What happens when shepherds eat the sheep?

Lately, I have been studying the history of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, the tribe, and their inheritance in the land of Israel. I have come across some interesting things concerning the tribe of Ephraim. I have a habit of getting distracted with details and I ran across a detail that took me on an interesting journey.

Did you know that Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim? So was Samuel. These men were great leaders of Israel. Joshua led the nation into the Promised Land conquering giants along the way. Samuel led the people through the transition from the time of the judges until David sat on the throne governing Israel. These were strong leaders with not only a zeal for God but determination to live according to God’s ways. They governed in righteousness and exhibited care for the people in their charge.

The tribe of Ephraim had another governing ruler, Jeroboam. The difference between Jeroboam and Joshua and Samuel is that Jeroboam was not a righteous ruler. In fact he was a rebel. He led the civil war which resulted in the ten northern tribes in seceding from the union (so to speak). So what does this have to do with shepherds eating sheep? A lot actually.

God’s leaders are shepherds

God calls His leaders as shepherds to His people. The Lord is the Great Shepherd. (Ps 23) He expects those in charge of His people to treat them as He would treat them, with love and care. Those who don’t are what Jesus calls hirelings. (John 10:13)

John 10:11-13
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 “He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. 13 “He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. NASB

Jesus used some pretty strong language in his discussion (John 10:1-18). First Jesus calls them strangers, then He refers to them as thieves and robbers saying they only come to rob, steal and destroy. Then He says they are not shepherds at all but hirelings. A hireling doesn’t have a vested interest in the sheep. He isn’t concerned about the welfare of the sheep as the owner would. A hireling is only in it for the paycheck.

King David and the Apostle Peter are a examples of godly shepherds of the people.

1 Chron 11:2-3 (speaking to David)
In times past, even when Saul was king, you were the one who led out and brought in Israel; and the Lord your God said to you, ‘You shall shepherd My people Israel, and you shall be prince over My people Israel.‘” NASB

John 21:15-18 (Jesus’ commissioning of Peter)
Then when they had breakfasted, Jesus says to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a devotional love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me? Do you consider me more precious and thus love me more than these [fish]? He says to Him, Yes, Lord, as for you, you know positively that I have an emotional fondness for you. He says to him, Be feeding my little lambs. He says to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a devotional love for me called out of your heart by my preciousness to you, a love that impels you to sacrifice yourself for me? He says to Him, Yes, Lord. As for you, you know positively that I have a friendly feeling for you. He says to him, Be shepherding my sheep. He says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me? Peter was grieved that He said to him the third time, Do you have a friendly feeling and affection for me? And he said to Him, Lord, as for you, all things you know positively. You know from experience that I have a friendly feeling and affection for you. Jesus says to him, Be feeding my sheep.
(from The New Testament: An Expanded Translation by Kenneth S. Wuest Copyright © 1961 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

Fisher of men or shepherd of sheep?

I’d like to point out something about Peter. Unlike David who began life as a shepherd, Peter worked as a commercial fisherman. When Jesus called Peter as a disciple He said: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt. 4:19). Peter didn’t start out with the heart of a shepherd. He started out with the heart of a fisherman. He was not equipped at the onset by love. He had to be tempered and forged by God through Jesus’ love toward Peter. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Great Shepherd having been struck, the sheep scattered and the some of the disciples returned to their old lives, and for Peter that meant fishing. (John 21:1-3). But God had other plans for Peter. I know that most people see John 21 as Jesus restoring Peter after he had denied the Lord. And while I won’t deny that Peter was restored I see something else going on here as well.

Jesus not just give Peter a career change. He commissioned Peter as a shepherd. Peter had to become a shepherd. As a fisher of men you don’t have to love the fish. You don’t have to feed the fish. And you certainly don’t bring the fish home to put them in a tank and care for them daily. No, you eat them and you sell them to others to be eaten. Jesus used the vernacular Peter could grasp at the onset of the calling to follow Jesus. (Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men) But now Peter couldn’t just catch men, he had to feed them, he had to care for them and he had to watch over all the little lambs. Peter needed to experience his falling away and later retrieval and restoration by Jesus. In doing so Jesus made it clear through this commissioning that it all hinges on love. Peter couldn’t be told to love. He had to first experience Christ’s love. He may have been called as a fisherman but he wasn’t to remain a fisherman. He was first called to follow Jesus. Peter followed Christ as a fisherman. But the day came when Peter would no longer just be a follower of Christ. Now he was to emulate Jesus as he led Christ’s flock.

