony with the Watchtower’s teaching is being disloyal to God and needs to quickly bring their every thought into captivity to Christ. In essence the Watchtower has taken the place of Christ. The problem is, though, that the Watchtower is not the infallible mouthpiece of God that it assumes to be.
The prevailing organizational mindset has brought about a state whereby there is virtually zero tolerance for any brother or sister who does not believe everything that the Watchtower teaches—regardless of how valid their reasons may be for taking exception to various interpretations, policies or attitudes. So, anyone among Jehovah’s Witnesses who does not accept the Watchtower’s every prophetic utterance, policy and procedure as holy writ, is more or less viewed as a disloyal enemy of Jehovah and treated accordingly.
For example, even though it can be proven reasoning from the Scriptures, that Christ’s kingdom did not begin ruling in 1914, the Watchtower’s tenuous interpretation of prophecy is considered to be sacrosanct—not open to question. Hence, no matter how faithful a Christian may be, no matter if they are completely devoted to Jehovah and love the brotherhood and are exemplary in every way, if they do not believe what to them is an unreasonable, speculative and unscriptural teaching, they are censured by the congregation.
Worse, congregation elders have the luxury of not having to think too much for themselves when it comes to judging such matters. Indeed, “the Society” forbids independent thinking on all levels. “The Society” is always right. Therefore, any mere “publisher” who in any way challenges that supposed rightness is automatically wrong!
As an example, it is not at all uncommon for elders to respond to divergent ideas by simply saying: ‘That’s not what the Society says.’It does not matter if it is true. It does not matter if it is supported in the Bible. If it is not what “the Society” says, it cannot be right. “The Society” has inadvertently created an environment that is intolerant and inhospitable to genuine Bible researchers. As a result, tragically, many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been disfellowshipped, or in some other way shoved out of the congregation—marked as weak in faith or branded as apostates for not accepting all of the Watchtower’s teachings and views.
It is just as Jehovah depicts at Ezekiel 34;21: “For the reason that with flank and with shoulder you kept pushing and with your horns you kept shoving all the sickened ones until you had scattered them to the outside.”
In effect, Jehovah’s sheep are slaughtered as unfit. Meanwhile, the shepherds remain secure in their positions of authority by merely enforcing the Watchtower’s regime upon the congregations.
In light of the prevailing attitudes that presently dominate the organization, Jehovah’s denunciation of the self-feeding shepherds becomes all the more relevant: Ezekiel 34:3 states: “The fat is what you eat, and with the wool you clothe your own selves. The plump animal is what you slaughter.”
However, the worst is yet to come. According to the prophecy, all of Jehovah’s sheep are destined to become scattered and fall prey to predators—not just a few. But, how is that possible?
It will come about as a result of the collapse of the Watchtower during the opening phase of the tribulation. Because the Watchtower has not prepared Jehovah’s Witnesses for that eventuality, it will have a most demoralizing and devastating effect upon the entire organization—resulting in God’s sheep being scattered. That such is the case, consider Ezekiel 34:11-12, which reads: “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.”’
In prophecy, the “day of clouds and thick gloom” symbolizes the dark period of hopelessness and despair associated with the tribulation. No one ought to imagine that the present carefree world is in any way depicted in prophecy by such foreboding symbolism.
There are many instances in the Bible of similar apocalyptic language. One example is where Jesus said the heavenly luminaries would suddenly become darkened and nations would be in anguish as a result of the turmoil. Another example is Joel 2:1-2, which describes a devastating attack of the symbolic locust army immediately prior to Jehovah’s awesome judgment day: “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.”
So it is that Jehovah’s “coming to be in the midst of his sheep” has to do with the manifestation of Jesus Christ during the world’s darkest hour, in order to repurchase his lost congregation. Jesus Christ will, then, directly rule over his earthly sheep without any “visible organization” of under-shepherds to interpret and dispense Christ’s counsel.
That is what Ezekiel 34:23-24 is foretelling where it says: “And I will raise up over them one shepherd, (not thousands) 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.”
At that time, the current arrangement of congregation elders, circuit overseers, ministerial servants, etc., will be completely disbanded—having fully accomplished its purpose—that being to prepare a people to recognize and receive the kingdom. Ephesians 4:11-13 confirms for us that shepherds and teachers serve only until such time as Christ’s body of anointed holy ones is completed. “And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ, until we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God.”
However, the inadequacy of the present elder arrangement will become evident during “the day of thick clouds and gloom”—resulting in the disastrous loss of the entire flock of Jehovah’s sheep; requiring God to intervene to secure their recovery.
At Ezekiel 34:15-16, Jehovah foretells that he will, personally, (through Jesus Christ) take over the daily feeding and care of his sheep; relieving the earthly shepherds of their duties: ‘“I myself shall feed my sheep, and I myself shall make them lie down,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. ‘The lost one I shall search for, and the dispersed one I shall bring back, and the broken one I shall bandage and the ailing one I shall strengthen, but the fat one and the strong one I shall annihilate. I shall feed that one with judgment.”’ In the 20th verse Jehovah goes on to say: “Here I am, I myself, and I shall certainly judge between a plump sheep and a lean sheep.”
God’s judgment of his sheep is in harmony with what the Fine Shepherd also stated when he contrasted the ultimate outcomes for the self-satisfied (plump sheep) with those who were genuinely hungering for God’s righteousness (lean sheep). Jesus said: “Happy are you who hunger now, because you will be filled. Happy are you who weep now, because you will laugh. Woe to you who are filled up now, because you will go hungry. Woe, you who are laughing now, because you will mourn and weep.”