Having set the stage in Ezekiel 33:1 for a message from God to the prophet Ezekiel, let’s continue with the start of that message:
“Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’
Ezekiel 33:2-6 NIV
If I were to try and sum up the key points of this passage (without taking away from the fact that God chose to be more detailed), I might say two things:
- It is the responsibility of the watchman to warn the people of danger when he sees it.
- If the watchman doesn’t do his job, he shares the guilt for the harm done to the people.
However, there are several conditions for the watchman to bear the guilt of people dying – literally – on his watch:
- The watchman must be appointed. If someone is going about their business, and wasn’t called to be a watchman [or watchwoman, perhaps?], it’s not their job to stand up on the wall and keep an eye out. They aren’t guilty of not warning the people if an incoming army shows up and they end up being just as surprised as everyone else.
- The watchman must see the danger. If an attacking army sneaks in quietly by night, or through a thick fog (maybe not a problem in ancient Israel, but definitely an occasional problem where I live), and the watchman has no way to observe them (despite his best efforts), he isn’t guilty for not warning the people in the city.
- The watchman must warn the people. It’s not enough to see the problem, and know that danger is coming. In fact, it’s not acceptable to see an army that is so strong that it is going to almost certainly overpower the city, and say, “Well, warning the people won’t do any good, since they’re clearly going to lose this battle, so I’ll just sit this one out. I may as well give them a few more minutes of bliss before the inevitable strikes.” No, the watchman’s job is to warn the people, even if he thinks that they will lose the battle (or that some will not survive).
- The watchman must be clear in the warning. An NASB footnote indicates that the horn being blown here is the “shofar”, a ram’s horn that we may recognize from elsewhere in the Bible or Jewish culture. This isn’t just an e-mail that might get lost in the recipient’s spam folder, or maybe a posting on a wall that might get ignored. This is a loud warning, which would get the attention of those in the city – and maybe even wake up those who were sleeping.
By comparison, one morning (when first putting together the lesson upon which this series of articles is based), I heard some thunder through closed windows. Upon checking the weather map, the lightning strikes were 8-10 miles away, in a town well to the south of my house, but I could still hear them. In the same way, I expect that the warning of the shofar was pretty obvious to everyone throughout the city.
Whether you feel like you are a watchman or you are being warned about imminent danger, I think that some of the lessons from this scripture are probably starting to take shape in your mind without any commentary from me. Or, maybe you think that things are just fine, and you aren’t responsible for warning people or heeding a warning. In any case, let’s continue a little longer on this passage in the next article before we get to Ezekiel’s specific assignment.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for September 4, 2022
- The Lookout, September 4, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.