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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Ezekiel 33

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The Prophet as Watchman

A. Ezekiel the watchman.

1. (Eze 33:1-6) The principle of the watchman.

Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.’

a. When I bring a sword upon a land: This establishes the context for all what Ezekiel wrote regarding the watchman. As spoken before in Ezekiel chapter 3:16-27, the image of the watchman has the context of warning of God’s soon approaching judgment. Ezekiel’s role as a watchman was connected to when he sees the sword coming upon the land.

i. There are many who consider themselves watchmen to the people of God today. They watch carefully and look for signs of error or apostasy. There is always a place for those to do what Ezekiel was called to do as a watchman – to discern that God’s judgment was coming soon and to warn the people. Yet many who consider themselves modern “watchmen” focus on the examination of supposed error more than the proclamation of God’s truth. This is a distortion of Ezekiel’s calling as a watchman.

ii. Another way this modern office of watchman may distort the Biblical idea is by untruthful or unfair examination of others in search of error or apostasy. If a watchman alerts people to dangers but does not give an honest and fair report, then he will not be believed when they warn of a genuine danger.

iii. The watchman section of Ezekiel 3:16-21 had to do with Ezekiel’s private call to prophetic ministry. This section has to do with his public ministry. “This message is public. It has the nature of an apologia, whose aim is to clarify once and for all Ezekiel’s prophetic self-consciousness before his people.” (Block)

b. If he blows the trumpet and warns the people: When the judgment of God came upon the land and especially to correct God’s people, the watchman had a sacred responsibility to warn the people. If he did, then if any did not heed the warning, his blood was upon himself. This was great assurance to Ezekiel and Jeremiah, because they warned many and few listened.

i. “The watchman concept explains in a sense why Ezekiel had to predict so much concerning judgment, and why his earlier messages were warnings.” (Feinberg)

ii. Blows the trumpet: One might have many complaints about the one who sounds the trumpet. He blows it too hard or too soft, too long or too short, with too much feeling or not enough. We may complain that the trumpet is out of tune or that we have many times heard better trumpets. But when an army approaches, the trumpet sound itself is enough. Those who know the judgment of God is on the way are grateful for the warning, even if it doesn’t come in the most pleasing way.

iii. Blows the trumpet: “Because the number of notes that could be produced on the shopar was limited, it was used primarily as a signaling instrument for cultic observances, and especially in military contexts to call troops to arms (Judges 3:27; 6:34; Nehemiah 4:18–20), signal retreat (2 Samuel 8:16), proclaim victory (1 Samuel 13:3), announce the disbanding of the army (2 Samuel 20:1, 22), even terrify the enemy (Judges 7:8, 16–22). Indeed, the shopar became a symbol of war itself, being used, as in our text, to signal impending attack or doom.” (Block)

c. He who takes warning will save his life: When the judgment of God comes upon the land, the only preservation is in hearing the warning of the watchman and responding properly.

d. If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet: If the watchman did not warn the people about God’s judgment, then the blood of those who perish would be held against the watchman.

i. “Once the warning was sounded, the watchman would have delivered his soul and be free of the guilt of bringing about the death of his countryman. In the spiritual realm this was the confidence of Paul in Acts 20:26.” (Feinberg)

2. (Eze 33:7-9) Ezekiel the watchman.

“So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

a. I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me: The watchman did not gain his knowledge by studying the armies of the Babylonian empire, or by looking at the false prophets among God’s people at that time. Ezekiel heard form God that judgment was coming soon, and had to announce it.

i. “The danger which the prophet has to warn his people about is the threat of judgment by the word of the Lord.” (Taylor)

b. O wicked man, you shall surely die! This was the general message of Ezekiel (and Jeremiah), though in general they brought the message to Jerusalem and to the kingdom of Israel more than to specific individuals.

c. If you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way: If the watchman faithfully delivered his message, then the response of the one he warned was the responsibility of the one who heard it. It could be said to the watchman, you have delivered your soul.

B. The fairness of God’s judgments.

1. (Eze 33:10-11) God’s judgment is fair because He takes no special pleasure in it.

“Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?”’ Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

a. If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live? This was an accusing question raised against the fairness of God’s judgment. The idea was that God was happy to make His judgment so severe that it left no room for His people to repent.

i. If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us: “The better rendering, Truly our transgressions and our sins are upon us (RV mg.), suggests both a deep conviction of sin and an overwhelming feeling of despair.” (Taylor)

ii. “For the first time they admit their own guilt as the cause of their suffering. But is this confession repentance? In view of the prophet’s response, it seems to be little more than a cry of pain.” (Block)

iii. Pine away: “Some of the Jews were now feeling the pain of their sins like a heavy weight on their shoulders, and day after day were “wearing away.” However, this feeling of remorse fell far short of real repentance.” (Wiersbe)

b. I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live: God responded to the accusing question of His people by declaring a basic principle about His nature and dealings with humanity. God takes no special pleasure in the death of the wicked. God’s heart is for people to repent, to turn from their way and live. God is not sadistic and cruel, making repentance impossible because He loves to see humanity suffer.

i. “Since a way of survival has been announced, why then should the people die? Quoting Eze 18:31 verbatim, he highlights how needless their death is. Yahweh’s plea for repentance is a call to life! Death is not inevitable.” (Block)

ii. The fact that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked does not mean that it will not happen. God’s general desire for all humanity is that they would repent, turn to Him and be saved; yet He will not spare the requirements of justice and holiness for those who refuse to turn to Him.

iii. It is especially important to understand these statements in their context; that Ezekiel spoke this regarding the judgment to come upon Judah and Jerusalem in this life, and not in first reference to eternal judgment. Nevertheless, since this principle is so rooted in God’s character, it applies to God’s eternal judgments. God is not “happy” when people choose hell; His general desire for all humanity is that they would repent, turn to Him and be saved.

c. Turn, turn from your evil ways! This communicates the desire, even the pleasure of God. The Lord’s longing is that men and women would choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) and not death. God wanted Israel to live and not die. The question, why should you die, O house of Israel, means that they didn’t have to perish in the coming judgment.

i. “‘Turn ye, turn ye,’ says the text, twice over. It is earnest, emphatic, importunate. ‘Turn ye, turn ye.’ It looks as if it had been wetted with tears, or as if a sigh and a groan were in the very sound of it.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “In verse 11 appears a beautiful blending of compassion with the demands of God’s holiness, exhibiting both a yearning and a tenderness on God’s part toward Israel. Should death issue as a consequence, it would be the result of their own will and not God’s. Repentance and forgiveness were available to all.” (Feinberg)

iii. Why should you die: “I remember a powerful preacher once finishing a sermon which God had helped him to deliver with extraordinary force, by turning to his congregation and asking, ‘Why will ye die?’ Then he paused and continued, ‘What reason have you; what motive, what argument, what apologies, what excuses? Why will ye die?’ Then he stopped a moment, and said, ‘Why will ye die? Why will ye? Why this desperate resolve? Why this firmness? You vacillate elsewhere; why be so obstinate here? Why will you? Why is your heart set fast like iron?’” (Spurgeon)

2. (Eze 33:12-16) The principle of the changed life.

“Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: ‘The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins.’ When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live.

a. The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: God told Ezekiel to speak to another accusing objection from the people of God. This was an accusation based in fatalism, which basically said: the good are good and the bad are bad and nothing can be done about it. To answer that objection, God reminded all that every righteous man could end up with a life dominated by his transgression. His prior righteousness would not rescue him on the day of God’s judgment.

i. “The Jews debated with Ezekiel and affirmed that God wasn’t being fair and that His ways were unequal. This response in itself proved that they had not really repented, because repentant sinners don’t argue with God’s Word.” (Wiersbe)

b. As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness: On the same principle, someone who lived a prior life of wickedness was not pre-ordained to continue that way. They could turn and be spared in the season of God’s judgment.

c. When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness: No one is so righteous that they cannot fall into great error and danger if they were to trust in their own righteousness instead of God and His mercy. To do so may mean to have all of one’s righteous works account for nothing before God, and he shall die. The same principle worked in reverse for the wicked. In both cases, if God pronounced “he shall surely live” to the righteous or “you shall surely die” to the wicked, neither was an irrevocable or irreversible pronouncement.

i. “Wicked men sometimes do repent, and consequently reap the reward. Righteous men do sometimes backslide and then pay the price.” (Smith)

ii. “Verse 13 does not mean to say that the godly man forfeits his salvation by committing sin: it has nothing to do with the early church’s fear of post-baptismal sin or with more recent issues of ‘once saved, always saved’. It simply states in reverse the principle of individual responsibility.” (Taylor)

d. If the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen: Again, the point is clear. God does not want us to regard human destiny as fatalistically determined by a person’s past, either for good or evil.

i. Trapp on none of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him: “This is point blank against the doctrine of purgatory.”

3. (Eze 33:17-20) Unfairness found with Israel, not God.

“Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ But it is their way which is not fair! When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways.”

a. The way of the Lord is not fair: This was another accusation against God and His prophets. When Ezekiel and others announced God’s coming judgment, some responded by questioning the fairness of it.

i. “The complaint of the people that the way of the Lord is not equal (AV, RV) or just (RSV) uses an unusual metaphor taken from weighing in scales. The verb means literally ‘is not adjusted to the right standard’, which is the action of a dishonest salesman.” (Taylor)

b. But it is their way which is not fair! God boldly replied to their accusation. God was entirely fair; it was the children of your people who unfairly looked to fate or the past to determine a person’s destiny.

c. When the righteous turns from his righteousness…when the wicked turns from his wickedness: Yet as in the previous verses, God declared that man is not fatalistically bound to his past, either the righteous or the wicked.

d. I will judge every one of you according to his own ways: This was God’s standard of judgment, and it was (and is) entirely fair. It was fair under the old covenant, which was greatly based on works. It is also (in another sense) fair under the new covenant, where a person’s faith is proved to be real by their works (James 2:14-17).

C. The messenger from Jerusalem.

1. (Eze 33:21) The messenger arrives.

And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, that one who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been captured!”

a. In the twelfth year of our captivity: This was seven years after the first prophecies of the Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:2-3).

i. The Syriac version and some Hebrew manuscripts read eleventh instead of twelfth year, which would allow six months rather than a year and a half for the news of Jerusalem’s fall to reach the exiles, and many accept this date.” (Feinberg)

b. The city has been captured: The messenger told of what Ezekiel had long predicted, that Jerusalem would be utterly overwhelmed by the armies of Babylon. This was a sad and tragic vindication of the prophet.

i. “This man was probably a member of the first wave of prisoners deported to Babylon after Nebuzaradan, the captain of Nebuchadrezzar’s army, had burned the city (2 Kings 25:11).” (Block)

2. (Eze 33:22-24) The arrogant proclamation of the few Jewish survivors remaining in Judea.

Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the man came who had escaped. And He had opened my mouth; so when he came to me in the morning, my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “Son of man, they who inhabit those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one, and he inherited the land. But we are many; the land has been given to us as a possession.’

a. He opened my mouth: God had given Ezekiel a sense of a significant revelation to come (the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before) but had made the prophet mute until the messenger came.

i. “The prophet emerges from his ecstatic dumbness since he has a new message for Judah. The paradox here is that the defeat of Jerusalem enables the prophet to speak about its restoration.” (Vawter and Hoppe)

ii. “The expression ‘the hand of the Lord’ appears also in Eze 1:3; 8:1; 37:1; and 40:1. In each case it refers to an extraordinary experience of God. In this passage it denotes a special divine action that enables the prophet to begin speaking again after being silent for some time.” (Vawter and Hoppe)

b. Abraham was only one, and he inherited the land. But we are many; the land has been given to us as a possession: These were the thoughts and words of the small remnant that remained behind in Jerusalem and Judea. Here we learn that they thought they would inherit the land and rebuild a new Israel and Jerusalem. But God had promised that this would come from returning exiles, not those who remained in the land.

i. Jeremiah described these remaining few and the tragic events connected with them in Jeremiah 40-44.

ii. “Although many of the outlying villages would have been pillaged by the Babylonian troops, the land was obviously not totally emptied of inhabitants. Indeed, the destruction and deportation probably involved primarily the major towns and the military strongholds.” (Block)

iii. “It looks as if those who survived the ravages made by the Babylonian forces…were quietly annexing unclaimed properties and regarding themselves as the inheritors of the promises given to their forefathers.” (Taylor)

iv. “By some strange logic they reasoned that if God gave Abraham the land when he was alone, surely the land would be more firmly theirs because of their great number.” (Feinberg)

3. (Eze 33:25-26) God’s answer to the surviving remnant.

“Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “You eat meat with blood, you lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood. Should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you commit abominations, and you defile one another’s wives. Should you then possess the land?”’

a. You eat meat with blood, you lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: These few survivors who somehow evaded death and exile were not godly, covenant keeping men. They did not observe God’s dietary laws, they did not worship Yahweh alone, and they were violent.

b. You rely on your sword: The list of sins of the small number of survivors in Judah included their basic violence against one another. They lived by murder, violence, idolatry, and immorality.

i. You rely on your sword: “Is literally ‘you stand on your sword,’ an idea first mentioned here in Ezekiel. It refers to living by violence, perhaps as observed in oppression of the needy, robbery, child sacrifice, etc. (cf. ch. 18).” (Alexander)

ii. “This text paints a graphic picture of the competition among the survivors of the fall of Judah. It must have been fierce, inhuman, and violent.” (Vawter and Hoppe)

c. Should you then possess the land? God repeated this question twice to emphasize that they would not possess the land. God’s promise to restore Israel and Jerusalem would be accomplished, but not through ungodly men like these.

i. “Ezekiel discredits any claim of those who survived the fall to Jerusalem to own the land by right. Their behavior has resulted in the cancellation of those ‘rights.’” (Vawter and Hoppe)

4. (Eze 33:27-29) God’s promise of judgment on the few survivors.

