Studying the Truths of the Old Testament | 05
Read or listen to Ezekiel 34.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed their flock? You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fattened animals, but you do not tend the flock. You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. They were scattered for lack of a shepherd; they became food for all the wild animals when they were scattered. My flock went astray on all the mountains and every high hill. My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and there was no one searching or seeking for them.
“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. As I live—this is the declaration of the Lord God—because my flock, lacking a shepherd, has become prey and food for every wild animal, and because my shepherds do not search for my flock, and because the shepherds feed themselves rather than my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord!
“‘This is what the Lord God says: Look, I am against the shepherds. I will demand my flock from them and prevent them from shepherding the flock. The shepherds will no longer feed themselves, for I will rescue my flock from their mouths so that they will not be food for them.
“‘For this is what the Lord God says: See, I myself will search for my flock and look for them. As a shepherd looks for his sheep on the day he is among his scattered flock, so I will look for my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and total darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples, gather them from the countries, and bring them to their own soil. I will shepherd them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will tend them in good pasture, and their grazing place will be on Israel’s lofty mountains. There they will lie down in a good grazing place; they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will tend my flock and let them lie down. This is the declaration of the Lord God. I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak, but I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will shepherd them with justice.
“‘As for you, my flock, the Lord God says this: Look, I am going to judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and goats. Isn’t it enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of the pasture with your feet? Or isn’t it enough that you drink the clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Yet my flock has to feed on what your feet have trampled, and drink what your feet have muddied.
“‘Therefore, this is what the Lord God says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Since you have pushed with flank and shoulder and butted all the weak ones with your horns until you scattered them all over, I will save my flock. They will no longer be prey, and I will judge between one sheep and another. I will establish over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will shepherd them. He will tend them himself and will be their shepherd. I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among them. I, the Lord, have spoken.
“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate dangerous creatures from the land, so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the forest. I will make them and the area around my hill a blessing: I will send down showers in their season; they will be showers of blessing. The trees of the field will yield their fruit, and the land will yield its produce; my flock 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 power of those who enslave them. They will no longer be prey for the nations, and the wild creatures of the earth will not consume them. They will live securely, and no one will frighten them. I will establish for them a place renowned for its agriculture, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land. They will no longer endure the insults of the nations. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people. This is the declaration of the Lord God. You are my flock, the human flock of my pasture, and I am your God. This is the declaration of the Lord God.’”
What were Israel’s leaders neglecting to do? How did God respond to this injustice? How does the character of God help us recognize proper use of authority?
The written Scripture is CSB, however, the audio Scripture is ESV.
Read or listen to the blog. What is one thing you learned about the character of God?
But What About Christianity and Politics?
By Caleb Jenkins
Why should I follow Jesus when his followers have used political power for oppression throughout history?
CONTENT WARNING: Violence
The crusades… the Inquisition… transatlantic slave trade… Salem witch trials… European colonialism… genocide of Native North Americans… chattel slavery in America… “Jim Crow” laws and segregation… Christian nationalism.
For many people, one of the biggest barriers to following Jesus is the repeated example of Christians using political power to oppress and harm others throughout history. Even if this is not a barrier for you, I’m sure you’ve experienced shame or discomfort when thinking about this history and its current perception in our culture.
This is something I know too well. I spent my teenage years in Rwanda. During the 1994 genocide, many fled to churches seeking protection but instead the priests and pastors locked the doors with the people trapped inside until the militias arrived to slaughter them. Some of those church buildings remain with the bones and clothes of the deceased inside as a memorial of the atrocities. Growing up, many of my friends told me they could never believe in God because of what Christians did in 1994.
Such a response is so understandable and one that followers of Jesus ought to wrestle with.
Condemning Sins of the Past
When this barrier arises, as Christians we ought to be able to look at the sin committed by Christians in the past and condemn those actions. Our allegiance should be to Jesus more than our country, ethnicity, or even denominational tradition. When those in history, who might look or believe like us, used power in ways contrary to Jesus’ ethic of love, we don’t need to defend their actions. Recognizing the sins of God’s people in the past, whose consequences we still experience, has deep biblical tradition. Just read Psalm 106, as the psalmist, likely in exile because of his ancestors’ sins, chronicles the various ways God’s people have sinned. He confesses both his ancestors’ sins and how he and his audience may have continued it, while entreating God for mercy (Psalm 106:4–6).
When our response to these past injustices is lament and confession, we remind ourselves and show others that these actions were a divergence from authentic Christianity. This is the way to help ourselves and others still follow Jesus, despite the bad examples of his followers.
An Abuse Doesn’t Nullify a Proper Use
This is an important maxim to keep in mind when evaluating anything in life. Just because someone can’t drive a car well and crashes it into a street pole doesn’t mean driving a car in a safe and proper way can’t happen. Similarly, it is never fair to condemn a belief system because of the example of its worst adherents. This is a classic Ad hominem argument, a logical fallacy that attacks the character, motivation, or some other trait of the person or adherent you are arguing against instead of dealing with the substance of their argument. For example, it is uncharitable and illogical to say that Islam as a whole is a false religion just because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One would have to show that such actions are not a corruption or divergence from the norm but are the authentic expression of that belief system.
Is that true for abuses of political power by Christians?
The Fuller Historical Picture
Before definitely answering that question, it is important to consider counter examples. Is seeking political power and control and then using that to oppress others, the uniform or even dominant expression of following Jesus? No. If you look at each of those previously mentioned failures of Christians in power, you will find examples of Jesus’ followers working for peace and justice. Even while many Christians endorsed slavery, its abolition would not have come about apart from Christians like William Wilberforce, who were motivated by their faith in Jesus to oppose the slavery of humans who bear God’s image.
While Christian missionaries often colluded with colonial powers to the detriment of indigenous peoples because they thought the end of saving souls justified the means, this was not the whole story. Jesuit missionaries in Latin America often worked against Portuguese and Spanish attempts to enslave local peoples and would even advocate for them by spreading reports of the atrocities to those back in Europe. In Congo, African-American missionary William Sheppard was instrumental in exposing the atrocities of Belgian King Leopold II, which led to important reforms in that colony. Much more could be said about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the black church during the civil rights movement, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church’s stand against Hitler Nazism, or even Immaculee Ilibagiza and the many others in Rwanda whose Christian faith was key in the journey toward national healing and reconciliation.
A Uniquely Christian Problem?
Even if oppression isn’t the uniform expression of Christianity, is Christianity unique in having adherents whose political activities lead to violence and injustice? No, it is not. Islam’s founder Muhammad was not only a prophet but also a military leader who led armies to conquer cities, and that legacy is continued by many Islamist states around the world. Buddhism as well, despite its reputation as a religion of peace, has recently been weaponized in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Even secular and atheist movements fare no better than religious ones, with the glaring atrocities committed by the Soviet Union in the Gulags or in communist China during the Great Leap Forward.
If political oppression and injustice aren’t uniquely Christian or the only way to express faith in Jesus, the question remains about their use in living out an authentic devotion to him.
Jesus and Political Power
Let’s consider how genuine faith in Jesus wields political power. We could look at the example of the earliest Christians who had no social or political power or even desire to seize it, but instead sacrificially loved their fellow Christians, and their example spoke volumes to their broader society. But an even better place to look is Jesus himself,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11
Here we see the truly Christian approach to power. Although Jesus was God, he willingly chose
to set aside the rights and privileges of that status in order to use his power to serve and save humanity. This is the gospel message the earliest Jesus–followers taught and did their best to put into practice. From this, we can see that approaches to politics that oppress others or violate justice are not genuine expressions of following Jesus.
How will you use your power?
It’s easy to look back on Christians scornfully in hindsight while unaware of our own blind spots and inappropriate use of faith in politics. As we enter an election year as American Christians, how will you steward your privilege and influence? May our devotion to Jesus lead us to use our power, whatever and however much that is, for the benefit of others and the pursuit of what is right and just, according to God’s word and Jesus’ example.
Heavenly Father and King, aid the leaders in our life to follow your example of a good shepherd.