But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.
Who is the hireling? This background from Jeremiah is helpful: “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: ‘You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD.’”
And also this, to convey the “shepherd for hire” idea: “But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all.” Clearly, the hireling only cares about himself.
In the Old Testament, the shepherds were the leaders of Israel, including both the king and the priests. Their abandonment of God’s Word led to Israel being scattered among the nations. They were more concerned about their own financial well-being, or power. They were hirelings, looking every bit like a shepherd, but not loving the flock as the one who “owns” them does.
This is why the Lord says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
Unlike the hireling, he “owns” the sheep, just as the Gospel of John says, “He came to His own,” and while these did not receive Him (the Jews), there was a remnant, a new twelve, who did. As is reported before the last supper, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
This comports with the prophecy above, that the Lord would draw a remnant to Himself, and they would be one flock, with one shepherd. When did this happen? When did the Lord draw the remnant back from their exile among the nations? Pentecost. Pentecost is when the nations flocked to Israel, and when Peter preached the one faith in their own language, and when the Church was born, the new and restored flock of Israel.
So the hirelings are clearly the leaders of God’s people who by abandoning the Word cause His people to be scattered among the nations.
Goodness, is this not happening today?
I recently wrote an article on Jordan Peterson arguing Christians should be a bit cautious when flocking to this faithless man who accepts the conclusions of Darwinism, Carl Jung, and Frederick Nietzsche, but who teaches biblical principles (at least the legalistic ones) in a fresh, psychological way. I was shocked by the multitude of comments from people who insist Jordan Peterson has helped them understand their own faith, that he has gotten them to go back to church, and that, how dare I take a negative tone toward him.
This is what happens when the leaders of God’s people don’t preach the Word, when they reduce it to therapy and entertainment, or to a self help program, or especially, when they water it down to appeal to the culture. The flock runs and looks for anyone who looks like they’ll protect them.
This is exactly what happened in Old Testament Israel. To secure their standing, the leaders compromised God’s Word with neighboring cultures. When that happens, the people scatter. Their own leaders don’t stand up for them when the wolf comes, so they look for others to help and protect them, like Jordan Peterson, who himself might just be a wolf!
But hirelings don’t care for the sheep the way Jesus and the shepherds he sets up do. Jesus and the undershepherds he sets up (the apostles and faithful ministers) do not fear the bloody, ravenous fangs of culture. They confront them. Jesus and all His apostles, and many faithful missionaries and pastors, have since died for the truth, because they cared about the flock, or perhaps died for the flock because they cared about the truth. Either way, they do the opposite of what the hireling does.
The hireling is not so much the head of a personality cult off which he makes all sorts of money – that is more likely the wolf – as he is the leader who “goes along to get along,” who is worried about what taking a stand for the truth will do to his position, who sees the bloody fangs of politically correct culture and wilts away, lest those fangs come for him.
The Good Shepherd offers Himself to the fangs. Why? Because He “owns” the flock, and “cares” for them.