Warn the Wicked
“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘You will 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. 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. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will 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. 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.” (Eze.3:17-21)
The ministry of the prophet Ezekiel was not what most contemporary people think about when considering ministry. It is not pleasant to point out and warn people of wickedness and sin. One very quickly gains a reputation of being someone to avoid; someone who is negative. This is not an easy stigma to carry. The neo-love, feel-good focus of many shallow, albeit popular, churches have no room for the likes of Ezekiel and other Old Testament prophets. Of course, we can find convenient ways to dismiss the challenge they present, but we begin this chapter by attempting to learn what we can by the fact that God called and used them in their contemporary setting to exercise an influence (and beyond) upon nations.
As we reflect upon this, and other passages, our challenge is to, first, realize that God uses human beings to minister to other human beings. We do not have the “luxury” of a sedentary life that assumes that God’s will simply unfolds in a deterministic fashion. He calls and uses people. Whether one answers this call and cooperates with God is another matter. Furthermore, knowing that God uses people to reach people, we must seek to understand what role we are to play in this arrangement.
What follows is a series of observations from the above passage from the book of Ezekiel.
God gave Ezekiel the task of being a “watchman.” A significant part of his duty was to warn the people about their wickedness. Ezekiel, though called and instructed by God, had two options – he could fail to warn them (vs.18), or he could, in fact, warn them (vs.19).
If Ezekiel chose not to warn the wicked, there was a consequence – the wicked would die in his iniquity, and his blood would be required at the hand of Ezekiel (vs.18). This is not a pleasant consequence. The Apostle Paul knew it was important that he do what he was called to do as he proclaimed, “…woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Co.9:16). For insight into the wicked dying in his iniquity and his blood being required at the hand of the prophet, chapter 21 is enlightening.
If Ezekiel obeyed and warned the wicked, he delivered himself from the consequences of disobedience and further obligation in dealing with the judgment of the wicked (vss.19 & 21).
Upon being warned, the wicked had two options – they could turn from their wickedness (vs.19), or they could refuse to turn (vs.21). This is important insight about God’s relationship with mankind and our moral capability and accountability.
If the wicked refuse to turn from the path they are on, they die in their iniquity (vs.19). However, as God prefers (Eze.18:32), they can repent and live (vs.21).
What we see in the above account provides insight into the dynamic nature of God’s interaction with us and of our interaction with God and our fellow human beings. We learn that God is active in many ways. One significant way is by calling and commanding us to warn the wicked. The response we might get is unpredictable. People might have a negative response that involves active abuse (physical, verbal, etc.) or rejection that seeks to avoid interaction of any sort. However, it is possible that some will heed the warning and forsake their wickedness. Some of these people will be grateful but others will simply forget the beneficial role you played in their lives and move on (some fruitfully and some into stagnation).
“A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.” (Pr.29:1)