Lesson 43: The Shepherds of Israel

Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (2001), 201–6


Purpose

To encourage class members to fulfill their responsibilities as “shepherds of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:2).

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Prayerfully study the following scriptures:

    1. a.

      Ezekiel 34. The Lord reproves those shepherds who do not feed the flock. He will seek all the lost sheep and be their Shepherd.

    2. b.

      Ezekiel 18:21–32. Ezekiel teaches that the wicked who repent will be saved and that the righteous who turn to wickedness will be cast out.

    3. c.

      Ezekiel 37:1–14. Ezekiel sees a vision in which many dry bones are given life.

    4. d.

      Ezekiel 37:15–28. Ezekiel prophesies that the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph will become one in the Lord’s hand.

  2. 2.

    Additional reading: Ezekiel 2.

Suggested Lesson Development

Attention Activity

You may want to use the following activity (or one of your own) to begin the lesson.

Read (or write on the chalkboard) the following question:

  • How is a shepherd different from a sheepherder?

Ask class members to listen for answers to this question in the following quotation from President Ezra Taft Benson (you may want to have a class member read the quotation):

“In Jesus’ time, the Palestinian shepherd was noted for his protection of his sheep. Unlike modern sheepherders, the shepherd always walked ahead of his flock. He led them. The shepherd knew each of the sheep and usually had a name for each. The sheep knew his voice and trusted him and would not follow a stranger. Thus, when called, the sheep would come to him. (See John 10:14, 16.)

“At night shepherds would bring their sheep to a corral called a sheepfold. High walls surrounded the sheepfold, and thorns were placed on top of these walls to prevent wild animals and thieves from climbing over.

“Sometimes, however, a wild animal driven by hunger would leap over the walls into the midst of the sheep, frightening them. Such a situation separated the true shepherd—one who loved his sheep—from the hireling—one who worked only for pay and duty.

“The true shepherd was willing to give his life for the sheep. He would go in amongst the sheep and fight for their welfare. The hireling, on the other hand, valued his own personal safety above the sheep and would usually flee from the danger” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1983, 61; or Ensign, May 1983, 43).

After reading the quotation, ask class members to summarize the differences between a shepherd and a sheepherder (or hireling). Use the following questions if necessary, and list the answers on the chalkboard:

  • Where does the shepherd walk in relation to the sheep? Where does the sheepherder walk? (The shepherd walks ahead of the sheep and leads them; the quotation implies that the sheepherder walks behind the sheep and drives them.)

  • What is the shepherd’s relationship with each of the sheep? What is the sheepherder’s relationship with each of the sheep?

  • How does the shepherd respond when the sheep are in danger? How does the sheepherder respond?

Explain that part of this lesson discusses our responsibilities as spiritual shepherds.

Scripture Discussion and Application

As you teach the following scripture passages, discuss how they apply to daily life. Encourage class members to share personal experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

In 597 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon carried into captivity many people from the kingdom of Judah. Among these captives was Ezekiel, whom the Lord called as a prophet five years later. In 587 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took many more captives. Ezekiel ministered to his exiled people until 570 B.C.

Ezekiel’s writings include stern rebukes and glorious promises that apply not only to the ancient kingdom of Judah but to all Israel, including Church members today. Although Jerusalem had been destroyed, Ezekiel foresaw a day when Israel would be gathered and restored. This event is symbolized in his vision of the valley of dry bones and in his prophecy about the sticks of Judah and Joseph.

1. The shepherds of Israel

Teach and discuss Ezekiel 34. In this chapter the Lord reproved the self-serving shepherds of Israel who had not fed the flock. He then described himself as the Good Shepherd who would gather his flock in the latter days and lead them during the Millennium.

  • Who are the “shepherds of Israel” spoken of in Ezekiel 34? (The religious leaders of Ezekiel’s day.) Why was the Lord displeased with them? (See Ezekiel 34:2–4.) What happened to the sheep when the shepherds neglected them? (See Ezekiel 34:5–6.)

  • In what ways can each of us be considered a shepherd of Israel? (We are to watch over and strengthen each other as family members, Church members, neighbors, home teachers and visiting teachers, and members of quorums and classes.)

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Anyone serving in any capacity in the Church in which he is responsible for the spiritual or temporal well-being of any of the Lord’s children is a shepherd to those sheep. The Lord holds his shepherds accountable for the safety (salvation) of his sheep” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 710).

  • The Lord was displeased with some shepherds for feeding themselves rather than feeding the flocks (Ezekiel 34:2–3, 8). How might some of us make this error today?