“Say thus to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “As I live, surely those who are in the ruins shall fall by the sword, and the one who is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in the strongholds and caves shall die of the pestilence. For I will make the land most desolate, her arrogant strength shall cease, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that no one will pass through. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.”’

a. Those who are in the ruins shall fall by the sword: The survivors did not truly escape God’s judgment; they only delayed it a short time. The same judgments of the sword, the beasts, and pestilence would strike them in time. Jeremiah 40-44 proved this to be true.

i. God’s disposition toward his land and his people is not determined by soft sentimentality. As human observers we feel sorry for the miserable remnant, trying to establish itself among the ruins of Jerusalem after the devastation of 586. We may even admire them for their determination to make the best of a deplorable situation. But God does not react this way; nor does people’s pain excuse them from covenantal fidelity.” (Block)

b. I will make the land most desolate: The arrogant dreams of the few survivors would come to nothing. God would further His work of making the land most desolate despite their arrogant strength.

i. “The answer is that they would not escape suffering for the wrongs that characterized them in common with the rest of the nation. The Book of Lamentations shows their sufferings.” (Wright)

c. Then they shall know that I am the Lord: Jerusalem had just fallen and an almost unimaginable calamity came upon the people. Yet God promise a further desolation to come, and it would come because of their terrible idolatry (because of all their abominations which they have committed).

5. (Eze 33:30-33) The people pleasantly heard Ezekiel, but did not truly listen.

“As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

a. The children of your people are talking about you: God wanted Ezekiel to know that his message was getting out to the people. Even if they did not obey what God told them to do, they did talk about him and regard what he said as the word that comes from the Lord.

i. “Everyone was talking about him…and encouraging each other to go and listen to what he had to say. Religious meetings were never so well attended.” (Taylor)

ii. “Come on, let’s have some fun! Let’s go hear the prophet tell us what the Lord is saying” (v. 30, NLT)

b. They hear your words, but they do not do them: In a superficial sense Ezekiel was popular as a prophet. People talked about his prophetic words and gave lip service the words being from God. Yet it was a very superficial sense; they heard, but they did not really listen or do them.

i. “Their interest was sensual rather than spiritual. The difference between the two may always be detected by the consequent attitude of those who hear. Sensuality hears and does nothing. Spirituality hears and obeys.” (Morgan)

c. With their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain: People said good and kind things about Ezekiel’s preaching, but it made no difference in their heart or life. They still lived for their own gain and not the honor and holiness of God.

i. “Their outward actions would lead one to believe that their desire was to learn the will of God to do it, but their ultimate concern was their own advantage and self-advancement. They heard and did not.” (Feinberg)

d. You are to them as a very lovely song: They liked to listen to Ezekiel as anyone likes to listen to a good singer (a pleasant voice) and well-played music (play well on an instrument). They enjoyed the prophet’s “music” but did not respond to his message with truth faith and action.

i. “Ezekiel is perversely treated as a pop star, the hottest ticket in town. His announcements of judgment and appeals for repentance are treated as entertainment. Instead of dealing with the truth to which his messages call attention, his utterances have facilitated escape from reality.” (Block)

ii. “Ours is not the only age that treats God’s spokesmen as if they are public entertainment.” (Taylor)

iii. “But where hearts have fossilized, the pleas of a prophet become entertaining skits; divine passion is reduced to artistic enthusiasm. A cynical church evaluates the divine word for its aesthetic qualities, and the messenger for his ability to hold an audience.” (Block)

iv. “The word leaves no more impression upon carnal men’s consciences than a sweet lesson upon the lute in the ear when it is ended, for then both the vocal and instrumental sweetness dissolve into the air and vanish into nothing. Happy was Augustine, who, coming to Ambrose to have his ears tickled, had his heart touched.” (Trapp)

e. Then they will know that a prophet has been among them: Ezekiel had already been proved a true prophet because Jerusalem had been captured (Ezekiel 33:21). Yet as his prophecies continued to be fulfilled and woe came to those who did not receive them with faith and action, at the very least the people would know that Ezekiel was indeed a true prophet, and should never be regarded as an entertainer or mere inspirational speaker.

©2017 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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