A Watchman for the House of Israel (Ezekiel 33:1-20) February 9-10
"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" (Ezekiel 33:7). Some messages in Ezekiel are repeated for emphasis. God had previously assigned Ezekiel to be a watchman—a lookout, sentry or sentinel—for the house of Israel (3:17). Interestingly, that initial assignment came before Ezekiel's first warning message and this one now comes after his final one in time order. What follows chronologically in the book of Ezekiel is a glorious picture of the Promised Land under the reign of Jesus Christ (chapters 40-48). In the first case, God privately commissioned Ezekiel as a watchman. Here the prophet is to explain his role to the people and their responsibility once they have been warned. This is interesting considering that no more warnings were given in the book after this point in time. The point seems to be: "Okay, you've been warned—now it's up to you to follow through." When he arranged his book, Ezekiel placed this passage before the announcement of Jerusalem's fall (33:21-22) and his final warnings to Israel and its leaders (33:23-34:10).
Part of God's standard of fairness is that people should be warned even when those doing the warning don't expect them to necessarily respond and repent. Part of the reason for the warning may be found in 33:33—"And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them." They won't be able to say no one warned them. Though they may have suffered terribly for not responding to the warnings, at least they can still repent after the punishments and ultimately receive God's forgiveness and salvation.
God first explains the basis of the analogy—a watchman watching for an approaching hostile army, "the sword" (verses 2-6). Then in verses 7-9 God applies the imagery to how His watchmen are to relay God's messages that warn people to repent of their sins or else face dire consequences. If God's watchmen—His prophets or His Church—fail to deliver His warning messages of what will befall the nations if they fail to repent, then the watchmen are held largely accountable for the sin and suffering of the people. "His blood I will require at your hand" (verse 8).
The Scriptures make clear that the Church must, until Christ returns, continue to preach the gospel—the good news of the coming Kingdom of God—accompanied by a watchman-type warning message and call to repentance. Plus, the Church must act like a mother to carefully and thoroughly nurture and nourish its members so they can achieve maximum spiritual growth and effectiveness in helping to carry out God's work on earth. Indeed, the elders of God's Church are to "watch" over the spiritual welfare of its members—warning them of outside threats and of sins within (see Acts 20:31; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4), rebuking and correcting as necessary (see 2 Timothy 4:1-5).
Like Ezekiel, the Church of God even has a special responsibility to preach to Israel until Christ returns. As Jesus told His disciples, "You will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes" (Matthew 10:23). Yet the vast majority of the people of the modern nations of Israel do not even know that they are Israelites. Therefore, they don't realize that the prophecies of what is going to befall end-time Israel—such as those in the book of Ezekiel—apply to them. It thus becomes the Church's responsibility, as God enables and empowers it, to inform the Israelites of their identity and point out these prophecies. We have produced a full-color booklet with that very goal in mind—titled The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.
Of course, all nations should be warned of what's coming on the world. Consider that the prophecy Ezekiel relayed immediately before this chapter concerned the judgment coming on Egypt. Still, since the greatest time of trouble ever, which is yet to come, is referred to as the time of Jacob's trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), it should be clear that the nations of Jacob—particularly the chief nations of Jacob—are the lands in greatest need of warning. We should also understand this in terms of the fact that the Israelite nations, having a firmer biblical background than the rest of the world, stand more culpable for disobedience than other nations. And, of course, there is the general principle of "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." Those headed for the greater fall are in need of the louder warning. Indeed, even apart from all that, the vast majority of prophetic warnings in Scripture are given to Israel. So in teaching all Scripture and giving weight to those things the Bible does, proclaiming warnings to Israel is a necessary part of the work of God's Church.
In Ezekiel 33:11, God makes it clear that He has no pleasure in death and punishment. His desire is to see people turn—meaning repent—from their evil ways. It's as if God is saying: "Don't you want to live?! Then do the right thing!"
God then addresses what's fair and what's not—a subject also touched on in a previous chapter (Ezekiel 18). God is not trying to make everything "fair" for human beings in every aspect of this mortal life. Life is often very unfair—we don't choose where we're born, our early influences, what we're taught. And much of what we experience in life is the result of choices made by others. But God is promising to be fair about how our ultimate and eternal fate is determined. Each man's fate largely depends on how he concludes his life, either faithful to God at the end or unfaithful. If a man lives righteously most of his life and rejects God at the end, all his righteous acts go down the drain—they won't save him from losing eternal life. But it is never too late to repent if one is capable of repenting. In other words, a man who has lived an evil life can still sincerely repent toward the end of his life and meet God's conditions for living forever in His Kingdom. Of course, a person is foolish to procrastinate about turning to God, partly because he never knows when his life will suddenly come to an end. Moreover, if we knowingly resist doing what we know is right, we form bad habits that will be difficult to break and damage and sear our consciences so that it becomes increasingly difficult to repent.
The Israelites complain that "the way of the Lord is not fair" (33:17, 20). Yet "in punishing Israel God was being faithful to the covenant stipulations. This covenant had been approved by the Israelites. They had agreed to its commands and accepted the consequences of breaking them, corporately and individually (see 5:8-17; 12:15, 16; 16:60, 61; 18:19-32; 20:5; Ex. 19:1-9; Deut. 27). God presents His rationale in these verses for deciding who would be rewarded with life and who would suffer death: He would save those who repent and turn to Him, but would condemn those who trust in themselves and do evil. After presenting His rationale, God declares that His judgment is just and fair—certainly more just [by any standard] than the practices of the Israelites" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Ezekiel 33:12-20). Ultimately, God is perfectly just and fair.
The most common human approach to fairness is like a balancing scale. All the bad acts are put on one side of the scale and all the good acts on the other side. People think that if there is more weight on the good side, God will usher them into eternal glory. This is why many people live a hypocritical double life. They want to do evil, but they think that as long as they do more good than evil, they will escape God's punishment. Naturally people imagine that their goodness outweighs their sins, which they view as minor. In fact, they think of themselves as basically good even if most of their actions and attitudes are bad. They play deceptive games with other people, and it seems they think they can also play games with God—that they can pacify God or buy Him off with their offerings, charitable acts and show of religiosity. Man's approach to fairness leads to hypocrisy and complacency, whereas God's approach to fairness teaches true heartfelt repentance and spiritual overcoming. Only the latter approach will bring God's blessings and the opportunity for eternal life.