Much of what we hear from pulpits and those preaching the tenets of Christianity today is hyper-focused on how much God loves us. To claim otherwise would be untrue, as it is by His love that He chose to redeem us; however, there is a greater cause that we tend to forget as we’re basking in the warmth of knowledge that we’re saved from His wrath. It is not for our sake that God extended His mercy and offered us redemption. It is for God’s sake.
Not much has changed today from the days that the prophet, Ezekiel, spoke to the people. We either listen to the words from sound speakers as they proclaim truth to us, or read them for ourselves as we skim through Scripture. Our responses don’t differ much from what God told Ezekiel in 33:31-32, “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit down before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”
Yet another issue that remains current is that of shepherds that shamefully carry out their “calling,” as they neglect the duties laid out for one who is actually called by God to care for the flock. These so-called shepherds only take care of themselves, not the flock (Ezekiel 34:2) and they do not bring back the strays or search for the lost, all the while they rule harshly and brutally (34:4). God has choice words for these false imposters, “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” (34:10). This is when what has changed from those days, begins to unfold.
“I myself” is repeated three times in chapter 34 of Ezekiel and each time God is making it abundantly clear that it is He that will take the place of our Shepherd. “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them,” (v. 11) “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,” (v. 15) “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” (v. 20).
In addition to God declaring that He will shepherd His sheep, He also has Ezekiel pen these words, “I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (36:24-27). This is the prophecy that was fulfilled in Christ and Counselor as revealed throughout the entire New Testament.
But before we begin to linger too long in the warm fuzzy feelings of love that God shines on His people, let us take a wider look at the parentheses that He places before and after this culmination. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone’ (36:22) comes before and, just in case we’re forgetful of His purposes, He reminds us afterwords, “I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel!” (36:32).
Truthfully, how often do we consider how holy His name is? Do we contemplate how necessary this awe of Him need be? Is our heart set on practicing His decrees and laws because we fully understand that they are set in place for His glory and in respect to His name? Rarely do I remember that, in all I am and all I do, it is entirely wrapped up in honoring God for His sake and not my own, or even for the sake of others. This may not sit well with some, as we’re naturally bent on thinking about how God’s love relates to us for our sake; however, as Ezekiel’s words from God reveal, we’d be wise to recollect Whose sake is at stake.