I am the law and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life. . . . This is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me. [1]

Ezekiel was a prophet who lived during the Babylonian Exile of the people of Israel in the 6th Century BC. Much of his teaching dealt with the reasons for Israel’s scattering into all nations, and much of the blame for this scattering lay upon the false-dealing “shepherds of Israel” — that is, the priests and teachers of the people who had deserted their callings.

It was a bleak and hopeless time. Scattered Israel had become the prey of spiritual wolves, and had become spiritually a “valley of dry bones.” But Ezekiel promised that the day would come when the Lord would “set up one shepherd over [Israel], and he shall feed them, even my servant David.” [2]

The “David” referred to here is, of course, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike the “shepherds” of Israel who sought their own interests, the Savior is devoted to the flock. He is our high priest and shepherd.

As we examine the contrasting record of the priesthood of Israel, it might be appropriate to examine our own lives. We are called to be the Lord’s “under-shepherds.” He expects us to be shepherds of His flock, whether the flock consists of a stake or a ward or a Sunday school class or a spouse or our own children at home.

Are those of us who hold the priesthood following the example of the Savior, the great Shepherd? Or are we following the example of the selfish priests of Ezekiel’s time, a cult of counterfeit shepherds? Are we as members of the Church caring for the flock or only for ourselves?

Because There Is No Shepherd, the Sheep Are Scattered

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel,” the Lord says to Ezekiel. “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.” [3]

In Ezekiel’s time, the leaders of Israel — the royal government, the priesthood, and the teachers of the people — were notably “unshepherdlike.” Their energies were spent on enriching themselves, on indulging their appetites for fine food and clothing; they had no time or energy for their calling — to care for the flock of Israel. They had established a “priestcraft,” which according to Nephi is a system whereby “men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.” [4]

These men were the direct opposite of our Savior, who cares only for the flock. “The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.” [5]

Clearly, the practitioners of that priestcraft had no time to visit the sick and bring comfort and healing blessings. Those priests had no time for seeking out the lonely or misguided and attempting to bind up wounded feelings. Those priests had no time for missionary labor among those who have lost their way. Instead, they “ruled” the people with force and cruelty, thus cutting themselves off from the powers of heaven. [6]

In our own time, there are those among the Latter-day Saints who have no time for home- or visiting-teaching, who fulfill their callings only when it is convenient, who prefer to spend their time pleasure-seeking instead of accepting a mission call. There are parents in the Church who, while they may provide for the physical well-being of their children, neglect their spiritual well-being.

There are fathers in the Church who “rule” their families with force, who are abusive — sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally—driving their wives and children away from them. This is all true, and disgracefully true.

What is the result of this counterfeiting of the true priesthood of God? Negligence causes people to drift away. “Force and cruelty” drive them away. Families are broken, children are scattered and lost, and covenants are forgotten. “They were scattered,” Ezekiel says, “because there is no shepherd; and they became meat to all the beasts of the field… my flock became a prey.” [7]

The scattering of Israel is not just a historical event; tragically, in too many families it continues today. A father neglects his family duties. A mother puts her social position ahead of her Church assignment. A young man bypasses the opportunity for a mission. A priesthood leader fails to magnify his calling. “All souls are mine,” [8] the Lord says; they are of infinite value to Him; and we are ultimately responsible to Him for each other.

Perhaps most tragic of all is the father who fails to fulfill his duties. He might go on mechanically day after day without leading his family in prayer and scripture study, without bearing testimony to them, without presiding in Family Home Evening. These seemingly small things add up to big problems: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” [9] A little negligence on the part of the father of the family can lead to serious departures from the faith among his offspring. “Because there is no shepherd,” the sheep drift, are scattered and ultimately lost.

As parents, teachers, or priesthood leaders, we should become soberly aware of our responsibility: “I will require my flock at their hand,” the Lord says. [10]

I Will Seek That Which Was Lost

In contrast to this sorry picture, our Lord and Savior shows us how to “shepherd” Israel — how to lead our families and to fulfill our callings in the kingdom.

To begin with, He Himself is the chief shepherd upon whom we rely. “Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out… and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered.” [11] The work of gathering and healing is His work; we are to assist Him, to stand in His place as his under-shepherds, to do as He would do.

What kind of shepherds should we be? The Savior is the great Example. Far from being negligent, self-indulgent, and cruel like the priests of Ezekiel’s time, He is anxiously devoted, selfless, and kind: “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick.” [12]

This is the particular calling of the priesthood in all ages. This is the responsibility of all Saints in all ages — to seek out the suffering, the lonely, the discouraged and to bring comfort, strength, and healing.

What we are doing is bringing the lost and straying sheep (and who doesn’t fit that description at one time or another?) back into the fold of Christ. When we minister to one of Heavenly Father’s children through our work as a home teacher or a Primary worker or a chorister in Relief Society, we are helping to soften and heal hearts. The great Shepherd promises “I will make with them a covenant of peace… and I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing… there shall be showers of blessing.” [13]

Make You a New Heart and a New Spirit

If we are sometimes complacent or even unwilling shepherds, what must we do to change? How can we “shepherd” others when we ourselves sometimes lack the heart to shepherd ourselves?

