The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (20)

Biblical Research Monthly, January 1947 thru September 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper


      1. Some Preliminary Observations
      2. The Call and Commission of Ezekiel
      3. The Beginnings of Ezekiel's Ministry
      4. The Final Collapse of Judah Under the Babylonian Siege
      5. Jehovah's Withdrawal from the City and it's Downfall
      6. The Flight and Capture of the King Symbolically Represented and Warning Against a Wrong Attitude Concerning Prophecy
      7. Prophecy and Idolatry
      8. Israel, the Burnt Vine and the Unfaithful Wife
      9. The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ
      10. God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”
      11. The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah
      12. Israel's Past and Future Experiences
      13. The Sword of Jehovah
      14. Sinful Jerusalem and Her Punishment
      15. The Lewdness of Oholah and Oholibah
      16. The Boiling Caldron
      17. Oracles Concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia
      18. The Oracle Concerning Tyre
      19. The Oracles Concerning Egypt
      20. The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)
      21. The Untrue Shepherds of Israel
      22. The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd
      23. The Judgment upon Edom
      24. The Curse Removed from the Land of Israel
      25. Israel's Restoration to the Land of the Fathers and Her Conversion
      26. The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
      27. The Scattered Nation of Israel Reunited under King Messiah
      28. The Overthrow of the Russian Forces that Invade Palestine (Chapter 38)
      29. The Overthrow of the Antichrist's Forces Invade Palestine (Chapter 39)
      30. The Millennial Jerusalem
      31. The Millennial Temple
      32. The Prince and the Glorified Millennial Temple
      33. The Land of Israel in the Millennium

The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)

With chapter 33 we begin a new division in the Book of Ezekiel. We have just completed the section dealing with the oracles against the nations found in chapters 24-32. The portion beginning with chapter 33 and ending with chapter 39 deals with Israel's great future in a general way. The last division of the book deals with the land, the city, and the temple under the reign of King Messiah (chapters 40-48).

The Watchman on the Wall

In verses 1 to 7 the prophet delivered the message which the Lord gave him concerning watchmen who would be put upon the wall of a city doing sentry duty. In this oracle the Lord declared that He would hold any man personally responsible who was thus placed on duty if he, upon seeing the approach of the enemy as he invaded the territory, should fail to make the announcement to the people in order that they might escape the horrors of war. In the beginning of this oracle there is an important statement which is:

When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and set him for their watchman; 3 if, when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; 4 then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning, if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.” (Ezekiel 33:2-4)

In this passage the Lord speaks in general terms, concerning any nation. It is He who has charted the course of the various nations. Figuratively speaking, He has a blueprint of the nations on which is indicated the time for the rise of every nation, the extent to which the boundaries may be pushed, and the time for it to disappear. The Apostle Paul in his marvelous speech on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece, in so many words declared these important truths (Acts 17:31). On the point of the Lord's turning over to certain ones the land or country of another people for a given time, a person should read Jeremiah 27:1-11. In this passage the Lord declared, verse 5, that He made the earth and everything therein and the heavens above. Moreover, He declared that He gives it to whomsoever it seems right in His eyes. In the days of Jeremiah He had given all of those countries in Western Asia and Northwestern Africa to Nebuchadnezzar. They were therefore urged to submit to his yoke without resistance. Should they be obedient to this divine message, all would be well with them; on the other hand, if they failed to accept the divine will, they would suffer the consequences in sorrows and distress. God still controls the movements of the nations and determines the bounds of their habitations, as well as the seasons during which they have an existence.

The Lord declared that, when He by His overruling providence brings one nation against another and the people of the land that is being invaded puts a watchman upon the wall to do sentry duty, if that man fails to give the alarm — fails to perform his duty to his fellow countrymen — the Lord will hold that man personally responsible. If, on the other hand, when he sees the enemy coming, he gives the alarm and allows the people the opportunity of making their escape, the sentry is not held responsible. During times of warfare in any country God holds these watchmen responsible. When they perform their duty and the people, who are depending upon them, have an opportunity to act, then they, the populace, bear their own responsibility. This language means exactly what it says.

But God has spiritual sentinels whom He places on guard duty to give warning to the people. Ezekiel was taken in the deputation of captives who went to Babylon with Jehoiachin. He was located with them in their captivity. He was sent along by the Lord to be their sentinel, and to deliver the Word of God to them. He had a special appointment, a definite assignment. God told Him that He would require the blood of the people at his, Ezekiel's, hands if he failed to deliver His message to them. Note the language which is most specific: “So thou, son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me” (vs. 7). Ezekiel had quite a good sized congregation, but one that was not too large for him to minister to personally. The Lord therefore called him, gave him a definite commission, delivered His word to him on various occasions, and held him personally responsible for delivering those messages.

Does God call people and assign to them a definite commission today as He did to Ezekiel? If He does, He will hold such ones responsible for delivering His word. There can be doubt that God does impress upon the heart of His faithful servants His plan for them — for instance, to go to a certain mission field. That specific work is laid upon the heart of the given individual whom God calls. If such a person does not go, then he is disobedient and will be out of the will of God. Of course, he will lose untold blessings in this life and will not have the rich reward in eternity that he would have, had he been obedient to God's call.

On the other hand, when the Lord calls one, for instance, to China, He does not specify a certain number of people to whom he is to minister the Word and hold him responsible unless he gives out the message to everyone of those living in that section. If such an arrangement were made today, the missionary would never have any joy, satisfaction, or peace unless he was confident that he had given the Word to every individual in the given territory. Of course, the one who hears the call and obeys must be faithful, being conscientious with himself and with his God and doing all he can for the glory of God. He must be faithful in the study of the Word, in prayer for guidance, and in delivering the message to the people. In a general way therefore I would say that the person, being on the field to which God has called him, will have the smile and approval of the Lord.

On the other hand, Ezekiel was warned that, when the Lord spoke to him concerning certain wicked ones, who would die in their iniquity, the Lord would hold him personally responsible for delivering the message of truth to such individuals. But let us always bear in mind that the Lord spoke to Ezekiel personally and pointed out the ones to whom he should go and put in his mouth the message that he was to deliver. In giving him the message, He inspired him infallibly by the Spirit of God. The Lord does not deal that way with His servants today since we have the written Word. It is true that God does impress the heart of the yielded one with the importance of delivering a message to a community and sometimes to special individuals with whom they are in close contact. Let each of us who are called into the service of the Lord, whether it be on the home field or in foreign lands, deliver our message faithfully in the Spirit of God.

The Announcement of the Watchman

In verses 10 to 16 the message which the prophet was to give to certain people is given very specifically. The exiles among whom Ezekiel lived, and to whom he was to minister the Word, had become more or less cynical and yielded themselves up to a dead fatalism. They therefore were saying, “Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then can we live?” (vs. 10). It is true that they were transgressors and sinners, and that they were pining away in their wrongs.

To correct this error the Lord commissioned the prophet to tell the people that He had no delight in the death of the wicked, but that, if the wicked man turned from his ways, he should live. This statement was followed by a passionate appeal to the house of Israel to turn from their wickedness and to live with God's blessings resting upon them. Of course, the living of which he was speaking was in this life. He was not talking about eternal life specifically. If the righteous man should be living a consistent life when the calamity of judgment came upon the community, he would be preserved through it, would survive, and live to the normal age of that period of time. On the other hand, if he, after having lived a good and true, upright, honorable life, ceased to do so and turned to wickedness, then his life would be shortened, and he would be overtaken by some calamity. On the other hand, if the man who was living in wickedness and sin forsook his wrongdoings and turned to live an honorable and upright life; then, when some calamity would come upon the community, this one was promised to escape the calamity and to survive the ordeal. Thus the promises contained in the message of the prophet were based upon the good conduct and the upright actions of the individual. Since men are not saved spiritually and prepared for immortal glory by their good works, we know that this living could not be living spiritually unto eternal life. The Scriptures are abundantly clear on the proposition that men are saved by the grace of God through faith. We therefore know that the promises of life involved in these verses pertain to the natural physical life here.

