Copyright © 2009, American
Journal of Biblical Theology
Scripture quotes from KJV
Ancient Stele of Ezekiel
(c) British Library Photographic Service.
If one is confident in the gospel, one can only be dismayed by the vast number of people who reject it, or who have not heard of God's love for them and have not turned to Him in faith. If it were God's purpose and plan, He could force Himself upon all people and many more would turn to Him, yet still there would be those who would resist His authority. Rather than force Himself on His creation, God has simply made His plan and purpose known to humanity as he progressively revealed Himself through His relationships with the patriarchs and prophets of the faith as recorded in Holy Scriptures. God finally and fully revealed Himself through the Messiah and Creator, the One who came to earth as the baby Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God's plan for the redemption of humanity from the consequences of their sinful nature was fully revealed, as Jesus not only communicated man's need for repentance, but also paid the penalty for sin for all who would place their faith and trust in Him.
What is the part that Christians have in God's redemptive purpose for mankind? What is God's attitude towards those who reject Him? The history of ancient Israel serves as a dramatic illustration of God's revelation of Himself and His plan for humanity. We see in ancient Israel a microcosm of man's response to God today. God, from His vantage point of timeless eternity does not change, so His plan and purpose does not change. Not surprisingly, man does not change much either. We have the same bent to rebellion against God today that we see in the ancient nation that God chose to reveal Himself through.
Ezekiel 33:1-2. Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:
Ezekiel was called by God as a prophet, declaring His message to the Israelite exiles in Babylon. At the time of this prophesy, Jerusalem has not yet been destroyed. Ezekiel has been declaring God's plan to destroy Jerusalem with remarkable clarity, revealing many very specific events that would surround its demise. The destruction of Jerusalem was certain. This was the inevitable consequence of the apostasy of Israel: the breaking of the covenant that the nation and Moses made at Mt. Sinai, a covenant that promised obedience to God. God promised much to those who would turn to Him in faith, including the blessing of the land within which they would live, and His hand of protection that would preserve them in the land. Yet, even in the coming disaster, God still provides a plan by which those who would turn to Him can avoid the consequence of sin and rebellion. The cataclysm of Jerusalem was brought on by the disobedience of the people. God provides a means of salvation through a very simple act: obedience, even at the last moments of opportunity.
First, God calls for a "watchman." Prior to the events of this writing, Nebuchadnezzar had already besieged and invaded the city, taking as many as 10,000 captives, including Ezekiel. We may recall some other well-known names of those taken in this raid, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The people of Judea had witnessed the demise of the northern kingdom of Israel, and now were witnessing the demise of their own city, the last stronghold of the nation. Yet, despite all of this history of destruction and loss, the people of Jerusalem could not conceive of its total destruction. Though they gave God little thought, and less obedience, they believed that the temple was inviolable because God was there. It is amazing that the puppet king in Jerusalem, as well as the people, would not think of setting a watchman to warn of the coming invasion.
Obedience to God is not a difficult or profound task. God simply asks for the placement of a watchman. To do so would be a simple act that would, for the first time in generations, show that the people acknowledge the presence of God, and believe Him.
Ezekiel 33:3. If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;
The watchman will have a simple task. The sword is coming upon the land. The event is sure. The purpose of the watchman is simply to warn the people of the coming disaster. Such a scenario is effective when the people are willing to (1) station the watchman, and are then (2) willing to respond decisively when the watchman sounds the warning. This scenario assumes that the people trust the watchman and will listen to the warning.
Ezekiel 33:4. Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.
Who is responsible for the condition of those who ignore the warning? People make up any number of excuses and rationalizations to justify their disobedience. Many simply will not believe the watchman. On December 7, 1941, America was drawn into the Pacific War when Japanese Navy warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor. Many warnings of the attack were evident through radio messages transmitted among the Japanese fleet, and finally broadcast by American military watchmen who witnessed the incoming planes and attempted to warn the naval base. However, despite the warnings, the attack came as a complete surprise. The commanders of the base at Pearl Harbor could not believe that the Japanese would do such a thing, so the warnings went unheeded. The problem was one of simple unbelief.
Even though they had already fell to invasion and were under the command of a puppet king, the Jews still did not believe that they were in any serious danger, holding that they were protected by the presence of the Temple and the fortified walls of the city. Likewise, people today do not believe they are in any danger. Most see the issue and blessing of this life as its own end, and give little concern to the eternal condition of their soul. Many who do think about their place in eternity will argue that "God does not send good people to hell." This is true, but no person is good. All people come short of "good" and are in imminent danger of eternal separation from God. Yet they do not heed the warnings.
Is God responsible for those who refuse to hear the warning? It is God's plan that people come to Him by faith, not by coersion. People have a choice to accept God, or to reject Him, and given that choice, they are fully responsible for it. Still, when the final judgment comes, and they are found lacking a relationship with God, they will be as astonished as the Jews were when Jerusalem fell.
