Robert Wurtz II
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD. “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:1–4 NKJV)
The sheep and shepherd motif is one of the common pictures used by God to reveal truth about His people. It is commonly known that sheep require special care for a number of reasons and it is superfluous to deal with them in this entry. In fact, it is the responsibility of shepherds to care for sheep as surely as a nursing mother cares for her newborn offspring. Paul uses this exact language when writing to the Thessalonians when he stated, “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7 NKJV)
Yet we are sobered by the words of Jeremiah 23 in contrast to Paul’s approach. The shepherds in Israel were destroying and scattering the sheep of God’s pasture. Their selfish and reckless behavior is described by God as “evil.” Moreover, He warned the shepherds that He would attend to them for not attending to their responsibilities. This is a frightful consideration and worthy of much reflection. It is impossible to over-emphasize how serious God is when it comes to His people being properly cared for. Speaking face to face with the Ephesian leaders for the last time Paul told them emphatically, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28 NKJV)
Destroying the Temple
Paul writes these sobering words in 1 Cor. 3:17, If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. The late great Greek scholar A.T. Robinson comments, “The outward temple is merely the symbol of God’s presence, the Shechinah (the Glory). God makes his home in the hearts of his people or the church in any given place like Corinth. It is a terrible thing to tear down ruthlessly a church or temple of God like an earthquake that shatters a building in ruins. This old verb phtheiroœ means to corrupt, to deprave, to destroy. It is a gross sin to be a church-wrecker. There are actually a few preachers who leave behind them ruin like a tornado in their path. Him shall God destroy (phtherei touton ho theos).” (end of quote)
Paul had built and left the church at Corinth in the hands of its leaders and now they threatened to destroy the thing until nothing was left. They viewed themselves as “spiritual” because they moved in the gifts of the Spirit, but Paul called them carnal. In fact, these spiritual folks were in danger of committing acts that would have endangered their very own souls. They were destroying the works of Paul’s hands, yes; but it was truly the work of God. Paul warns them in the strongest of terms… If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. A.T. Robertson continues, “There is a solemn repetition of the same verb in the future active indicative. The condition is the first class and is assumed to be true. Then the punishment is certain and equally effective. The church-wrecker God will wreck. What does Paul mean by “will destroy”? Does he mean punishment here or hereafter? May it not be both? Certainly, he does not mean annihilation of the man’s soul, though it may well include eternal punishment. There is warning enough here to make every pastor pause before he tears a church to pieces in order to vindicate himself.” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament). (end of quote)
Carelessness That Leads to Destruction
In order to keep the leaders focus at Corinth, Ephesus, or Thessalonica on the most important thing to God — Paul emphasized the value of God’s people to Him. He purchased the Saints (sheep) with His own blood. He regards them as a mother her newborn child. The sheep are to be guarded and tended in the way that David tended his father’s sheep. When the lion or the bear came to destroy he sprang into action. He led the sheep beside the still waters and into green pastures. He guarded and fed them in the very presence of their enemies (Psalm 23). Had he been careless he would have never owned the description “a man after God’s own heart.”
A good shepherd is concerned more for his flock than his own life. He is sensitive to them. He will inconvenience himself to make sure they are kept together. On the other hand, we have the solemn words, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. Imagine a shepherd who doesn’t care that his actions are about to scatter some of his flock. A good shepherd will leave the ninety-nine and go after the one. A bad shepherd could care less if one or more sheep are scattered. They don’t go after them or lift a finger to check up on them. Sadly, this is the prevailing attitude of today. In fact, some books and seminars encourage pastors to sort of “weed out” the old timers. The concept? If they don’t fit with the “new vision” or the “new ______” then just let the people go. What foolishness! Those are the sheep of God’s pasture that we’re referring to.
Jeremiah is often called “The Weeping Prophet.” Chapter 23 of his book was written for our instruction and as an example to us. It shows us forever God’s estimate of treating His sheep (the saints) recklessly. Modern carnal writers and seminar instructors may encourage pastors and leaders to do things that are guaranteed to scatter their sheep — even encouraging them that this is “normal” and “not a big deal” but to God, it is a VERY big deal. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Leaders are going to be judged with a stricter judgment and will be called to give an account of the flock they tended to and among. What was the shepherd’s attitude? Did he seek to preserve the flock or did he directly or indirectly scatter them with his actions and decisions? Was he caught up in the worlds lies to the destruction of his own people? God’s response? Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD.
Reading Jeremiah 23 I can almost hear God asking, “Pastor, where is your flock? Where are your people? Are you tending to them as you have been charged to do or are you scattering them around? Have your actions left them feeling dismayed and fearful?” Fortunately, God will not leave His sheep to roam around scattered forever as a consequence of a derelict shepherd. Jeremiah continues, “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD.”