For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

33:1.  “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,”


33:2.  “When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts (the land), and set him for their watchman:”


“When I bring the sword...” is the reminder that every circumstance is ordered or permitted by God; and for the believer there is added the further assurance that, “All things work together for good to them that love (obey) God,” Ro 8:28. 


The watchman was one chosen by the people of each town or city to stand watch and sound the alarm at the first sign of approaching danger, so that they might make preparation to defend themselves.

Clearly what is written here concerning the watchman and the trumpet has significance beyond the literal: the watchman is a type of the born-again believer; and the trumpet is the Gospel.  Every believer is responsible to warn as many as possible of the terrible danger of dying without having been born again.


33:3.  “If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;”


The sword is used here as a synonym for the enemy, at the first sight of whom the watchman was to blow the trumpet, sounding the alarm to warn the people.  Typologically the enemy represents Satan, the arch enemy of God and men; and the first sight the believer gets of him is when he himself is first awakened to his own need of salvation, and is led to put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  From that moment on he is responsible to warn others of their need to be born again.


33:4.  “Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.”


33:5.  “He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him.  But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.”


The one who is slain as a result of having ignored the warning trumpet is therefore responsible for his own death.  He represents the man, who hearing the Gospel rejects it, and dies unconverted, thus damning his own soul.  The one who heeds the warning and delivers his soul, represents the man who hears the Gospel, and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.


33:6.  “But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.”


The watchman here represents the disobedient believer who fails to be a witness to others.  As a result of his disobedience unbelievers who might have been saved had he presented them with the Gospel, will die unsaved, and the unfaithful watchman will be held accountable.  This doesn’t mean that he will lose his own salvation, but that he will suffer loss of reward at the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” Ro 14:10; “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.  If any man’s work abide which he hath built there- upon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire,” 1 Cor 3:13-15.


33:7.  “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.”


Ezekiel was appointed by God to be a watchman to Israel, and the question may well be asked what need Israel had of such a man.  Were they not already God’s people?  Yes, they were, but in the same way as are many in Christendom today.  They were apostates.  Though claiming to be God’s people, and continuing to observe the outward form of worshiping Him by means of the empty Levitical ritual, they lived in a state of rebellion against Him, crowning their many sins by that of idolatry. 


Apostate Christendom is guilty of the same wickedness, their rebellion being as great as was that of Israel; their idolatry being no less idolatry because there are no literal idols.  Their gods are money, sex, pleasure, sport, education, to name but a few.  And as Ezekiel was to be God’s watchman to apostate Israel, so are we responsible to be His watchmen to equally apostate Christendom.  And as he was to warn them according to what he himself heard from God, so are we to warn them according to what we hear from Him, that is, what we read in His Word.


33:8.  “When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”


If the men of Israel were to hear this warning it must come from Ezekiel, for there was no other way by which they could hear God’s voice.  If apostate Christendom is to hear this warning it must come from us, for they will not read God’s Word; and if we fail to warn them, their blood will He require at our hands, that is, we will suffer eternal loss of reward when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ.


33:9.  “Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.”


God doesn’t hold us responsible for results.  If we are faithful to warn men as He has commanded us to do, they will be held accountable for how they respond to the warning, but we will have delivered ourselves from blood guiltiness, and from losing the reward bestowed for faithful stewardship.


33:10.  “Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?”


Having heard from the lips of the prophet the things that were the evidence of a regenerate heart, the people, aware of their sinfulness, asked how they might live since they produced none of the evidence of the necessary righteousness in their lives.


33:11.  “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”


God responded by having His servant assure them that He had no pleasure in seeing men die in their sins, and thus go down to hell, but rather that they would abandon their evil ways, and receive His gift of eternal life.


33:12.  “Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.”


It is significant that the people are described as “thy people,” rather than “My people.”  Their wickedness had estranged them from God so that He could no longer own them as His people.


The remainder of the verse is the declaration of the truth that mere morality will not save a man’s soul, nor need a man’s sins condemn him eternally.  The moral, but unconverted man is in as much need of salvation as is the outright sinner.  The one as much as the other needs to be born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior.


