Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from an article at http://www.ptgbook.org/ezekielwarning.htm regarding our responsibility to continue to deliver the Watchman Message to Israel. It seemed to me to be a good message to review. You might also want to once again read the United States and Britain in Prophecy.
The Responsibility of a Watchman
One of the two main points of God’s law is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:29-31, Leviticus 19:18). One of the applications of this law of love is to warn someone who is headed for disaster but they don’t know it. Proverbs 24:11-12 says, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?”
Ezekiel was a prophet sent by God with a message for the house of Israel (Ezekiel chapter 2 and Ezekiel 3:3-11). God told Ezekiel he was to be a watchman for the house of Israel with a responsibility to warn about a coming disaster, and that if Ezekiel failed to warn Israel, Israel’s blood would be on Ezekiel’s head! “And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 3:16-21, KJV).
The rest of the book of Ezekiel shows the sins of Israel, and the punishment that is to come upon them if they do not repent.
Ezekiel was told that when God gave him a warning for Israel that He was about to punish them for their sins, if he failed to deliver the warning, Israel would still be punished for their sins, but their blood would be on Ezekiel’s head. He would share the responsibility because he failed to warn Israel. But if Ezekiel delivered the warning message, if Israel did not repent, they would die for their sins but Ezekiel would not be guilty.
Furthermore, God extends this principle beyond just Ezekiel or anyone whom God makes a watchman to Israel, but even to a watchman for Israel whom God did not put into the position of watchman. Notice Ezekiel 33:1-6: “Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand” (KJV). Notice, in this case it is not God who makes the person the watchman, but the people. Nevertheless, even though God did not make him the watchman, he is a watchman nevertheless, and God holds him responsible for delivering the warning. Verses 7 through 9 then repeat what was said earlier, that God made Ezekiel a watchman and he was therefore responsible for delivering the warning God gave him for the people.
God gives the warning so that people can repent and escape the punishment. But what about someone who has led a sinful life for a long time? Is it too late for them? Are they going to be punished no matter what they do now because of all the evil they have done in the past? “Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:10-11, KJV). “Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right; If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:14-16, KJV).
What about a righteous person who has lived righteously for a long time, and then turns to sin? “Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth. When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it” (Ezekiel 33:12-13, KJV). “When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby. But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby. Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways” (Ezekiel 33:18-20, KJV).
If you love someone, and you see that they are headed towards disaster, but you have information that they don’t have, information that can help them avoid the disaster if they act upon it, you will share that information. You will tell someone what you know, to help them, if you love them. You can’t force someone to believe you or to act upon the information, but you can at least share it. That way, the person you warn has a chance. They might listen and heed the warning. But if they never hear the warning, if they never receive the information, they have no chance to escape.
This does not mean that a Christian should cram his religion down other people’s throats. It does not mean that one should force or pressure someone who does not want to listen. But one can answer questions, even tactfully offer information, without trying to push. If the person wants to learn more, they will ask. If not, we don’t have to pursue the subject any further. And a Christian can support the ordained ministry of the Church who offer the public information to warn the nation over TV, radio, and with magazines and booklets. Those who are willing to listen and heed may do so. Those who do not are not forced to.
The Ezekiel Warning
God sent Ezekiel specifically to “the house of Israel”. “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17, KJV). See also Ezekiel 2:2 and 3:1-4. We know from the separate histories of Israel and Judah that the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” are two different houses (see Jeremiah 3:18, 5:11, 11:10, 13:11, 31:27 and 31, 33:14, Ezekiel 4:1-6, Zechariah 8:13, and Hebrews 8:8). The house of Judah is the Jews and the house of Israel is the ten tribes especially Ephraim and Manasseh, which are the English-speaking nations today.
Ezekiel was to warn the house of Israel of God’s punishments to come if they did not repent of their sins. Does that warning apply today or only in Ezekiel’s time? It could not primarily apply in Ezekiel’s day because the vast majority of the house of Israel had already been conquered by their enemies and taken into captivity as punishment from God for their sins about one hundred years before Ezekiel’s time! You can determine when Ezekiel received his vision in comparison to the captivity of Israel by comparing Ezekiel 1:1-3, which says that Ezekiel received the vision from God in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity with the chronology of the kings of Judah and Israel given in 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles. See 2 Kings chapter 17 for the account of the conquest and captivity of the house of Israel, which occurred during the reign of Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah (2 Kings 18:1-3). Hezekiah was several generations before Jehoiachin.
