The Neglectful Shepherds
Isaiah 56:9-57:2
All you beasts of the field, come to devour, yes, all you beasts in the forest.…

Here in a series of powerful pictures religious indifference on the part of pastors is described.

I. THE BLIND WATCHMAN. Nothing can be more beautiful than the idea of the shepherd as descriptive of the true teacher and minister to souls; tenderness, watchfulness, self-denial, all are his. So, on the other hand, nothing can more hold up the faithless pastor to scorn than the character of the faithless shepherd (John 10.). As the flock becomes a prey to the wild beasts when there is no shepherd, or when he neglects his care, so Israel, bereft of her natural defenders, lies at the mercy of the great heathen empire (cf. Ezekiel 13:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Ezekiel 39:4; Jeremiah 12:9; Revelation 19:17, 18). Especially the prophets are referred to (cf. Ezekiel 3:17; Isaiah 21:11). These "dumb dogs" are opposed to the faithful shepherd dogs (Job 30:1). "We must suppose that the prophets referred to were no better than the ancient soothsayers, who gave oracles respecting the difficulties of everyday life, but were silent on the great moral questions" (Cheyne). Immersed, perhaps, in sin themselves, they were blind to the national sins. "God requires knowledge in his ambassadors. Ignorance of the truth; of the nature, existence, and pollution of sin; of the claims of God and of the way of pardon, - is an effectual disqualification for the office."

II. THEIR SLUGGISHNESS AND GREED. They are like those who rave in sleep, moving among idle phantasms rather than serious realities. The false teacher not only does not know the truth, he falls into some species of delusion, and leads his flock along with him. He "loves to slumber." "Alas! that this should be too true of multitudes who bear the sacred office, and are appointed to warn their fellow-men of danger! Some are afraid of giving offence; some have no deep sense of the importance of religious truth; some embrace false opinions; some engage in worldly projects, and fill up their time with the cares and plans of this life; and some are invincibly indolent. An inactive and unfaithful ministry suffers the great enemy to come and bear away the soul to death, as an unfaithful mastiff would suffer a thief to approach the dwelling without warning the inmates. Instinct prompts the faithful animal to act the part God intends; but alas! there are men whom neither conscience, reason, hope, fear, nor love will rouse to put forth efforts to save a soul from hell! Their greed. They "keep up the old custom, rejected by the higher prophets as an abuse, of taking fees" (see references in Cheyne). Each and all are bent upon private interest and gain, and upon selfish enjoyment. One of them is represented as inviting another to a carouse of two days.

III. THE CONTRASTED FATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS. They "perish" - prematurely cut off; a contradiction peculiarly great from an Old Testament point of view (Ecclesiastes 7:15). It seemed as if this premature departure were an ill reward for faithful service; but it was dictated by mercy. The godly were delivered from sights of horror which might have vexed their souls.

"O Brettinoro! wherefore tarriest still,
Since forth of thee thy family hath gone,
And many, hating evil, join'd their steps?" Moreover, they were spared from the coming retribution; so Abraham goes to his fathers in peace, and Isaiah is not to see all the evil which God will bring upon the place. "His soul is pleasing to God; therefore he hastens with him out of the evil life" (Wisd. 4:14). Here was a warning to the wicked; great must be the evil doomed to be so punished. A few remaining righteous might have saved the city (Genesis 18:23-32). Sorer punishment was therefore at hand. The departure of a good man is a public calamity. His example and his influence are among the richest blessings of the world. If men are not deeply affected by the withdrawal of them, it is a proof of guilt and stupidity. Who knows, asked a heathen poet, if dying be not life, and life dying? On the hither side of the grave the wicked remain steeped in sin and sloth; on the further side there is rest and peace. "Let them rave, thou art quiet in thy grave." "Who does not envy those who have seen to an end their manful endeavour? Who that sees the meanness of our public life, but in]y congratulates the pure statesman or teacher that he is long wrapped in his shroud, and for ever safe; laid sweet in his grave, the hope of humanity not subjugated in him? Who does not sometimes envy the good and brave, who are no more to suffer from the tumults of the natural world, and await with curious complacency the speedy term of his own conversation with finite nature? Yet the love that will be annihilated sooner than treacherous, has already made death impossible, and affirms itself no mortal, but nature of the deeps of absolute and inextinguishable being" (Emerson). - J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, yea, all ye beasts in the forest.

WEB: All you animals of the field, come to devour, [yes], all you animals in the forest.

The Metaphor of Wild Beasts
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