Ezekiel :1-11 and commentary
Ezekiel 33:1-11 New English Translation (NET)
Ezekiel Israel’s Watchman
33 The Lord’s message came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people, and say to them, ‘Suppose I bring a sword against the land, and the people of the land take one man from their borders and make him their watchman. 3 He sees the sword coming against the land, blows the trumpet, and warns the people, 4 but there is one who hears the sound of the trumpet yet does not heed the warning. Then the sword comes and sweeps him away. He will be responsible for his own death. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, so he is responsible for himself. If he had heeded the warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But suppose the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people. Then the sword comes and takes one of their lives. He is swept away for his iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for that person’s death.’
7 “As for you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them on my behalf. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you must certainly die,’ and you do not warn the wicked about his behavior, the wicked man will die for his iniquity, but I will hold you accountable for his death. 9 But if you warn the wicked man to change his behavior, and he refuses to change, he will die for his iniquity, but you have saved your own life.
10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you have said: “Our rebellious acts and our sins have caught up with us, 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 prefer that the wicked change his behavior and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil deeds! Why should you die, O house of Israel?’ ~ ~ ~
Commentary ~ Ezekiel 33:1-11
O my, where do we begin? We will only be reading from the prophet Ezekiel a few times this year, so I’m hoping to make it count. Ezekiel is one of those figures that simply captures your imagination. The intensity of his visions were so vivid and believable. You have to wonder what made this guy tick – but then, we know the answer to that, don’t we? Today’s reading begins: “The Lord’s message came to me,” and that is certainly what happened. God is instructing the prophet to speak against evil and not hold back, even if the people don’t want to hear it. Not only that, but God is clear that if he fails to do that, there will be consequences. It’s safe to say that a prophet is never going to make it in politics. But before we dive into the scripture selection for today, I feel a little background information is in order. To be brief, I am freely borrowing from Cliff Notes. It’s like being back in school again.
“Ezekiel has often been called the father of Judaism. His influence on the future development of Israel’s religion was, at least for several centuries, greater than that of any of the other prophets. His conception of holiness, which stands in sharp contrast to Isaiah’s, became dominant in the period that followed his people’s return from Babylonian exile.”
Without getting into it too much, Ezekiel held to the old belief that anything could be holy- rocks, trees, buildings, as well as people. And by the same token, that holy thing could be defiled in the blink of an eye. Like the title says, Ezekiel was old school.
Ezekiel was one of the younger men taken to Babylon in the first captivity, which occurred in 597 B.C. He served as a kind of religious counselor to the Hebrew exiles who were allowed to live in a colony by themselves near the banks of the Kebar River. While Jeremiah was in Jerusalem warning the residents that the temple will be destroyed if they don’t straighten up, (with little effect), Ezekiel was doing the same in Babylon – but there were differences. Whereas Jeremiah preached that God’s Spirit rested in the hearts of believers, Ezekiel held on to the understanding that the Spirit of God lived in the temple. He was old school that way. This, from Cliff Notes: “The fall of the city of Jerusalem presented something of a problem, especially to those who believed that Yahweh’s presence in the most holy place in the Temple was a sure guarantee that the place would never be overthrown. They remembered Isaiah’s words uttered more than a century before, when he declared that Jerusalem was Zion’s city and must stand forever. For Jeremiah, these words meant very little: Yahweh’s dwelling place is in human hearts rather than in a specific place in the Temple. While this idea is not entirely absent in the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet nevertheless believes that Yahweh’s presence is located in the Temple more than in any other place. How then could the Temple be destroyed so long as Yahweh’s presence was in it? According to Ezekiel, Yahweh’s presence went up out of the Temple and rested on a hill outside; then the Temple fell.”
So OK, we’ve established that even though Jeremiah & Ezekiel lived and prophesied around the same time that Judah was exiled into Babylon, they had differences: differences in style, differences in theology, and differences in their methods of speaking the word of God to the peoples of Judah. But make no mistake – their message was the same: repentance, turning away from evil, and obedience to God. They both ran into a lot of resistance in their efforts as well, and I’d imagine the temptation to up and quit the whole thing was great. “Let someone else do it, I’m tired of this, & this is a waste of time” were some of the thoughts that I imagine went through their minds. And that leads us to our selected scripture today from chapter 33.
After reading though this text numerous times, eventually there were two names that came to mind: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pastor Martin Niemoller. Now these two men came from different backgrounds: Niemoller had been a German U-Boat commander during WW I while Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian from a young age. Yet they both found themselves in fierce opposition to the Third Reich that was sweeping their homeland; and neither of them were shy about speaking out. Niemoller’s most famous quote is probably:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Likewise, Bonhoeffer preached and organized and spoke out against the evil that was Nazism and continued to speak out from prison up until his execution. Both of them could have held back, both of them could have played it safe – but they didn’t. Perhaps they had studied God’s instruction to the prophet (vs 7) As for you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them on my behalf. (vs 8) 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you must certainly die,’ and you do not warn the wicked about his behavior, the wicked man will die for his iniquity, but I will hold you accountable for his death. And in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak; not to act is to act.”
It is my wish, it is my prayer that the church still considers itself a watchman in the way that Ezekiel was chosen to be. A comfort, a source of peace, a place of rest – these are qualities of the church. Yet when evil presents itself, let us not be shy or afraid. Let’s be the voice that says, “Turn back! Turn back from your evil deeds! Why should you die, O house of Israel.” In short, as Bonhoeffer said, “We must be ready to be interrupted by God.”