Ezekiel 3:17, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me” (cf, 33:7).
Exegesis and Application
This verse is pregnant with meaning for the Christian journalist in our time. A close look at this divine statement to the prophet should bear some fruit.
First is the phrase “son of man.” In the Hebrew it is the straightforward “adam-ben” or “son of Adam.” The phrase is used in Ezekiel over 90 times and always refers to Ezekiel. The phrase is used later in Daniel and in the New Testament by Jesus in reference to the messianic mission of our Lord. But not in Ezekiel. Robert Baker Girdlestone simply states that the phrase designates a child of Adam by descent; a human man. The Old Testament linguist, C. F. Nosgen states that the phrase “expresses the contrast between what Ezekiel is in himself and what God will make out of him, and to make his mission appear to him not as his own, but as the work of God, and thus to life him up whenever the flesh threatens to faint and fail” (Christ: Son of Man and Son of God).
Second is the verb “made,” or “appoint” or “set” and is the Hebrew term “natan.” This term usually refers to define appointments rather than human appointments. Thus Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah and now Ezekiel all have divine appointments to bear witness to the Old Testament Church of God. The passage conveys God’s sovereign call for the journalist to be a witness (cf, Is. 8:1-2). Jeremiah sees his “appointment” as a watchman (6:17) as an analyst or examiner (“tester”) of the Church as well as a prophet to the nations (Jer. 6:27). Maybe there is some of this in Ezekiel’s appointment.
Third and the most interesting term in this verse is the noun “watchman” (cf, 2 Sam. 18:24; 2 Kings 9:17; Ps. 127:1; Song 3:3; Isaiah 21:11; Jer. 6:17; Hos. 9:8; Habb. 2:1; Micah 7:4). The Hebrew word translated “watchman” in these books comes from the root “sopeh” which means “to watch,” “observe,” “look out,” “take heed,” “pay attention.” Earlier, with Jeremiah (6:17) Yahweh had given His great prophets the additional responsibility of being “watchmen” for their communities. Much can be said about the watchman” and this appointment is unique because Ezekiel’s duties are specified (chp. 33), so let me itemize some key points:
1) The watchman must be placed in a prominent place from which to view his environment. Thus the watchman must be circumspect in his own life and able to withstand the scrutiny of those for whom he is watching. Those for whom he is watching are watching him.
2) The watchman is watching on behalf of the whole community. This was a government appointment. He sees everything and must warn about impending danger to everyone. Calvin states that he “keeps watch for the common safety of all,” primarily the people of God but secondarily for all the people. If the Church is harmed, the entire community will be harmed (cf, Gal. 6:10; Rom. 1:14; 1 Tim. 4:10).
3) Watchman must be gifted with the power of observation and understanding in order to accurately assess the danger coming because he is to “speak out and dissuade” from evil. But he is also to spread good news (Is. 52:8) and to encourage, uplift and praise.
4) Watchmen are not only looking out for foreign invaders but also internal invaders what will rot the community with within. Integrity, courage and insight are necessary gifts for the watchman. The watchman must know what to watch for and how to tell danger from peculiarity.
5) Watchmen are not only to warn against physical danger but also moral danger –siege and sin. They are responsible for the body and the soul of the community.
6) The watchman is not only stationed on roofs (2 Sam. 18:24) and towers (2 Kings 9;17) but he also walks around town mingling amongst the people (Song 3:3) observing and paying attention to what is going on.
7) In Ezekiel 33) we are told that if a warning is given and a citizen chooses not to respond then the consequences are on the head of the citizen. But if the watchman fails to warn and harm results to the individual then the watchman will be held responsible. The frightening aspect of this later warning is that the enemy of the wicked who have been warned to change their ways is Yahweh Himself. He is the avenging angel who will judge the unrighteous who fail to heed the warning of the watchman. The message, the blast of the trumpet, is to the thoughtless sinner, to the intransigent sinner and to the repentant sinner all to come back to Yahweh. The message is personal and individualistic and each citizen must respond by himself (“each of you according to his own ways,” vs. 20).
Fourth and finally, we have the phrase “hear the word I speak” which is literally “from my mouth.” Leslie Allen translates it “hear a message from my lips.” Calvin has uniquely long commentary on this phrase and because it is singular I quote: “Here is a general rule for [God’s representatives] they should hear the word from the mouth of God, by which particle God wishes to exclude whatever men fabricate or invent for themselves. ….He order all men to be silent and not to offer anything of their own, and then, when he orders them to hear the word from his mouth, that he puts a bridle upon them that they should neither invent anything, nor hanker after their own devices, nor dare to conceive either more or less that the word. We see that whatever men offer of their own selves, is here abolished, when God alone wishes to be heard, for he does not mingle himself here with others as in a crowd, as if he wished to be heard only in part.”
Christian journalist, this is a terrific verse for those of you who write for Christian publications. Your charge has been given to you by your Master. Be careful to be faithful to the ordinances, laws, commandments and instructions of the Lord contained in the Bible as you frame your stories and be courageous in your reporting. The Church depends upon it. It is reported that the last public words of warning to be spoken by Francis Schaeffer before he died in 1984 were in a Washington, DC speech written for the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). Schaeffer was too sick to deliver the speech so his son, Frank gave the talk to the broadcasters: “Accommodation, accommodation, accommodation.”