After receiving his role as a watchman, Ezekiel is given a message from God (to deliver to Israelite people) in Ezekiel 33. Despite some severe warnings, though, there is hope for escape once the watchman has sounded a warning.
And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.
Ezekiel 33:14-16 NIV
In an ancient Israelite city, if a citizen heard the warning from a watchman’s shofar (a certain call sounded on a ram’s horn) about an approaching army, and they got out of the city fast enough, they could escape the destruction that awaits those who ignored that same warning. In the same way, for Israelites being addressed in Ezekiel 33 who are suffering under the weight of their wickedness, if they will turn things around – if they will repent and turn back from their sin – they can live. In fact, verse 16 says that a person like this who chooses righteousness “…will surely live.”
A good warning is not an acknowledgement of defeat. Matthew Henry wrote, “Note, It is very common for those that have been hardened with presumption when they were warned against sin to sink into despair when they are called to repent, and to conclude there is no hope of life for them.”. Or, in my 21st-century English paraphrase, “When people are warned about impending judgment, they sometimes give up hope, rather than taking action based on that warning to avoid the negative consequences of their past choices.”
In reality, though, this warning (in Ezekiel) is an opportunity to escape and be saved. It is available for those who don’t just hear the warning, but also heed the warning and do something about it. Just like He did in centuries past, God continues to give us warnings while there is still time to fix things and avoid the consequences.
As a result, explanations about God to people who don’t know Jesus can’t only be about sin’s eternal consequences. Those are real, and they are part of the message, but without salvation through Jesus Christ, that abbreviated message becomes truth without hope. When we understand (for ourselves) and communicate to others the depth of God’s grace, we find that He has taken extraordinary steps to give us a path back to Himself, to have our sins forgiven and to return to the righteousness that we were made for.
To quote Matthew Henry again, “When God says to the wicked man, Thou shalt surely die, die eternally, it is to frighten him, not out of his wits, but out of his sins.” [italics in original]
There is also a warning in this chapter (Ezekiel 33:12-13) for those who think that they are “good to go” – maybe thinking that they’ve demonstrated enough righteousness for one lifetime, and that they can not only coast to the finish line, but also make up for lost time (so to speak) by sinning a whole lot.
We can appreciate that the Holy Spirit seals our salvation, so a mistake or sin for the Christian shouldn’t cause us to worry. However, even followers of Jesus, saved by grace, are expected to continue on a path that pleases God and stays close to Him, not just “get saved and do what we want”.
Just like the warning for those who are trapped in wickedness, though, this message to the righteous who might choose to walk away from God is not given as a message of despair or permanent condemnation, but as an opportunity or reminder to remain on the right path.
So, if you are feeling convicted with a warning from God, please do not give up. His warnings, combined with His gracious outreach to us, give us opportunities to change bad outcomes before they arrive. And, if you are sharing the truth about God with someone, don’t stop at the warning about the consequences of sin (and don’t let the other person stop there, either). Be sure to share the good news that comes with that warning, too!
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.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.
- Asbury Bible Commentary. Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation, via BibleGateway.com.
- Bible Panorama: Enjoying the Whole Bible with a Chapter-by-Chapter Guide, Third Edition, Gerard Chrispin, © 2015, via BibleGateway.com.
- Theology of Work Bible Commentary, via BibleGateway.com.