Meditations from Ezekiel: 9. The Watchman
Ezek 3:16,17 At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.
A Watchman: Chapter 1 was strange by the fact of strange revelations of beings in heaven. The verses in the rest of chapter 3 are strange by what they say about Ezekiel. It starts off easily enough as we see above. In the first stage of what follows the Lord tells Ezekiel that he will be a watchman. That is a simple enough concept. A watchman was simply someone who stood on the high point of the walls of a city and kept watch and warned the authorities as soon as he saw anyone approaching in the distance. OK, Ezekiel is going to warn Israel when the Lord shows him what is coming. Simple enough. But then He spells out the responsibilities of that task.
Responsibilities: Verses 18 to 21 state the responsibility that the Lord will lay on Ezekiel. This is a serious task. This is all about accountability: “When I say to a wicked man, `You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.” (v.18) Ezekiel is going to be God’s messenger boy and so if God sends a message to a wicked person that they will die, He does it with the desire that that person will repent and live, and so if Ezekiel doesn’t pass the message on and the man dies in his sin, the Lord will hold Ezekiel accountable for that. “But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.” (v.19) It is always possible that the wicked man will hear the message and refuse to repent and will die, but Ezekiel will have discharged his duty and that is fine, at least as far as Ezekiel is concerned.
Now this can get quite complex: “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.” (v.20,21) In other words it is always possible for a righteous person to ‘fall off the tracks’ and if he does that, God will put things before him to hold him accountable which may result in his death if he continues. Ezekiel needs to warn this man as well and there are consequences for failure as well as success.
God’s Ultimate Desire: Perhaps one of the major and overall lessons that comes out in this book, is that each person is responsible for their own actions, and this is worked out in more detail in chapter 18. The three important verses of that chapter are, “if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die,” (18:21) and “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (18:23) and “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (18:32) The role of God’s watchman, therefore, is to bring a word of challenge in order that repentance may follow – which is God’s desire always. The word that comes is NOT merely to condemn, (although that will be the outcome if repentance fails to come) but to give opportunity for repentance so that life may follow.
Encounter on the Plain: So Ezekiel is to be a watchman. Where does that start: “The hand of the LORD was upon me there, and he said to me, “Get up and go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.” (v.22) It isn’t on a city wall but out in a plain in Babylon. “So I got up and went out to the plain. And the glory of the LORD was standing there, like the glory I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown” (v.23) A sense of deja-vu here. He is shown again the glory of the Lord and again the sense of it renders him helpless and he falls down. Again the power of the Lord comes on him: “Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: “Go, shut yourself inside your house.” (v.24) So he’s started to hear from the Lord, this watchman, but he’s told to shut himself away! A strange way to start a ministry of watching, except he is not watching for physical people. He’s watching to hear from the Lord.
Restricted and Limited: Now comes the even more strange bit: “And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people.” (v.25) Possibility 1: the ‘they’ refers to his own countrymen. Why might they tie him up? To control madness? Possible but slightly unlikely and there is no other evidence to suggest that. Possibility 2: the ‘they’ refers to the angelic beings in the vision that he is still experiencing. i.e. that heaven will render him powerless so that he cannot leave his house.
This, I suggest, is more likely in the light of what follows: “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house.” (v.26) i.e. God will stop him expressing his natural tendency to blast these exiles with a pounding of holy indignation. No, “But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house” (v.27) i.e. you will only speak my words when you are spoken to.
Initially this all seems a little strange but the more you look at it, the more sense it makes. A prophet is to be a mouthpiece for God and therefore he is ONLY to speak WHEN God speaks. In the same way as we saw the four living creatures and their wheels move very rapidly to do the bidding of the one on the throne – and not to move until that bidding comes – so will Ezekiel be. Being a watchman for God means listening for God and saying nothing until God’s word comes.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19) It is the principle we have been observing here in Ezekiel and it is one for us to follow also.