If Peter would have remained a fisher of men there would always be the potential to one day eat the fish. If people are viewed as a commodity they can be bought, sold, and eaten. People end up being treated like material goods to be consumed rather than the object of the Lord’s affection. God loves us. He loves us with an everlasting love. He cares for us like a mother cares for her young. He cares for us with deep affection. I like how the Wuest Expanded Version expounds on the text from John 21. (see above) It draws out the nuances of agape love. In John 10 Jesus had pointed out that the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He is speaking of His willingness to go to the cross as punishment for the sin of mankind. However, Jesus made love the new commandment when he said:

John 15:12-13
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Paul wrote to the Galatians:

Gal 5:14-15
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ” You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.

So what happens when shepherds eat the sheep rather than feed them? 

Jesus warned in Matthew 7:15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In Old Testament times the prophet didn’t just give personal words to people. They didn’t hold meetings where they ministered prophetically. They were an example of righteousness (emissaries of God) to the nation. They were leaders and rulers, like Samuel and David. Or rather I should say, they were supposed to be leaders like Samuel and David. Often they weren’t. Prophets were supposed to have the ear of the Lord but they were also expected to carry and express the heart of God. They weren’t just mouthpieces spouting out whatever came to mind. They weren’t merely a voice. They were supposed to reflect God’s heart to the world and be a touch point, a way to connect with God. They were supposed to be shepherds of a sort. They were supposed to lead the people as God would lead them, in safety and security with unconditional love.

There is a pretty serious prophecy in the book of Ezekiel concerning the shepherds. It’s pretty lengthy but well worth the read.

Ezek 34:1-10
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 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. NIV

What does that mean?

I don’t know what’s been going on in your region these days but in ours it seems that God is cleaning house and holding shepherds accountable. In the past twelve months two senior leaders of local mega churches either stepped down or got fired as a direct result  of their treatment of people.

Here’s a quote from an article in Chicago Tribune concerning one of these men:

“This is a guy who is a good salesman and a good peddler for Jesus Christ, and for those of us who were looking for more of Christ in our lives, we became gullible victims in his scheme,” said Muller, who on his show Wednesday morning spoke of his sadness about how the situation deteriorated. “What happens is, he manipulates people to make money.” (link to article)

While I am not one to follow gossip or stop and gawk at an accident I do believe some things deserve our notice. I’m not interested in the dirty details concerning two men as much as I am interested in the welfare of the sheep. My heart is for people. I’ve watched people get sucked in by charlatans in the past. My mother was one who got sucked in. Out of her desire to please God and bless others she get shystered into dipping into her social security check every month to send her widow’s mite to some guy she never met in the Philippines. The man claimed to be a poor pastor trying to reach the lost.

Fish for food

My mom had a great heart for evangelism and was touched by this guy’s words. Unfortunately they were a hook. And my mom got lured in like a fish on a line. He reeled in $200.00 a month from her for the last two years of her life. Unbeknownst to the rest of us my mother was giving a fourth of her income to this guy. (That’s right she was living on less than $800 a month) We had no idea she was going without food at times. We didn’t know what was happening until it was too late. My mom was diabetic. She had cancer, which was undiagnosed until about a month before she died. After her death we discovered how much she had been sending this guy every month. To say that I was furious is an understatement. I had access to my mom’s email and found the correspondence from this guy. I read through dozens of emails which were all pleas of some kind for financial assistance. He played on her generous nature and caring heart. She believed his stories without question. I can tell you I was not so nice when I replied to his email. He even dared to manipulate me the same way he did my mother. Believe me, I wasn’t very polite when I told him I was not that gullible.

But my mom is only one of a multitude. And it isn’t just about money. These shysters are around every corner of the church. They lurk around seeking whom they can devour. Peter wrote:

1 Peter 5:8
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

They devour widows and orphans. They defraud people of their money but they don’t stop there. They treat people like a commodity. They see people as a resource to gain what they want. They use seduction to lure and capture their victims. They know just what to say to get people to open their wallets. For some it is a head trip. They seek power and influence. They use their influence over people to make themselves feel good. It is a gross misuse of power. And according to scripture their day of accountability awaits them. However, in the meantime we need to be cautious. We need to never send money to so-called ministries which are just building ministry. Some are doing good things. But that doesn’t mean that the body of Christ is supposed to support every so called good effort that is out there.

A few years ago a dear friend of mine came into an inheritance. She gave donations to a number of ministries. Some of those donations were quite large. She found out that some of those ministries actual sell their donor’s list to other ministries. She started getting mail from every ministry under the sun begging for money. She was targeted. They were casting their nets to see what they could drag in. And they were relentless. She got mailings nearly every day. She would get phone calls. It was awful. The could smell a profit and they were seeking to devour. They just wanted her money.

