Ezekiel, who was both a priest and a prophet, was among the captives who were taken to Babylonia in 597 B.C.
God commissioned him to begin prophesying concerning the immediate future and ultimate destiny of His people.
Today’s question is
Does Ezekiel’s calling, or part of it, apply to us today?
God said to the prophet,
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
Again, when a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before them, they will die. Since you did not warn them, they will die for their sin. The righteous things that person did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the righteous person not to sin and they do not sin, they will surely live because they took warning, and you will have saved yourself. (Ezekiel 3:17-21).
“Therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 33:7-9).
Ezekiel was called to warn persons in the people of Israel for their sin.
If he failed, he would be held responsible by God.
Note to the reader: This post will be longer than I normally write, but I felt the need to examine this issue in greater depth and in a whole fashion rather than breaking it up over days.
Does Ezekiel’s particular calling apply to Christians?
These verses are used in some evangelism various training to suggest that
- a Christian is responsible for sharing the gospel with another person,
- God will hold us accountable for our failure to warn.
Two questions come to mind at first glance:
- Is there a special office of “watchman” in the New Testament church?
- Independent of this office of “Watchman,” are we personally responsible for our failure to share the gospel with another person?
I’m not going to deal with the first one here.
But for the second question, I see a deep question of biblical hermeneutics, or the art of interpretation. You can learn about hermeneutics from other places, but the question here is:
- Does this passage apply to all of us Christians now?
- Or was this watchman call (and consequence) connected to Ezekiel’s unique vocation and commission?
I am not sure.
Have we been given the same call and commission as Ezekiel?
1. Who is Ezekiel called to?
Ezekiel’s call in chapter 3 begins with the symbolic eating of the scroll.
Then in verse 5, Ezekiel is sent to his own people, the people of Israel.
- They are of hard heart.
- They are obstinate.
- They are a rebellious people.
- They won’t listen to the Lord.
Ezekiel’s call is to the rebellious covenant people of God. He was to call the people of God to turn away from their sin or face destruction.
If we were to apply the same calling, are we called to the same people?
- The nation of Israel?
- The wayward sinners in the church, the body of Christ?
- The sinners who don’t yet know the Lord?
It seems to me that if we apply one part of Ezekiel’s call (the responsibility), but choose to apply it to a different people group (those outside the faith), we are not being faithful the the text.
2. Ezekiel’s calling was both religious as well as political.
Ezekiel was called to the people of Israel who had wandered away from God.
God had raised up prophets over time to call the people of God back to Himself, as part of the covenant pursuit of His beloved people.
If the people of God were not destroyed by their enemies, it showed that God had forgiven them.
If the people of God were eventually destroyed by their enemies, it showed that they had continued to follow their own way and failed to live up to the covenant
I’m not sure we can find a way to apply this particular calling to all Christians.
While some could try to find a way, like prophesying judgment and destruction against the sins of the nation like the USA or even modern day secular state Israel), I don’t think this same calling applies to Christians in general.
It would be stretching the text beyond it’s historical situation and unique calling of Ezekiel.
3. Is there a particular focus of Ezekiel’s responsibility? or Are there particular people that Ezekiel’s responsible for?
I don’t have an answer to this question, so I’m only raising it.
Ezekiel would be personally held responsible if he failed to obey in warning a wicked person.
When I [the Lord] say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.
While his calling was to a nation, the preceding clause to the particular warning is to a particular person.
“When I say to a wicked person . . and you do not warn them.”
If fact, all of verses 17-21 is about a particular individual
- a wicked person
- a righteous person
I wonder (but don’t have an answer yet), is this a limit to Ezekiel’s responsibility to just the particular person he was to speak to at a given moment?
Did Ezekiel need to have a clear sense from God that God was speaking to a particular person, such as a religious leader, a priest, or ruler over Israel?
Or did Ezekiel carry this heavy emotional toil for every single person in the country (since his calling was to the nation)?
What if Ezekiel couldn’t reach every person, simply as a matter of course?
