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Sheep and goats

“I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice! … I will judge between one sheep and another, separating the sheep from the goats.” — Ezekiel 34:16-17

People who believe that they have been abused seek justice. The abused want wrong to be punished and right to be rewarded. Where wrong has triumphed, they look for restitution. Where right has been ignored, they look for recognition.

By contrast, people who have abused others seek mercy. When their wrongs go unnoticed, they hope it will remain so. When their wrongs are exposed, they hope they will not be caught. Should those people be brought to justice, they look for mercy. When mercy is granted, the abused cry, “Where’s the justice?” When abusers are dealt with firmly, they complain, “Where’s the mercy?”

There were similar complaints in Ezekiel’s time, directed against the Lord! The people were saying, “The Lord is not just.” To this the Lord replied, “I will judge each of you according to your deeds” (Ezekiel 33:20).

The “deeds” of which He spoke were the dealings that the people of Israel were having with each other. They all belonged to the same nation, were all beneficiaries of the same covenant, and were all suffering the same punishment for unfaithfulness. But there the similarity ended.

The Lord knew the difference and promised that He would separate “the sheep from the goats” (34:17). The Lord would deal with the “fat and powerful” who were abusing the “injured” and the “weak” (34:16). And what would be the Lord’s treatment of the abusers? He promised to feed them—but to “feed them justice” (34:16).

The Lord’s indignation and promised judgment were leveled at those whose behavior showed scant regard for anyone other than themselves. Maintaining the sheep and goats analogy, He complained, “Is it not enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? … All that is left for my flock to eat is what you have trampled down. All they have to drink is water that you have fouled” (34:18-19).

This manner of justice has always been a concern of the Lord’s, but it has not necessarily been a concern of His people. The Lord repeatedly sent His prophets to remind His people that they must treat their neighbors justly. And He constantly reminded them that failure to exercise justice would mean they would be subjected to divine justice! Yet they dished out injustice and craved mercy.

Nothing has changed.

Fortunately for us, our just and righteous Lord is full of compassion and grace. When we appreciate this and appropriate His mercy, we will demonstrate a concern for justice. This separates the sheep from the goats!

For further study: Ezekiel 34:11-31

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.