Notwithstanding the clear, straightforward statement that the Lord made concerning the way in which He deals with people upon the basis of the merit of their cases, there were those, according to verses 18-20, who were saying that the Lord's ways were not equal. In reply to them the Lord asserted that their ways were not equal, but that His were righteous and just and equal. The prophet closed his discussion on this point by saying, “Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. 0 house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways” (vs. 20).

In verses 21 and 22 we learn that one who escaped the tragedies of the fall of Jerusalem reached Babylon in the twelfth year of Ezekiel's captivity, in the tenth month, and in the fifth day of the month. On that day the messenger reported the fall of Jerusalem. In this connection let us remember that the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the year of the fall of Jerusalem, was the twelfth year of Jehoiachin's captivity. The city fell in the fifth month of that year. In the tenth month — five months later — the escaped fugitive arrived in the community of captives over in Babylon and reported the disaster that had overtaken the mother city. It took him practically five months to reach Babylon traveling doubtless on foot as was most likely. When Ezra led the captives who accompanied him back to Jerusalem, he left Babylon on the first day of the first month of the seventh year of Artaxerxes and arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month of the same year. Thus it took four months for Ezra and his company to travel from the place they resided in Babylon to Jerusalem.

The mention of this historical fact in the midst of the oracle constituting chapter 33 probably is indicative of the fact that this prophecy was given on the day mentioned in verse 21 of that year.

In the following paragraph, consisting of verses 23-29, the prophet was instructed to speak to the people and to correct the error that was being held by certain of those people who lived in the scattered ruins of Palestine after the two awful wars that had been waged by the Babylonians when Nebuchadnezzar came in the third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah and then eight years later in the day of Jehoiachin. Of course, the war left its terrible toll and scars upon the land. There were those who were living in caves and among the ruins of the desolated territory. They might be termed “the die-hards.” These people had faith, a blind faith, and refused to see the situation as it was. They took the position that, when Abraham was one, God made promise to him that he should be heir of the land. They therefore considered that they were many, many in contrast to Abraham, a single individual. They therefore said that certainly, since they were far more in number that he, they should inherit the land.

When they took this position, they did not take into account that sin and idolatry are terrible abominations that will alter facts and that will hinder the fulfillment of the promises of the Lord. In verses 25 and 26 the prophet calls their attention to flagrant sins of which these people were guilty.

Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes unto your idols, and shed blood: and shall ye possess the land? 26 Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination and ye defile every one his neighbors wife: and shall ye possess the land?”

Since they were indulging in those sinful practices, the Lord declared that they would not under any conditions inherit the land, but that the sword should take its terrific toll of them.

In the final paragraph of this chapter, verses 30-33, we learn that the people among whom Ezekiel ministered came frequently to him and delighted to hear him deliver messages from God. According to verse 30 in private conversations at home and in public places the people would say one to the other, “Come, I pray you, hear what is the word that cometh forth from Jehovah.” Concerning them, the Lord declared that they would come before Him and would sit and listen to His words, but that they would not do them. With their mouths they would show much love, but with their hearts they went after their gain. These people enjoyed hearing the oracles of God and the preaching of the Word. They looked upon the messages of the prophets as a lovely song, a pleasant voice, and as one that could play well on an instrument. In other words, they went to hear the prophet speak the words of God purely for intellectual satisfaction and pleasure. They, however, did not have any intention of doing the will of God. This passage reminds one of Isaiah 58 in which the prophet spoke of the people's coming and delighting to hear the Word of God, and then going back to their businesses and their professions, taking advantage of others, and actually engaging in sin and evil practices. The Word of God is a serious matter. People must consider it as such and act accordingly. It is for the Lord's minister to speak faithfully the Word of God; it is for the people to listen with open hearts, to receive, and to obey.

Next: The Untrue Shepherds of Israel