This structure was a typical watch tower in ancient Israel. Though not as seemingly impressive as many towers today, it served a great purpose for God’s people. The men assigned to the tower (watchmen) were responsible for being alert to any dangers coming from afar towards the city, and warning the people in good time to save themselves (see 2 Samuel18:24; 2 Kings 9:23). God draws a parallel from this all-important job to the purpose of His prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33).
The prophets of the Old Testament were God’s spiritual watchmen (v. 7-9), tasked with warning the Israelites of their sin and rebellion towards God, that they may turn from their ways and be saved from impending judgement. As with regular watchmen, the prophets were held accountable for the destruction of the people if they were not faithful in warning them of their sin (v. 8). However, if they were obedient to the Lord and warned the people, the responsibility was passed on to each person according to how he chose to respond to God’s warnings (v. 9). The Israelites tried to argue, “the way of the Lord is unjust!”, in a futile attempt to justify themselves and make their own escape; but the way of the Lord is true justice, and the people had become enslaved in their own rebellion, bringing about judgement on themselves (v. 19).
What’s the point?
“Our offences and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?” (v. 10)
The Israelites were burdened by the depth and devastation of their sin. Over centuries and generations, they had swung back and forth on a spiritual see-saw between repentance and rebellion. This cry against God was as if they were saying, “well, since we’ve sinned so greatly, what’s the point in obeying God? We’re going to get judged anyway. We might as well just continue doing what we want while we can.” But God’s response is simple and perfect: “As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (v. 11). Because of God’s great love toward mankind, and His desire for all people be saved (2 Peter 3:9), a way of salvation was available; even in the midst of brutal rebellion! The way for the Israelites to avoid judgement was to repent of their sin – abandoning a life lived for themselves and their own purposes – and turning their hearts and souls wholly to God.
We are God’s Watchmen
Just as the prophets of the Old Testament were called to be watchmen for the people of Israel, so we as Christians are called to share the gospel with unbelievers, and to warn our brothers and sisters of sin:
“Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” Acts 20:26-28a
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the men and women of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20a
Are you a faithful and obedient watchman? Do you warn people of sin and judgement, calling them to repent and be baptised? Do you preach the whole, true message of the gospel (such as the one found in Acts 2:36-40)? Are there Christians you know who are struggling in some way against sin, who need gentle correction and encouragement? Pray for opportunities to share the gospel, and ask God to help you to be someone who directs their fellow brothers and sisters to Christ.