We’ve got a problem where I live. Actually, we have more than one problem, but there’s only one I want to mention here. The curtain is pulled back on the problem, it seems, at least once a month, maybe more. We hear about it when the local news outlets run the story of a “puppy-mill” that’s been discovered, shut down, and the cause for an arrest.
I’m guessing you’ve seen and heard these stories where you live. Someone is raising and breeding dogs in deplorable conditions that leave the animals malnourished, sick, and ignored. Authorities come in to provide a rescue in the situation by shutting things down, finding proper care for the animals, and reminding us all that this is not the way things are supposed to be.
I was thinking about these puppy mill stories of abuse and neglect yesterday morning as I was reading through the first eight verses of Jeremiah 23. I find the entire book of Jeremiah particularly sobering in a very personal way. My first thoughts are always, “Is he talking to me?” and “Do I have to make some adjustments here?” In particular, yesterday’s passage (I’ve been using Scripture Union’s Encounter With God devotional) was one I had to settle on for quite some time. . . reading it over and over. Jeremiah is delivering God’s message to the shepherds who have been appointed to care for His people, guiding them into truth and leading them into the green pastures of righteousness. In Jeremiah’s time, these shepherds were kings and false prophets who were actively speaking/living lies, thereby misguiding the people of God on paths of rebellion and destruction. The result is that the people have stiffened their necks and refused to hear God’s Word (Jeremiah 19:15). In a nutshell, these shepherds were engaging not only in abuse and neglect, but in actively misguiding the sheep.
Here are the words that hit me the hardest yesterday: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away. and you have not attended to them.” Go ahead and read what comes next. It’s sobering.
When used in the Old Testament, the word “woe” carries with it a sense of grief, anguish, indignation, and distress. When Jesus uses the word, pronouncing a “woe,” he is doing so out of a heart that’s been broken by the rebellion of those he loves. That’s sobering as well.
As I’ve been thinking about all of this over the last couple of days, I’ve realized that a healthy dose of personal self-examination is needed. “Are you getting it right, Walt?” In addition, there needs to be a healthy dose of corporate self-examination as well. . . . in our local churches, our youth ministries, our denominations, etc. Are we mistreating, abusing, and scattering the sheep under our care as result of mis-leading them out of truth and into error?
Last night I read these words in J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism: “Nothing can take the place of truth. . . When a man takes his seat upon the witness stand, it makes little difference what the cut of his coat is, or whether his sentences are nicely tuned. The important thing is that he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Machen is speaking here of the shepherds. . . and he is speaking here to us.