In Ezek 33:1-20, the Lord commissions Ezekiel to be a watchman to the house of Israel. He is to warn them of God’s judgment, in an effort to turn them from wickedness to righteousness. If they turn to righteousness they will live. If they turn to wickedness or remain in their wickedness, they will die in their iniquity. Despite God’s desire to save them, Israel views God’s judgment as inequitable.
The Duty and Responsibility of A Watchman, Ezek 33:1-6
Before the Lord commissions Ezekiel to be a watchman to the house of Israel, he describes the duty and responsibility of a watchman.
To protect themselves from an enemy attack, a nation will set up a watchman, v.2. His duty is to blow the trumpet and warn the people when he sees the sword coming, v.3. For example, Nehemiah had a trumpeter by him when they were building the wall, Neh 4:17-20.
When the watchman blows the trumpet, the people are to take warning, v.4. If a person hears the warning and doesn’t heed it, his blood is upon him, if he’s killed. “He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning”, v.5. Conversely, the person who heeds the warning delivers his soul.
When the watchman doesn’t blow the trumpet, when he sees the sword coming, he is responsible for the death of any person who dies by the sword, v.6. The person dies in his iniquity, because he is guilty, but his blood is required at the watchman’s hand.
Ezekiel’s Duty As A Watchman, Ezek 33:7-11
The Lord sets Ezekiel as a watchman to the house of Israel, v.7. The Lord tells Ezekiel his words, and when he hears them, he is to warn Israel for him.
When the Lord’s word to the wicked is that he shall die, Ezekiel is to warn him, v.8. If Ezekiel fails to warn him, the wicked will die anyway. However, his blood will be required at Ezekiel’s hand. If Ezekiel warns him, and he does not turn, the wicked dies in his iniquity, v.9. However, his blood will not be required at Ezekiel’s hand.
In his first words to Israel, Ezekiel reminds them of the question they have asked, “If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live”, v.10? Their point is, after pining away for our sins, how are we going to live? In other words, there’s no hope. They don’t believe him.
In response to their question, the Lord says that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, v.11. Rather he wants the wicked to turn from his way and live. Therefore, Ezekiel warns them to turn from their evil ways. The Lord pleads with them, “Why will ye die, O house of Israel”?
Ezekiel’s Warning to Israel, Ezek 33:12-16
The Lord’s words to Ezekiel are similar to what we studied in Ezek 18:20-28. When a righteous man turns to wickedness, his righteousness will not deliver him, v.12. Likewise, when a wicked man turns to righteousness, he shall live. He will not fall in the day that he turns from his wickedness.
When God promises life to the righteous, if he then commits iniquity, his righteousness will not be remembered, v.13. He will die for his iniquity. You can see a list of sins he might commit in Ezek 18:10-13, 18.
Likewise, when God tells the wicked that he shall surely die, if he turns from his sin and does right, he will live, v.14-15. Notice his works of righteousness are all lawful as in Ezek 18:5-9. He restores the pledge, Ex 22:26. He gives again what he robbed, Ex 22:1, 4, 7. He walks in the statutes of life, Lev 18:5. God will not mention his sins that he committed. He shall surely live, because he has done that which is lawful and right, v.16.
Israel’s Reaction to Ezekiel’s Warning, Ezek 33:17-20
Israel’s reaction to Ezekiel, the watchman, is the same here as it was in Ezek 18:25, 29. They accuse the Lord, saying, “The way of the Lord is not equal”. And the Lord replies “their way is not equal”, v.17. Equal here means even, uniform, invariable.
Now consider this. The Lord judged Old Testament saints on their righteousness according to the law. If they turned from their righteousness and committed iniquity, regardless whether they had been righteous before, they died thereby, v.18. If, on the other hand, they did that which was lawful and right, regardless whether they had previously been wicked, then they lived thereby, v.19.
They were all judged by the same standard, righteousness according to the law. Therefore, God judged them without respect of persons. He was absolutely impartial in his judgment. The same standard was applied to each person. He judged “each one after his ways”, v.20.
People always have a time with God’s judgment and, thus, they accuse God of wrongdoing. For example, they say, “I don’t see how a loving God could send a man to hell”. Rather than ask that question, they should believe what God said about hell and trust Jesus Christ to keep from going there.
Likewise, Israel had a hard time with God’s judgment. Ultimately, they didn’t want to turn back to the righteousness of the law after Ezekiel warned them of their impending judgment for committing wickedness. They wanted to continue in their wicked ways.
One last comment. In the New Testament, we don’t have to turn back to the righteousness of the law in order to live. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth”, Rom 10:4. For us, our righteousness is God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ when we trust Jesus to save us.