Ezekiel 34 tells the story of the self-concerned shepherd who feeds himself but not his sheep. In the Old Testament, the term shepherd often referred to the king. Carson gives this explanation,
“Shepherd” was a common metaphor for “king” in the ancient Near East, not least in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 44:28; Jer. 10:21; 23:1-6; Mic. 5:4, 5; Zech. 11:4-17). The shepherd provided not only care and nurture for the sheep, but leadership, medical attention, and defense against foes. Doubtless it was an excellent metaphor to apply to hereditary monarchs who might be tempted to think of their calling in terms of power and privilege but not in terms of responsibility.1
God, however, turns the story around by listing a number of times the phrase, “I will…” or “I myself will…” (Ezek. 34:10-16 and Ezek. 34:17-22). He will both protect the sheep and purify the flock by judging those who are evil or corrupt. In Ezekiel 34:23-31 He promises a shepherd who will be both God and a man from the line of King David — Jesus (John 10).
God is amazing; He identifies the problem, He executes judgment, and He provides relief for the oppressed. In the midst of deficit, it can be easy to succumb to despair — much like the poor sheep of this metaphor — but God will alway step in at just the right time to restore the downtrodden.
There is quite a difference between Psalm 83 and Psalm 84. Psalm 83 is likely the last psalm of Asaph and it once again asks God to bring judgment against Israel’s wicked neighbors. I don’t think that is it easy for me to understand just how heavy the oppression against Israel by it surrounding countries was. However, I can liken it to the oppression that Satan brings against my mind and soul with his accusations and fiery darts. Spiritual warfare is very real and living right in the middle of the devil’s kingdom is a dangerous and oppressive place to be. I can relate in that sense to the cry of this psalmist to God to destroy my enemy and restore me to a safe refuge when I am feeling the oppression of the devil against me.
Psalm 84 is a beautiful oasis in this portion of Scripture. The psalmist speaks about true worship and coming to the place of the presence of God. The closest thing we experience to this today would be corporate worship. I know many Christians who claim to love God but disdain church, usually because of bad experiences. Those are the human factors but they do not negate the critical command we have in Hebrews 10:25 to come together to worship Christ and be fed from the Bible.
I read a very good commentary on Psalm 84 this morning from the book, Opening Up Psalms,
In the first place, we must note his intense longing for worship (Ps. 84:1-4). How great was this longing? The psalmist says it consumed his entire being. He says his soul ‘faints’ with this longing (Ps. 84:2). It was almost too much for him to bear.
We will never feel like worshipping God until we understand something of his greatness, and we cannot help but worship once we do. In other words, there is a direct correlation between our conception of God and our desire for worship. The greater God is in our eyes, the greater will be our desire to worship him.2
1 D. A. Carson, For the Love of God: a Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word., vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998).
2 Roger Ellsworth, Opening up Psalms, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006), 58-59.