Ezekiel 33 Commentary


A new phase in Ezekiel’s work (33:1-20)

Up till now Ezekiel’s messages have been concerned mainly with God’s judgment – first his judgment on Jerusalem, then his judgment on other nations. Now that Jerusalem has fallen (see v. 21), the prophet concentrates more on the task of building up the exiles. He wants them to be a new people who will be ready to repossess the land when God’s time comes. This, however, is going to involve some stern warnings. Ezekiel is therefore reminded again that he is like a watchman on the city wall who must warn the people when he sees danger approaching (33:1-6). Whether the people heed him or ignore him, he must carry out his duty faithfully (7-9; cf. 3:16-21).

For the first time, the exiles show sorrow for their past sin. Some are even tempted to despair. Ezekiel assures them that God does not delight in punishment. He would rather they repent. Then he will forgive the past and they can make a new beginning (10-11).

The prophet reminds the people that each individual has a personal responsibility to do what is right in order to enjoy the blessings of God. Good deeds of the past will not save a person from judgment if that person deliberately turns back to sin. Bad deeds of the past will not be held against a person if that person turns from them (12-16; cf. 18:5-24). If people suffer God’s punishment, it is because they have done wrong, not because God is unjust (17-20; cf. 18:25-32).

News from Jerusalem (33:21-33)

As soon as news reached the exiles that Jerusalem had fallen as Ezekiel had foretold, Ezekiel knew that the new phase of his work was to begin. The former restrictions on his speech and movements were lifted (21-22; cf. 24:25-27).

Ezekiel received news also of certain selfish and dishonest practices among the Jews who were left in the country areas of Judah. Some of these people had seized the land of those taken into exile. They argued that if Abraham (only one person) had been given the right to inherit Canaan, surely they (a much greater number) had the right to accumulate property there (23-24).

God’s reply through Ezekiel is clear. The Jews scattered in Judah have no right to possess any of the land, since they commit the same sins as the Jerusalemites – sins for which Jerusalem was destroyed and its people taken into captivity (25-26). Those who happened to escape the Babylonians are not the people who will repossess the promised land. On the contrary, they will be punished as the Jerusalemites were punished (27-29).

Meanwhile the exiles in Babylon had developed a more favourable attitude towards Ezekiel. Now that his prediction of the fall of Jerusalem had come true, they were convinced that he was a true prophet. As a result they came to listen to what else he had to say (30). But they were concerned only with any advantages that they might gain to make life easier for themselves in Babylon. They listened to Ezekiel as they might listen to an entertainer. They took no notice of his moral instruction (31-32). Only after they had been restored to the promised land would people understand fully that this was the goal for which Ezekiel had been trying to prepare them (33).

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