“The City Is Smitten
by Bob Rossow
Chapter 33 of the book of Ezekiel is the turning point in Ezekiel’s ministry. The theme of the previous chapters 1-24 was “Jerusalem Must Fall,” and the theme of chapters 25-32 is “Foreign Nations Must Fall.” Now, in Chapter 33, Jerusalem’s time has finally come. God’s patience with the Israelites is at an end. The main point of this chapter is found in verse 21, the report that Jerusalem has fallen
A brief outline of the chapter is as follows:
Verses 1-9 — The watchman’s responsibility
Verses 10-20 — The individual’s responsibility
Verses 21-22 — The mute prophet is told Jerusalem has fallen
Verses 23-33 — The prophet is popular for his prediction
Some lessons we can learn from this chapter:
• God appoints “spiritual watchmen” to warn against sin and to help us fulfill our individual Christian responsibilities.
• God does what he says he will do. The message of the scriptures is consistent throughout the Bible.
• God always provides a way of escape from sin.
In Ezekiel Chapter 3, God made Ezekiel a watchman for the house of Israel. A watchman, in Old Testament times, had serious responsibilities. He was responsible for the lives of those he protected. Ezekiel is a “spiritual watchman” whose duties involve warning the wicked man to repent of his evil ways or “he will surely die” (vs. 18).
Being a watchman is like being a soldier on guard duty. Some of the consequences of a guard falling asleep or leaving his post are that the army could be taken by surprise and overwhelmed or defeated; a major battle, territory, or even the war could be lost; civilians could be killed and attitudes on the home front could turn against the army. Similarly, when a spiritual watchman doesn’t fulfill his responsibilities, there are consequences which could result in a Christian group being unprepared for battle and being overwhelmed and defeated by Satan; families being torn apart by sin; attitudes turning against Christianity; even loss of eternal life.
The apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders that they were to be watchmen and to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28, NIV), and to “be on your guard and remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:3, NIV).
Church leaders fill the role of spiritual watchmen today. Christians are warned by the writer of Hebrews, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17, NIV).
Ultimately, just as in Ezekiel’s time, each one of us has individual responsibility for his or her own choices and actions that lead to salvation from sin. God told Ezekiel to remind the Israelites of their own responsibility (Ezekiel 33:10-20): “I will judge each of you according to his own ways.” God’s message to the people of Israel goes on: “The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of the wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sin” (Ezekiel 33:12, NLB). This teaching from 600 B.C. sounds remarkably like the New Testament teaching of the apostle Paul in Titus 3:4-6: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” The consistency of the Biblical message is amazing!
At the same time that Ezekiel was preaching and prophesying to the Babylonian captives, Jeremiah was prophesying in the city of Jerusalem. God had appointed him a “spiritual watchman” over that city to sound the trumpet of alarm. However, the people said, “We will not listen” (Jeremiah 6:17). So in the year 582 B.C., Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian siege. Its fall had been prophesied in Ezekiel 24:25-26. At that time time God told Ezekiel that when a fugitive from Jerusalem would eventually arrive in Babylon with news of the fall, the prophet would “no longer be silent.” Whether Ezekiel was stricken dumb during that entire period or simply received no prophetic revelation about Jerusalem’s fall and was therefore “silent,” his “mouth was opened” on the evening before the messenger arrived (three years after God’s statement in Ezekiel 24:27), thus giving Ezekiel advance notice of the news.
God provided opportunities in Ezekiel’s time for people to repent. He sent prophets to the captives and to those in Jerusalem to warn them to turn from their sins. But those left behind in Judah were busy building their wealth and property while those in exile went to listen to Ezekiel for entertainment, never intending to repent. It is easy today to choose to listen to messages that build our own self-esteem or make us feel good about ourselves. James 1:22-25 teaches that we should be doers and not merely hearers, so that we see ourselves for what we really are.
God provided a way of escape for the people in this chaotic time in the Israelites’ history, and he provides a way for us today. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God provides a way out of our daily temptations. God offers the ultimate way to salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ the Lord, who died for our sins. God is a tender and faithful Father who longs to bring all people to him.
As we have seen, Chapter 33 is a transitional chapter in the Book of Ezekiel. At the end of this chapter, the people are at their lowest point. They have no homeland, no national identity and no dignity.
How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place. All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed feasts. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her maidens grieve, and she is in bitter anguish. — Lamentations 1:1-4.
But in the next chapters, Ezekiel 34-48, God promises to bring them comfort.
—Bob Rossow is an elder in the congregation.