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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 33

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


PART III (Ezekiel 33-39)

(Note: All of these titles have been proposed by various authors for this third section of Ezekiel).

“The destruction of the old sinful Israel was not the end of God’s dealings with his people. The old order would be followed by a new and perfect kingdom. The destruction of the sinful foreign nations would prepare the way for this. The exiles would be returned to Palestine; and a new kingdom would be set up under totally new conditions of worship and fellowship with God. The remainder of Ezekiel falls into two parts: (1) the first deals with the restoration from captivity (Ezekiel 33-39), and (2) the second deals with the new arrangement and laws of the future kingdom (Ezekiel 40-48).(F1)


It was a discouraging situation that confronted Ezekiel. Israel was not yet a united entity.

(1) There was the arrogant and conceited remnant that remained in Judea, the few left behind by the Babylonians, the few groups of stragglers rounded up by Gedaliah, and a few that had escaped and were in hiding in the remote caves and inaccessible places on the road down to Jericho.

The immoral character and the conceited self-assurance of this group made it absolutely impossible for God to find a place for them in his eternal purpose. They were claiming, that since they were “the seed of Abraham,” then they were the heirs of Palestine and all the other blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. This, of course, was the old conceit of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who claimed to be the “seed of Abraham,” but were actually the children of the devil (John 8:44). Ezekiel would deal with both this group and the second one in this chapter.

(2) This group were those who indeed recognized the sin and apostasy of the nation and the justice of God’s punishment sent upon them, resulting in a depression and discouragement that raised the question among them, “How can we live (v. 10)?”

Before proceeding to deal with these two groups, Ezekiel would turn the thoughts of the people away from their conception that God was going to bless Israel as a nation, to the truth that God’s blessings, all of them, were reserved to individuals who were committed and faithful to God’s Word. It is still a very hurtful and prevalent error in the world that God, some way or other, is going to bless Israel, as a nation. We have never been able to find a single word in the whole Bible that supports such an error. On the contrary, the great Apostle to the Gentiles laid that old error to rest forever in his words of 2 Corinthians 5:10, “That each one may receive the things done in the body.”

From this it is easy to see that the first twenty verses here constitute an introduction to this whole final section of Ezekiel.(F2)

For that reason, the date of the chapter will not appear until Ezekiel 33:21.

Verses 1-6


“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, Speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, 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; if, when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; 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. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him; whereas if he had taken warning, he would have delivered his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned, and the sword come, and take any person from among them; he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.”

Individual responsibility is the blunt message here. Even if the watchman does not warn, that cannot excuse the victim. However, there is something else here; and that is the double responsibility of the watchman. Ezekiel indeed had been a faithful watchman to warn God’s people. This was by no means a new principle. Ezekiel had devoted the whole 18th chapter of this prophecy to the same subject. However, there the teaching was stressed to show that the children of Israel were not being punished for their fathers’ sin, but for their own. Here the purpose of showing Ezekiel’s generation of the exiles that it made no difference at all what “all Israel” had done in the past, the important thing turned upon the question of what each individual was doing.

“In these verses, Ezekiel compares himself to an ordinary watchman, to show that it is his duty in that current crisis to care for and warn individual souls.”(F3) As Bunn noted, “All prophets (and also New Testament teachers) stand in double jeopardy, because they are responsible both to God and to man.”(F4)

Verses 7-9

“So thou, son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore hear the word of my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die, and thou dost not speak to warn the wicked man from his way; the wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way, to turn from it, and he turn not from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul.”

This paragraph merely spells out the application suggested in the previous seven verses.

Verses 10-16

“And thou, son of man, say unto the house of Israel: Thus ye speak, saying, Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then can we live? Say unto them, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? And thou, son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall he that is righteous be able to live thereby in the day that he sinneth. When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live; if he trust to his righteousness, and commit iniquity, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in his iniquity that he hath committed, therein shall he die. Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; if the wicked restore the pledge, give again that which he hath taken by robbery, walk in the statutes of life, committing no iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be remembered against him; he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.”


“How then can we live” The blunt and effective answer to this question rising in the hearts of the discouraged captives is given in the very next verse. Repent and live; why will ye die?

“Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways” In order to encourage such repentance upon the part of the captives, Ezekiel assured the people that God had no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he rejoiced in the turning of the wicked from their evil ways.

