Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 28 2019 - Ezekiel 33:1-22 – Called to be a Watchman

You may remember, in Ezekiel chapter three, he was told that his calling as a prophet involved acting as a watchman over the people of God. The Lord now explains this role more fully to Ezekiel, building also on what we read yesterday that sin brings death but repentance leads to life.

As I write this, there has just been a service marking the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire (of 14th June 2017), in which 72 people died. Since then there had been a shameful lack of urgency in replacing external flammable panels on similar tower blocks. I heard of the residents of one Tower Block who had appointed a group of volunteers from among the residents who would act as watchmen (or, more accurately, watchpersons). There would always be two people awake and on guard so that if a fire started anywhere in their block they would be able to alert all the residents and supervise a safe evacuation before any lives were lost.

Ezekiel has been appointed by God to a similar watchman role over the exiled people of God. If a watchman on a city wall saw an enemy army approaching and failed to trumpet the alarm, calling the citizens to action, he would have failed in his duty and, says the Lord, would be held accountable for the loss of their lives. A similar and serious weight of responsibility must rest on the shoulders of watchpersons in those towers which have flammable cladding.

Ezekiel bears the serious responsibility of declaring to the Israelites the words of warning which the Lord has spoken to him. He cannot turn a deaf ear to the voice of God or decide that passing it on to the people would only make trouble for himself. He has been appointed as a watchman and must sound the alarm.

But the word that Ezekiel has to pass on is not just a word of judgment. Some of the exiles have listened to the things that Ezekiel has been saying and are aware that their exile is the result of their own sins. This realisation had led to despair; some are saying, "Our offences and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?" (v. 10). Ezekiel is instructed to bring words of hope to them from the Lord, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?" (v. 11).

These wonderful words make me think of Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were muttering against Jesus saying "This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). Jesus told this parable to show them that this is precisely the character of God. The Waiting Father in the parable is more eager to welcome his lost and erring son back home than the son is to return. The Father throws a feast for his sinful son – he welcomes sinners and eats with them. (The elder brother in the story, who refuses to join in the feast, reflects the attitude of the Jewish leaders who would not share fellowship with "sinners".)

Ezekiel is to tell the Exiles that they must stop despairing and come to a right mind. God is more eager to welcome them back home than they are to return. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, any more than the Father in Jesus' parable would have taken pleasure in hearing that his errant son had died of starvation in a far country. God longs for them to return to him; "Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?"

Today's passage concludes with the news that Jerusalem and its temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. All the more reason now to focus on the call to return to God and on the blessings that might yet be experienced by the people of God.

Father God you have spoken to us finally and fully in the Lord Jesus Christ and called us to pass on the message you have given us in him. Help us by your Spirit to tell those who live in despair that the God who created them loves them and longs for them to turn to him and come home.

Peter Misselbrook