THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A WATCHMAN INVOLVES THE ACCOUNTABILITY OF FAITHFULLY COMMUNICATING GOD’S WORDS OF WARNING TO THOSE IN NEED OF REPENTANCE
This section concludes the commissioning of Ezekiel as he enters into his ministry to the Jews in exile in Babylon. The faithful communication of the Word of God remains the central focus for the prophet. His encouragement and motivation derives from a renewed vision of the glory of God. His role as a watchman is carefully defines since the stakes are so high. Ezekiel is not responsible for the reaction of the people to God’s call to repentance – only to his faithful proclamation. At times God will restrict his movements and speech and at other times God free him up to speak boldly and directly.
Constable: This section describes God’s formal induction of Ezekiel into the prophetic office in legal language designed to impress his pastoral accountability on him (cf. Jer. 6:16-21).
Galen Doughty: God gave Ezekiel the task of speaking his Word to the people and he will hold his prophet accountable for his task. How people respond to Ezekiel’s preaching is not Ezekiel’s responsibility. God will hold each person who hears Ezekiel accountable for how they respond to his message. What God needs from his prophet is faithfulness to his calling and task. Ezekiel has no power to make people respond to God’s Word in a positive or negative way. That is out of his control. Each person is responsible to God’s Word as they hear it. If they sin they will be held accountable for their sin whether they hear God’s warning to repent or not.
Lamar Cooper: After his initial vision Ezekiel was silent and overcome with awe for seven days. The second appearance of God after the seven days was therefore a natural development. God appeared a second time to reaffirm Ezekiel’s call, to remind him of his responsibility as a watchman, and to warn the Israelites of their need for repentance. The theme of individual responsibility also occurs in Ezek 18:1–32 and 33:1–20.
(:16) PRELUDE – ADDITIONAL COMMISSIONING
“Now it came about at the end of seven days
that the word of the LORD came to me, saying,”
I. (:17a) APPOINTMENT TO THE ROLE OF THE LORD’S WATCHMAN
“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel;”
Douglas Stuart: We are also told that God made Ezekiel as a watchman. This was an assignment, not an invitation. As a prophet, he would have to do the job required of him, and this one carried with it extensive responsibility. Prophets are often likened to watchmen in the Old Testament (Is. 56:10; Jer. 6:17; Hos. 9:8; Hab. 2:1) because they must be aware of what is happening and especially what is coming in the future, because they have to try to arouse their fellow citizens to take account of the threats that they face, and because they are responsible for the fate of a community—others expect them not to fail to warn the populace of important events or of danger.
Constable: Yahweh told Ezekiel that He had appointed him to a ministry that was similar to that of a watchman who stood sentry and watched for any threat to his city (cf. 2 Sam. 18:24-27; 2 Kings 9:17-20; Jer. 6:17). Whenever Ezekiel received a word from the Lord he was to pass it along to the Israelites (cf. Isa. 56:10; Jer. 6:17; Hos. 9:8).
Lamar Cooper: A watchman was a city employee appointed to be a lookout from some high vantage point such as a tower or the city wall. Such an office was extremely important because the safety of the entire population rested with the watchman. If a watchman failed in his duty to warn inhabitants of the town of impending attack, he was held personally responsible for any loss. God appointed Ezekiel as his watchman to warn Judah and Jerusalem of impending destruction. He was to open their eyes to “profounder evils that encompassed them, … break the spell … of delusions and raise the cry of danger when none was suspected.” If he chose to remain silent, he would be held accountable.
II. (:18-21) FUNCTION OF THE LORD’S WATCHMAN –
WARNING BOTH THE WICKED AND THE RIGHTEOUS
A. (:17b) Communicating All of God’s Warnings
“whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.”
