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In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus tells this parable.

When the Son of Man comes… All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

To those on his right he says,

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

The righteous are shocked. They ask,

Lord, when did we see you…

He answers,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

The King then turns to those on his left and pronounces the opposite judgement with a similar pattern. They are cursed and sent away to the eternal fire because when they did not do it for them they did not do it for him.

So what is the meaning of the parable? Who are the least of these my brothers and by extension who are the sheep and the goats?

Soldarnal has asked who are "the least of these my brothers" in Matthew 25. But I think we also need to ask who are the sheep and the goats?

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The parables’ interpretation hinges on the identity of Jesus’ brothers. While it is true that at least some of these “brothers” are in need, their need does not define them. The need simply identifies them as the “least.” Jesus, in Matthew 12:48, has already made known the identity of his “brothers.”

Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

His brothers are His followers.

It doesn’t make sense than to say that the sheep and the goats are likewise Christians, followers of Jesus. You would think at least the sheep as “true believers” would recognize their Lord in helping those who likewise followed Him. They’ve heard this parable right? But its significant that neither the sheep nor the goats recognize the Son of Man.

The parable identifies the sheep and goats as the gathered nations or gentiles. And in Matthew 18:17 gentiles means outsiders.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Thus it appears that the sheep and the goats collectively represent all those who in the days prior to the kingdom did not knowingly follow Jesus. The nations are all those who have not recognized the Son of Man.

  • @ Matthew Miller; A Kind correction on your last paragraph ,John 10:14 (NIV) reads: "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- – Ozzie Nicolas Feb 2 at 14:31
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The sheep and "the least of these my brothers" are mutually-defining. The kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom of koinonia, partnership. Just as Yahweh self-identifies with Abram his covenant partner in Gen 12:3 ("I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you, I will curse"), Jesus says the same here regarding those in the kingdom. They are his "brothers," members of his family—a theme and connection which Paul expands in Gal 3 by showing that those baptized into the Messiah (who is the mature and eschatological heir of Abraham) in fact are clothed with him, and receive his blessings. As a result, they too are both "sons of Abraham" and "sons of God."

Incidentally, the theme of caring for the poor and using one's material resources for others which if found here in Mt 25 is also echoed in Galatians, including the connection with eschatological blessing; see Gal 6:6–10, where what begins as an encouragement to "partnering" with faithful teachers of the Word becomes a statement that doing good to all, particularly of the "household" of faith (cf again, the family theme of Mt 25) is in fact "sowing to the Spirit" toward an eschatological harvest.

In Genesis, Matthew, and Galatians, there is thus a connection and mutual identification between God or Jesus and His people, such that those who partner with them are partnering with God, and those who curse, abuse, or disregard them are doing so to God.

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Goats and sheep are indistinguishable from a distance in the same way that wheat and tares are indistinguishable. Both sheep and goats are also "kosher" animals, which makes them similar. Thus this judgment is not between the righteous (believers) and wicked (unbelievers), but between the righteous (believers) and the apparent-righteous (unbelievers). In other words, the scope of this judgment is for the declared followers of the shepherd, who are ostensibly "kosher" creatures.

Ezekiel 20:33-44 appears to be the parallel account in the Hebrew Bible to this passage in Matthew, when the Lord God will one day regather his people from the nations of the world in order to be their king. That is, this regathering will be a mix of the righteous (believers) and the apparent-righteous (unbelievers). Thus he will judge his people in the "wilderness of the peoples" (Ezek 20:35). The comparison here is to the wilderness of the land of Egypt (Ezek 20:36), where the Lord had "purged" his people in order to prevent "rebels and transgressors" from entering the Promised Land. Thus the scope of judgment is limited to the declared followers of the Lord. As the shepherd he will make his people "pass under the rod" (Ezek 20:37). In this context, the goats will undergo the following.

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB) 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

At the end of Matthew 25:31-46 the announcement is made: “These (goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (sheep) into eternal life.” That is, the sheep are the righteous (believers) and the goats are the unrighteous (unbelievers) notwithstanding that both groups were the ostensible and therefore self-declared followers of the Lord.

