Yesterday we looked at the background to Ezekiel’s prophetic message, and the big picture of a promised reboot of God’s people. If you’re just joining us, it’s best to start there. Today, we look at the text of Ezekiel chapter 33.
Ezekiel the watchman
Let’s look at the first half of the chapter to see what it was saying to those who originally heard it back in the early 6th century BC – those exiles by the Kebar river, waiting for word on the fate of Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 33:1-2 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man…”
This is what God has called Ezekiel throughout the book: “son of man.” It’s like God has appointed him as the representative of Israel. He’s the one who stands between God and his people, and the one through whom God will communicate his message. Remember that bit for later.
Ezekiel 33:2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman…”
This was standard practice in the days before satellite imagery, radar, and surveillance drones. A city would post a watchman, whose job it was to constantly look out for attacking armies. Now if the watchman
Ezekiel 33:3-4 “… sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4 then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head.”
In other words, if the watchman does his job, it’s their own fault if they don’t act. Just like if my alarm goes off in the morning, I hear it, and I choose to go back to sleep—I can’t blame my alarm when I’m late for work. The alarm did its job. It’s my fault.
Ezekiel 33:6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’
That is, a watchman needs to do his job. OK, but who’s the watchman in this scenario?
Ezekiel 33:7-9 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die, ’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.”
God’s saying: Ezekiel, do your job—warn the people. Fair enough. So what’s the content of the warning?
Ezekiel 33:10-11 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live? “‘ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?'”
The message is simply: repent! God’s still giving you the opportunity to avert disaster. Turn from your sin! He’s given you another chance:
Ezekiel 33:12-16 “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’ 13 If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. 14 And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15 if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. 16 None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.”
That sounds more than fair. God’s giving his people the chance to reboot themselves. Just as someone who turns away from doing good will be punished, so someone who turns away from doing evil will not be punished. How can they complain about God’s justice?
But they do:
Ezekiel 33:17-20 “Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But it is their way that is not just. 18 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, they will die for it. 19 And if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is just and right, they will live by doing so. 20 Yet you Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But I will judge each of you according to your own ways.”
So to recap: God can’t be accused of being unjust. In the past, He’s appointed countless watchmen to warn Jerusalem—and they’ve all done their job. But still, Jerusalem didn’t repent. And here, among the exiles on the Kebar river, he’s set Ezekiel as his watchman. And as we’ll see tomorrow, he’s about to do his job.
To think about
Are there times you’ve thought God has been unfair in how he’s dealt with you, or human beings in general? How have you dealt with those thoughts and feelings?