“Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of 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.” — Ezekiel 33:24
A sense of security is important for people of every age and era, but it is imperative not to depend upon an unreliable source for that security. For example, when our second daughter was a toddler, she had a favorite pink blanket with a silky edge that went everywhere with her. She needed that blanket to feel safe! So it accompanied her outside to the sandbox, downstairs to the basement, and on road trips in the car. It wrapped her dollies, became a sling for her stuffed animals and other toys, and occasionally served as a bib or a washcloth.
As you can imagine, that blanket became more and more shabby as the months went by. The pink color faded to dingy grey from countless washings, and the silky edge gradually disintegrated. Eventually that once-pretty blanket was literally a rag, and admittedly, a source of embarrassment to her parents! For months, I tried to convince our daughter that it was time to “give” her blanket away, but even the promise of a new blanket just like it did not persuade her. In her mind, that pink blanket had protected her from monsters in the closet and boogeymen under the bed! At her young age, she simply could not imagine getting along without it.
As adults, we may be amused by the objects that give our children a sense of security, knowing that those objects offer no protection whatsoever. However, we must be careful not to depend upon something in our own lives that can be just as ineffectual as a safeguard.
In today’s text, the remnant in Judah thought they were safe because they were descendants of Abraham. By some strange logic, they reasoned that since God had given Abraham the land when he was alone, the land was even more assuredly theirs because of their increased population. However, these few who had evaded death and exile were not godly, covenant-keeping individuals. They did not observe the Mosaic Law, they did not worship the true God, and they were violent. So God instructed Ezekiel to ask them, “Shall ye possess the land?” He repeated that question twice to emphasize that they would not possess the land; they were comforting themselves with a false security by assuming their ancestry was some sort of guarantee. God’s promise to restore Israel and Jerusalem would be accomplished in time, but not through ungodly people like those identified in our focus verse.
In our world today, many people depend on things for security that are no more adequate than a ragged blanket or a venerable ancestor. Some depend upon their bank accounts, their investments, or their jobs. Others lean on their government, their nation’s military might, or their own supposed “preparedness” for emergencies. Some assume education or personal determination will be enough to guarantee success in life.
God’s Word teaches that there is only one real source of security, and that is God himself. If our trust is anchored in Him and we remain obedient, He will keep us throughout time and into eternity!
Chapter 33 begins a seven-chapter section that continues through chapter 39, in which the primary focus of the prophetic messages shifts from prophecies directed toward foreign nations to a focus on Israel and its future restoration. This chapter covers Ezekiel’s appointment as watchman (verses 1-9), an emphasis on personal responsibility (verses 10-20), and news of the fall of Jerusalem and God’s messages to the surviving remnant (verses 21-33).
It was common practice in Ezekiel’s time for leaders of a walled city to appoint watchmen to scan the surrounding terrain. A faithful watchman would be actively and continually inspecting the horizon for any sign of potential danger. From an elevated vantage point, often atop the wall surrounding the city, this sentry would be on the lookout for incoming armies or an approaching messenger. A watchman’s promptness in sounding an alarm was usually the first line of defense for the city, and the people’s survival depended on him. Ignoring a potential danger could result in disastrous consequences and even the death of citizens in the event of an attack.
In verses 3-6, the instrument used to sound the alarm was a shofar, which is typically translated in the King James Version as “trumpet.” This instrument was different from the assembly trumpets provided by Moses. Those were made from hammered silver, while the shofar was fashioned from a ram’s horn. The root word in Hebrew indicates something comely or attractive, suggesting that the sound of the shofar was welcome. An animal horn in Scripture is frequently a symbol of strength, so the sounding of the shofar brought to mind the Lord’s strength and care for His people. While it could be a warning, it was also blown when a king arrived or to herald other good news. It would have been unthinkable to hear this trumpet sound and simply ignore it.
Verses 11-20 establish the power of true repentance, God’s willingness to forgive a multitude of sins, the need for restitution as evidence of repentance, and that an act of sin destroys any history of righteousness. Verse 11 indicates that the message Ezekiel was to proclaim to Israel was a positive one and included a call to repentance. The Jewish understanding of repentance — the practice of regretting sin, determining not to repeat it, and seeking forgiveness for it — was prominent in the Torah, so the prophet’s listeners were familiar with it. Though all Ezekiel’s fellow Jews shared to some degree in the national judgment for sin, verse 19 held a promise that the individual who repented would live.
According to verses 21-23, news of the fall of Jerusalem arrived in Babylon shortly after Ezekiel’s warning was delivered. Many scholars place that event at about 586 B.C. and it possibly took several months for the news to reach Ezekiel.
Mention of those dwelling in the “wastes” (verses 24 and 27) and repeated references to desolation make it clear that Ezekiel’s warning was directed to those who still resided in the recently conquered city. The Lord called on them to cease from their abominable behaviors and turn to Him. Their claim of being God’s people and heirs of the promises to Abraham did not benefit them because of their hypocrisy, which is described in poetic terms in verses 31-33.
IV. The consolation of Israel
A. Prophecies of Israel’s restoration
1. The ministry of the prophet (33:1-33)
a. The function of a watchman (33:1-9)
b. The message of the watchman (33:10-20)
c. The fall of Jerusalem (33:21-29)
d. The fact of the people’s hypocrisy (33:30-33)
The only sure refuge in life is in God. Throughout Scripture, He calls us to turn away from our inadequate sources of temporal security and embrace a true and lasting refuge in a relationship with Him.