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Ezekiel 33

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
    Oracle of Restoration
(33:1-39:29)
   
The Watchman's Day The Watchman and His Message Responsibility God Appoints Ezekiel as a Lookout The Prophet as Watchman
33:1-6 33:1-6 33:1-6 33:1-6 33:1-5
        33:6
33:7-9 33:7-9 33:7-9 33:7-9 33:7-9
      Individual Responsibility Conversion and Perversity
33:10-16 33:10-11 33:10-16 33:10-11 33:10-11
  The Fairness of God's Judgment      
  33:12-16   33:12-16 33:12-16
33:17-20 33:17-20 33:17-20 33:17-20 33:17-20
Word of Jerusalem's Capture The Fall of Jerusalem Miscellanea News of Jerusalem's Fall The Taking of the City
33:21-22 33:21-22 33:21-22 33:21-22 33:21-22
  The Cause of Judah's Ruin   The Sins of the People The Ravaging of the Country
33:23-29 33:23-29 33:23-29 33:23-24 33:23-24
      33:25-26 33:25-29
      33:27-29  
  Hearing and Not Doing   The Results of the Prophet's Message The Results of the Preaching
33:30-33 33:30-33 33:30-33 33:30-33 33:30-33

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

BACKGROUND

Chapters 12-24 explain God's reason for His judgment on Judah.

A. Chapters 25-32 are the judgments on the surrounding nations.

 

B. Chapters 33-39 are the message to the exiles of God's promised restoration.

 

C. Chapter 33 is very similar to chapter 18 in its emphasis on individual responsibility (cf. Jer. 31:29-30). In this chapter the people admit their sin (cf. v. 10). This theme of individual responsibility is a major truth of the book of Ezekiel and it begins in 3:16-21.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:33:1-6
 1And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2"Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, 'If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, 3and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people, 4then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. 5He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life. 6But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman's hand.'"

33:1 This is the literary marker for a new prophecy.

33:2 "speak" As so many of Ezekiel's prophecies this one starts out with the command "speak" or "say" (BDB 180; KB 210, Piel imperative).

▣ "to the sons of your people" This is found only in Ezekiel (cf. 3:11; 33:2,12,17,30; 37:18) and mostly in this chapter.

▣ "If I bring a sword upon a land" This theme is amplified in chapter 21. The sword was one of several items of judgment (sword, famine, plague, wild beasts, e.g., 5:17).

▣ "watchman" The world translated "watchman" is really a Qal active participle of the verb "to look out," "look about" or "spy out" (BDB 859, KB 1044, cf. vv. 2,6[twice],7). This is the man who stood on the wall (or in a watchtower) to give an early warning of danger (cf. 3:16-21; Isa. 56:10; Jer. 6:17; Hosea 9:8).

33:3 "he sees the sword coming" The sword is used as a metaphorical way of referring to an invading army. In this case it refers to the army of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.

▣ "the trumpet" This refers to the sophar (BDB 1051) or ram's horn. It was used both for religious purposes and for war (cf. Josh. 6:4; II Sam. 2:28; 18: 24,25; Ps. 81:3; Joel 2:15; Amos 3:6; Hab. 2:1). See Special Topic: Horns Used By Israel at 7:14.

▣ "warns" This verb (BDB 264, KB 265, Hiphil perfect) means "to warn" or possibly from an Aramaic root, "to teach" (cf. Exod. 18:20). It is found in the verb form only and predominately in Ezekiel in two forms.

1. Hiphil, to warn or caution (cf. 3:17,18[twice],19,20,21[twice]; 33:3,7,8,9)

2. Niphal, to be warned (cf. 3:21; 33:4,5[twice],6)

 

33:4,6 "his blood will be on his own head. . .but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand" Ezekiel felt the pressure of speaking God's word to a non-responsive people (as did Isaiah and Jeremiah). In a sense he is defending his message of judgment on Judah. If he had not spoken, the inhabitants could have blamed him or God for the destruction and death of the nation. But he did speak and they still did not respond.
 The word "blood" stands for a person's life (cf. 18:13; Lev. 17:11,14).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:33:7-9
 7"Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me. 8When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will 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 from your hand. 9But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.

33:8 "you will surely die" This is a Hebrew grammatical construction (i.e., infinitive absolute and imperfect verb from the same root, here BDB 559, KB 562), which denotes emphasis or intensity.

1. This one is repeated in v. 14.

2. Another related one (i.e., BDB 310, KB 309, "he will surely live") is found in vv. 13,15,16.

 

"that wicked man shall die in his iniquity" This is the message of chapter 18. If one repents, YHWH will forgive. If one sins and refuses to repent, that one will bear his judgment.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:33:10-16
 10"Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'Thus you have spoken, saying, "Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?"' 11Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?' 12And you, son of man, say to your fellow citizens, 'The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he commits sin.' 13When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die. 14But when I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and he turns from his sin and practices justice and righteousness, 15if a wicked man restores a pledge, pays back what he has taken by robbery, walks by the statutes which ensure life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely live."

33:10 "say" It is characteristic for an imperative (BDB 55, KB 65, Qal imperative) to designate the beginning of YHWH's new message through Ezekiel (i.e., vv. 10,11,12).

▣ "Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them" In chapter 18 the people were blaming their forefathers for God's judgments, but here in chapter 33 they acknowledge their personal and corporate rebellion.
 The phrase "rotting away" is from the curses of Lev. 26:39-42. This phrase is found three times in Ezekiel (cf. 4:17; 24:23; 33:10).

▣ "then can we survive" This is literally "live" (BDB 310, KB 309, Qal imperfect). We must see the devastating mental and physical anguish that the destruction of Jerusalem caused to the covenant people. Ezekiel, in chapters 33-39 after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, begins to reassure the covenant people that YHWH is still their Covenant God (cf. Isa. 49:14-15) and that He will forgive and restore them, physically and spiritually (cf. 37:11-14).

33:11 "'As I live!' declares the Lord God" This is an oath related to the name of the Covenant God, YHWH, from the Hebrew verb "to be" (see Special Topic at 2:4). It is the ever-living, only-living God who swears by His own life (cf. 5:11).

▣ "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked" This is a repetition of 18:23,32. The heart of God is love, not judgment (cf. John 3:16; Matt. 11:28-30). God wants all men to turn and respond to Him (cf. John 3:16; 4:42; I Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11; II Pet. 3:9; I John 2:1; 4:14) by repentance and faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38,41; 3:16,19; 20:21).

▣ "turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why will you die, Oh house of Israel" The verb (BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal imperative) is repeated for emphasis (cf. 3:19,20; 14:6[thrice]; 18:21,23,24,26,27,28,30[twice],32; 33:9,11[twice],12,14,19). Repentance is a crucial spiritual requirement.

Repentance primarily is a turning from self and a turning toward God. See Special Topic at 14:6. The Hebrew word (BDB 996) speaks of a change of action, while the Greek speaks of a change of mind. Both are involved (cf. Ezek. 18:31; Jer. 31:33).

▣ "house of Israel" Israel in this context refers specifically to Judah. See Special Topic: Israel at 11:17. Ezekiel uses this designation to foreshadow the coming unity of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

33:12 "The righteousness of the righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression" This does not refer to cumulative guilt or acquired merit (cf. chapter 18), but lifestyle relational faith! What a terrible warning! What a wonderful invitation (cf. v. 10)!

33:13 "and he will surely live" This is the infinitive absolute and the imperfect verb of the same root (BDB 310, KB 309, cf. vv. 15,16), which expresses intensity or emphasis (see note at v. 8).

▣ "and he so trusts in his righteousness" This is always a danger of religious humanity. The believer must trust in God, not in oneself or one's performance. His/her trust must issue from an initial faith and repentance to an ongoing faith and repentance. Biblical faith is a daily relationship! Obedience does make a difference (cf. vv. 16,31-32; Deut. 4:1; Hab. 2:4) and is the natural result of a dynamic faith.

33:14 "practices justice and righteousness" Notice that there is no distinction in this context between secular and sacred because all belongs to God. This is a truth that moderns need to hear. All life and all relationships are sacred because of Gen. 1:26-27.

33:15 "restores a pledge" This term, "a pledge," (BDB 286, KB 285) basically means "to bind." When one borrows he is obligated to repay. To secure this repayment (without interest to a fellow Israelite) the creditor could take something of value and hold it.

1. grinding stone, 24:6

2. garments, 24:17; Exod. 22:25-27; Job 24:7,10

3. ancestral land and houses, Neh. 5:3 (possibly Job 24:2)

4. an essential animal, Job 24:3

5. essential help, the children, Exod. 21:7; Lev. 25:39-43; II Kgs. 4:1; Job 24:9

Each of these items was a necessary part of daily agricultural existence. To remove any one of these jeopardized the family, even life itself. YHWH's compassion and care for Israel was to be emulated by those Israelites who had resources. God would bless them for their compassion. They would be given more so that they could share more (cf. v. 13; II Cor. 9:6-10).

▣ "pays back what he has taken by robbery" Robbery is discussed in Exod. 22:1-4; Lev. 6:4,5. The stolen items must be returned with a penalty.

▣ "walks by the statutes" The verb (BDB 229, KB 246, Qal perfect) is an idiom of lifestyle faith. Faith is personal and communal. The first can be seen and evaluated by how we treat others!

Notice that the statutes (see Special Topic at 5:7) of God are meant to bestow life (another infinitive absolute and imperfect verb of the same root, BDB 310, KB 309). God's laws were to protect humanity during this period of fallenness (i.e., Deut. 30:16).

33:16 "None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him" What a tremendous promise of the forgiveness of God (cf. 18:22; Ps. 103:12; Isa. 1:18; 38:17; 43:25; 44:22; Micah 7:18, 19)! When God forgives, God forgets!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:33:17-20
 17"Yet your fellow citizens say, 'The way of the Lord is not right,' when it is their own way that is not right. 18When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it. 19But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and practices justice and righteousness, he will live by them. 20Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not right.' O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways."

33:17-20 This supposed dialogue between God's spokesperson and the wicked is similar to the diatribe format found in Malachi, Paul's writings, and I John.

A statement of truth is made, then a supposed contemporary objector restates or challenges the first statement. In a concluding statement from the first speaker, God gives His answer to contemporary false views.

33:17 "The way of the Lord" This speaks of lifestyle faith (i.e., Deut. 3:33; 8:6; 10:12; 11:22; 19:9; 26:17; 28:9; 30:16). The early church's title was "The Way" (cf. Acts 9:2; 18:25,26; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22).

▣ "right" This refers to a measuring standard (BDB 1067). It is used often in Ezekiel (cf. 18:25 [twice], 29 [twice]; 33:17 [twice], 20). They were claiming that God's justice was unfair (weighted falsely, cf. I Sam. 2:3; Pro. 16:2; 24:12), but the problem was human, willful rebellion (cf. 18:25, 29).

33:20 "I will judge each of you according to his ways" Notice the individual emphasis continues. This is a recurrent biblical truth. We reap what we sow!

Note Job 34:11; Ps. 28:4; 62:12; Pro. 24:12; Eccl. 12:14; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6; 14:12; I Cor. 3:8; II Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7; II Tim. 4:14; I Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 20:12; 22:12!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:33:21-22
 21Now in the twelfth year of our exile, on the fifth of the tenth month, the refugees from Jerusalem came to me, saying, "The city has been taken." 22Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me in the evening, before the refugees came. And He opened my mouth at the time they came to me in the morning; so my mouth was opened and I was no longer speechless.

33:21 "in the twelfth year of our exile" The Syriac translation has "eleventh."

"The city has been taken" Ezekiel had predicted this earlier, but this was the first eyewitness confirmation. This is a crucial point in Ezekiel's ministry. Once the predicted judgment of God has struck (i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem), Ezekiel then begins to proclaim YHWH's messages of hope and restoration.

33:22 "the hand of the Lord had been upon me" This is an idiomatic way of referring to God's initiation of a revelatory message (cf. 1:3; 3:14,22; 8:1; 37:1; 40:1). The phrase usually marks crucial transition points, but here and in chapter 3 it denotes an incoming message.

"He opened my mouth" Previously, Ezekiel had been forced to do dramatic actions because he could not speak, but now he was permitted to speak (cf. 3:26, 27; 24:27).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:33:23-29
 23Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 24"Son of man, they who live in these waste places in the land of Israel are saying, 'Abraham was only one, yet he possessed the land; so to us who are many the land has been given as a possession.' 25Therefore say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God, "You eat meat with the blood in it, lift up your eyes to your idols as you shed blood. Should you then possess the land? 26You rely on your sword, you commit abominations and each of you defiles his neighbor's wife. Should you then possess the land?'" 27Thus you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God, "As I live, surely those who are in the waste places will fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in the strongholds and in the caves will die of pestilence. 28I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and the pride of her power will cease; and the mountains of Israel will be desolate so that no one will pass through. 29Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I make the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations which they have committed."'

33:24 "they who live in these waste places in the land of Israel are saying" Those who escaped the captivity and exile to Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 24), were asserting that God had blessed them and had cursed the exiles, but this was simply not the case (cf. v. 27; 11:1-27).

33:25 "You eat meat with blood in it" This refers to the improper preparations of meat (cf. Lev. 3:17; 7:26-27; 17:10,12,14; 19:26; Deut. 12:16, 23; 15:23). In this context it probably refers to cultic meals at pagan altars.

▣ "lift up your eyes" This is a metaphor for prayer. They were idolaters.

▣ "you shed blood" This refers to (1) the killing of righteous people; (2) the killing of the poor; or (3) the offering of their children to the Phoenician fertility god, Molech.

"Should you then possess the land" This question is very similar to Jeremiah's temple sermon of chapter 7, in particular vv. 9 and 10.

33:26 "You rely on your sword" They were trusting in their military power and walled cities (cf. v. 28, "the pride of her power will cease").

▣ "you commit abominations and each of you defiles his neighbor's wife" This refers to the sexual fertility rites of the Canaanite gods, Ba'al and Ashterah. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST at 8:3.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:33:30-33
 30"But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, 'Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.' 31They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. 32Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. 33So when it comes to pass — as surely it will — then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst."

33:30 Ezekiel's fellow exiles were talking about (his prophecies) what happened to Jerusalem and what would happen to the few who remained. In this context the prophet is commanded to address their concerns.

1. come – BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperative plural

2. hear – BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative plural

God still wants to speak to His people. The ones in exile are the people He will begin again with.

33:31 "They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as My people but they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain" There was outward, religious show, but no true piety. To them Ezekiel was the best show in town (cf. v. 32), but they had no real desire to turn to God (cf. Isa. 6:9-13; 29:13).

33:32 "for they hear your words but they do not practice them" They hear, but they do not do (i.e., the opposite of shema). This is the condemnation of "religious people" (cf. Matt. 7:24-27; James 1:23-25).

The exiles loved to come hear or observe Ezekiel's messages, but they did not really believe them. He was the only show in town. This would all change with the news brought by an exiled survivor of Jerusalem that indeed all that Ezekiel had predicted had occurred (cf. v. 33).

33:33 The mark of a true prophet is that what they predict (unless repentance occurs, i.e., Jonah) comes to pass (cf. v. 29; 13:6; Deut. 18:22; Jer. 28:9). Ezekiel had been right about Judah and Jerusalem and he would be right about the destruction of the nations! He would also be right about the forgiveness and restoration to come!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the significance of chapters 18 and 33?

2. What is the difference between the attitude of the people in chapters 18 and 33?

3. Explain the spiritual relationship described in 33:12, 13.

4. What is repentance?