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IV. FUTURE BLESSINGS FOR ISRAEL CHS. 33-48
"This last major division of the book focuses on the restoration of Israel’s blessing. Israel would be judged for her sin (chaps. 1-24), as would the surrounding nations (chaps. 25-32). But Israel will not remain under judgment forever. God had set her apart as His special people, and He will fulfill His promises to her." [Note: Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1293.]
"Chapters 33-39 comprise words of restoration and hope, and chaps. 40-48 present details of the restored community." [Note: Cooper, p. 292.]
"Some students prefer to interpret Ezekiel 33-48 idealistically or symbolically, applying these descriptions ’spiritually’ to the church today rather than literally to Israel in the future. But if we’ve been interpreting Ezekiel’s prophetic word literally up to this point, what right do we have to change our approach and start interpreting his words symbolically? . . . We must face the fact that both approaches-the symbolical and the literal-present problems to the interpreter, but taking Ezekiel’s prophecies at face value seems to present fewer problems. Furthermore, seeing literal fulfillment of these prophecies accomplishes the purpose for which God gave them, the encouragement of the people of Israel." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 222.]
The Lord told Ezekiel to speak to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. He had not spoken messages concerning them for about three years (588-585 B.C.), since the Lord had shut his mouth (Ezekiel 24:25-27), though he had uttered five oracles against the nations during that time (Ezekiel 29:1-16; Ezekiel 30:20 to Ezekiel 32:32). He was now to tell them that if the Lord brought war on a land and the people of that land appointed a watchman for them, they would be responsible if they did not heed his warning.
Watchmen stood on the towers of walls in ancient cities and scanned the horizon for approaching enemies. If they saw one coming, they would blow their trumpet, usually a shophar (ram’s horn), to warn the people who were farming the lands to take refuge in the city. The figure of blood being on one’s head comes from sacrificial practice. The offerer placed his hands on the head of the victim symbolizing the transfer of guilt from the offerer to his substitute.
1. An exhortation to heed the watchman 33:1-9
This part of Ezekiel’s message of warning to the exiles is similar to Ezekiel 3:16-21. Yahweh re-commissioned Ezekiel to his prophetic task (cf. chs. 2-3).
"Now that Ezekiel’s original ministry of judgment was completed, God appointed him as a ’watchman’ for a second time. His message still stressed individual accountability and responsibility, but the focus was now on the Lord’s restoration of Israel." [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 688.]
A. A warning to the exiles 33:1-20
Since this message is undated, it may have come to Ezekiel about the same time as the previous two in chapter 32, namely, in the last month of 585 B.C. If so, Ezekiel received it about two months after God gave him the six messages recorded in Ezekiel 33:21 to Ezekiel 39:29 (cf. Ezekiel 33:21). Perhaps the writer inserted the present message in the text here because its strong encouragement to repent was more typical of Ezekiel’s emphasis before news of Jerusalem’s fall reached the exiles (Ezekiel 33:21) than it was of his emphasis after they received that news. When the exiles learned that Jerusalem had fallen, Ezekiel’s messages changed. Before then he announced judgment on Judah and Jerusalem (chs. 4-24) and proclaimed several messages of judgment on the nations that opposed Israel (chs. 25-32). After that event his messages were more encouragements that God would restore Israel to her land (chs. 33-48).
There are only two dated prophecies after the fall of Jerusalem: Ezekiel 33:21 and Ezekiel 40:1. These texts introduce all the messages from Ezekiel 33:21 to Ezekiel 48:35, the end of the book. The message in Ezekiel 33:23-33 is an exception; it is a strong call to the Israelites to repent and to recommit to obeying the Mosaic Law. Alexander considered the message in Ezekiel 33:1-20 as the conclusion to the section of oracles against the nations (chs. 25-32). [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 904.] Most commentators viewed this message as an introduction to the messages promising future blessings for Israel (chs. 33-48). Obviously it serves a transitional (janus) function in the book and looks both ways, backward and forward.
The citizen would be responsible for his own death if he failed to heed the warning of the watchman. If he responded to the warning, he could save his life. But if the watchman failed to warn the people, he would be responsible for their deaths.
God reminded Ezekiel that He had appointed him a watchman for the Israelites (cf. Ezekiel 3:17-21; Isaiah 21:6-9; Jeremiah 6:17). He was responsible to deliver the Lord’s messages to His people. If Ezekiel failed to warn the people that they would die for their sins, God would hold him responsible for their deaths (cf. Genesis 4:9; Genesis 9:5). But if Ezekiel warned the sinners of the consequences of their iniquity and they disregarded his warning, they would die, but God would hold them, not Ezekiel, responsible (cf. Acts 20:26). Ezekiel had carried out his commission faithfully. Chapters 4-24 of this book contain the warnings that he delivered concerning the judgment that God intended to send on Judah and Jerusalem for the people’s sins.
