Watchmen, ‘warn them for Me’

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“‘As I live,’ swears Adonai ELOHIM, ‘I take no pleasure in having the wicked person die, but in having the wicked person turn from his way and live. So repent! Turn from your evil ways! For why should you die…” (Ezekiel 33:11 CJB)

It’s very easy to say “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Many focus on “loved” and “gave” and “eternal life.” Those are good things, however their value is minimized outside the context of “perish.”

The rest of the passage continues:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:17-18 NIV, emphasis added)

That’s heavy. The whole context is more than implying that all are condemned and perishing. Why? Verse 19 says “people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

What is evil? If the greatest commandments are loving God and loving our neighbors, then evil is not loving God  (idolatry, denial) and not loving our neighbors (gossip, adultery, stealing, murder, etc.).

The gift of love and eternal life can only be received when we acknowledge that we do evil and vow to turn (repent) from that evil behavior (as well as believe that Jesus’ death substituted our own.)

The responsibility of warning

Someone blows a shofar as the sunrises over Jerusalem.
Someone blows a shofar as the sun rises over Jerusalem.

Ezekiel is a hard book. Not only does it contain perhaps the most undecipherable visions of heaven, it is filled with heavy words of judgment for Israel and the surrounding nations.

These prophetic judgments are hard to read, so can you imaging the burden of receiving and proclaiming these messages?

And so, in Ezekiel 33, the LORD reminds Ezekiel (and the people) of the heavy consequences for both withholding and ignoring these messages of warning.

The passage begins with a real world example:

The word of ADONAI came to me: “Human being, speak to your people; say to them, ‘Suppose I bring the sword on a country, and the people of that country take one of their men and appoint him their watchman. Now if, upon seeing the sword coming against that country, he blows the shofar and warns the people; then, if the sword comes and takes away someone who heard the sound of the shofar but paid no attention to it, the responsibility for that person’s death will be his own — he heard the shofar but paid no attention, so the responsibility for his death is his own; whereas if he had paid attention, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the shofar, so that the people are not warned; and then the sword comes and takes any one of them, that one is indeed taken away in his guilt, but I will hold the watchman responsible for his death.’” (Ezekiel 33:1-6 CJB)

Those with any military background will immediately understand this. The watchman (or perimeter guard, to modernize) is to sound an alarm if he sees an attack coming. If the alarm is not sounded, the guard is guilty of any deaths or captures. If people ignore the alarm, they themselves are guilty of their own demise.

God then reminds Ezekiel that he is a God-appointed watchman for the nation of Israel, responsible to warn them of coming judgments.

“Therefore, when you hear the word from my mouth, warn them for me. When I tell the wicked person, ‘Wicked person, you will certainly die’; and you fail to speak and warn the wicked person to leave his way; then that wicked person will die guilty; and I will hold you responsible for his death. On the other hand, if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he doesn’t turn from his way; then he will still die guilty, but you will have saved your own life.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9 CJB).

Proclaiming God’s whole truth is hard. It will provoke no different reactions than the prophets of old endured: ridicule, mocking, loss of position, imprisonment, loss of family, loss of possessions, loss of security and maybe loss of life.

For mercy’s sake

Sometimes we forget why we feel compelled to warn. We become judgmental in spirit. So God reminds Ezekiel and the people why so many harsh words.

“‘As I live,’ swears Adonai ELOHIM, ‘I take no pleasure in having the wicked person die, but in having the wicked person turn from his way and live. So repent! Turn from your evil ways! For why should you die…” (Ezekiel 33:11 CJB)

God’s desire is for all people to live, to turn from the evil that condemns them and live. Even Jonah understood this. It is why he wouldn’t go to Ninevah. He knew God would extend mercy to those who repented. Jonah was bitter about Ninevah’s brutal ways and wanted them punished. God wanted to let them live. So he sent them a warning, which that generation heeded.

God extended mercy to Jonah, too. Jonah was a watchman refusing to sound the alarm. He should have perished. Three days stewing inside a whale changed his mind (though he was still so bitter he could not rejoice in Ninevah’s salvation.)

It is hard to proclaim God’s whole truth about our sinfulness and His path for redemption. Still, it is our duty and it should be out of love and concern.

I do believe time is running short. The final warnings are coming. We must sound the alarm, for their sakes and ours.

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