Daniel Block: The burden that Yahweh places on Ezekiel is presented by means of four hypothetical scenarios. The first two cases refer to the accused as the wicked (rāšāʿ), a term widely used in the OT to denote “wicked, criminal, villain.” The thirty-seven occurrences of the root in Ezekiel represent a higher frequency than in any other prophetic book. Of these more than two-thirds are found in this passage and the thematically related chs. 18 and 33. The meaning of the root is best illustrated by 5:6, which contains the only verb form (infinitive construct): “[Jerusalem] has rebelled (mārâ) against my laws (mišpāṭîm) with greater wickedness (lĕrišʿâ) than the nations, and against my decrees (ḥuqqôt) more than the countries that surround her. For they have rejected (māʾas) my laws, and they have not followed my decrees (lōʾ hālĕkû bāhem).” Fundamentally, then, in Ezekiel rāšāʿ denotes a “wicked” person, one who holds Yahweh the covenant Lord in contempt and displays this attitude by willful violation of the covenant stipulations. He is ostensibly part of the covenant community (these warnings are addressed to “the house of Israel,” v. 17), but in reality he has set himself in opposition to it.
A righteous man (ṣaddîq) represents the polar opposite of rāšāʿ. This is evident not only from the present context but from the frequency with which these two words occur as an antithetical pair in the OT. The distribution of this term in the OT resembles that of rāšāʿ. The root ṣdq represents judicial court terminology, relating specifically to conformity to established norms, which for Israel were defined in the stipulations of Yahweh’s covenant (cf. 5:6). Just as Yahweh’s actions in support of the relationship are called his “righteous acts” (ṣidqôt yhwh; 1 Sam. 12:7; Mic. 6:5), so Israel’s obedient response constituted her ṣĕdāqâ, “righteousness” (Deut. 24:13). If a rāšāʿ is one who has rejected the covenant and the covenant Lord, a ṣaddîq is one who holds Yahweh in highest respect and expresses that disposition by joyful compliance with the covenant stipulations. The contrast will be evident in the hypothetical cases that follow.
B. (:18-19) Warning the Wicked is the Watchman’s Responsibility
1. (:18) Accountability for Failing to Warn
“When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’; and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”
John Taylor: The warning that the sinner would die had a purely temporal reference. As far as we can see Ezekiel had little or no concept of resurrection, still less of eternal life, and the threat that was inherent in this word of warning was that the wicked man would meet with an early or a violent death. Death that came at the end of a long life was no hardship, especially if a man had children and grandchildren to continue his name after him. But a short life and an untimely end were punishments indeed. If this happened as a result of the prophet’s failing in his duty to warn the sinner to turn from his ways, God said, His blood I will require at your hand (18, 20). This allusion to the principle expressed in Genesis 9:5f. implies that, just as the blood of a murdered man demanded requital through the next-of-kin taking vengeance on the murderer, so a man dying unwarned would be regarded virtually as the victim of a murder committed by the watchman who failed in his duty. It is of course put metaphorically, but it none the less emphasizes the overpowering responsibility with which Ezekiel was entrusted. The Christian’s responsibility to warn a lost generation is surely no less terrifying.
2. (:19) Deliverance for Faithfully Warning
“Yet if you have warned the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.”
C. (:20-21) Warning the Righteous is the Watchman’s Responsibility
1. (:20) Accountability for Failing to Warn
“Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he shall die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.”
MacArthur: Here is a person who was obeying God by doing what was right, but fell into sin and God took his life in chastisement. The “obstacle” was a stone of judgment that kills. Ps 119:165 says: “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble.” The crushing stone always falls on the disobedient.
John Taylor: The word stumbling-block (20; Heb. mikšôl), like its New Testament Greek counterpart, skandalon, means an occasion for stumbling, either literally or in an ethical sense. It does not here indicate that God deliberately sets out to trip up the righteous and bring him crashing to the ground, but that he leaves opportunities for sin in the paths of men, so that if their heart is bent on sin they may do so and thus earn their condemnation. There is no sense in which stumbling is inevitable: it always involves moral choice, and there was also the watchman’s word of warning to point out where and what the stumbling-blocks were.