“If the righteous commit iniquity… if the wicked turn and do right” The principle enunciated here stresses what a man is at the present time, not what he had been in the past. Here was a glorious challenge for the captives to renounce and turn away from the wickedness that had resulted in their terrible punishment and to turn to God with their whole heart. Bunn summarized this thus: “God condemns the righteous when he sins, and forgives the sinful when he repents.”(F5) Thus, the two things Ezekiel stressed here are (1) the grace of God (Ezekiel 33:11), and (2) the importance of one’s present state, rather than his past record.(F6)

God had at this point in the chapter dealt effectively with the problem of the discouragement of the captives, mentioned above in the introduction to the chapter. It yet remained for him to address those conceited self-styled “sons of Abraham” in Judea. That will be taken care of in Ezekiel 33:23 ff.

Evil men try to justify themselves and find it easy to criticize and find fault with the just judgments of the Lord.

The problem resident in that human error was next addressed,

Verses 17-20

“Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal. When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die therein. And when the wicked turneth from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby. Yet ye say the way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.”

As some have noted, even in the times of Christ, the Pharisees had a procedure for keeping tabs on their wicked deeds and their righteous deeds; and as long as their good deeds outnumbered their wicked deeds, they claimed a balance in their favor. It was upon this kind of reckoning that they considered that a righteous man could indeed do certain wicked things and not suffer the consequences. The Lord put an end to that delusion right here. One’s wickedness would destroy him, no matter what his past record had been!

Verses 21-22

“And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month, that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came to me, saying, The city is smitten. Now the hand of Jehovah had been upon me in the evening, before he that was escaped came; and he had opened my month, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.”


“The twelfth year, tenth month, fifth day” Brace, following the Septuagint (LXX) and Syriac versions, changed this to “the eleventh year,” giving a date of January 19,586 B.C.(F7) The date from the the Hebrew text of the Old Testament is January 8, 585 B.C. Keil pointed out that the reason for some scholars favoring that date about a year earlier is lodged in the fact that this news of the fall of the city came to Ezekiel about eighteen months after the event, a time lapse some consider to be too long. However, Keil favored the Hebrew text of the Old Testament reading, pointing out that, “The distance between Jerusalem and Babylon, along with the fearful confusion that followed the catastrophe would easily have allowed eighteen months to pass before Ezekiel got the word.”(F8)

Keil also defended the later date against the allegation of some scholars that Ezekiel himself contradicted himself by declaring in Ezekiel 26:1-2 that he received intelligence of the fall of the city in the eleventh year, not in the twelfth. Keil wrote: “Such an interpretation is founded upon a misinterpretation of the passage quoted. It is not stated in Ezekiel 26:1-2 that Ezekiel received his information from a fugitive, or from any man whatever, but simply that God revealed it to him.”(F9)

“He opened my mouth… I was no longer dumb” This indicates that the prophecies against the foreign nations (Ezekiel 29-32) were transmitted in writing and were not really spoken.

Verses 23-29

“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, they that inhabit those waste places in the land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one, and he inherited the land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance. Wherefore say unto them, 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? Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abominations, and ye defile every one his neighbor’s wife; and shall ye possess the land? Thus shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: As I live, surely they that are in the waste places shall fall by the sword; and him that is in the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured; and they that are in the strongholds and caves shall die of the pestilence. And I will make the land a desolation and an astonishment; and the pride of her power shall cease; and the mountains of Israel shall be desolate, so that none shall pass through. Then shall they know that I am Jehovah, when I have made the land a desolation and an astonishment, because of all their abominations which they have committed.”


The necessity for God’s destruction of that arrogant remnant yet in Palestine was lodged in their influence upon the captives in Babylon. The group in Judea claimed Palestine and all of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant as theirs by right of inheritance. They were “the seed of Abraham!” The problem was that they had not learned one thing from all the punishment God had brought upon Israel. They were still idolaters, adulterers, blood=eaters, murderers, and truly the sons of the devil in the same manner as their successors (the Pharisees) were so designated by Jesus. Would they inherit the land? No way! was the word God had for them.