I live in a city of 1.8 million people. If I had to warn each one individually, I couldn’t do it. It’s impossible. Even if I bought media time and had a twitter account for everyone.
It seems to me that God would use Ezekiel to speak to particular people to call a nation back.
If God highlighted a particular person and Ezekiel failed to warn, then the warning makes sense to me.
4. Do we apply other prophetic callings to ourselves?
- What about the calling of Moses?
- How about the calling of Daniel?
- What about the call of Isaiah?
- How about Elijah or Elisha?
- Or even Esther?
- Or the Virgin Mary?
While each calling story has some principles that we could apply to our discipleship, do we lift up selective ideas out of each one that fit our purposes?
I don’t think any of us would dare say that we have the same callings as these men and women of God.
We can learn from these callings, but we don’t selectively lift out phrases. That’s bad hermeneutics.
5. But what about Jonah?
Jonah was a prophet sent to the Ninevites. He disobeyed at first and did not warn the people. (Chapter 1). Jonah’s calling is not as detailed in the text as the calling of Ezekiel, so we don’t know if there was more to it than what is simply written.
God held him responsible for not going and Jonah was disciplined (chapter 2).
Then when we did go (he got a second chance), he went and warned the people who repented. Jonah eventually made it to the king so that the all the people could respond to God.
When God saw the repentance of the Ninevites, he relented and did not bring on the destruction (Chapter 3).
Jonah got angry with God for relenting (perhaps Jonah was embarrassed that destruction didn’t come (Chapter 4).
It seems to me that Jonah is held responsible for not obeying God to be the particular prophet of warning to the people of Ninevah.
Like Ezekiel, Jonah is called to a particular nation.
Somewhat like Ezekiel (Ezekiel obeyed), Jonah is disciplined for disobeying God.
What do I think we can apply?
As I have written elsewhere on the urgency of evangelism, I do believe that Christians are called to take the gospel everywhere.
It may be the case that if we do not speak repentance to sinners when called to that we ourselves may fall under God’s wrath for our disobedience to Him.
But using the Ezekiel passage to guilt us into sharing our faith is a misuse of the text.
But I do think we can apply some principles without dragging guilt into the equation.
1. We are to bear witness to the good news of the gospel.
Given the mandate that we are to:
- Go and make disciples
- Be my witnesses
- As the Father has sent me, so I send you
We bear the witness to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes that witness includes a warning:
- Warning about the dangers of sin
- Warning about the consequences of sin
- Warning about the justice of God that will come because of sin.
I do not have a problem with warning people about their sin when sharing the good news of the gospel.
It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the person of their own sin and see their need for Jesus.
2. We are to be obedient go God.
Like Jonah and Ezekiel, as well as all the other characters in the Bible, we are to be obedient to God’s commands as well as to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel was obedient
Jonah was eventually obedient.
We know that when we obey God, we experience blessing.
When we fail to obey God, we lack blessing and find God’s discipline upon us.
3. We go to whom we are sent.
We live and minister to the people we are personally called to minister to.
Jonah was called to the town of Ninevah, not to the Mayans in Mexico.
Ezekiel was called to the people of Israel, not to Greeks.
The people that the Lord places in our lives are likely the people He wants to use us to reach.
The strangers that engage us in conversations are sometimes those the Lord wants to use us to reach as well (Think Philip and the Eunuch).
4. We speak as the Lord opens the door to the person or group in front of us.
Jonah got the audience before the king to affect the people.
Ezekiel may have been directed to particular people (speculation).
I think our job and responsibility is to do evangelism as the Lord opens the conversational doors.
That might be with a group of people (like crusade evangelism).
It might be with a friend or family member (like relational evangelism).
5. We are not burdened with the responsibility of speaking to every single person.
This is where I often hear this text misused.
It’s an impossible burden for me to be held responsible for every single person, including those I could never possibly reach.
God has more people on this planet than me.
God is more sovereign than my ability to reach people.
My thoughts are incomplete on this matter, so I’ve not yet fully answered my own question.
I’ll continue to noodle on it.
However, I do invite some discussion about how this calling of Ezekiel applies or doesn’t apply to us.
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