On Monday 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 and work your way forward. Today, we continue looking at the text of Ezekiel chapter 33.
Yesterday, we saw how 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 who’s now about to do his job.
The watchman’s warning
Ezekiel 33:21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!”
This happened at the hands of the Babylonian army in 587 BC. It was complete destruction this time, with nearly all the people carried off into exile.
Ezekiel 33:22 Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was on me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.
Up until this point, Ezekiel could only prophesy in action, not words, presumably because Jerusalem was past the point of no return. But now, he gets to stop playing charades and use his big boy words, too:
Ezekiel 33:23-24 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.'”
Even after the destruction that’s happened, they still think it’s their birthright to have the land God gave them. Surely we just have to wait five minutes and God’ll come and fix everything, like he’s done every other time, right? (A bit like their attitude in Hosea 6:1-3, if you remember that part of our Hosea series.)
But this time it’s different.
Ezekiel 33:25-26 “Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? 26 You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbour’s wife. Should you then possess the land?'”
How is it fair—how is it just — if God lets them go on living in the land while they behave however they want?
Ezekiel 33:27-29 “Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. 28 I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.'”
Are you picking up the vibe that God’s more than just a bit cranky with them? Nothing short of total destruction is being promised here. Jerusalem—along with all those left behind after its destruction—will be gone. The old operating system has been wiped, leaving only a blinking cursor and an empty hard drive.
In light of this, how will the exiles respond to Ezekiel’s message? Will they respond to the watchman’s cry? Will they repent, so that Jerusalem’s fate won’t be theirs, too?
Ezekiel 33:30 “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.'”
Sounds promising, right? The people want to hear what God has to say! Let’s go download Ezekiel’s latest sermon podcast!
But again, no:
Ezekiel 33:31 “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.”
They might listen. But they don’t obey. They’re incapable of repentance. Their hearts are hard toward God.
Ezekiel 33:32 “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”
They might turn up and listen, but they treat it like they’re at an Ed Sheeran concert. If Ed Sheeran also had a beautiful voice and played an instrument well. They’re entertained by the word of God, but not transformed by it. So God says, rather ominously:
Ezekiel 33:33 “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
God’s sent a watchman, who’s done his job. He’s given them a warning, but it’s not looking like they’re going to listen. This is the rather depressing picture we get at the end of chapter 33. God’s people need a reboot. But they’re unable to do it themselves.
To think about
Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin to answer the question what’s that got do do with us? But for now, ask yourself: what similarities are there between Israel’s situation and behaviour in this chapter and your own? What differences are there?