2. (:21) Deliverance for Faithfully Warning
“However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”
Peter Pett: The importance of this passage cannot be over-emphasised. Each individual is shown to have individual responsibility. The one will not suffer for the sinfulness of the group. It also brings out that, in the place where they were, they still came within the covenant. They were still responsible to God. Furthermore it demonstrated that away from Jerusalem, and away from the possibility of offering sacrifice at the central shrine in Jerusalem, forgiveness was still possible. Both the righteous who sin, and the wicked who have lived sinfully, could still be spared through repentance and return to the covenant, even though sacrifices for sin were not available.
On the other hand it also warned that God was there. He saw their ways and their behaviour, and He would require it at their hands. Transportation had not removed them from their responsibility to God. They were still His people and He was still their Overlord.
And it finally emphasised that He had set over them a watchman. This was for them an act of mercy. He had not left them just to struggle on as they could. If they failed it would not be because God had failed to give them an opportunity for repentance, as long as the watchman was faithful. And for Ezekiel the stress was on the importance of his faithfulness. It is a solemn task to be pastor to a people.
III. (:22-23) MOTIVATION FOR THE LORD’S WATCHMAN =
RENEWED VISION OF GOD’S GLORY
A. (:22) Staging for the Renewed Vision
“And the hand of the LORD was on me there,
and He said to me, ‘Get up, go out to the plain, and there I will speak to you.’”
Lamar Cooper: As the nation faced days of judgment, the needs of the people could not be met by offering a new perspective on their problems. What the nation needed was a new perspective on God. The call experience of Ezekiel supplied that new perspective by reinforcing the holiness and majesty of God. He was able to share that viewpoint with the certainty of judgment. That judgment included the fall of Jerusalem, which God declared through the symbolic actions and prophetic messages of Ezekiel.
B. (:23) Spectacle of the Renewed Vision
“So I got up and went out to the plain;
and behold, the glory of the LORD was standing there,
like the glory which I saw by the river Chebar,
and I fell on my face.”
Peter Pett: This was a parallel vision to that in chapter 1, repeated in full for reassurance and to press home its effect, but it was in a different place. Going out into ‘the valley’ He saw the throne-chariot of God and the accompanying glory, including the splendid figure on the throne. He saw the glory of Yahweh. And again it had the same effect. He fell on his face before God.
Lamar Cooper: Such an awesome responsibility needed a fresh dose of divine reinforcement. One gets the feeling that Ezekiel needed an enormous amount of persuasion and pressure from God to accept his role: first the role of having to speak for God at all, and now this additional model of what kind of speaker he was to be—a lone sentry, calling out warnings to a defiant people from the God they would not listen to. The hand of the Lord which had gripped him in his speechless rage all week (14) was again needed to propel him out of his stunned inertia and into action (22). God, it seems, would not take no for an answer.
So Ezekiel, under God’s instruction, got up and went out to the plain (23). And there, to his amazement, stood the same vision of the glory of Yahweh as he had seen the previous week. This time he uses none of the circumlocution of his earlier description (‘something like’, ‘appearance of the likeness of …’). He knows what he is looking at (lit[. ‘]and behold, there, the glory of Yahweh, standing’), and recognizes it as the same as the vision by the Kebar River. Why this repeat vision? Perhaps to dispel any thought that the whole birthday experience had been a terrible nightmare or hallucination. It had not been some wild fantasy brought on by the thunder and lightning of a terrifying storm. Perhaps the change of location also reinforced the awareness that Yahweh was truly mobile in Babylon. Yahweh was no more confined to the rivers of Babylon than to the mountains of Israel. Perhaps it was simply because God knew the reluctance of this young would-be priest and would-rather-not-be prophet and needed to impress upon him once and for all the reality of his glory and his presence. This was the one who was coming in judgment; this was the one who was posting him as a sentry. If Ezekiel had spent the week in silent, angry resistance, it is now overcome as, for the second time, he finds himself flattened on his face by God’s glory and then hoisted to his feet by God’s Spirit.
