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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, November 25, 2019  

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 23:1–6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (NRSV)

Woe is one of those words that feels uniquely prophetic. It’s an all-purpose wail on other peoples’ lips, but coming from a prophet it stings more. Job has his “Woe is me!” and the wisdom of Ecclesiastes pronounces woe upon the one “who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” But those woes feel different from the prophet’s woe, Isaiah’s “Woe to the guilty!” (3:11), Ezekiel’s “Woe to the bloody city!” (24:9), even Jesus’ woes for the Bethsaidas and Chorazins that rejected him (Matthew 11), not to mention for the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23).

The target of Jeremiah’s woe in this text is “the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of [God’s] pasture.” It’s an internal verdict, not an external one. In a moment of profound foreign policy crisis, the prophet’s word of divine judgment is aimed not at the leaders of Israel’s threatening neighbors but at the peoples’ own leadership, who have driven the people away and failed to attend to their needs. Is the prophet condemning authoritarian cruelty, wealthy indifference, or a specific political decision? The specifics are omitted.

The shepherds know, it is assumed.

The good news here is that God knows about these shepherds and God plans to act against them. God promises to get personally involved in replacing the faithless shepherds and gathering the scattered sheep back again so that none are missing and all are secure.

“Woe” is the word to any malevolent leader who ignores the needy and attacks the vulnerable, both then and now.

Lord, you are our shepherd. Strengthen us with your word of judgment upon those who, appointed to care for and protect, abuse and neglect instead. Forbid it, Lord, that we should so fail in the leadership entrusted to us. Be with us, that we may lead your people as Jesus leads us. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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