33:13.  “When I shall say to the righteous that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.”


The first part of this verse is not saying that a man can be saved by righteous deeds.  The clear implication is that God is telling the man that he will surely live if he abandons faith in his own good works, and trusts in the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ.


33:14.  “Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;”


This begins the declaration of the truth relative to the situation of the confessed sinner, God’s warning to him being “Thou shalt surely die,” this being the truth that every man must learn before he can be saved.  No one can be saved until he first sees himself as guilty and condemned in God’s sight and is willing to accept God’s indictment.  He who clings to the idea that he has even one shred of righteousness cannot be saved. 


The second part of the verse is not saying that a man will be saved if he reforms himself, forsakes his sin, and begins to practice righteousness, for Scripture declares that there is no salvation apart from the new birth, and warns emphatically against trusting in good works, as it is written, “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast,” Eph 2:8-9.


33:15.  “If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.”


The description of the born-again man continues here, his reformed righteous life being not the means of his salvation, but the outward evidence of his inward spiritual transformation.


His restoration of the pledge consists of his returning it to the one who has paid the debt for which he had given the pledge as security, instead of retaining it as a means of wrongfully  extorting more money from the former debtor.  He will restore what he had obtained by robbery; he will attempt to do the good enjoined by God’s law, and will make every effort to avoid committing sin.  God’s assurance relative to such a man “he shall surely live,” doesn’t teach salvation by works: it is rather the announcement of the fact that the reality of the new birth is demonstrated by a reformed life.


33:16.  “None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.”


This is the assurance given the genuine convert described in the preceding verses, and recorded in Heb 8:12 relative to the new covenant of grace, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”


“... he hath done that which is lawful and right” is not declaring that the man is justified by his righteous deeds, but rather that his changed conduct is the evidence of the new life within him: it manifests itself in righteous living.


33:17.  “Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal.”


Their being called “thy (Ezekiel’s) people” rather than God’s, continues to announce His rejection of the hypocritical apostates who accused Him of injustice, whereas it was they who were unjust.  Because they adhered to the outward form of the Levitical ritual they maintained that they were righteous in spite of their glaring wickedness, and accused God of injustice because He punished instead of blessing them.  It was they whose ways were not equal.


The condition is the same as that which prevails in today’s Christendom.  They too render lip service to God, but practice wickedness, and then rail against Him because He refuses to bless them.  What is written concerning apostate Israel is equally true of apostate Christendom, “... this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men,” Isa 29:13.


33:18.  “When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.”


This has to be understood in context.  Genuine conversion brings the believer into possession of the life and nature of Christ, making him a new creation, as it is written, “... if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (creation),” 2 Cor 5:17; the Lord Himself in John 3:15 announcing the nature of that life: it is eternal, i.e., it is the very life of God; and in John 3:16 declaring the duration of that life received by faith: it is everlasting, the same truth being emphasized in verse 36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life....”  “I give unto them (my sheep) eternal life; and they shall never perish,” John 10:28.  This new life, therefore, once received can never be lost


The man spoken of in the verse we are now considering is not a believer, but one who may have had a mere profession of faith, or who had undergone mere moral reformation, and had then reverted to his old sinful lifestyle.  He had for a time been righteous according to man’s standards, but not God’s.


33:19.  “But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.”


The very fact of its being said that “he shall live thereby” certifies the reality of this man’s conversion: he is a true convert whose righteous life is the outward evidence of his inward faith.


33:20.  “Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal.  O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.”


Rebel Israel imagined that adherence to the outward keeping of the law absolved her from guilt, and constituted righteousness, while permitting her to continue worshiping idols, and living immorally; and because God refused to accommodate her perfidy she accused Him of injustice, measuring His righteousness by her own flawed standard which justified her and condemned Him.


Squirm as she might, however, she would be judged and condemned by God’s inflexible standard of absolute righteousness.       


Her attitude is reflected in that of today’s Christendom which will also be judged and condemned by God in a quickly approaching day.


