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What Does the Bible Say About...Scattering the Sheep?

Explain Jeremiah 23, 1 to 4 about scattering the sheep.


It is interesting that you ask this question just as I am starting a Bible class on Jeremiah.

Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the division of the Bible into chapters and verses has caused some confusion. The passage is easier to understand if it is read as a continuation of Jeremiah 22.

In chapter 22, Jeremiah berates kings Jehoiakim and Jehoiakin for their disobedience and refusal to hear the word of God. He predicts their deaths and that no man from their line will sit on the throne of David on this earth. Then he begins what we know as chapter 23.

In the passage you asked about, he proclaims woe upon the shepherds of Israel, their leaders. Since in chapter 22 he was addressing the kings, it is logical to assume that here he is still talking about the kings, and not the priests, although they may be included. Continuing with the picture of them as bad shepherds, he promises that the sheep who were scattered because of their poor management (Judah taken captive) would be gathered again to their sheepfold. This is a prediction about the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity.

It is essentially the same message Jeremiah has given throughout the book. Particularly it can be compared to Jer 25:11-12 and 29:10-14. God promised restoration to the land after seventy years of captivity. The difference is that in the passage you asked about he just does not specify a time frame, as he does later.

Thank you for an interesting and, to my situation, timely question.

The questioner had a follow up question. It and my response follows:

Thanks for getting back to me on Jeremiah 23. I understand what you were talking about but I was especially concern about the first few verses about scattering the sheep. You are talking about the Old Testament versus the New Testament. What I was referring about scattering the sheep . The preachers today are scattering Gods people from church to church. Sometimes preachers don't see their mistakes. In my time I have seen preachers come and go. Some have left and have gone back in the business world to get a job, what a shame. My nephew just recently left the Nazarence church for some reason and a preacher not to far from where I lived the church voted him out. I ofter wonder when a preacher leaves does he feel the call of God? I am not the judge of this only he knows. There was a joke I heard many years ago and it goes like this, the preacher thought he had the call of God to a different church so he told his wife to pack while I go and pray. The way I gather out of this he has made up his mind before he even prayed. That is what I was referring about scattering the sheep, you might not agree with me but that is the way I have taken. I have left a church for some reason would you think the pastor would call me to find out what is wronged no way. But we expect our Sunday school teachers to call on those that are absent, but our pastors don't. I would like your comment.

God bless you.

Jeremiah 23 doesn't deal with the situation you are describing, other than that it presents a principle that God will hold leaders of His people accountable if they lead people astray. I will address your latest concerns, however.

While it may be true that some preachers are scattering their flocks, preaching division or causing division, the majority of preachers are still trying to preach God's word. I obviously disagree with some who I feel don't preach the whole word of God, such as leaving out baptism as a requirement for salvation. But because I, or anyone else, disagrees with them does not mean they are preaching division, necessarily. If one leaves the church because of some supposed or actual mistake of the preacher, it is that individual's fault and not the preacher's. We should be following Christ and not a particular preacher (1 Corinthians chapter 1).

Those former preachers who are leaving the pulpit may be more a result of the sheep scattering the shepherds. Some examples of which I am personally aware involved congregations that fired the preacher for preaching the truth, which they did not want to hear. That can become very discouraging to a preacher. It was to Elijah and to Jeremiah.

The third issue you bring up involves the responsibility for reaching out to those who leave a congregation. You use the term "pastor" in a way that makes me believe you are talking of the preacher. Is it his duty any more or less than Bible school teachers or any other member of the congregation to talk to those who have left? No. In some denominations it may be his responsibility. Biblically, however, a preacher has as his duty to preach the word. Every member of the congregation has a responsibility to every other member (Heb 10:23-24) to encourage. It is, however, especially the responsibility of those men in the congregation that the Bible calls shepherds (pastors), elders, to care for the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). If the preacher is also an elder, then it is part of his job, not as a preacher but as an elder, to shepherd the flock. This may involve seeking the lost sheep of his fold. But for a preacher who is not also a pastor/elder/bishop (the terms all apply to a group of men in a congregation), it is no more his responsibility than it is that of the person who sits beside you during the assembly.

I hope this answers your concerns.