Shepherds and Judges

God has arisen to shepherd and judge His people.

Judging and Judgment (5)

I said, “You are gods,
And all of you 
arechildren of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations. 
Psalm 82.6-8

A failure of judgment
Jesus indicated that the condemnation pronounced in Psalm 82 was against those in Israel who had been entrusted with the Word of God and the responsibility of exercising just judgment (cf. Jn. 10.34, 35). In this psalm, God calls the elders, judges, and other rulers of His people together and condemns them for judging “unjustly” (v. 2), that is, in a manner not according to His Word.

Their duty was to interpret the Law of God so that the poor and fatherless, and the afflicted and needy would be properly cared for, and the “hand of the wicked” would be restrained. Yet the rulers of Israel had turned their backs on the light of truth in God’s Law and were walking about “in darkness,” causing the foundations of shalom to become unstable throughout the land (v. 5).

God’s warning to them was that, while they had been appointed to an exalted place of service, to carry out the judgments of God on behalf of His people, they would nevertheless die like the men and princes of the earth – condemned and abandoned for their failure to exercise the judgment God required of them.

God Himself would then arise to judge the earth, and as He did, bringing His just Word to bear in every nation and among all the peoples of the world, He would inherit the earth and rule over it with just judgment.

God likened the rulers of Israel, who had been set to judge God’s people and to maintain His shalom, to shepherds who cared more about themselves than the flocks entrusted to them (Ezek. 34.1-10). They took advantage of their exalted role to aggrandize themselves at the expense of those they were appointed to serve (vv. 2, 3). They failed to care for those in need of healing and to seek those who had drifted from the fold (vv. 3-6). By failing to exercise sound judgment on behalf of the people, they opened them up to winds of doctrine and notions of truth that ravaged and depleted them (vv. 7, 8). Consequently, those false shepherds and unworthy judges would hear what must be the most terrifying words any shepherd, pastor, teacher, elder, head of household, or other judge of God’s people could ever hear: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them” (v. 10).

God will judge
The promise of Psalm 82.8 is reiterated in Ezekiel 34.11-31: God will arise and judge His people. He will come to be their good Shepherd, so that just judgment and shalom might return to the flocks of the Lord, and they might grow strong and productive, be happy and at peace, and all their surroundings may abound with the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Lord in His new covenant of peace. “‘I will raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land, nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore. Thus they will know that I the LORD their God, am with them, and they, the house of Israel, are My people,’ says the LORD God. ‘You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men, and am your God,’ says the LORD God” (Ezek. 34.29-31).

It was inevitable that the judges appointed throughout the nation of Israel in the Old Testament should fail in their assigned task. From the beginning, they had no heart for God or His Law (Deut. 5.29); they wanted to be like the other nations, with a safe national government and high places for worship scattered about the land; and they preferred the short-term delights of power, privilege, and possessions to the blessings of shalom outlined in God’s covenant and guaranteed by His Law.

So clearly, if God’s people were ever to realize His promised peace and bounty, He would have to arise and judge the earth. He would have to come to shepherd His flock. He would have to take upon Himself both the failure of those false judges, and all the wounding and wickedness their failure had allowed, as well as the burdens and obligations of the just King God had promised long ago through Moses (Gen. 49.8-11; Deut. 17.14-20).

And when He came, when God arose to judge and shepherd His people, His rule and Kingdom would come on earth under the scepter of the Prince of Peace; and righteousness and justice would increase continually, without end: “The zeal of the LORDof hosts will perform this” (Is. 9.6, 7).

To judge the world
God the righteous Judge and good Shepherd has come. He has borne the judgment of God against not only the false judges of the world, but the wayward and wicked people – every one of us – who have followed our own judgments rather than those of the Lord into lives of disappointment, misery, sin, hopelessness, and death. And the good Shepherd and righteous Judge has come as the Prince of Shalomto bring the righteousness, peace, and joy of God’s rule and realm to all those He calls out of darkness into His glorious light (Rom. 14.17, 18; 1 Thess. 2.12; Col. 1.13, 14).

The Prince of Peace – our Lord Jesus Christ – has given us His Word of truth to set us free from the lies of unbelief, and His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. And He has appointed us to learn and practice just judgment, so that Hisshalom might settle in and upon us and issue through and from us to make all things new. All who believe in Jesus are appointed to judge the world (1 Cor. 6.2), to serve as shepherds in the flock of God, seeking the promised bounty, goodness, fruitfulness, and shalom of the Lord.

Our duty, if we are not to fail like those judges condemned in Psalm 82 and Ezekiel 34, is to learn sound judgment and to exercise just judgments in all our decisions, choices, and actions. For as we do, the Kingdom of Jesus, and the increase of His righteousness (judgment) and peace, will increase without end. 

We are those through whom the Lord arises to judge the earth; and if we are faithful and diligent in this calling, the inheritance of the nations will be His, and ours.

For reflection
1.  Why is shepherding a good way of thinking about the role of a judge?

2.  Jesus is our good Shepherd. What can we learn about exercising just judgment by learning from Him?

3.  Jesus said that learning, obeying, and teaching His Law was integral to the promised shalom of His Kingdom (Matt. 5.17-19). What are the implications of this for you?

Next steps – Preparation: Meditate on Psalm 1. What will you begin to do in order to become better grounded in God’s Law and all His Word?

T. M. Moore

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This week’s study is part 1of a 4-part series, To Judge the World. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 1, Judging and Judgment. Why not line up some friends to study through all three parts of this series?

An excellent companion to this series is our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics. Here you’ll discover the basis on which Christians learn to judge with righteous judgment. You can order a copy by 
clicking here.And when you order, we’ll send you a free copy of Bricks and Rungs: Poems on Calling.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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