Continuing in Ezekiel 33, here’s a specific message to the Israelites. Now that Ezekiel understands his responsibility to share God’s words as a warning to the people of Israel (as Ezekiel serves as a watchman for them), God communicates to Ezekiel more of His message for the people.
“Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” ’ Say to them, ‘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?’
Ezekiel 33:10-11 NIV
Again (having been recorded in the Bible as also happening at other times), the Israelites seem to be complaining. Not only that, but they are complaining about the weight of their own sins – the results of their own choices! It’s kind of like me complaining about gravity when I trip and fall. The way that the world works – both the physical world and the spiritual world – is set, and actions create reactions.
A less compassionate person among us (maybe me) might say that these people were getting what they deserved, but (mercifully for all of us) God is not like that. He does not want wicked people to die. The consequences of wickedness are already determined, and that isn’t going to change. However, God delays punishment, not just to be nice and spare people for a while from what they deserve, but to allow them to repent (or turn away) from their sinful behavior, and turn back to Himself (for whom we were created in the first place).
When thinking about this passage, I tend to think about questions like this:
- What are you waiting for?
- Why keep complaining when the answer to your problems is right in front of you?
- How can you accuse God when He is literally handing you the solution, and going to extra effort to do so (even when you should already know it)?
- Why won’t you just accept God’s help to make things better?
I like how the Lookout put this, though: “Sin does more than break God’s law; it breaks his heart.” My questions (in the list above) generally come from a place of judgment and frustration, perhaps with a dose of condemnation in my heart. God’s heart, however, wants to see fallen people restored to a better life with Himself, and He loves people deeply. When He asks bold questions (like those in the scripture above), He does so from a place of love, knowing that justice must be served and the path back to Him is the only way to keep those consequences from falling – eternally – on us.
Later in this chapter, verses 30-33 are pretty sad descriptions of people who listened to Ezekiel, and talked a good game, but their hearts and actions didn’t reflect what they said (ref. Chrispin, cited below).
I appreciate that even in the warning of judgment within this chapter, though, there are indications of hope (see Ezekiel 33:12-16). As we’ve seen elsewhere in Ezekiel, a warned wicked person who changes to a repentant righteous person can be spared from the penalty of their previous wickedness.
When that doesn’t happen, though, the role of a prophet can include some heartbreak. Not everyone who is warned is saved. Not everyone who is given the truth accepts it and changes their behavior. Think of Jeremiah, for instance. It is any wonder that he is called the “weeping prophet”, given what he went through and saw around him?
Regrettably, the result of prophecy isn’t always saving everyone. When a prophecy is true, those who don’t listen and respond appropriately may still be lost. However, the responsibility of getting the word out is a significant one. If Ezekiel hears the word of God, and doesn’t tell the people for whom the message is intended, he’s guilty of their deaths…apparently even if they weren’t going to repent, anyway, when he told them.
So, if you are (correctly) appalled at sin, and the harm that it is causing to those around you, don’t look at other people as beyond hope. Give them the chance to turn away from their own sin (and escape from harm being done to them by others, where possible), by teaching them the truth about Jesus Christ and showing them love like He did. Not all will listen, but we must at least give them a chance to make the decision.
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.
- Bible Panorama: Enjoying the Whole Bible with a Chapter-by-Chapter Guide, Third Edition, Gerard Chrispin, © 2015, via BibleGateway.com.