Ezekiel’s warnings apply to the house of Judah also (Ezekiel 4:6, Ezekiel 8:17). But the primary application of the warning is to the house of Israel. And in the book of Ezekiel, the prophecies against Jerusalem apply to the house of Israel because a small number of Israelites from the ten tribes were in Jerusalem and because Jerusalem, as the former capital city of all Israel, can represent the house of Israel (Ezekiel 4:1-16).
The prophecies given to Ezekiel which are written in the book of Ezekiel for us today apply to the modern descendents of the house of Israel, namely the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other English-speaking countries, as well as several nations in Northwestern Europe who are descended from various tribes of Israel.
What are the sins of Israel?
The book of Ezekiel often describes the sins in a general sense, as rebellion against God’s laws, disobedience, and wickedness (Ezekiel 5:5-7), and you can look at God’s laws, the Ten Commandments, and compare them with the behavior of our peoples today to see what our sins are. There are also many other prophecies in other books of the Bible where God rebukes those who commit specific sins, and many of these apply to us today. But there are some sins that Ezekiel specifically mentions.
“Then say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “The city sheds blood in her own midst, that her time may come; and she makes idols within herself to defile herself. You have become guilty by the blood which you have shed, and have defiled yourself with the idols which you have made. You have caused your days to draw near, and have come to the end of your years; therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all countries” ‘ ” (Ezekiel 22:3-4).
“In thee have they set light by father and mother: in the midst of thee have they dealt by oppression with the stranger: in thee have they vexed the fatherless and the widow. Thou hast despised mine holy things, and hast profaned my Sabbaths. In thee are men that carry tales to shed blood: and in thee they eat upon the mountains: in the midst of thee they commit lewdness. In thee have they discovered their fathers’ nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution. And one hath committed abomination with his neighbor’s wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter in law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father’s daughter. In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord GOD. Behold, therefore I have smitten mine hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made, and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee” (Ezekiel 22:7-13, KJV).
“As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols” (Ezekiel 20:39, KJV).
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, say unto her, Thou art the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation. There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have daubed them with untempered morter, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord GOD, when the LORD hath not spoken. The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully” (Ezekiel 22:23-29, KJV).
“Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them, And tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine oil and mine incense before them. My meat also which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou hast even set it before them for a sweet savour: and thus it was, saith the Lord GOD. Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?” (Ezekiel 16:17-21, KJV).
What will be Israel’s punishment?
Ezekiel and other books in the Bible indicate that God will punish our nations with drought, famine, disease epidemics, and death from war. We will be defeated by our enemies, invaded and conquered, taken captive, and scattered among the nations. The vast majority will die in the famine, disease, warfare, and captivity.
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, And say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD; Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys; Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols. And I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars. In all your dwellingplaces the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places shall be desolate; that your altars may be laid waste and made desolate, and your idols may be broken and cease, and your images may be cut down, and your works may be abolished. And the slain shall fall in the midst of you, and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 6:1-7, KJV).
“Thus saith the Lord GOD; Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! for they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence. He that is far off shall die of the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword; and he that remaineth and is besieged shall die by the famine: thus will I accomplish my fury upon them” (Ezekiel 6:11-12, KJV).
“I will scatter you among the nations, disperse you throughout the countries, and remove your filthiness completely from you” (Ezekiel 22:15).
The prophecies of Ezekiel indicate that one-third of our population will die in famine and disease epidemics, one-third will die in war, and one-third will by taken captive by enemy nations and many will die in captivity. “One-third of you shall die of the pestilence, and be consumed with famine in your midst; and one-third shall fall by the sword all around you; and I will scatter another third to all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them” (Ezekiel 5:12).
How many will be left in the end? According to the book of Amos, perhaps one-tenth will survive. “Hear this word which I take up against you, a lamentation, O house of Israel: The virgin of Israel has fallen; She will rise no more. She lies forsaken on her land; There is no one to raise her up. For thus says the Lord God: ‘The city that goes out by a thousand Shall have a hundred left, And that which goes out by a hundred Shall have ten left to the house of Israel’ “ (Amos 5:1-3). It is not clear to me if this one-tenth refers to the whole population before the deaths caused by famine and war, or only to the third that goes into captivity. If the latter, then only about 3% of our population will survive! No wonder Jesus said this would be the greatest time of trouble ever!
Once the tribulation begins, how long will it last? Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God have taught that the great tribulation upon Israel will last two and one-half years, followed by one year of the Day of the Lord when the whole world will be punished for its sins. There are scriptures that indicate that there will be a total time of three and one-half years at the end before the return of Christ (Daniel 12:6-7, Revelation 11:1-3, Revelation 12:6, Revelation 13:5).
If you read the whole book of Ezekiel, you will find not only warnings for Israel, but for other nations in the world also. You will also find warnings directed towards the ministry, who have not properly instructed and cared for their flocks. Not all the warnings about the sins of Israel and the world are in the book of Ezekiel, but many can be found in other prophetic books in the Bible. But the book of Ezekiel outlines and lays out basic principles about the sins of the world, Israel, and the ministry, and the punishments coming from God for these sins, and also the responsibility to warn those who need to repent and are about to be punished. It also sets the principle that those who have done evil can be forgiven if they repent and turn from the evil they have done and learn to do good.
One of the best ways to get a good feel about how God looks at Israel, and how God looks at everything, is to read the whole Bible. If you have never done this before, I recommend it. You can use a literal translation such as the King James Version or the New King James Version, start with the first verse in Genesis, and read from that point, little by little each day, till you read through Revelation. You will not understand everything you read, and you can keep a notebook for listing questions, but you will understand a great deal if you are willing to believe and obey what God says. Then over time, as your continue to read and study the Bible and believe and obey what God says, you will understand more and more.
Mr. Armstrong has taught the Church of God that we have the responsibility to deliver the Ezekiel warning message to the modern descendents of Israel today. We have the responsibility to tell the nations their sins, call them to repentance, and warn our nations about God’s punishments to come if they don’t repent. Some who hear the message may heed, and many probably will not heed. Those who hear and heed may be spared. But if the Church does not do its part to warn the people, then the responsibility for that failure rests on us.
I find it interesting that the information that can be used to prove that the Bible is the word of God, that is, the seven thousand year plan of God and the prophecies and history that identify the English-speaking people as the tribes of Joseph, is also the same information needed to understand the responsibility to give a warning to Israel about the punishments to come. These two things come “bundled together”. It is as if the proof of God’s Word comes at a price. It carries with it a responsibility to put that knowledge to good use. It cannot be rightly used just to selfishly help one’s own self only. It has to be used in God’s service to help others also.
In other words, as soon as God gives us the knowledge that the Bible is God’s word, He also gives us a job to do: warn Israel. He gives the gift, and at the same time tells us how to use it. But also, with the responsibility, God gives the gift we need to be able to fulfill it. Without the knowledge of who Israel is, we would not know who to warn. Without the knowledge of the seven thousand year plan of God, we would not know when to warn.
I think that those who have any spiritual discernment at all can see that our nations are declining in moral values. But at the same time, we are becoming weaker and we are losing our dominance and our strength as compared with other nations. I am sure that many do not see this and perhaps think that the United States will remain the strongest, richest, most powerful nation in the world for another hundred years or more. Still others may see that we will not remain dominant for very long, but they put their faith in a kind of collective world peace based on democracy and the enlightened good behavior of all nations on earth.
But I do not think that is the reality. The world has been at relative peace for the last sixty years (by relative peace I mean an absence of a world war of the scope of World War I or World War II), but it has been because of the economic and military strength of the United States and its allies as a force for peace, not the good will of all nations on earth. And now, that strength is declining.
The United States has declined and is declining at such a rate that it has reached a point that any objective, informed observer can tell we are in trouble, even without recourse to Bible prophecy. Our recent history and current affairs tells the story. We helped to win World War II because of our enormous industrial capacity and capital resources. We defeated the Japanese and German forces not because our soldiers were braver or our officers more skillful in the military arts, but because we out-built our enemies and we had superior technology. No other nation even had the scientific and industrial resources to build the atomic bomb at that time, although several nations had considered it and even started on the project. But since that time, we have been losing blue collar jobs and our industrial base to other nations continuously, and in the last decade we have also begun to lose white collar jobs and our technological and scientific superiority to other nations. In the modern world, information handling jobs can be done anyplace in the world over computer networks. Computer programming and engineering jobs are just two examples of jobs that American workers have been losing to overseas workers who do the same work for less pay.