The idea here is that those "believers" who love other "believers" through both their words and deeds are indeed the sheep (cf. Ja 2:15-17 and 1 Jn 3:18), whereas the remainder (the goats) are those whose spiritual gifts (which were prophesying, healing, miracles) were of no use or benefit to the sheep (hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness, and their loneliness in incarceration) and therefore the goats were never "known" by the Lord.

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Peace.

As Joseph said, the Judgment will be between the righteous (the believers, sheep) and the apparent-righteous (the unbelievers, goats).

The believers…the sheep… will be found as doers of the Word (to have love for another) when the least brothers (servants) come to speak His words of life and spirit to their hearing ears. The “holy angels” = the holy messages of the Lord that we are to hear.

Matthew 25:31 KJV (31) When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

The sheep will remember to let brotherly love continue and will be found being hospitable towards those least brothers (His servants….the “strangers”) sent out by Him to speak His words of spirit (the angels). The sheep will entertain strangers and the words that they will speak….the holy messages (angels) of the Lord.

Hebrews 13:1-2 KJV (1) Let brotherly love continue. (2) Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

The sheep will be faithful in this (letting brotherly love continue) towards “strangers” who come to speak His words…His messages of spirit (the holy “angels”).

3 John 1:5-12 KJV (5) Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; (6) Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: (7) Because that for his name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.

They will be found receiving those least brothers…being fellow helpers to the Truth.

(8) We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth.

But the goats (the Diotrephes-acting people of the churches and their followers) will not receive those brothers but will instead go about “killing the messengers” of His words of life and spirit by prating against them with malicious words.

(9) I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. (10) Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.

In this coming time, the goats will follow after the evil example of those who love to be first (who love to have the preeminence) in berating excessively those servants of the Word sent by Him to speak to their churches.

(11) Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God. (12) Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.

The Son will set His sheep on His right hand (dexios…. which comes from the word dechomai which means “to receive”) as the sheep will receive the brothers with brotherly love ( by being doers of the Word) while the goats will not receive them in their following of the evil example set by Diotrephes. The word for “left” (euōnumos) means “good name”.

Matthew 25:33 KJV (33) And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

The sheep will receive those brothers who are sent by Him to speak His words to their ears. In receiving those least brothers, they receive Him and the Father that sent Him. The Lord will reward those who are found doing such things.

Matthew 10:40-42 KJV (40) He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. (41) He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.

The “least” brothers are “little” as they are humble….and they will “thirst” for a welcome response (a cup of cold water so to speak). The sheep will be found being hospitable by entertaining those “strangers” and His words that they speak.

(42) And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

The least brothers will be persecuted for speaking His words as the religious world will hate them and speak abusive things against them. As Paul (whose name means “little”), they will be persecuted by false brothers (the goats) and those who will not agree with them and suffer hardships by unbelievers as they speak the Word of Truth.

2 Corinthians 11:23-27 KJV (23) Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. (24) Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. (25) Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; (26) In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; (27) In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

The goats have a “good name” but will not have the good works to show for it.

Like the “dead church” in Revelation, they have a name that they are alive but are “dead” as faith without good works is dead. They will not show forth their faith that they profess by doing good deeds towards those least brothers sent out by the Lord to speak His words via the Spirit of Truth.

Their works are evil and are not good works shown towards those brothers. The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. Sardis = “red ones” = those found in wrath. They are "red" with wrath.

Revelation 3:1 KJV (1) And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

Faith without good works is dead being alone.

James 2:17 KJV (17) Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

James 2:26 KJV (26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

James 2:20 KJV (20) But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

The “dead” church…the wrathful church… was found without good works that completes their faith. Their works were not “perfect” (complete) before God when they will hear the Spirit speaking to them through those brothers sent out to speak His words to their hearing ears.

They are counseled to “awake” (be watchful) and cast off the works of darkness: the wrath, the contentions, the envy, the strife, the hatred, etc. They must awake and put on Christ (the white garment) and walk in the Spirit before Him. Good works will complete their faith before God.

Revelation 3:2 KJV (2) Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

Good works towards the hearing of His voice completes our faith. By works is faith made “perfect”…complete.

James 2:22 KJV (22) Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

Even though their sins are "red" (as the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God), they shall be white as snow...or wool (think sheep here)...if only they would put away the evil of their doings before His eyes and cease to do evil.

Isaiah 1:16-19 KJV (16) Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; (17) Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (18) Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

If they are willing and obedient, they shall eat of the good of the land as they will be able to eat of the knowledge of the Lord who comes to open up our minds to the Scriptures.

(19) If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

If any man be willing to DO His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God or not. He will be able to eat of the good Word of God....to understand it when he hears it.

John 7:16-17 KJV (16) Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. (17) If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

Yet, the goats in this coming time will not complete their faith when He comes to speak to us His words of life and spirit ( the “holy angels”) through the least brothers sent by Him (His messengers of the Word of Truth). The goats will not overcome and will be ashamed of Him and His words. His words = the holy angels. They will not glorify the Father when they hear them.

Luke 9:26 KJV (26) For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels.

The angels are ALL ministering “spirits”….breaths…that are sent forth (out-spoken words) to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. They are ministering breaths to those who will hear what the Spirit is saying.

Hebrews 1 KJV (13) But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? (14) Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

The breaths (spirits) of just men are made complete as the Lord interprets all of the words of the biblical witnesses of the Scriptures.

Hebrews 12:22-24 KJV (22) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, (23) To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, (24) And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

The living words of the biblical saints were written before for our learning today as the Lord opens up the Scriptures to our minds in the Spirit of Truth that makes their witness alive in our ears and minds.

Romans 15:4-7 KJV (4) For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. (5) Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

The words of the biblical witnesses as written in the Scriptures are made alive in our hearing by the heavenly interpretation of the Lord above so that we may be of one mind and be one mouth glorifying God for what we hear. The Lord comes in His glory...and we respond by glorifying Him.

We must put aside the old theological understandings and receive one another when we hear and receive the knowledge of our Lord who comes to open up the Scriptures to our minds. We were once divided over our theological differences but now the Son of God comes to give us an understanding which unites us in one mind and one mouth.

(6) That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

The Lord comes to give us an understanding as He sends His messengers (His words and those who speak them) that shall gather His elect from the "four winds"....from EVERY wind of doctrine that is currently "preached" in the cunning, in the craftiness of men with a view to the scheming of deceit.

Mark 13:27 KJV (27) And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

The modern-day Diotrepheses of the churches will exalt themselves though in this coming time and exercise their authority over the churches as they will seek to prevent others from receiving the Words of the Lord and those brothers sent by Him to speak them.

The “least” brothers do not come as “kings” but come as servants of the Lord.

Matthew 20:25-28 KJV (25) But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. (26) But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; (27) And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: (28) Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

The least brother is a servant in the Word of Truth and comes in the Lord's name (authority) and does not come in His own authority as a "king" preacher of the Word.

Matthew 23:11 KJV (11) But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

They do not come preaching themselves (in their own authority) but come as servants for Jesus’ sake. They will come in the authority of the Lord who sends them to speak His words freely as they have freely received.

2 Corinthians 4:5 KJV (5) For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.

They do not come to speak His words for money’s sake but will preach to us the gospel of God freely….unlike the “super apostles” who come in their own authority and preach for money.

2 Corinthians 11:5-7 KJV (5) For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. (6) But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things. (7) Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?

"We have been thoroughly made manifest among you in all things". Paul has showed us all things: how that laboring with our own hands to support our own earthly necessities supports the "weak" minds of this world as they speak evil of the overseers of the churches who do not work with their own hands but instead live as kings by preaching for money's sake and covet after the congregations things. They make the sheep merchandise and the outside world blasphemes His Holy Name because of them doing such things.

Acts 20:33-35 KJV (33) I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. (34) Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. (35) I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The goats will be found not letting brotherly love continue as they will not be kind to those servants of the Lord sent by Him to speak His words to their ears. They will not be hospitable to those who hunger for their welcoming response. They will treat them as "strangers" and not receive them nor their words. Those least brothers will be persecuted by the unbelievers of the churches and they will not comfort them and will join others who will delight to do such things.

Those who are cursed shall go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil (the slanderer) and his messengers...those who will speak his words in their wrath as they give place to the devil in their hearts and mouths.

They will die in their sins....their evil speaking...as judgment as their tongue becomes a fire that will not cease speaking evil until they perish from this earth. Their own tongue will bring evil back upon their own heads and it shall "torment" them.