The Jews attempted to place the blame for their situation squarely on the shoulders of their fathers. Likewise, we always seem to attempt to blame someone else for the consequences of our own choices. "His blood shall be on his own head" clearly indicates that the responsibility for the consequence of choice lies fully with the individual. When the warning sound of the trumpet is heard, every individual is responsible for their own choice to heed it.
Ezekiel 33:5. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.
When a warning is sounded, every individual has a choice of how to respond. As a university professor at the State University of New York at Utica, I had just moved into a new building in the Fall of 1987. There was a considerable amount of dust in the ventilation systems from the construction, dust that kept setting off the fire alarms. The continual evacuations of the building had become a nuisance. Consequently, after repeated false alarms, my response to the alarm changed: I would simply close my door and continue working. The combination of all cement-block walls, almost no combustible materials in my end of the building, and the short jump out of my window assured me of my safety. The assurance waned when I heard keys at my door and found myself staring at an annoyed police officer.
We are often lulled into feeling secure when our surroundings seem secure. Seeing the whole universe in the image of our own back yard leaves us ignorant of the truth. If a fire had broken out, it could have done so in the office beneath my own, and unbeknownst to me, any number of combustible or even explosive materials could have been stowed away in that faculty member's office. A collapsing or exploding floor would certainly have proved problematic.
Many times in life, our own deliverance comes from our own willingness to respond to the warning, and obedience to the authority of the "trumpet" gives one the choice of that deliverance. One delivers himself from the danger by an act of simple faith and obedience to a knowledgeable authority.
Ezekiel 33:6. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchmanís hand.
With so much at stake, the responsibility of the watchman is clarified. The watchman's one task is to warn the people when danger comes. If the watchman sees the danger and does not communicate it to those he is called to protect, not only do those who did not hear the warning die in their own "iniquity", but the watchman is also held responsible for their state. The writer of the books of James states, "Not many of you should be teachers, for yours is the greater judgment. The responsibility to warn the lost of the consequences of their sinful state falls squarely on the shoulders of those who know of the danger. As church leaders, deacons, teachers, preachers, and missionaries, those who have accepted that calling have a heightened responsibility to sound the trumpet. However, every Christian is fully aware of the gospel and God's plan of redemption of sinful man, and as a minister of the gospel so shares in that responsibility.
Just as the lost are warned of the consequences of their personal choice of apostasy, those who have faith in God are warned of the consequences of their own disobedience. This judgment upon the faithful should seize the attention of the Christian just as much as the warning of eternal separation from God would seize the attention of one who is lost. Ezekiel understood this concept, and we see in him an example of one who used every opportunity to sound the warning, despite the inattention of those around him.
Ezekiel 33:7. So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
Who is the watchman? The people of Jerusalem would not set a watchman because of their disbelief. Likewise, the lost have no context from which to set a watchman who will warn them of the coming judgment. Consequently, God, who is compelled by His own love and grace, always moves on His own to set forth a watchman. He did so in the Old Testament patriarchs and in the prophets, and certainly Ezekiel is a clear example of a watchman of God's anointing.
The responsibility of the watchman is two-fold. First, the watchman is to fully listen to the word of God. For the Christian today this is accomplished by submission to God as one studies the Holy Scriptures and listens responsively to the Holy Spirit. One cannot share God's word if one does not know it, and one cannot share the context and true meaning of God's word if one does not know God.
The second responsibility of the watchman is to share God's word. Note the shift that has taken place as God begins to explain the context of the watchman's responsibility. The illustration is provided through the imminent destruction of Jerusalem whereby the warning is one of an impending, violent, disaster. The context, however, goes far beyond the attack of Babylon on a besieged Jerusalem. God is using this political situation as an illustration of the need for all people to respond to God's word.
It is amazing that God would choose the "son of man" as the watchman. We might note that this son of man is not written with capital letters. The writer is not referring to the Messiah in this passage: he is referring to mankind, and specifically to Ezekiel, the Prophet of God. God has placed the responsibility for the sharing of the gospel in the hands of people. God did not have to do this. God created mankind in His image, and by so doing gave them an eternal soul and a consequent basic knowledge of His existence. He could have changed that design and given every person a natural love for Himself. However, if He had done so, there would be no need for faith, and people would be nothing more than puppets to God, lacking the true choice of love for Him that comes from expressed faith. So, rather than establishing a relationship with people by his manifestation, God has revealed Himself to us through His message, a message that has been protected by His sovereignty, and communicated through those people who love Him.
During the last days of the nation of Israel the responsibility of service as the "watchman unto the house of Israel" was appointed to Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Micah, and others in what was a very small remnant of faithful believers. Today, that same responsibility is still shared by the remnant of faithful believers, but that remnant is no longer small. The Babylonian remnant numbered less than ten thousand. Numbering in the millions, God has placed watchmen all over the face of this earth, Christians who are called to share His love with the lost and warn them of the consequences of their continued rejection of God.
