False Shepherds In Israel and The Church
The Role of The shepherd
In chapter 34 of the book of Ezekiel God is using a familiar illustration of the “shepherd” and his “sheep” to describe the leaders and the people of the Nation Israel. The Bible frequently uses this terminology to refer to the spiritual leaders with responsibility over a group of people (Psalm 78:70-72; Isaiah 44:28; 63:11; Jeremiah 23:1-4; 25:34-38). Their primary role was to guard the nation like a shepherd would guard his flock. Every society needs a recognized and well-ordered leadership for its own safeguard and prosperity. God chose elders, priests, kings and prophets to connect Him to the people in ancient Israel. There are earthly “shepherds” to carry out the Lord’s will in leading the people to God, and King David recognized this:
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup runneth over. 6Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever. (KJV)
In this Psalm David categorized the many benefits of the Lord as our “Shepherd”, and who also is a gracious host. The Lord protected David from life’s dangers, and God’s persistent living protection enabled him to enjoy a secure communion with Him all the days of his life.
The Lord also described the future, earthly appearance of the Messiah of Israel as a “shepherd” who will feed and gently carry the young of His flock (Isaiah 40:11). The same is important in New Testament times as well (Proverbs 8:15; Romans 13:1). During His appearance in time and space as the Lord Jesus, He called Himself the “Good Shepherd”, while describing the bad shepherd as a thief and a robber:
1 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.
7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me[a] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (NKJ)
The Shepherds of Israel
The kings and princes who ruled over the Nation Israel became evil and self-serving instead of doing God’s work ministering to the people. God was getting ready to take them to task for what they were not doing (Ezekiel 34:1-2).
Characteristics and Results of Evil Shepherds
3Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill the fatlings; but ye feed not the sheep. 4The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought back that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with rigor have ye ruled over them. 5And they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food to all the beasts of the field, and were scattered. 6My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my sheep were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and there was none that did search or seek after them. (ASV, 1901)
These appointed leaders did not serve the flock as the Good Shepherd intended them to do. At the expense of the common people they were using the offices that they held to achieve personal gain, and become wealthy. Their view of the people as a source of wealth replaced fulfilling their obligation to the Lord who had entrusted them with the administration of His love, care and accurate promulgation of His Word in an organized and systematic manner. Instead of taking their God-given role seriously, they ruled with harshness and brutality. They did not strengthen those who were diseased, they failed to adequately heal and care for the sick, and they did not care for the lost, either physically or spiritually. Through the truth of Scripture, they should have nurtured the people, and brought them to a positive, genuine relationship with God. Another error in their flagrant disregard for the people was failing to watch over them. Instead they let the sheep wander from the safety of the flock. Their shepherding of the flock was diametrically opposed to what Jesus characterized as the appropriate action of a Good Shepherd:
12What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? (NASB)
Sheep will wander. It is one of their characteristics, and when the sheep become scattered they are vulnerable to predatory wild animals. As much as he can, the caring shepherd will make sure they are not wandering off in a direction that will harm them. These leaders were so self-serving that they failed to provide any oversight, and did not notice, or care, that the people of Israel had left the flock in terms of spiritual purity and physical safety. When leaders abandon truth for personal gain of any sort they are placing their flocks in danger. When the message of truth is corrupted or is inadequately conveyed, a person will leave their acceptance of the authority of Scripture’s spiritual truth and is lost. They no longer have the safeguard of its protective doctrines, and are in danger of losing the path to eternal salvation.
Since the mid 1800’s many of the spiritual leaders of the Church have been abrogating their spiritual responsibility to care for their flocks. They cause many to leave because they began denying, or arguing over some of the fundamentals of the faith. Denominations and church after church have split over denials of the Trinity, the incarnation and the Second Coming. The roots of this began in Europe, particularly with German Rationalism where the inerrancy of the Scripture was denied with the development of Biblical Criticism and particularly with the “documentary hypothesis”. Julius Wellhausen was the principal developer of this concept. He insisted that human reason only, not the Bible, could be trusted. He presented the idea that the Bible, far from being God’s Word, was just a collection of human documents. These destructive denials of the fundamental truth of the Bible caused the church leaders to quote everything but the Bible, and preach everything but the gospel. Religious liberalism led to the calamities that came upon Europe such as Communism, Nazism, fascism, and promulgation of the occult. Other diseased ideas have been promoted by the absence of a spiritual core that makes up the divine life and spiritual blessing. Wellhausen and his liberalism destroyed the spiritual life in Europe, and nearly succeeded in the spiritual destruction of the United States. Today less than 1% of the population of Europe is made up of Evangelical Christians. 
If you think that men are not able to negatively influence others to keep them out of the Kingdom, listen to what the Lord Jesus had to say to the Pharisees:
13But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (KJV)
TRUTH MUST NEVER BE SACRIFIED FOR PEACE. IT NEVER WORKS!