"Warning others of the consequences of judgment inherent in sin is never a popular assignment. Believers have a duty to be ’watchmen’ who warn those who are in the world and are without God of the destructive nature of sin and its final irrevocable result-death and hell (Ezekiel 33:1-33). Our responsibility is to warn and proclaim as persuasively as possible, but how the message is received is beyond our control." [Note: Cooper, p. 294. Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Timothy 5:22; 1 Peter 4:17 to 1 Peter 5:2.]
The Israelites seem to have taken on more personal responsibility for their sufferings than they had earlier (cf. ch. 18). They wondered how they could survive God’s judgments. This is the first indication in the book that they were conscious of their own sins. The Lord affirmed again that He took no pleasure in putting people to death for their sins (cf. Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 18:32). He much preferred for them to turn from their sin and live (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). He also appealed again to the people to do just that: to repent of their wicked ways and live (cf. Ezekiel 18:30-31).
"We must correctly distinguish regret, remorse, and true repentance. Regret is an activity of the mind; whenever we remember what we’ve done, we ask ourselves, ’Why did I do that?’ Remorse includes both the heart and the mind, and we feel disgust and pain, but we don’t change our ways. But true repentance includes the mind, the heart, and the will. We change our mind about our sins and agree with what God says about them; we abhor ourselves because of what we have done; and we deliberately turn from our sin and turn to the Lord for His mercy.
"When Peter remembered his sin of denying Christ, he repented and sought pardon; when Judas remembered his sin of betraying Christ, he experienced only remorse, and he went out and hanged himself." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 223.]
2. An exhortation to turn from evil 33:10-20
This part of Ezekiel’s warning to the exiles is similar to Ezekiel 18:21-32.
The right conduct of a usually righteous person would not exempt him from judgment if he sinned. Neither would the sinful conduct of a usually sinful person exempt him from forgiveness if he repented. The usually righteous person should not take God’s promise of life for righteous living as a guarantee that he was exempt from punishment if he sinned. As in chapter 18, the issue here is not earning eternal salvation or losing it by the way one lives. It is rather the consequences of individual behavior in this life, which the Mosaic Law promised.
God’s warnings that the wicked would die because of their sinfulness also needed to be understood properly. They would die only if they failed to repent. If the wicked turned from his sins and obeyed the Mosaic Law, he would not die (prematurely). God would not hold his former sins against him. He would receive his life as a reward for his righteous conduct.
The Jews were saying that the Lord was not dealing with them justly, but it was really their conduct and their thinking that were not right.
If a normally righteous person abandoned his righteous lifestyle and pursued sin, he would die for it. But if a normally sinful person abandoned his sinful lifestyle and did what was right, he would live for it.
The people persisted in claiming that the Lord’s ways of dealing with them were not just. Yet Yahweh assured them that He would deal with each of them fairly, according to their own individual behavior. God does not blame one person for another person’s sins.
In our day many people refuse to take personal responsibility for their lives and chose rather to blame someone else for the way they live (e.g. a parent, employer, teacher, abuser, the devil, God). We may not be responsible for the actions of others that have resulted in our present condition, but we are responsible for how we conduct ourselves in our present condition.
This message repeats God’s appointment of Ezekiel as a watchman over Israel (ch. 3) and His assurance of personal responsibility (chs. 3 and 18). Evidently the exiles had difficulty accepting this revelation. They tended to view Ezekiel as an entertainer (Ezekiel 33:30-32) and God as unfair.
On the fifth day of the tenth month of the twelfth year of the Jews’ exile, namely, on January 19, 585 B.C., word reached the exiles from refugees who had come from Jerusalem. [Note: Parker and Dubberstein, p. 28.] They announced that Jerusalem had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar. The siege of Jerusalem began on the tenth month, the tenth day, and the ninth year of King Zedekiah’s reign (2 Kings 25:1; 588 B.C.). The city fell on the fourth month, the ninth day, and the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign (2 Kings 25:2-7; 586 B.C.). Thus the siege lasted 18 months. The news of Jerusalem’s fall reached the exiles in Babylon about five months after the city fell in 586 B.C. According to one method of reckoning, it took 18 months for news of Jerusalem’s fall to reach the exiles, but it seems more probable that it took about five months, which was apparently the normal time it took to make this trip (cf. Ezra 7:6-9). [Note: See the commentators for a more detailed study of the problem.]
The date and setting of these messages 33:21-22
Ezekiel’s last prophecy about the judgment coming on Judah and Jerusalem ended with an announcement that a fugitive would escape Jerusalem’s destruction and come and report the city’s fall to the exiles (Ezekiel 24:25-26). At that time God would open Ezekiel’s mouth and he would be dumb no longer (Ezekiel 24:27). Now the messenger arrived and God opened the prophet’s mouth.
