The Fat and Lean Sheep

by Lois Tverberg

“I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them, “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. “Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns until you have scattered them abroad, therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another. Ezekiel 34:15-16, 20-22

Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd,” alluding to the rich imagery of the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, which is all about the “shepherd,” God himself, who was going to come to save his people. It is interesting that in that passage, it talks about the shepherd as judge of his sheep – the fat and the lean sheep. It reminds us of Jesus words about judging the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:32.

SheepThe idea of shepherd as judge uses imagery that needs the context of real life shepherding. Like chickens who have a “pecking order,” sheep establish a dominance order with the strongest claiming the best feeding ground and fighting the weaker ones to establish their position. The constant competition can become a great stress in the flock, with the strongest butting the weakest and driving them from areas to graze. The strong get stronger as they have access to the best grass, and the weak get weaker by being constantly harried. Any shepherd who sees this has great compassion for the weaker sheep that are abused by this process. Good shepherds will even discipline the most abusive sheep in their flock.

It’s fascinating how closely sheep parallel human nature. In almost every social environment there is competition for dominance and a desire to push to the top at the expense of others. Gossip, snobbery, elitism and social class structure are facts of life for us, and we all know who is popular and who is unpopular.

This prophecy says that God himself is on the side of the “thin sheep,” those who are excluded, pushed out and ostracized. He gets angry when a teenage girl is the butt of cruel jokes because she isn’t cool enough. Or when a young man gets passed over for a promotion because of dirty office politics. One day he will set everything right, and he cares about the least as much as the greatest. He is the true shepherd, and the final judge.

Photo: Hans