How we treat people is important to God. The first issue which arose in the early church was about how widows were being treated. And they responded by putting men full of the Holy Spirit in charge of their care. (Acts 6) This isn’t limited to feeding the poor. It’s about caring for those who have been allotted to you. It also isn’t about one guy doing multiple jobs. Pastors are usually so busy tending to needs that they have little time to devote themselves to the Word of God and prayer. But that’s a message for another day.

cooking cuisine delicious dinner
Photo by Pixabay on

When leaders end up eating the fish instead of tending the lambs people suffer. The whole congregation suffers. The global body of Christ suffers. We aren’t fish to be caught and fried for someone else’s consumption. We are God’s flock, His little lambs. We are to be tended by gentle loving kind hearted shepherd’s that lead us by God’s grace. They should have the heart of God and are be concerned more about the condition of the flock than lining his pockets with earthly treasure. Those that are true shepherds are few and far between. And when we have them we need to make sure we care for them as they care for us.

Back in the 1980’s our Chicago congregation was privileged to have such a shepherd. He was an amazing man with a heart for people. He loved people and cared about everyone. He treated people with kindness and respect. He did not show favorites. He led our congregation with care and love. He also extended himself into the community. He is credited with implementing change which led to the transformation of the entire community. He was a unique man and we lost him because some were too short-sighted to see the treasure God had given us.

The elder board didn’t like him spending time in the community. They felt he should devote all of his time and efforts to their concerns rather than the community at large. What they failed to see was that the man was a shepherd. They didn’t recognize that he carried the heart of the shepherd into every arena in which he stepped. If he went to the local convenience store he had the heart of a shepherd. When he went to the bank he had the heart of a shepherd. When he sat in his pastoral office he had the heart of shepherd. When he embraced people he was a shepherd. When he lived as an example of love he was being a shepherd. He had the heart of the Great Shepherd and he expressed it through love, nurture and kindness.

Our loving shepherd ended up resigning because of the intense pressure put on him by the elder board. They insisted that he stop being who he was. So another flock, another neighborhood, another city got the shepherd God had blessed us with. And what was his replacement? A hireling. The elder board hired a preacher who would do things their way. And he did. He didn’t love people. He loved authority. He didn’t love the community. He loved dominion. He didn’t care for those in his flock. He demanded obedience and treated people like a commodity. He didn’t care how people reacted to his behavior. He justified his actions at every turn. But he gutted our church. He mortgaged our once fully paid for property. He drained the assets. He fleeced the sheep. He destroyed all evidence of our recorded history. He destroyed families. He devastated our once thriving church community. Only when the elder board became food on his table did they finally realize the tragedy of their actions. With tear filled eyes they repented. But our shepherd was gone. And the sheep had scattered. They were left with the invoice. They were left holding the bag, so to speak. They were left accountable. And in the end they too left. And the church has never fully recovered. It has taken decades to rebuild the damage done by one hireling. The assets could be replaced. The bank account could be rebuilt. But the people were scattered. Thankfully the Great Shepherd of the sheep is concerned over every individual.

God has a response when His sheep get scattered.

Ezekiel 34:11-16

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. NIV

herd of animals on grass field near mountains
Photo by Temo Berishvili on

God’s promise is that He will be with them. (verse 12) He Himself will be with them. When God shows up it is the people who matter, not the organization, not just the leadership. It won’t be the leadership who prosper at the cost of the sheep. But rather the sheep prosper as the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The shepherd, a true shepherd doesn’t profit from the sheep. The sheep benefit because of the shepherd.

When I look back on the leaders under whose care I found myself from time to time I can tell you which ones were shepherds and which were hirelings. I can tell you which leaders were concerned for the welfare of the flock and which ones only cared about themselves. The church isn’t supposed to look like a dangerous place. It is supposed to represent the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is ruled in love by a tending shepherd.

A minister of God who has the heart of God will look to see how he/she can be a blessing to you. They will look to the loving care of the Great Shepherd for their own needs. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bless those who lead well. A good shepherd doesn’t devour the sheep. They gently lead them in paths of righteousness. They lead them beside still waters. They are a restorer of souls not a devourer of them.

No one is perfect. No one can be all things to all people all the time. That includes pastors and leaders. Everyone, including leaders need to be built up, refreshed and restored by the love of God and the support of the people. When love governs the house of God everyone in the house thrives not just the leader. Leaders deserve to be treated with the same love and care as the sheep. After all they too are God’s sheep.

When dysfunction and abuse govern the house of God everyone suffers. More on that  in my upcoming posts.

In the meantime: Know that God loves you. He cares for you. And He wants you to thrive and be blessed.

agriculture animals beautiful close up

Photo by Maca Naparstek on

See Spiritual Abuse Part 1

Spiritual Abuse Part 2

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