I think most economists agree that our balance-of-payments deficit cannot continue to grow indefinitely at an ever-increasing pace, but there is no painless solution in sight. Agreement breaks down when speculation turns to what will actually happen, when it will happen, and how it will happen, but I think most experts agree that something has to happen sooner or later.
God taught ancient Israel to trust Him for their protection. As a nation today, the United States trusts in its military and in its allies for its protection, not God. As a nation our military obligations are far extended, yet recruitment is not providing the manpower in sufficient numbers for the military that this nation relies on. At the same time our relationships with our allies are deteriorating.
Our population is aging, and there is a looming crisis as more “baby boomers” reach retirement age and more and more money is required to take care of them while proportionately fewer younger workers are earning money and paying taxes. And as the population ages, medical science and technology continue to provide more treatments, but these treatments come at an ever-increasing price, and medical care is consuming a greater and greater proportion of our earnings.
At the same time, there is a potential world-wide problem growing out of the convergence of two and possibly three trends. One, this world’s economy is dependent on oil, and there is only a limited amount of available oil in the earth, and the world is approaching a point where it will be more and more difficult to find and extract more oil. Experts do not agree on how much oil is left, but all agree it is limited, and the supply is running down. There will come a time when it is no longer possible to extract the amount of oil this world’s economy needs each year. Two, the rate of consumption of oil is rapidly increasing, not decreasing, year by year. This puts the nations of this earth on a collision course with the inevitable reality that a point will soon be reached when there is not enough oil to go around. At that point, the nations that control the oil will survive and the economies of the nations that cannot obtain oil will collapse, or be greatly reduced. There may be alternatives to oil, such as converting coal into oil or gasoline, but that is expensive and takes time to gear up, and sudden disruptions in the supply of oil can still hurt any nation’s economy. And third, nuclear technology and the ability of nations to make nuclear weapons as well as the delivery vehicles to use them is spreading.
And while the whole world, and especially the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, is facing unprecedented problems and dangers, I think it should be apparent to those with a sense of the times we live in that there is a decline in the quality of leadership in the United States at every level of government and business. It is more and more difficult to find examples of the kind of integrity, strong competence, diligence, and effectiveness needed to solve problems and get jobs done among those in leadership positions. Our response to hurricane Katrina is one example. Our leaders are making too many mistakes and are not working effectively and cooperatively with each other. The decline in moral values, in family stability, in respect for authority, in discipline, in basic honesty is all taking a toll. I don’t think we are producing the caliber of leaders we used to. It may be that what is prophesied in Isaiah 3:1-5, where God says He will take away the “mighty man”, the “honorable man”, and the “counselor”, is being fulfilled today.
At the same time, our internal divisions hinder our efforts to solve our problems. We are not united as a nation. We were mostly united during World War II, but since then we have become one of the most divided nations on earth. Jesus Christ said that a house divided cannot stand (Luke 11:17). We are divided Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, rich vs. the poor, religious vs. the secular, and by race. The predominance of negative campaign ads shows how divided we have become. Politicians prefer to belittle and attack their opponents rather than propose solutions to our problems.
So at a time when we are about to face our greatest dangers and challenges, we seem to be equipped with less and less wisdom and skill to deal with them. That is a very dangerous combination. We are still the richest, most powerful nation on earth, but we are living off of the sacrifices and accomplishments of generations past who paid the price to build this country, and I don’t think today’s generation is the same sort. That cannot last indefinitely.
God has blessed this nation far more than we ever deserved, but we have not sufficiently appreciated what God has done for us, nor have we obeyed and acknowledged the God who blessed us, and now God is taking our blessings away.
The Ezekiel warning is two-fold. Firstly, it is a warning message for our time today to the modern descendents of the house of Israel, especially the United States, Britain, and Canada, and also a warning to the Jews. But secondly, it is a warning to the Church of God that they better DELIVER the warning to Israel. Notice that in Ezekiel 33:1-6, Ezekiel is told to tell the PEOPLE about the watchman’s responsibility. In other words, the warning about the responsibility of the watchman to warn is not just for Ezekiel. It is also for the people. The warning about the responsibility to warn is as much a part of the Ezekiel warning as the warning to repent of our sins. See also Isaiah 58:1. The Church of God, plus those who learn the truth from the Church and from the Bible, have that responsibility today.