As with many matters in scripture there are many facets and lessons that can be derived from studies of both Bible characters and symbols used within scripture. Bro Samuel wrote a few comments about watching (available here), focusing upon the responsibility of ‘watching’ in this current age. In this context the prophet Ezekiel, his life and his work make a very interesting study containing valuable personal lessons that we can learn.

Now Ezekiel was given a scroll to read (Ezekiel 2:8-10 and 3:1-4) which is described as being sweet to the taste, even though the message was full of “lamentations and mourning and woe”. John was told a similar thing (Rev 10:9-11), though in this case though tasting sweet, to eat the scroll was to turn his stomach sour.

We read in Psalm 119:103-104 “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Through your precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way.” Thus the scroll was symbolic of the word of God. The Word is sweet to the receptive mind and Ezekiel consumed the Word symbolically by eating the scroll. The words upon the scroll, as the Word of God, were sweet to the taste, good eat and spiritual food indeed. Yet the words Ezekiel had to speak were bitter and full of woe. They could indeed have, as with John, turned his stomach sour with trepidation at what was to come. Ezekiel was engaged to be a prophet and a bringer of bitter warnings of impending destruction from God to his contemporaries. His lot in God’s service was a hard one. He had to prophesy against his own people and against other nations. Moreover Ezekiel was to become a man of ‘sign’ enacting out many living parables. For example he had to build a model of Jerusalem and then besiege it. He lay on his left side 390 days, and right side for 40 days, eating only limited rations. He had bitter things to experience and many to speak about.

As we read the book of Ezekiel we see some of the bitterness of the words Ezekiel spoke, words of lamentation, bitterness and woe. Both for him as prophet speaking the Word of God and for Israel as recipients of that word, who of course experienced its outworking. For Ezekiel bitterness and lamentation for all that had already befallen Israel, and maybe his own position as a righteous man in isolation amongst a godless people. Ezekiel was a true lover of Zion living amongst a treacherous people. His isolation brought about by speaking the truth of God’s word would bring bitterness of heart. The word of God is perfect, good to ‘eat’, yet to speak it brought great opposition.

So Ezekiel was commissioned as a watchman over Israel. We read “Son of man I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel, therefore hear a word from my mouth and give them warning from me.” Ezek 3v17

So the scroll was symbolic of consuming and taking into oneself God’s word. God not want mere repeater and relater of his word. Ezekiel had to take in the word, to feel the word, to know the word in his heart. Such a man is sincere in his conviction and manner speech. Thus we read “Moreover he said to me Son of man receive into your heart all my words that I speak to you and hear with your ears” (Ezek 3:10). Ezekiel had a grave responsibility, and as Jesus said “everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required. And to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48) Now the word ‘watchman’ comes from the Hebrew word ‘tsaphah’ which has a prime root meaning of to lean forward; peer into the distance; – observe, await, wait for, keep watch, watchman.

The practical aspect of being a watchman was to take up position on the city wall. From this vantage point he could see all the surrounding land. We read in Isa 21:6 “Go set a watchman [tsaphah] let him declare what he sees.” The watchman’s duty was to declare and to inform the people of impending danger. He was responsible for the safety of the city. The people of the city relied upon him. He must be vigilant and on constant watch. There were different shifts of watchman to cover both day and night. But for Ezekiel he had to maintain a constant watch (Regarding the grave responsibilities of being a watchman see Ezekiel 33:2-6).

Yet man cannot rely upon his own strength and abilities, a watchman may be posted but, “unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) In this case the word watchman is ‘shamar’ and means to guard, take heed, wait, watch. Israel was surrounded by many dangers, both physical and moral. They were in the land of their captivity completely surrounded by paganism. They had great need of a watchman. It was the watchman’s duty to utter the words of God to warn the people of the impending dangers that would lead them on the path to unfaithfulness. The failure of Ezekiel to warn the people, or the failure of the people to listen, would mean the death of the people. However failure to warn would mean Ezekiel’s condemnation (Ezekiel 3:17-21).

If a city was warned of impending danger and failed to heed the watchman’s warning, then their blood was upon their own head. So also with Ezekiel, if a sinner was warned and did not heed the warning then he would perish, but note “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” Ezek 33v9.

We have an example in Achan. He was warned with all Israel not to take the consecrated things, and he knew the consequences of doing so. He did not heed the warning and took of them, so we read “And Joshua said why have you troubled us? God will trouble you this day. So all Israel stoned him .” Joshua7v25 God said of Israel “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity, for they say, The Lord has forsaken the land and the Lord does not see! And as for me also, my eye will neither spare nor will I have pity, but I will recompense their deeds on their own head” Ezek 9:9-10 (also 16:42-43).

However wickedness recoiling upon the head of a sinner is not confined to Israel. Joel records “Indeed what have you to do with me O Tyre and Sidon and all the coasts of Philistia? Will you retaliate against me? Swiftly and speedily I will return your retaliation upon your own heads.”Joel 3:4,7 andin Obadiah “For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near. As you have done it shall be done to you. Your reprisal shall return upon your own head.” (v15). also a personal lesson must be learned, that we ignore warnings not to sin at our own peril, for they will ultimately recoil upon our own heads.

We also have equal responsibility in our day to warn the generation in which we live. Ezekiel was warned “When I say to the wicked, O wicked man you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man from his way, he shall die in his iniquity.” (Ch. 33:8) God’s judgements will come upon this world whether we warn or do not warn, “But his blood I will require at your hand.” We need to heed the warning and be careful how we act as watchmen, building and acting upon the knowledge that has been given and entrusted to us. Paul writes “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 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 ofwhat sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, 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.” (1Cor 3:11-15)

If the right message is not preached in sincerity and truthfully, how can warning be taken. Every mans work will be tested, being revealed for what is by fire. BUT if we act as faithful watchmen to our generation then we will “deliver our soul”. This acting as a watchmen applies equally as much to our brethren and sisters. James writes “Brethren if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (Ch. 5:20) and in a similar manner Daniel records “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12:3).

Now the word translated watchman, had a meaning of to ‘peer into the distance’. We look into the distance, looking ahead, looking to the approaching light of the day of God’s coming Kingdom and to the return of our Lord ad Saviour. May that day soon come! Next week in Jerusalem!

Andy Peel