Why Sheep Leave the Fold
God’s people were destined for the Babylonian captivity, and the prophet Ezekiel continually reminded them of the consequences of all they were doing. In Ezekiel 34, he shows why some sheep leave the fold.
Many people think of the twenty-third psalm as the “Shepherd’s psalm.” There is another chapter we could rightly think of as the “shepherds’ chapter.” Ezekiel 34:1-6 addresses the responsibility of Israel’s shepherds—if I were an elder I would read this chapter every month—but it helps us all see why some Christians (sheep) leave the church (fold).
Some sheep leave the fold because they are sick. The cause of the sickness is not given, but people leave the Lord because of personal problems which makes it so hard to grow spiritually. It can so easily happen to new Christians, but it also impacts those who have been in the church for years. That’s the nature of sin. It brings sickness and ends with death.
Some leave the fold because they are broken. This is much like those who leave because of sickness, but the word “broken” may indicate a more sudden onset of the “sickness.” Jesus described the seed on the stony ground as the person who “…hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet…when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matt. 13:20-21). Sin is powerful, and it can easily break the spirit of any of us.
Some leave the fold because they are driven away. Every sheep in His flock has a responsibility toward every other sheep. It is so tragic when older Christians’ words and actions actually drive people away from the church. Ezekiel described them as those who “…have pushed with side and shoulder, butted all the weak ones with your horns and scattered them abroad” (34:21). While thinking their actions are justified, many Christians come under the judgment of Christ who said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
Some leave because they love goats. While this is not specifically mentioned by Ezekiel, this truth is shown simply by seeing the attraction sin has to those who have returned to the sinful world after their salvation (2 Pet. 2:20). Paul speaks of how evil companions (goats) corrupt the godly. Some are not willing to seek new friends in His fold.
Each of us has a God-given responsibility to the rest of us. Whenever you see a brother or sister beginning to stumble, you cannot sit idly by and watch it happen. We have the great Shepherd who leads us and watches over us, but we must each feel a personal obligation to all of those in His fold.