IV. (:24-27) CONSTRAINTS UPON THE LORD’S WATCHMAN
B. (:24-25) Space Constraints
1. (:24) Imposed by the Watchman Himself
“The Spirit then entered me and made me stand on my feet, and He spoke with me and said to me, ‘Go, shut yourself up in your house.’”
2. (:25) Imposed by His Target Audience
“As for you, son of man, they will put ropes on you
and bind you with them, so that you cannot go out among them.”
Lamar Cooper: In considering, finally, the combined significance of this double restriction on Ezekiel we need to take note of the way Ezekiel functioned as a sign to the people (12:6; 24:27). His actions, his circumstances and his afflictions all pointed to something—either about Yahweh, or about Israel. So, for example, in the case of his ‘binding’, it is noticeable that the same phrase is used when describing Ezekiel lying on his side to bear the sin of the houses of Israel and Judah (4:8). Again, it is not clear whether the ropes of 4:8 were meant literally or metaphorically, but it must be connected with what God had said to him in 3:25. Being ‘housebound’, whether enforced by others or as a voluntary self-imposed act, and whether in reality or symbolically, came to signify the way Israel would be confined in siege and be punished for their guilt.
Similarly, Ezekiel’s silence, other than when delivering the direct words of Yahweh (which until after the fall of Jerusalem would be almost entirely words of inescapable judgment), was profoundly significant. Just as all normal relations between himself and his family and neighbours would be broken off by such dumbness, so too was all ‘conversation’ between God and Israel. One of the key tasks of a prophet was to intercede on behalf of individuals or the people. But that will be no part of Ezekiel’s task. Jeremiah had to be told to stop praying for his people, in the face of Israel’s incorrigible, irredeemable rebellion; Ezekiel will not even be allowed to start.
Daniel Bock: With 3:22–27 the most complex call narrative in all of Scripture concludes. The opening vision had ushered Ezekiel into the heavenly court for an audience with Yahweh (1:4–28a); he has received his commission and been outfitted with the resources necessary for dealing with rejection (1:28b–3:11); he has been introduced to his audience (3:11–15); and he has heard Yahweh’s charge to faithful sentry duty (3:16–21). All that remains before he may commence his new vocation is the ritual initiation into the prophetic office, which ironically stifles his freedom of expression rather than liberating it. Taken at face value, Ezekiel’s speechless state lasted more than seven years, from one week after his inaugural vision (cf. 1:3; 3:16) to the day he received the news that Jerusalem had fallen (33:21–22).
C. (:26-27) Speech Constraints
1. (:26) Closing the Watchman’s Mouth
“Moreover, I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be dumb, and cannot be a man who rebukes them, for they are a rebellious house.”
2. (:27) Opening the Watchman’s Mouth
“But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth, and you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God. He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house.’”
Derek Thomas: Three things were required of the prophet. First, he must stay at home (3:24), thereby indicating that whenever he appeared in future it was as God’s messenger. When people saw Ezekiel coming it was the voice of God that would speak. Second, he was to be tied up (3:25), thereby indicating that he was God’s prisoner, or slave. And third, whenever he was not speaking God’s Word he was to be silent
(3:26). He is not allowed to reprove the rebels of the exile unless God says so (3:26–27). This muteness was to last for almost seven and a half years, until the fall of Jerusalem (33:21–22).
Douglas Stuart: Ezekiel … has to experience the inability to speak … as a forceful experiential reminder of the fact that he has no authority to make up on his own what he says to his fellow Israelites. Rather, only God can, as it were, loose his tongue. He must let God speak through him, and not invent anything himself or take his message from anyone else. Originality is usually prized among writers and speakers. Yet there was to be no originality in Ezekiel’s doctrine. In all five commissions [2:1—3:27] he is reminded that his job is to convey and not to create.