We often venerate the status of the Old Testament prophets because of their faithfulness to God, their access to God, their understanding of Godís Word, and their calling from God as ministers of that Word. There is very little difference, if any, between the state of an Old Testament prophet and the state of a modern faithful Christian. The faithful Christian also has access to God, is given an understanding of Godís Word, and is called as a minister of the gospel. God is calling faithful Christians today to the same ministry that He called the Old Testament prophets, giving them the same Holy Spirit, the same Word, and the same Power to accomplish His purpose.
Ezekiel 33:8. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
With the context shift complete, the message of God to every Christian is clear. Though the attack on Jerusalem set the illustration, the warning is related to the consequence of the wickedness of man. Christians are not called to warn Jerusalem Jews of the oncoming attack from Babylon (though that selfsame warning still bodes today), Christians are called to "warn the wicked from his way."
For the Christian, sharing God's love is not an option: It is a command. Jesus stated "Go ye therefore," as a command, not a suggestion. Note that in this verse, the only action required of the watchman is to "speak." God is not requiring his children to perform some great act of skill, or endurance. All He asks is that we share what we know of His word with others.
Several years ago one of the members of my Sunday School class shared with us an illustrative, and quite true, experience. While camping, he witnessed the activity of a nearby family. He also saw their child, still in diapers, swinging from a rope on a tree. As the child was holding on the rope, he was swinging out over a rocky precipice from which a fall would surely bring his violent death. Once he recognized the danger that this child was in, he immediately went to the parents, who he had never met before, and firmly warned them of the danger. He felt that he had no choice but to confront these negligent parents, not for the parent's sake, but for the sake of the innocent child who was unaware of the danger. The parents were horrified, and ran to the child as soon as they recognized the danger. Had the child fallen to his death, who would have been responsible? Certainly the parents would have been responsible for their negligence. However, my friend would have also shared in the responsibility if he had been the one to recognize the danger and say nothing.
This is an excellent illustration of the responsibility that every Christian has as a watchman. When we fail to share God's message of salvation, we share in the responsibility for the death of those who we despise by our silence. This is a very hard message, and one that Christians often do not want to hear.
Ezekiel 33:9. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
One of the rationalizations that we use to justify our silence is "they won't listen to me." We might note that as Ezekiel shared God's word with an apostate Jerusalem, literally no one listened. During this time Jeremiah was still in Jerusalem and sharing the same message that Ezekiel shared, and his message was also ignored. Few people will respond to God's offer of redemption, but how can they be given the opportunity to respond if they have never heard.
Rom. 10:14. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
Few will listen. However, note the words of encouragement to the watchman: the responsibility of the watchman is not the salvation of the lost: it is the sharing of the message. The watchman is not responsible for the response of the one who hears God's word. The responsibility of the watchman is fulfilled once the warning is communicated. He has faithfully completed the task that God has called him to.
Ezekiel 33:10-11. Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? 11Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
What is God's desire for the lost? If the watchman shares the warning, the sin of the lost is exposed. It has often been stated that the hardest part of sharing God's plan of salvation is to convince people of their lost state. In the scenario presented here, the lost have recognized their plight and are asking a question, "how can I be saved." Most faith-sharing experiences will not lead to this point. How does a Christian respond when it does? How does a Christian bring a lost one to faith in God? A simple formula is presented here:
(1) The lost person must recognize their state of apostasy. They must understand that without faith and trust in God, they are doomed from eternal separation from Him.
(2) God does not want anyone to die. God loves all people and has a plan and purpose for them: to love and glorify Him. It is His will that all would come to Him, as He takes no pleasure in losing them for eternity.
(3) God desires their salvation. His desire is that the lost will turn from their allegiance to this wicked and lost world, and turn to Him in faith and trust. Other scriptures state that a penalty must be paid for sin. Jesus paid that penalty when, as the Messiah, He experienced death on the cross. That penalty was paid for all who would place their faith and trust in God. Because of this, Jesus' crucifixion and salvation are linked: salvation comes only through faith in God, and is available to all people because of what Jesus did on the cross. There is no other way of salvation. To reject Jesus is to reject God. To put one's faith and trust in Jesus is to put one's faith and trust in God.
(4) Why would you choose to be separated from God for eternity? Turn to God now.God's call for every Christian is clear. Just as Ezekiel was called by God to warn the people of Jerusalem of the consequences of their rebellion against God, the call of every Christian is the same. Each Christian serves as a watchman, who shares the warning of coming doom with those who have need to hear of it. God's plan of salvation has already been given, and the penalty for a life lived in sin has already been proclaimed. So, the watchman no longer needs to watch, but to sound the warning. If every Christian were faithful to sound the warning, though many will still refuse to listen, many more will be saved. Today is the day of salvation. Share the word.