The Lord says, “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions… make you a new heart and a new spirit.” [14]   Most of us understand repentance, but how do we make ourselves “a new heart and a new spirit”? Fortunately, we don’t do it alone. We can rely on the Savior to help us.

Too often we simply lack charity, “the pure love of Christ” that Moroni speaks of. The “shepherds” of Ezekiel’s time lacked charity and thus failed in their callings. Their cold, hard hearts resulted in the scattering of Israel.

We, by contrast, are called to gather Israel to the true Shepherd. Therefore, we must develop charity, and Moroni gives us the formula: “Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” [15]

If we pray in this manner, He will fill us with this love. In Ezekiel’s words, He will give us a new heart and a new spirit: “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.” [16] So it is not up to us to manufacture a new attitude for ourselves; if we will simply pray sincerely for it, the Lord Himself will soften our hearts and make us fit for the work of shepherding.

Sometimes we become discouraged in our “shepherdly” callings at home and in the Church. Sometimes the sheep seem distinctly unwilling to gather. Children can be rebellious; neighbors we love and try to bring into the Church are disinclined; a spouse or a loved one seems indifferent to our efforts to help them come unto Christ. When discouraged, we should remember the vision of Ezekiel:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones… and, behold, there very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live?” [17]

Can anything be more lifeless than a scattering of “very dry bones”? Many of the people we try to help seem “dry” to us in the sense of having hardened hearts or being far from the Spirit of the Lord. Sometimes we might be tempted to give up on them. But the word of Lord can bring life to them, can revive them; we must never give up but go on in faith in the Savior: “Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.” [18]

We must never forget that it is the Savior who brings life and salvation; we are merely His instruments for bringing it about. Therefore, we need to carry out our callings as parents and teachers and priesthood leaders with faith in Him. When Ezekiel carried out the Lord’s command and prophesied upon the bones, “the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.” [19]  

Of course, this passage of Ezekiel refers to the coming resurrection of the dead (“I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves” [20] ); but it also refers to the Spirit of the Lord entering into the hearts of those who are dead and dry in spiritual things — “I shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live.” [21]

One in Thine Hand

 As we work in our own small spheres of family and Church calling, we should keep in mind that we are part of a very large sphere of action: the gathering of Israel, which is the gathering of all the families of the earth into one great family of Christ.

“Moreover thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall be one in thine hand… and the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes.” [22]

This passage is well known to Latter-day Saints as a prophecy of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The prophet Ezekiel foresaw a day when the Bible — the stick of Judah — and the Book of Mormon — the stick of Ephraim — would be combined to convince the world that there is one Shepherd over all: Jesus Christ, the Eternal God.

This combination of writings is symbolic of the gathering and sealing together of the whole House of Israel. In Ezekiel’s day, the enmity between Judah — the southern kingdom — and Ephraim — the northern kingdom — was recent history and vicious in the extreme. Their hatred for each other was the result of the cruelty and ruthlessness of their treacherous “shepherds.” Today, that enmity is symbolic of the forces that still work to drive Israel apart — to tear at our families and to hinder the progress of the Church.

But the Book of Mormon — that further testament of Jesus Christ — restores the true Shepherd to His rightful place. The restored priesthood has the keys to re-unite the House of Israel through the ordinances that enable us to enter the celestial kingdom of God. “I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side… one king shall be king over them all… David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd; they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.” [23]

The whole purpose of the gathering of Israel is to bring them to the House of the Lord, where they may come unto Christ and be sealed His:

My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [24]

May we be among the under-shepherds of Israel who follow the great Shepherd, who assist Him in His work of gathering Israel, who because of our faith in Him never become discouraged in that great work, and who, by helping others along the way, ultimately come unto Him ourselves.

[1] 3 Ne. 15:9-10.

[2] Ezek. 34:23.

[3] Ezek. 34:2.

[4] 2 Ne. 26:29.

[5] Ezek. 34:4.

[6] See D&C 121:34-36.

[7] Ezek. 34:5, 8.

[8] Ezek. 18:4.

[9] Ezek. 18:2.

[10] Ezek. 34:10.

[11] Ezek. 34:11-12.

[12] Ezek. 34:16.

[13] Ezek. 34:25-26.

[14] Ezek. 18:30-31.

[15] Moro. 7:47-48.

[16] Ezek. 11:19.

[17] Ezek. 37:1-3.

[18] Ezek. 37:5.

[19] Ezek. 37:10.

[20] Ezek. 37:12.

[21] Ezek. 37:14.

[22] Ezek. 37:16-17.

[23] Ezek. 37:21, 24.

[24] Ezek. 37:25-27.