  • According to Ezekiel 34:11–16, what do true shepherds do for their sheep? (Note the verbs search, seek, deliver, gather, feed, bind up, and strengthen.) How can we help prevent others from straying or becoming scattered? How can we help gather those who have strayed? How can we feed and strengthen the Lord’s flocks? How have you been blessed by true shepherds who have done these things?

    President Ezra Taft Benson said: “We call on you to extend yourselves with renewed dedication. … We want you to watch, to feed, to tend, and to care for the flock and, in the event that some are temporarily lost, we challenge you to find them” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1983, 64; or Ensign, May 1983, 45).

  • How is the Savior like a shepherd to us? (See Ezekiel 34:11–16; Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11; John 10:11–15.) You may want to discuss how the Savior has done each of the things described in these scriptures. Bear testimony of the Savior as you feel prompted by the Spirit.

2. Repentance and forgiveness

Teach and discuss Ezekiel 18:21–32.

  • What does this passage teach about repentance and forgiveness? (See Ezekiel 18:21–22, 27–28.) What does it mean to “make … a new heart and a new spirit”? (Ezekiel 18:31). Why is it important to understand that repentance includes both turning away from sin and having a change of heart? How can we experience this change of heart? (See Alma 5:7–14.)

  • What does this passage teach about people who turn away from righteousness and do not repent? (See Ezekiel 18:24, 26.)

  • What does this passage teach about the Lord’s feelings when he punishes the wicked? (See Ezekiel 18:23, 32.)

  • What does this passage teach about the Lord’s justice and mercy? (See Ezekiel 18:25, 29–32.) Why is it important to know that the Lord is just and merciful?

3. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of bones

Teach and discuss Ezekiel 37:1–14. Explain that Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of bones symbolizes both the Resurrection and the restoration of the children of Israel to their promised land.

  • How is the Resurrection symbolized in Ezekiel’s vision? (The bones came together, were covered with flesh and skin, and were given life; see Ezekiel 37:1–10; see also Alma 11:42–44; 40:23.)

  • How is the restoration of the children of Israel to their promised land symbolized in Ezekiel’s vision? (See Ezekiel 37:11–14. The Resurrection is used to symbolize this restoration.)

  • Ezekiel’s vision can also be read as an analogy describing the renewal of the “hope” of Israel (Ezekiel 37:11). Although Israel’s hope may be as dead as the “great army” of bones that Ezekiel saw, the Savior can bring it back to vitality and life. How has the Savior renewed your hope? (You may want to read Moroni 7:41 as you discuss this question.)

  • The bones in Ezekiel’s vision began to take life after Ezekiel told them to “hear the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:4). How does the word of the Lord give us life?

4. The stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph

Teach and discuss Ezekiel 37:15–28. Explain that Ezekiel’s prophecy of the sticks of Judah and Joseph has a dual meaning. It refers to the latter-day combining of the scriptural records of Judah and Joseph (Israel). It also refers to the latter-day reunion of the kingdoms of Judah and Joseph (Israel).

  • How has the prophecy in Ezekiel 37:15–20 been fulfilled? (See 1 Nephi 5:14; 2 Nephi 3:12; D&C 27:5. Explain that the word stick in these verses refers to a type of wooden writing tablet commonly used in Ezekiel’s day. The stick of Judah symbolizes the Bible, and the stick of Joseph symbolizes the Book of Mormon.)

    Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “The stick or record of Judah—the Old Testament and the New Testament—and the stick or record of Ephraim—the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ—are now woven together in such a way that as you pore over one you are drawn to the other; as you learn from one you are enlightened by the other. They are indeed one in our hands. Ezekiel’s prophecy now stands fulfilled” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 75; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 53).

  • What blessings have come from having the Book of Mormon in addition to the Bible? (See 1 Nephi 13:39–40; 2 Nephi 3:12.) How has the Book of Mormon helped you better understand the Bible? How has it reinforced for you the Bible’s witness of the Lord Jesus Christ?

  • What did Ezekiel say would occur after the two sticks were put together?

    1. a.

      The children of Israel would be gathered together and united into one kingdom with the Savior as King (Ezekiel 37:21–22).

    2. b.

      The people would be cleansed and purified (Ezekiel 37:23).

    3. c.

      The people would observe the Lord’s statutes (Ezekiel 37:24).

    4. d.

      The people would dwell in a promised land (Ezekiel 37:25).

  • What other blessings did the Lord promise in Ezekiel 37:26–28? (One important blessing is the restoration of the Lord’s sanctuary or tabernacle, meaning the temple. The next lesson discusses the blessings of the temple in more detail.)