In more recent times modern “false shepherds” have led many into a totally new phase of misleading the believer. The old phase, under the liberal intellectuals of the 1800’s, can be characterized as “destructive denials” of Scripture authority. This new phase claims to affirm the fundamentals of the faith, but they have made a paradigm shift away from the Bible as being the final authority in determining divine truth, and focus on experience as being equally valid, or taking priority over Scripture. If the Bible contradicts a particular practice, or “experience” promoted by the modern day church, then that practice is justified by them as a “new move of the Spirit”, and what the text of the Scripture actually says can be contradicted by this new “experience”. This represents itself as a more “spiritual” of a way of denying the truth of God, and therefore far more deceptive. The Holy Spirit will never move in a manner that is contrary to Scripture.
The New Evangelicalism or The Emerging Church
The New Evangelicalism, also called the Emerging Church, is perhaps the most insidious of all the apostasies. It is characterized by catering to the desires of the people. Instead of being inculcated with God’s Word and having our personal world view and behavior be patterned after God’s Word, the New Evangelicalism gives the people what they want. One New Testament passage clearly predicts this reversal of worship of God to worshipping man:
25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen (KJV)
The idea of this new wave apostasy is to “soft-sell” the Bible and salvation. This apostasy does not want to upset anybody, there is never any mention of Hell, or the outcome of an unsaved life. Instead they offer a path away from an aimless, meaningless life here on earth. They say they “believe” strongly in salvation through Jesus Christ, but their actions differ sharply from what they say. Salvation is given lip service, and evangelism with real confrontation or teaching Biblical doctrine is thought to be too “divisive”. Usually their Bible teaching is characterized by an over emphasis on application, which is the “middle of the road” approach. Our “experiences” and “quality of life” here on earth are more important than total service to God, and the blessed assurance that He will soon come to lift us out of this sinful decaying world. Paul warned us that the end times would be characterized with a departure from sound doctrine, and from the truth:
II Timothy 4:3-4
3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (KJV)
The New Evangelicals believe if they do not emphasize “man-pleasing”, they will lose members of their congregation, and more importantly, their funding. A total dependence on God for their resources is abandoned for “sound business” practices or “fundamental marketing techniques.” Total reliance on God by elders through prayer and patience is exchanged for parliamentary procedure, schemes for man-made self-advancement, and the development of career goals. The pastor is considered a CEO, not the teacher of God’s Word. Mission statements and strategic plans are formulated to accommodate personal plans. The Bible is subordinated to man’s desires.
The thought of prophecy is anathema to the New Evangelical for they say it causes “division”. This “division” of course is between those non-literal Bible expositors and the literal Biblical expositors. Some have characterized the New Evangelical as being seduced by the world spirit of this present age. You can see it in the leaders who are popularized. Usually they have a high degree of prominence in the government or sports, and their testimonies are sought after for paid speaking engagements and book endorsements. But you will never see a Sunday school teacher, or poor inner city pastor held up by them as pillars of the faith. Christ went to the lowest members of society to bring the truth to the world. He did not go to the popular and prominent because they had already compromised the Truth for self gain.
The New Evangelicals represent a spirit of disobedience to, and a mood of compromise of what God has asked us to do in times of confrontation. It is a rejection of many of the difficult aspects of New Testament Christianity. They promote an attitude of “positivism” where they would rather be passive diplomats, not focused fighters, and infiltrators rather than separatists. They would not be restricted by a separationist mentality as we are asked to do if God’s word is violated. The New Evangelical would rather pursue dialog, intellectualism, and appeasement than standing firm for Biblical truth.
Our culture has become deeply entrenched with psychology, and its teachings are rapidly becoming the norm in Christian Schools and churches to “add to” or replace the teachings of the Bible. The weakness and carnality of the church in recent decades has allowed this psychological mind-set of the world to flow into the church. Psychology offer remedies outside of God’s word in the Bible, and has brought about a redefining of many foundational matters of the Christian faith. The correct understanding is that man’s condition is sin, and God’s remedy is His saving and transforming grace (Romans 5:12, 17). Psychology teaches that man must esteem himself, affirm himself, and actualize himself. All of this new thinking is coming from psychological theory, which is primarily a man-based philosophy of life. In conclusion, we are strongly warned in the word of the Lord not to be guided by the philosophy of the world:
8Beware lest anyone take you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (KJV)
It is clear from the beginning passages in Chapter 34 of Ezekiel that man (who are “sheep”) tended to stray from God to follow his own self-willed path (Isaiah 53:6). We need to deny ourselves, take up His cross, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). We need to follow the leading of our Good Shepherd, who loves us, and died so we could be eternally secure and free. The Good Shepherd is just the opposite of the bad shepherds who let the sheep die because they cannot be bothered to do their job.