There will be no more sacrifice (the Lord's) for their willful sins (even though they know the command of the Lord who commanded us to have love for one another). They will stubbornly not do His will and so their final judgment will be without mercy...without mixture... for their willful sins.

Matthew 25:41-46 KJV (41) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: (42) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: (43) I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. (44) Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

The goats will not receive the persecuted brothers who speak His words. They are not doers of the Word. The sheep will be found behaving in brotherly love as they will receive those brothers sent by Him to speak His words.

(45) Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (46) And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

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Short answer:

Jesus is alluding to Ezekiel 34 where God promises to judge the leaders of Israel as to whether they served themselves or served the flock.


The account of the sheep and the goats is a fulfillment of a messianic prophecy:

[Eze 34:20 KJV] 20 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, [even] I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. ... [Eze 34:22 KJV] 22 Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle.

"cattle and cattle" is referring to "sheep and goats" because the Hebrew word for "flock" and "cattle" doesn't specify which animal except from context.

In the broader context God is complaining that the leadership that was appointed to feed the flock were instead exploiting and neglecting the flock. So God, through his Anointed One would separate the leaders into two flocks: the goats that prospered from the flock and the sheep that cared for the flock. The goats would be dismissed. The messiah would be the good shepherd (see John 10).

In the still wider context, the sheep represent the Jews while the goats represent the leadership who are not part of the flock but bully the sheep to feed themselves.

Eze 34:1-31 CSB - 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and say to them, 'This is what the Lord GOD says to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn't the shepherds feed their flock? 3 "You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fattened animals, but you do not tend the flock. 4 "You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 5 "They were scattered for lack of a shepherd; they became food for all the wild animals when they were scattered. 6 "My flock went astray on all the mountains and every high hill. My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and there was no one searching or seeking for them. 7 " 'Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. 8 "As I live ​-- ​this is the declaration of the Lord GOD ​-- ​because my flock, lacking a shepherd, has become prey and food for every wild animal, and because my shepherds do not search for my flock, and because the shepherds feed themselves rather than my flock, 9 "therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD! 10 " 'This is what the Lord GOD says: Look, I am against the shepherds. I will demand my flock from them and prevent them from shepherding the flock. The shepherds will no longer feed themselves, for I will rescue my flock from their mouths so that they will not be food for them. 11 " 'For this is what the Lord GOD says: See, I myself will search for my flock and look for them. 12 "As a shepherd looks for his sheep on the day he is among his scattered flock, so I will look for my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and total darkness. 13 "I will bring them out from the peoples, gather them from the countries, and bring them to their own soil. I will shepherd them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the land. 14 "I will tend them in good pasture, and their grazing place will be on Israel's lofty mountains. There they will lie down in a good grazing place; they will feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 "I will tend my flock and let them lie down. This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 16 "I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bandage the injured, and strengthen the weak, but I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will shepherd them with justice. 17 " 'As for you, my flock, the Lord GOD says this: Look, I am going to judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and goats. 18 "Isn't it enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of the pasture with your feet? Or isn't it enough that you drink the clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 "Yet my flock has to feed on what your feet have trampled, and drink what your feet have muddied. 20 " 'Therefore, this is what the Lord GOD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 "Since you have pushed with flank and shoulder and butted all the weak ones with your horns until you scattered them all over, 22 "I will save my flock. They will no longer be prey, and I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 "I will establish over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will shepherd them. He will tend them himself and will be their shepherd. 24 "I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among them. I, the LORD, have spoken. 25 " 'I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate dangerous creatures from the land, so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the forest. 26 "I will make them and the area around my hill a blessing: I will send down showers in their season; they will be showers of blessing. 27 "The trees of the field will yield their fruit, and the land will yield its produce; my flock will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the power of those who enslave them. 28 "They will no longer be prey for the nations, and the wild creatures of the earth will not consume them. They will live securely, and no one will frighten them. 29 "I will establish for them a place renowned for its agriculture, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land. They will no longer endure the insults of the nations. 30 "Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people. This is the declaration of the Lord GOD. 31 "You are my flock, the human flock of my pasture, and I am your God. This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.' "

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