Conclusion

Ezekiel’s teachings help us understand how much the Savior loves and cares for each of us. He is our Shepherd. He is eager to forgive. He made it possible for us to be resurrected. He is directing the latter-day gathering of Israel. And he brought forth the Book of Mormon as another witness of him. Invite class members to share their testimonies of these truths.

Additional Teaching Ideas

The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.

1. Learning to be a good shepherd

While discussing our responsibilities as shepherds, you may want to read or tell the following story from President James E. Faust:

“When I was a very small boy, my father found a lamb all alone out in the desert. The herd of sheep to which its mother belonged had moved on, and somehow the lamb got separated from its mother, and the shepherd must not have known that it was lost. Because it could not survive alone in the desert, my father picked it up and brought it home. To have left the lamb there would have meant certain death, either by falling prey to the coyotes or by starvation because it was so young that it still needed milk. … My father gave the lamb to me, and I became its shepherd.

“For several weeks I warmed cow’s milk in a baby’s bottle and fed the lamb. We became fast friends. … It began to grow. My lamb and I would play on the lawn. Sometimes we would lie together on the grass and I would lay my head on its soft, woolly side and look up at the blue sky and the white billowing clouds. I did not lock my lamb up during the day. It would not run away. It soon learned to eat grass. I could call my lamb from anywhere in the yard by just imitating as best I could the bleating sound of a sheep. …

“One night there came a terrible storm. I forgot to put my lamb in the barn that night as I should have done. I went to bed. My little friend was frightened in the storm, and I could hear it bleating. I knew that I should help my pet, but I wanted to stay safe, warm, and dry in my bed. I didn’t get up as I should have done. The next morning I went out to find my lamb dead. A dog had also heard its bleating cry and killed it. My heart was broken. I had not been a good shepherd or steward of that which my father had entrusted to me. My father said, ‘Son, couldn’t I trust you to take care of just one lamb?’ My father’s remark hurt me more than losing my woolly friend. I resolved that day, as a little boy, that I would try never again to neglect my stewardship as a shepherd if I were ever placed in that position again.

“Not too many years thereafter I was called as a junior companion to a home teacher. There were times when it was so cold or stormy and I wanted to stay home and be comfortable, but in my mind’s ear I could hear my little lamb bleating, and I knew I needed to be a good shepherd and go with my senior companion. In all those many years, whenever I have had a desire to shirk my duties, there would come to me a remembrance of how sorry I was that night so many years ago when I had not been a good shepherd” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 62–63; or Ensign, May 1995, 46).

2. Watchmen to raise a warning voice

  • When calling Ezekiel as a prophet, the Lord said, “I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 3:17). How were Ezekiel’s duties as a prophet like those of a watchman? (See Ezekiel 3:17–21; 33:1–9. In Ezekiel’s day, a watchman on a tower would warn the people of impending danger from enemy armies. Ezekiel warned his people about enemies that would endanger them spiritually.)

  • Who are our watchmen in the latter days? Why is it important to have these watchmen? What is our responsibility to be watchmen? (See D&C 88:81. Part of this responsibility is to teach the gospel to those who have not received it.)

To teach the importance of heeding the warnings of the prophets—and of warning our neighbors by teaching them the gospel—Elder Boyd K. Packer told of a devastating flood caused by the collapse of the Teton Dam in Idaho in 1976. In the immediate path of the fast-moving floodwaters were 7,800 people. As the flood rushed down the valley, it destroyed 790 homes and severely damaged another 800 homes, churches, schools, and businesses. Considering the amount of water, its speed, and the population of the area, one expert estimated that 5,300 people should have been killed. Incredibly, only 6 people drowned.

Elder Packer asked:

“How could there be such a terrible destruction with such little loss of life? … Because they were warned! They didn’t have very long, but they were warned; and every man who was warned, warned his neighbor. …

“What about the six that drowned? One of them was just below the dam and had no choice. Two of them wouldn’t believe the warning until it was too late. They later found them both in their car, but they hadn’t heeded the warning. Three of them went back to get some material possessions, and they lost their lives.

“But it was a miracle of tremendous proportion. As Latter-day Saints we learn to heed warnings. …

“Now, I see a great similarity in what is happening in the world, a great tidal wave of evil and wickedness in the world. It just seeps around us and gets deeper and deeper. Our lives are in danger. Our property is in danger. Our freedoms are in danger, and yet we casually go about our work unable to understand that it behooves every man that has been warned to warn his neighbor. …

“[We have been] warned by a prophet. Will [we] heed the warning, or will [we] be as those six in Idaho who thought the warning was not for them?” (That All May Be Edified [1982], 220–21, 223).