Ezekiel 34:23 records God’s promise that He will set one shepherd over Israel—His servant David—who will feed them and himself as their shepherd: “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.” The context immediately preceding this passage describes the people’s need for a good shepherd and gives insight into when God will fulfill the promise of bringing one shepherd over Israel.
The first section of Ezekiel 34 is an indictment against the shepherds—the rulers—of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. They were feeding themselves and serving their own interests rather than looking out for the people (Ezekiel 34:2–3). These selfish shepherds had not met the needs of the people, leaving them weak, diseased, broken, scattered, and lost. And perhaps even worse, rather than helping the people, these shepherds dominated them (Ezekiel 34:4). Instead of being cared for, the people were scattered and became food for the beasts of the field (Ezekiel 34:5)—that is, they fell prey to their enemies. They wandered about with no one caring for them (Ezekiel 34:6), because those who were responsible for their care were focused only on themselves.
Because of their terrible failures, these evil shepherds were judged. One day, God would fulfill the promise of bringing one shepherd over Israel (Ezekiel 34:23). God would rescue His flock (Ezekiel 34:10). God would care for His flock Himself, tending to them as the other shepherds should have done (Ezekiel 34:12). He would bring them to their own land (Ezekiel 34:13) and feed them in the rich pastures of the land of Israel (Ezekiel 34:14). God would feed them, lead them, seek the lost, bring back the scattered, and strengthen the sick; but those who were fat and strong (the shepherds who had fed only themselves) He would feed judgment (Ezekiel 34:15–16).
When God fulfills the promise of bringing one shepherd over Israel (Ezekiel 34:23), He will judge between those who had oppressed and those who had been oppressed (Ezekiel 34:17–21). God will deliver the flock from any who would cause it harm (Ezekiel 34:22). The one shepherd over Israel is identified as David, who will be a prince among the people (Ezekiel 34:24). This is a possible reference to the Christ, the Son of David. God will covenant with His people for peace and will protect them so they would be secure and blessed (Ezekiel 34:25–27). Unlike in previous days when they were led by wicked shepherds, the people would acknowledge God and the fact that He had delivered them (Ezekiel 34:27–28). They would know that it was God who had established them and made them safe (Ezekiel 34:29), and they would know that they were His people and that He is their God (Ezekiel 34:30–31).
While this passage does not identify exactly when God will fulfill the promise of bringing one shepherd over Israel (Ezekiel 34:23), it speaks of a time when God will judge and intercede to rescue the people. These events coincide with the Day of the Lord and the millennial kingdom, the time when the Messiah will come to earth again (having come the first time to pay for sin) to judge, deliver, and rule (see Isaiah 12:2; Joel 3:14; Malachi 4:1; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 6:17).