The Indictment of The False Shepherds
7Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah: 8As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely forasmuch as my sheep became a prey, and my sheep became food to all the beasts of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my sheep, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my sheep; (ASV, 1901)
Our Lord here addresses the wicked shepherds directly with the command to “hear the word of Jehovah”. God begins again to stress the situation the wicked shepherds created causing the sheep to scatter, and become prey “to all the beasts of the field”. The shepherds did not look for the sheep that were scattered. God still calls the sheep His own, which obviously means that He has never relinquished His rights to sheep entrusted to the shepherd of the flock. These wicked men were given temporary custody and this is their indictment; they failed to look after the people of God to whom they were entrusted.
This should be a sober message to anyone who has responsibilities to teach the Word of God. God is very serious about the quality of the teaching of His Word, and will chastise those who cause the sheep to scatter because of poor quality teaching, including denial of essential doctrines necessary for the sheep to flourish. The false shepherds had brought Israel to ruin, and now He would intercede to rescue His chosen people. The fact that God will cause His people to hear the truth, and bring the genuine sheep out from under false shepherds cannot be missed. There also is a component of responsibility on the sheep to seek out the truth of God’s Word where it is taught clearly, and to abandon the false teachers. Only the truly saved will seek the truth.
God Will Deliver the Sheep
9therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah: 10Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the sheep; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; and I will deliver my sheep from their mouth, that they may not be food for them. (ASV, 1901)
The main objective of God in this situation was to bring about the deliverance of the sheep and their well-being. God does not desire the ruin of anyone. This text primarily rebukes Israel’s false shepherds. The sheep are meant to receive comfort, and He promises that He has not forgotten about them. The Lord God will deliver His sheep from the hand of the unfaithful shepherds, and He personally would gather His scattered sheep. Throughout the history of the Church this is also very apparent. When the shepherds have gone “bad”, and are no longer are feeding the flock of sheep, God intervenes and leads the sheep to a new shepherd who will feed them.
False Shepherds Today
Revelation chapters two and three can be seen as a chronological exposition of a broad overview of Church history. We can see the letters to the churches describe an accurate chronological depiction of the problems encountered throughout church history. The last letter to the church at Laodicea provides an clear picture of the apostasy of the visible Christian Church, also called The Church of the Apostasy, and represents Church history from A.D. 1890-to the present day:
14To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. ’17Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.
“20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (NASB)
This letter is directed to the Laodiceans, whose name means “people ruling”, and it is a church entirely ruled by men, which this is diametrically opposed to God’s ruling in the church. This is because the Holy Spirit is not present and doing His ministry of guiding, teaching, and illuminating. While this has happened throughout the history of the Nation Israel, it is far worse in the Church Age since the 1890’s. God says that in the latter times some will be led by demons away from faith in God. This is what led the Israelite shepherds away from God as they worshipped the Canaanite idols on the “high places.” The following passage clearly describes the shepherds who are given authority to bring God’s Word in the Church Age, and why they fail:
I Timothy 4:1-3
1But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons , 2by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (KJV)
The source of the apostasy is demons. Apostates have essentially given in to seducing spirits and are preaching a system of doctrine that is a doctrine of demons. Furthermore, they speak lies through hypocrisy, and their consciences have stopped working. We can see how the shepherds through their adherence and interest in demonic activity have been led to teach a whole host of unbiblical requirements. As they turn from clearly teaching God’s Word, they deny its authority:
II Timothy 3:1-5
1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (KJV)
This passage from II Timothy begins with a description of the general character of false shepherds of God Word. Many of these characteristics are true today. Verse five specifically identifies the false front put on by the shepherds. These men have “a form of godliness”, but deny the power of God’s Word. Consider apostate clergy who wear flowing clerical gowns and embrace church hierarchical titles or dress in a manner appearing to be “one of us”. They appear to have a form of “godliness”, but they deny “the power thereof”, for they have denied the true power of godliness. They claim to trust in God, but are actually trusting in worldly methodologies. They bring the world’s attractions into the church to lure the sheep into remaining, even when they stop affirming the authority of God’s Word. This is one aspect of the sheep scattering from the false shepherd that no longer carry’s the voice of God to the sheep. We are commanded to separate from them. Here are four important points to understand what this really means:
- Separation is not an optional part of Christianity; it is a commandment (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Cor. 6:14-17; I Timothy 6:5; II Timothy 2:16-18; 3:5; Titus 3:10; 2 John 7-11; Revelation 18:4).
- Separation is not mean or unloving; it is obedience to God.