33:21.  “And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month; that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came unto me saying, The city is smitten.”


The date was January 9, 585 B.C., a few months after the fall of Jerusalem, when the messenger informed Ezekiel of the city’s destruction by the Babylonians.


33:22.  “Now the hand of the Lord was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came; and had opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb.”


Relative to Ezekiel’s dumbness, see comments on 3:26-27.  With his prophesies fulfilled, his partial dumbness was ended and his normal speech restored.


33:23.  “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,”


33:24.  “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.”


Those who had been permitted to remain in devastated Israel reasoned that since God had originally given the land to one man, Abraham, their being permitted to remain in it meant that He had now given it to them in perpetuity.  They failed to see that they were just as wicked as those who had been dispossessed, and were therefore also to suffer God’s wrath.


33:25.  “Wherefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Ye eat with the blood, and lift up your eyes toward your idols, and shed blood: and shall ye possess the land?”


The prophet was to inform them that they were just as vile as those who had been slain or carried away captive.  They ate meat with the blood still in it, which God had forbidden, see Le 17:10-14; they worshiped idols; and committed murder!  How could they dare to presume that they would escape the judgment that had overtaken those whose land they were now seizing as their own?


33:26.  “Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one his neighbor’s wife: and shall ye possess the land?”


They presumed to hold the land by the power of their swords, even while they worked abomination, i.e., “committed detestable impieties; engaged in filthy practices; engaged in foul rites, and committed adultery.”  Well might God express His incredulity by asking them how they could dare to expect to inherit the land.


33:27.  “Say thou thus unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; As I live, surely they that are in the wastes shall fall by the sword, and him that is in the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured, and they that be in the forts and in the caves shall die of pestilence.”


God’s plans for them were very different from what they envisaged.  Those living in “the wastes,” i.e., in the devastated land, were to be slain by the sword; those in the open fields would be devoured by wild animals; while those in the fastnesses, strongholds, and caves would die of plague.


They had thought wrongly that those led into captivity were doomed, and that they themselves who had been allowed to remain were to be blessed.  It was, in fact, the very opposite: they would be destroyed, but of those taken captive to Babylon, a remnant of them, together with their children, would be brought back at the end of seventy years.


33:28.  “For I will lay the land most desolate, and the pomp of her strength shall cease; and the mountains of Israel shall be desolate, that none shall pass through.”


Under God’s judgment the land would become a desert waste; the pride of Israel’s power would cease; and the mountains would be

so desolate that no man would pass through them.


33:29.  “Then shall they know that I am the Lord, when I have laid the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.”


This continues the sad truth that pervades the whole book: those who by obedience would have known God as the Blesser, by their disobedience must know Him as the stern Dispenser of judgment.


33:30.  “Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord.”


It is generally agreed that “against” is better translated “of” or “about,” i.e., the people talked, not necessarily maliciously, about Ezekiel where ever they met, and recognized him as a true prophet, so that they consulted him frequently to hear what God had to say.  They were willing to hear God’s words, but not ready to obey them.


33:31.  “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.”


The Bible: An American Translation renders this verse, “They come to you, as my people used to come; and they sit before you, as if they were still my people ....”  The attitude of the people was the same as in the day of the Lord’s ministry, when He said of them, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me,” Mt 15:8.


“... their heart goeth after their covetousness” means that their minds were set on the acquisition of selfish, dishonest gain, the same spirit as marks today’s apostate Christendom.


33:32.  “And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.”


To the people the prophet was like a man with a good voice singing a beautiful love song while playing skillfully on the musical instrument: his words entertained them, but had no affect on their lives.


33:33.  “And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.”


Only when the foretold judgment fell would the people realize that Ezekiel was indeed God’s prophet, but then it would be too late to profit them.  And so is it with apostate Christendom: they too display a superficial appreciation of God’s Word, but it doesn’t affect their lives.  Only when the foretold terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation reduce the world to ruin will the people understand that the Word they had disdained was the Word of God, but then it will be too late to save them.

[Ezekiel 34]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough