posted on Jun, 1 2018 @ 05:03 PM
In the eleventh year of Ezekiel’s exile, in the fifth month, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon entered into Jerusalem and began the destruction of
the city. Nearly eighteen months later, the news finally reached the exiles on the other side of the desert (ch33).
Before the news arrived, Ezekiel was instructed to give one further explanation, which may be seen as completing the work of preparing their minds to
He was told to speak to the people and tell them about “the watchman”.
“Watchman” is a metaphor drawn from the needs of guarding a city, when danger is threated from outside.
When the people choose a watchman, there are responsibilities on both sides.
“If I bring the sword upon a land… If he blows the trumpet and warns the people… then if anyone who hears the trumpet does not take warning…
his blood shall be on his own head” (vv1-5). He has neglected the warning, he is responsible for his own death.
If, on the other hand, the watchman fails to give the required warning, then the watchman himself is responsible for any death that follows; “his
blood shall I require at the watchman’s hand”.
Thus the watchman is responsible not just to the city, but to the Lord, who places the lives of the inhabitants in his charge.
The metaphor is then to be applied to a different kind of danger.
Ezekiel has been appointed “a watchman for the house of Israel” by the Lord himself (because the house of Israel did not know they needed
The danger in question is God’s judgement upon wickedness, which brings death.
God will provide warnings for the wicked man, which will pass through Ezekiel.
If Ezekiel fails to pass them on, and the wicked man dies in consequence, then Ezekiel will be held responsible for the outcome; “his death I will
require at your hand”. The implication is that Ezekiel himself will die, in recompense for those whom he neglected to save.
If he does pass on the warning, and the wicked man takes no heed, then the wicked man will still die in his iniquity, but Ezekiel’s faithfulness to
duty will have saved his own life.
This repeats, and announces to the people, what Ezekiel was told privately at the very beginning of his mission (ch3 vv17-21).
This function of the watchman is the solution to the question which the people have been raising-
“Our transgressions and our sins are upon us… How then can we live?” (v10).
The answer is that they may save their lives by repentance, and the watchman is there to move them to repentance.
He then repeats the basic principles of personal responsibility, already described on a previous occasion (ch18).
The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of a wicked man, and would much prefer him to turn from his ways and live.
The righteous man will live by his righteousness, though his former righteousness will not save him if he falls into transgression.
Conversely, the wicked man will die by his unrighteousness, but will save himself and live when he repents.
Both sides of this antithesis are presented twice over, at length, in order to underline the point.
How, then, can people say that “the way of the Lord is not just”?
He has provided them with an escape route from judgement, he has provided them with a watchman to remind them that the escape route is there.
So they are deprived of any excuse or any cause for complaint.
The significance of this explanation comes in the timing.
The news of the fall of Jerusalem arrives in the very next verse.
On the face of it, that event seems to bring to an end the relation between God and his people, which has been based upon their presence in the
But Ezekiel has just been setting out the terms on which the relationship will work in the future, and that amounts to a promise that the relationship
will have a future.
The arrival of the news is described very briefly (vv21-22).
“The hand of the Lord” had been upon Ezekiel since the previous evening. That is, he had been reduced to silence again.
This would have had the effect of provoking curiosity and a sense of anticipation.
It is the equivalent of the modern institutional habit of pre-announcing the fact that an announcement is going to be made.
Then, in the twelfth year of his exile, on the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a man came to Ezekiel direct from Jerusalem and told him
that the city had fallen.
The Lord had already released Ezekiel from silence, so that he was able to give an immediate response.
Ezekiel has been the prophet of the fall of Jerusalem, Once the fall of Jerusalem has arrived, his main task is complete, and there will be no further
need for the dramatic device of dumbness.
So this event has the probable significance of being the last time that his mouth will need to be re-opened.
The chapter does have a couple of further messages, which appear to have been part of his immediate response.
One is about the future of the land (vv23-29), and I’ll return to that theme on another occasion.
The other is addressed to Ezekiel, in the first instance, about the people’s reaction to his work (vv30-33).
He may well be discouraged by the fact that the people treat him as an entertainer. The chief motive that draws them to hear him is their
They talk about him at the doors of their houses, they say to one another “Come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord”, and they come
and sit in front of him “as my people”, but they don’t really listen.
“They hear what you say, but they will not do it; for with their lips they show much love, but their heart is set on their gain”.
“You are to them like one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument”.
Like the congregation relaxing into their pews to hear the hell-fire sermons of Amos Starkadder (in “Cold Comfort Farm”), they think the message
is given just to be enjoyed.
But don’t worry, Ezekiel. When this news arrives, as it certainly will, “they will know that a prophet has been among them”.
This conclusion implies that the word was delivered to Ezekiel well before[ the news arrived, as a private encouragement and an assurance that
his work was not being wasted.
Perhaps it appears in the record at this point because this is when the word is made public; Ezekiel reminds the people how he has been giving them
advance warning of what they now discover to be true.
The news brought by the messenger is Ezekiel’s vindication.