- “Mark them . . . avoid them” (Romans 16:17)
- “Be ye not unequally yoked together with” (II Corinthians 6:14)
- “Have no fellowship with” (II Corinthians 6:14)
- “Come out from among” (II Corinthians 6:17)
- “Withdraw thyself” (I Timothy 6:5)
- “Shun” (II Timothy 2:16)
- “Purge oneself from” (II Timothy 2:21)
- “From such turn away” (II Timothy 3:5)
- “Reject” (Titus 3:10)
- “Receive them not into your house neither bid them Godspeed” (II John 10)
- Separate even from brethren who are living in disobedience, and do not follow the traditions Christ taught us (II Thessalonians 3:6).
- Separation is a wall of protection against spiritual danger. Failure to separate from error leaves one open to the influence of error (I Corinthians 15:33). The reason a shepherd separates the sheep from wolves is to protect them. Likewise, a faithful and godly Bible teacher will seek to separate his flock from spiritual dangers that are even more destructive than wolves. As evidence of this we see many false prophets, corrupt denominations and seminary teachings.
Another activity of the false shepherds is mockery of the fundamentals of the faith and the creation schisms or separations:
17But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. 19These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. (KJV)
They begin denying some of the fundamentals of the faith such as the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, the Virgin Birth, the Substitutionary death of Christ, and His physical resurrection from the dead. Then they attempt to convince some to their heresies, but not all will accept them. As the Lord said, many sheep will know His voice and only follow Him, and not a false shepherd (John 10:1-5). In the course of time this produces a split within the visible church. Throughout the Church age there has been schism after schism. Church after church and denominations have split over denials of the Trinity, the incarnation and the Second Coming.
Like the example we have in Ezekiel’s day, these scatterings of the sheep through heretical teachings and deeds of separations have become prevalent as church history has progressed from the time of Jesus to the present day. Liberalism, also called Modernism, and other attempts like them to keep God’s Word from clearly reaching the sheep have accelerated since the early 1900’s. The decade of the 1920’s was characterized by the great Modernist-Fundamentalist battles. There were many attempts to fight Modernism within the church. Toward the end of that decade, it was apparent that the Modernists were firmly in control of both the denominational church positions (this included all the major denominations except the Southern Baptist Convention) and their schools.
This led to the separatist movement of the 1930’s as the Fundamentalists pulled out of the denominations and started their own denominations or independent churches. Emerging from the United Presbyterian Church of the United States of America was a group led by J. Gresham Machen, which subsequently split into three separate denominations (Orthodox Presbyterians, Bible Presbyterians and the Evangelical Presbyterians) due to internal struggles. Out of the American Baptist Convention came the General Association of Regular Baptists (GARB). Out of the United Methodist Church came the Evangelical Methodists. The following chart is a partial depiction affirming these splits:
Additionally, ecumenical movements have been prevalent during the 1940’s through to the present day. Ecumenism is a demonic attempt to tie “bad” teaching and practices to “good” ones, which only results in bad theology and doctrine. The fundamental Bible believers either cave in to the liberal apostates, or separate by breaking off in order to clearly receive God’s Word from other sources. In 1948, the World Council of Churches was organized on two principles: First, the unity of all the Churches in the basis of liberal beliefs; and second, the unity of all religions. In 1950, the old Federal Council of Churches was reorganized into the National Council of Churches, again attempting to unify all churches in the United States along liberal beliefs. Consequently, the visible church is primarily apostate today. Even among conservative denominations, the threat of apostasy is taking over of the theological and seminary schools and results in the supplying of liberal ministers for the pulpit.
God Affirms His Deliverance of His Sheep
11For thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will deliver them out of all places whither they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. 13And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them upon the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14I will feed them with good pasture; and upon the mountains of the height of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie down in a good fold; and on fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord Jehovah. 16I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but the fat and the strong I will destroy; I will feed them in justice. (ASV, 1901)
God always will take charge of His genuine sheep even though the false shepherds ignore the sheep in order to chase after their own desires and profit. He says that He “will search for my sheep, and will seek them out”. Jesus expressed this same truth in John chapter ten. In very loving text God says that He will bring the Jews out of all the places in the world where they have been scattered, and place them again in the land of Israel. He will not allow them to suffer again anything they need because He will supply it. The Lord’s treatment of His flock is diametrically opposite to that of the false shepherds. In verse 16 God states there will also be judgment on the wealthy, or “the fat and strong” of the nation who have oppressed the poor. God’s Word tells us that excessive prosperity causes people to forget God:
8Remove far from me falsehood and lies; Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is needful for me: 9Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is Jehovah? Or lest I be poor, and steal, And use profanely the name of my God. (ASV, 1901)
All these promises to Israel and the Church seen in Ezekiel 34: 11-16 will be realized in the Messianic Kingdom.
Daniel E. Woodhead
 Breese, Dave, 7 Men Who Rule The World From The Grave, Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 1992