As Skinner said, “That remnant in Judea afford one more instance of the boundless capacity of the Jewish race for religious self-delusion, and their no less remarkable insensibility to that in which the essence of religion lay.”(F10)

The delusion of the fragment of Israel left in Palestine after the fall of the city of Jerusalem was due to their misunderstanding of the Mosaic covenant. If they had ever read the Book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 28) Moses had told them categorically that, if they did not obey all the commandments of the Mosaic covenant, that God would pluck them off the land I (Deuteronomy 28:63).

Moreover Ezekiel here cited a whole catalogue of their violations of the sacred covenant. How could they, for a moment, dare to believe that they were indeed the true heirs of God’s promise to Abraham?

God’s verdict was no! The judgments of the Mosaic covenant (Deut. 27:28; 29:25-29, etc.) were at that very time being executed against Israel. Those left in Judea would die by the sword, by disease, or fall prey to wild animals (v. 27). Their arrogant pride would cease (v. 28). The land would become a desolation (vv. 27,28). Most importantly of all, God’s purpose for judgment upon his people would be accomplished; they would come to know that he was their God when these judgments were executed (29).(F11)

In addition to the sword, pestilence, and wild beast assault upon the conceited Judean remnant, “There would also be another deportation of some of them into Babylonian captivity in 583/82.”(F12)

Regarding the arrangement of this chapter, it is evident that verses 23ff were addressed to the prophet after the fugitive arrived with the news of the fall of the city; but verses 1-20 preceded that event, serving as the renewal of his prophetic commission to Israel, and also resulting in the cessation of the prophet’s dumbness. That, of course, is the reason why the date appears where it does in v. 21.

Abraham was one, and he inherited the land” There was nothing wrong with this argument, except the false notion that the wicked remnant in Judea entertained regarding themselves, namely that they were Abraham’s seed, when as a matter of fact, they were not sons of Abraham at all, but sons of the devil.

The complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises is accomplished in the New Israel who have inherited all things through Jesus Christ, not a literal Palestine, of course, but “the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 3:2).

“Ye stand upon your sword” “This means that they followed the doctrine that `might makes right.’ Assassinations were one of the instruments of their policy (Jeremiah 41).”(F13)

“Ye work abominations” “The word here is used in a feminine construction, indicating not merely the open idolatry practiced in Judea, but also the orgiastic rites that accompanied it.”(F14)

Verses 30-31

“And as for thee, son of man, the children of thy people talk of thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, everyone to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh from Jehovah. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but do them not; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their gain.”


“They sit before thee as my people” This means that they sat before Ezekiel pretending to be God’s people, whereas they had no intention whatever of obeying the Lord’s commandments. “Their motive was simply that of curiosity, or entertainment, certainly not reformation of their evil hearts.”(F15) With some of them there might also have been the hope that God would confirm the things they already desired to do. Such indeed may be seen in the example of Johanan’s seeking the word of Jehovah of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 42-43).

We should not overlook the fact that, “These verses carry a vivid picture of Ezekiel’s popularity at that time. His prophecies had been literally and circumstantially fulfilled in all of the things he had foretold.”(F16) In a sense, he was the literal lion of that social community among the captives. God, knowing the fickle insincerity of the people gave this stern warning to Ezekiel that he might really know what could be expected of them.

“With their mouth they show much love” “The Septuagint (LXX) reads this as, `Lies are in their mouth.’“(F17) The Septuagint (LXX) here may be poor translation, but it is excellent commentary.

“Their heart goeth after their gain” “The Hebrew word here carries the implication of gain through violence or dishonesty.”(F18) There also appears to be grounds in these verses for supposing that the captivity of Israel in Babylon was not as rigorous as it might have been. Apparently the Jews possessed many opportunities to exercise themselves in the pursuit of gain.

Verses 32-33

“And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not. And when this cometh to pass (behold, it cometh); then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.”

The indication here is that not even the captives believed Ezekiel’s prophecy of the total destruction of that conceited Judean remnant. The words in parenthesis here, “behold it cometh” mean that what the prophet had spoken with regard to that bold and arrogant group in Palestine would surely come to pass, just like all of the other things that Ezekiel had prophesied.

The warning in this for Ezekiel, according to Keil was that, “Ezekiel should not be prevented by the improper use of his words from preaching the whole truth to the people.”(F19) In time, all of the captives would learn the truth.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ezekiel-33.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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