B. Restoration to the Promised Land 33:21-39:29
"The concept of the land is particularly significant to the six messages [Ezekiel 33:21 to Ezekiel 39:29] delivered in that one night before the news of Jerusalem’s fall reached the exiles in Babylonia [cf. Ezekiel 33:21-22]. Since Jerusalem had fallen, would the land be lost to Israel (Ezekiel 33:21-33)? It was the false ’shepherds’ of Israel who had lost the land for Israel by leading the people astray from the truth. But the true ’shepherd,’ the Messiah, would ultimately restore the land to Israel (ch. 34). Those foreigners who had possessed the land of Israel and had oppressed her people would be judged and removed so that Israel might again possess her own land (Ezekiel 35:1 to Ezekiel 36:15). Then God would restore Israel to her promised land (Ezekiel 36:16 to Ezekiel 37:14) and reunite the nation in fulfillment of God’s covenants with her (Ezekiel 37:15-28). Never again would a foreign power have dominion over Israel in her land (chs. 38-39)." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 909.]
1. Israel and the Promised Land 33:21-33
Ezekiel next recorded six messages about Israel’s restoration to the Promised Land.
The Lord had spoken to Ezekiel the evening before the refugees arrived and gave him permission to speak to the people when they heard the announcement of Jerusalem’s fall. This broke the silence that God had imposed on him (cf. Ezekiel 3:26-27; Ezekiel 24:27).
"He was now able to converse with people and have a ’pastoral’ ministry among them apart from his prophetic preaching. For about seven and a half years, Ezekiel had been under this constraint, but now he was free to speak." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 224.]
The Lord informed the prophet about the attitude of the Jews still in the land. The few Jews who still lived in the waste places of the Promised Land were claiming that since God had promised that land to Abraham they were right in staying in it (cf. Ezekiel 11:15; Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; John 8:33; John 8:39). But Jeremiah had told the Jews in the land to submit to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 40-44).
"The lack of spiritual sensitivity and the smug self-interest evident in the quotation contrast with Abraham’s total dependence on God." [Note: Block, The Book . . . 48, p. 260.]
The attitude of the Jews in Judea 33:23-29
The first message of hope 33:23-33
This first message dealt with a serious defect in the Israelites. The Jews still in Judea were not listening to the whole counsel of God but were picking and choosing what they would obey (Ezekiel 33:23-29). The Jews in exile were listening to Ezekiel, but they were not responding (Ezekiel 33:30-33). If they were to profit from the messages of hope that Ezekiel proceeded to give them, all the Jews needed to respond to those he had already delivered by repenting. Thus this first message in this series prepared them for those that followed. The first step on the road to hope was a change in their attitude toward God’s word.
Ezekiel was to address the refugees who had brought the message of Jerusalem’s fall and the other Israelites in the name of their sovereign Lord. Since the Jews did not keep the Mosaic Law (cf. Exodus 20:4-5; Exodus 20:13-14; Leviticus 17:10-14; Leviticus 19:26), did they have a right to possess the land? God had promised the land to Abraham’s descendants, but He had also told them that they could only occupy their land if they obeyed the Law that He had given them (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28; Deuteronomy 29:25-29).
The Lord assured the people that the Jews who remained in the land would die there by various means including the sword, beasts, and disease (cf. Leviticus 26:22; Leviticus 26:25).
God promised to desolate the land completely and to humble the pride of His people (cf. Leviticus 26:19; Leviticus 26:33). Even the mountains would be desolate, and travelers would not even pass through the land. Then they would know that He is God, when He desolated their land.
God also told Ezekiel that the exiles were speaking to one another about him privately and publicly. They were saying, Let’s go and hear what Yahweh has to say to us through Ezekiel. So they came and sat before the prophet and listened to what he said, but their heart remained bent on pursuing their lustful desires and personal gain.
The attitude of the Jews in Babylon 33:30-33
They listened to Ezekiel as they listened to entertainers, singers or instrumentalists. Entertainers expect no response to their performances beyond applause, but preachers expect people to change. The exiles admired Ezekiel for his content and delivery, but they did not put into practice what he told them to do (cf. James 1:22-25). They did not apply it to their own lives and change. Consequently, when what Ezekiel promised came, namely, judgment for personal responsibility (Ezekiel 33:12-20), they would know that a prophet, a spokesman for God, had been in their midst, not just an entertainer.
This is one of the most pointed indictments of God’s people in the Bible. When we are fairly comfortable it is easy to listen to preaching and to critique the preacher but do nothing in response to what he has said. It is essential that we ask ourselves, What does God want me to do in view of what I have just heard? And then do it!
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter