The Divine Government And Man’s Responsibility
No attentive reader can fail to notice the similarity between this chapter and portions of chapter 3 and all of chapter 18. One might wonder why the duplication of instruction, but we may be very sure of this: when God repeats Himself it is in order that His truth may be impressed upon our hearts and minds. It is so easy to forget divine principles and to let slip the teaching of any portion of God’s Holy Word. Repetition is recognized among pedagogues generally as an important process for impressing certain lessons upon the student’s mind. And so when we find repetition in the Holy Scriptures we may well give the passages in question our most careful consideration, realizing that God had something very important to communicate, or He would not have duplicated it, as in the case of Pharaoh’s dreams, and the visions of Daniel. When a thing is repeated it is in order to assure us of its great importance and absolute certainty.
We have already noticed, in considering chapter 18, that the principles set forth in these portions do not in any sense picture the grace of God as revealed in the gospel. They have to do definitely with man under the government of God, and particularly in the legal dispensation. God had given His holy law and declared that the man who walked in obedience to it should live long on the earth; whereas he who disobeyed would bring judgment upon himself, and his days on earth would be cut short. But even under law there was provision for repentance. If a man turned to God and abjured his evil ways and sought to walk carefully before Him, God extended mercy and did not immediately execute judgment upon him.
These principles come out clearly in the present chapter.
“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. 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. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die, and thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way; that 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”-vers. 1-9.
This first section is almost the same as chapter 3:16-21. Once more God emphasized the responsibility of the watchman placed upon the walls of a city in order that he might see the approach of any hostile army and blow the trumpet to warn the people that they might not be taken unawares by the foe. If the watch- man does his part and the people fail to take warning, he has delivered his own soul, and the people themselves will be responsible for their own destruction. But if he fails to give the warning and the people are taken unawares and destroyed by the enemy, the watchman will be held responsible. The blood of the inhabitants of that city will be upon him.
There is surely a very solemn lesson for all of us here who know the danger to which this poor godless world is exposed. We are called upon by God to seek to arouse men to flee from the wrath to come. If they refuse to take warning we have delivered our souls, but if, knowing that the judgment of God is against all who do evil, we fail to sound the trumpet of alarm and men and women are left to die in their sins, there will be a solemn accounting for us at the judgment-seat of Christ. Paul was able to say, in addressing the Ephesian elders, “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26). So faithful had he been in giving the message that the responsibility was thrown entirely upon his hearers. We might well seek to emulate him.
Ezekiel himself had been set by God to be a watchman to the house of Israel. It was for him to hear the Word at the mouth of Jehovah and give the people warning. As he set forth the principles of the divine government, if men took heed, then God would turn away the sword of judgment; if they refused, as indeed had been the case in so many instances since Ezekiel began to prophesy, then they themselves were responsible for the loss of their own souls, but Ezekiel was free. He had carried out the will of God, and in doing this he had met the requirements of a faithful watchman.
“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 had 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”-vers. 10-16.
Here, as in chapter 18, the principle is laid down that no man need consider himself in a hopeless condition because he has failed in the matter of obedience to the law of God. While he is rightly under condemnation because of sin, yet the Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked but desires that all men should turn from their evil ways and live. So He entreats those who have gone astray, saying, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” If men thus turned, God would have mercy on them.
On the other hand, no one was entitled to glory in his own righteousness, or to become careless after a life of obedience to the law. His righteousness did not deliver him if he turned away from the law and took the path of transgression: he would fall in his own wickedness in the day that he sinned. He who trusted in his own past righteousness and congratulated himself on his good record, and so allowed himself to become careless in the future, would have to learn in bitterness of soul that he had to do with One who demanded of him continued obedience to the law that He had given. But if once more he recognized the error of his ways and turned back to God, seeking to walk obediently, the Lord declared he should not surely die, but because of his reformation of life the past would be remitted, and he would live before God here on the earth.
It should be clearly seen that this is not a question of the salvation of the soul; it is not a matter of redemption by the blood of Christ, such as we have in the New Testament. It sets forth God’s dealings with men under law, in accordance with the principles of His government over the earth.
Many in Israel, failing to realize this, blamed God for the disasters that had come upon them, forgetting that He was judging them for their own sins. Notice how they dared to put the blame on the Lord rather than to acknowledge their own failures.
“Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: hut 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”-vers. 17-20.
Man is always prone to try to find some excuse for his own failures and to make another responsible for the ills that come upon him. It was so with Adam in the very beginning. Instead of frankly acknowledging his own waywardness, he sought to put the blame upon God by declaring, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Adam was not merely blaming his wife; the sin was far greater than that: it was impugning the wisdom of God in giving him that wife. So Israel, failing to recognize that their own iniquities had brought judgment upon them, impudently threw the blame back on God as they said, “The way of the Lord is not equal.” God’s ways are just and right; it was their way that was unequal, and this they needed to learn.
The remaining part of this chapter forms a distinct section in which we have the messages that came to Ezekiel when some of his prophecies were being fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem.
“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 unto 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 mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb”-vers. 21, 22.
Year after year Ezekiel had been declaring that no human power would be able to protect Jerusalem against the onslaught of the Babylonians, nor would God Himself interfere to deliver the city where He of old had set His name. Its iniquities and manifold crimes had reached unto heaven, and judgment must ensue.
At last in the twelfth year of the captivity and the tenth month, word was brought by one who had escaped out of Jerusalem to bring the information, that the city had been smitten and all hope of its deliverance was at an end. This was sad news indeed to those who had dwelt in Chaldea. They had cherished the hope that, after all, Jerusalem might withstand the siege and that God would intervene to give His people victory over the invader, but now they knew that their hope had been in vain.
Before the messenger came, Ezekiel’s spirit had been greatly disturbed, evidently as God was preparing him for the word he was to receive on the morrow. He sat as one dumb throughout the evening before the messenger reached him. When at last in the morning he was informed as to what had actually taken place, his mouth was opened, and he spoke again in the name of Jehovah, rebuking those who had self-confidently counted on being delivered soon from bondage and returning to take possession of the land.
“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 abomination, 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 in the 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”-vers. 23-29.
They had said Abraham was but a single person and yet to him God gave the land; they were many: surely the land should be theirs for an inheritance. But Ezekiel reproved them in the name of Jehovah for the sins they had committed. They violated the law by eating with the blood, and by idolatrous practices; innocent blood was shed and there was no repentance; corruption of life, such as characterized the heathen, marked them as those who had thrown off all allegiance to the law of God: therefore, the Lord gave them over to fall by the sword. Let them defend themselves if they could; He refuses to aid them. He had given their land up to become a desolation and an astonishment, and they were to be slain or to go into captivity.
“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, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth 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. 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”-vers. 30-33.
To Ezekiel God spoke as with His friend. He reminded him how the people to whom he ministered professed admiration for him and his messages, and yet secretly reviled him and spoke against him, having no intention of obeying the word that he proclaimed. They seemed interested in hearing his words, saying one to another, “Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from Jehovah.” But they had no intention of obeying that word. With their mouths they showed much love, but their hearts were set upon covetousness. Ezekiel was to them as one singing a very lovely song with a pleasant voice, and playing well upon an instrument. They delighted in his eloquence and the forceful way in which he presented his messages, but like so many today who can admire a preacher and revel in his utterances, and yet give no heed to his words, so the people of Israel went on in the path of disobedience and refused to take anything seriously that came from the lips of the prophet. When at last the judgments in all their horror fell upon them God declared that they should know a prophet had been among them, but then it would be too late to deliver their souls by heeding his words.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezekiel 33". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany