If we’re going to get the most out of the Jesus story,
we’ll want first to soak our imaginations in the David story.
— Eugene H. Peterson (Leap Over A Wall)
The archetypal, illustrious, glorious, [insert superlative here] King David has been off the political scene for centuries. Even so, v. 23 opens with, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David” (NRSV).
Why would Ezekiel write such a thing?
In some of the Arthur legends, it is rumored that Merlin never died—that he is just biding his time in anonymity. Could it be that King David is biding his time, waiting to return? Never mind the anachronism—Israel did not believe those sort of fairytales.
At this stage in Israel’s development, some believed that there would be a massive resurrection of the dead. Could Ezekiel be talking about a time when Yahweh would resurrect his favourite king? The text does not point that way.
Israel was raised with stories of the “good old days”. They knew that there has never been a king like David—a king that ruled over both the Northern and Southern kingdoms. A king that despite his sins always repented and was labeled a man after God’s own heart.
Yahweh would restore Israel by indicting and banishing false shepherds, taking the shepherd responsibility on himself, and then appoint a king who would be a veritable David figure.The days to come would outshine the “good old days”.
. . .
There are three great promises to Israel in this passage:
- Creation itself would be restored to its Edenic potential. Wild animals will be vanquished, rain will fall perfectly, and the earth will yield fruit—there will be no more hunger.
- Israel will be fully protected from her political enemies. They will no longer have to face insults, wars, and sieges. In fact, “no one shall make them afraid” (v. 28, NRSV).
- Here is the most important promise: Yahweh himself will be their God. The time of Yahweh abandoning his people in judgment to the crushing fist of Babylon is over. In the words of Isaiah:
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:7-8, NRSV
When we read these words from a New Testament perspective, the truth is clear: Jesus is the Davidic Shepherd who came for his flock. The Jewish people were looking for a Messiah who would be as good as David. We see Jesus, and realize that David was only a pale reflection of the glory that would come.
. . .
Lord Jesus, thank you for shepherding us. Birth in our hearts an anticipation for the day when all of creation will be restored, and we will be free from sin. In Jesus’ name, Amen.