Sheep Story

Another in my series for Quivering Daughters

The best thing ever written on spiritual abuse is a poem about sheep. I haven’t got many sheep in my neighborhood—the picture here is one we took in Ireland—but every word in this poem is so true it aches.

Someone once asked me, when you hear stories of spiritual abuse—horrible cruel things done by well-intentioned religious people—where do you think the Lord’s heart is in all of it? My answer, of course, was “Don’t ask me; ask the Lord.” Fortunately, the Lord already told us: He wrote a poem about sheep.

It starts with a bit about shepherds who mistreat sheep. Bear in mind that this was written a few thousand years before anybody ever heard the term “spiritual abuse.” Some shepherds take a while to learn, even though the Lord keeps on saying “This is what the LORD says!” Then it goes to a bit about sheep who mistreat other sheep. That happens too; you don’t need authority to be an abuser.

In between and after and throughout and all around, it tells us exactly where the Lord’s heart is. Toward the end it even becomes outright Messianic. And it speaks for itself so clearly that it doesn’t need me to speak for it anymore. Here’s what the Lord says about spiritual abuse, and about sheep.

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 Sovereign LORD says:

Woe to the shepherds of Israel
who only take care of themselves!

Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

You eat the curds,

clothe yourselves with the wool

and slaughter the choice animals,

but you do not take care of the flock.

You have not strengthened the weak

or healed the sick

or bound up the injured.

You have not brought back the strays

or searched for the lost.

You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

So they were scattered

because there was no shepherd,

and when they were scattered

they became food for all the wild animals.

My sheep wandered

over all the mountains

and on every high hill.

They were scattered over the whole earth,

and no one searched or looked for them.

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD,

because my flock lacks a shepherd

and so has been plundered

and has become food for all the wild animals,

and because my shepherds did not search for my flock

but cared for themselves rather than for my flock,

therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:

This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

I am against the shepherds

and will hold them accountable for my flock.

I will remove them from tending the flock

so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves.

I will rescue my flock from their mouths,

and it will no longer be food for them.

“‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.

As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock

when he is with them,

so will I look after my sheep.

I will rescue them
from all the places where they were scattered

on a day of clouds and darkness.

I will bring them out from the nations

and gather them from the countries,

and I will bring them into their own land.

I will pasture them

on the mountains of Israel,

in the ravines

and in all the settlements in the land.

I will tend them in a good pasture,

and the mountain heights of Israel
will be their grazing land.

There they will lie down in good grazing land,

and there they will feed in a rich pasture

on the mountains of Israel.

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,

declares the Sovereign LORD.

I will search for the lost

and bring back the strays.

I will bind up the injured

and strengthen the weak,

but the sleek and the strong

I will destroy.

I will shepherd the flock with justice.

“‘As for you, my flock,

this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

I will judge between one sheep and another,

and between rams and goats.

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture?

Must you also trample

the rest of your pasture with your feet?

Is it not enough for you to drink clear water?

Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?

Must my flock feed on what you have trampled

and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them:

See, I myself will judge

between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.

Because you shove with flank and shoulder,

butting all the weak sheep with your horns

until you have driven them away,

I will save my flock,

and they will no longer be plundered.

I will judge between one sheep and another.

I will place over them one shepherd,
my servant David,

and he will tend them;

he will tend them
and be their shepherd.

I the LORD will be their God,

and my servant David will be prince among them.

I the LORD have spoken.

“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them

and rid the land of wild beasts

so that they may live in the desert

and sleep in the forests in safety.

I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill.

will send down showers in season;

there will be showers of blessing.

The trees of the field will yield their fruit

and the ground will yield its crops;

the people 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 hands of those who enslaved them.

They will no longer be plundered by the nations,

nor will wild animals devour them.

They will live in safety,

and no one will make them afraid.

I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops,

and they will no longer be victims
of famine in the land

or bear the scorn 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,

declares the Sovereign LORD.

You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people,

and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”

—Ezekiel 34

AuthorEric Pazdziora

Composer, Author, Pianist

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