OT Encounters: Causing the Watchman

By Jeff Pulse

The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday, September 10, 2017, is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. The text is Ezekiel 33:7-9, a short section that proves to be a pivotal part of Ezekiel. It is helpful to first back up to Ezekiel chapters 2 and 3. You may recall that chapter 2 is the “call” or “sending” of Ezekiel as a prophet to the people of Israel, specifically to those who are in exile in Babylon. There are three (perhaps four) exiles of the Southern Kingdom to Babylon. Ezekiel was taken in the first exile and is called to be a prophet while in Babylon. So, while Ezekiel begins his prophetic ministry, the city of Jerusalem is still standing—but not for much longer.

Looking at chapter three, the similarities to our short text are striking. Ezekiel is called to be a watchman/guard (3:17), and he is told he will deliver his soul by doing his job (3:21), etc. And when you continue to read in chapter three, you come up against verse 26, where God makes Ezekiel mute. He can only speak when God opens his mouth. This is until we come to chapter 33. Now, in our text, Ezekiel is once told that he has been made a watchman/guard (vs. 7), and the LORD told him to warn the people. If he does not, their blood will be on his hands. But if he does, even if they do not listen, he will have delivered his own soul.

As we continue to read chapter 33, we come to 21-22. A fugitive from Jerusalem comes to Ezekiel to tell him the Holy City has fallen. The night before, God opens his mouth so that he can speak once again.

Chapter 33 is pivotal in another way as well. Previously, Ezekiel has been carrying out prophecies by way of symbolic actions, except when the LORD opens his mouth. Horrace Hummel calls this “street theater.” Now, in chapter 33 and following, Ezekiel becomes very apocalyptic in his words. This is why Ezekiel is titled the Father of Apocalyptic Literature.

33:7 Tsopheh—watchman; scout; guard

Zahar—root means—to give a warning; caution. This verb is in all three verse of our text and in each case is in the Hiphil form which generally conveys a causative action. While one may not necessarily translate this as “cause to give a warning,” it is important to remember the causative nature, and to consider the causing agent.

33:8 Zahar again, this time as a Hiphil infinitive, “to warn about; to warn”

         Miyadca  avaqesh –from your hand I will require.

33:9 Zahar again, this time a Hiphil with a “Ciy” attached—if you warn.

Keeping in mind the causative nature of the Hiphil, we can understand the text something like this: “I have called you to be my watchman and this is what that means (this is your identity). I will cause you to carry out this work of warning, but if you do not do it (if you fight against Me) then the blood of these people (and yours) will be on your hands. But if you do what I am calling you to do (and causing you to do/giving you the ability to do), then you will have delivered your soul regardless of the reaction of the people. (You have not rejected or fought against the LORD and His salvation.)

Lutheran Theology! We can do nothing good and nothing to deliver ourselves unless the LORD God causes/enables us to do it. So, while we are given laws, statutes, commands, callings from God, it is God who causes/enables us to carry them out by virtue of having caused us to be His child. We can reject, ignore, walk away, forsake our deliverance—thus our own blood, and the blood of those who may have been brought in if we had been faithful, would be on our hands.