“When . . . the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life” (Ezekiel 33:2-5).
Railroads in Bangladesh are very dangerous. Many are killed in train crashes. Others die when struck as they are standing on or crossing the tracks.
Recently there was such a death when a lady was talking on her mobile telephone as she walked on the tracks. People around her cried out warnings, but she paid no attention. Her preoccupation and carelessness cost her very life.
Ezekiel reminded Israel of the responsibilities of both watchmen and populace. The watchman must keep alert and blow the trumpet when danger comes. If he does not, he bears guilt. But the population for whom he watches also has responsibility.
If the watchman does his job, the response is up to the people. Only those who hear his warning and seek shelter, or take up their arms to meet the threat, will benefit from his alertness. The negligent will suffer.
This has obvious spiritual application. The Bible is filled with the sounds of trumpets, blowing warnings against the dangers of sin and temptation.
We are warned of the great dangers of wickedness in general (Proverbs 4:14-17), and of such particular sins as drunkenness (Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35), sexual immorality (Proverbs 7:6-27; 1 Corinthians 6:13-20), dishonesty (Ephesians 4:28), and evil speech (Ephesians 4:29-31), among many others.
These laws are not to prevent us from finding pleasure, but to help us avoid that which will harm us. They warn us of the enemy who seeks to destroy us (Ephesians 6:11-12; 1 Peter 5:8). These warnings are plain. The watchman has done his job.
But the response is up to us. If we heed the watchmen we will be like the righteous man who “delights in the Law of the Lord,” thriving as “a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:2-3).
The Psalmist assures us that whatever such a one does will prosper.
But if we neglect God’s warnings and go on carelessly in spite of danger, we are like the ungodly of the Psalm.
“They are like the chaff which the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:4).
They “shall not stand in the judgment, nor . . . in the congregation of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5).
Sometimes it is not neglect of the warning that endangers us, but an inappropriate response. I remember watching two young dogs playing on the tracks in front of an on-coming train. When the engineer tried to warn them away by blowing the train’s whistle the puppies panicked and turned straight down the tracks, trying to outrun the train. They heard the warning, but their wrong response could not save them.
God’s warnings teach us the right response to sin. Without his instructions we react with blind fear, or anger, or other wrongful attitudes. We try to protect ourselves without seeking shelter in his strength and wisdom.
When the enemy approached Israel, a single brave man could hardly hope to defend himself alone. He needed the company and assistance of others to meet the foreign army. So we, in the face of spiritual danger, must not seek to solve our problem alone, or with only human wisdom. Let us seek God’s help and the company of faithful Christians, that we together might defeat our enemy.