Two of my nephews are ages 10 and 11, and they ride the bus together. This past spring, a neighborhood boy who also rides their bus, started making fun of the 10 year old, so the 11 year came to his defense, punched the kid. Right there on the bus. Makes you think about the role of school bus drivers, doesn’t it?
Though the 11 year old was standing up for his brother, he shouldn’t have punched the neighborhood kid, so both the neighborhood kid and my nephew got kicked off the bus. Eventually the suspension concluded, and a week later they were all back on the bus again. This time, maybe because of the previous altercation, the neighborhood kid starting teasing the 11 year old, the one who punched him. At this point, what do you think happened? That the 10 year old would now stick up for the 11 year old, right? Siblings stick up for one another. But no…that did not happen. Maybe the 10 year didn’t want to get kicked off the bus, I don’t know. He didn’t stick up for the 11 year old.
So later that week at my parents house, my parents took those same two nephews on a walk around their neighborhood. The boys were walking a bit ahead of my parents, and for some reason the incidents on the bus came up. The 11 year old started asking the 10 year old, “Why didn’t you stick up for me? I stuck up for you!” In a very short period of time, the boys were in scuffle, punching each other! Ah…siblings…
You know the phrase: “I got your back.”? What does it mean? Your friend is basically saying to you, “I’m looking out for you, I care about you. If something goes wrong, I will be there for you.” Do you have a friend like that? Think about them in your mind. Could be your spouse. Maybe a close family member. A best friend. They love you, and maybe they have bailed you out of a financial situation, or maybe they came to your defense in a relational situation.
But what if you are the person who does something wrong? And not against your spouse or friend, like my nephews? What if you are sinning? What is the person who has your back supposed to do then? In this next section of Ezekiel, we’re going to learn what it means to be a watchman.
Let’s review: Ezekiel is one of 10,000 Jews exiled from the city of Jerusalem by the powerful Babylonians. The Babylonians forced the exiles to walk 900 miles and start a new life in Babylon. After living there for five years, striving to keep their Jewish identity and community alive in a foreign land, God appeared to Ezekiel in an astounding vision. God called Ezekiel to be a prophet to that small Jewish community in Babylon. God said that the Jews were rebellious, and Ezekiel was going to tell them so. God’s vision leaves, and we read that Ezekiel is bitter and angry, with the strong hand of the Lord upon him. The Spirit of God returns Ezekiel to the community of exiles, where Ezekiel sits among them for seven days, overwhelmed. There in that foreign land, Ezekiel is not to prophesy against the enemy Babylonians, but to his own people! Imagine if God said to you, “I want you to tell all your neighbors that they are rebellious, stubborn and obstinate.” Ezekiel is in for a difficult job, isn’t he? Worse, God told Ezekiel that the Jews would not listen to him. You can see why he sat there for seven days overwhelmed.
That’s where the story picks up in chapter 3, verse 16. What happens at the end of the seven days? God speaks to Ezekiel. Let’s hear what God has to say. Read Ezekiel 3:16-21.
At the end of the seven days, the word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel. That phrase, “the word of the Lord came to me,” is one that we will hear many more times in this book. In the Bible, the word of the Lord coming to a person is an indication of their prophetic role. The words are not Ezekiel’s words, they are God’s words. The message is not Ezekiel’s message, it is God’s message. Normally, then, Ezekiel will simply be the messenger of God’s word to his fellow Jews. Here in Ezekiel chapter 3:16-21, we just heard, though, the word of the Lord is for Ezekiel.
God says that Ezekiel will be a watchman for the house the of Israel. A watchman is a lookout, stationed at the highest point of the city walls to sound the alarm if an enemy is approaching. In the days before satellites, radar, telescopes, binoculars and contact lenses, a watchmen had 20/20 vision and a reputation for an eagle eye. They could keep attention, stay focused, and avoid sleep or distraction.
That’s what Ezekiel was going to be, but not in the physical or military way. He and his fellow Jewish exiles didn’t live in Jerusalem anymore. There was no city, no wall and they knew where the enemy was! They were surrounded by the enemy because they now lived in enemy land. Instead, Ezekiel was going to be a prophet, a spiritual watchman. As we discussed last week, a prophet tells the truth about what they see, with the goal of hope and restoration to God and his ways, just like a watchman tells the truth about an invading army.
Imagine what it would be like for a watchman to fail at their job. If they fell asleep on the job, an army might be able to launch a sneak attack on the city. The watchman might also get distracted by lesser things. They are at the high point of the city, and instead of looking outwardly, what if they turned around and started people watching down below? There would surely be a lot of interesting happenings they could spy on. Like David on his palace roof watching Bathsheba bathe, a watchman could easily fail at his job. Is this starting to sound familiar? Do we get distracted? What distracts you? We live in a world where distractions are called by far less threatening names, to the point where we don’t call them distractions. We might actually call them good. We can indulge ourselves in distractions.
But do we really need to watch as many TV shows as we do? Do we really need to watch as many sports as we do? Do we really need as many hobbies? Think about how you spend your time? Are you distracted? Even if you are distracted 10% more than what you think Jesus might want you to be, what could you do to make a change? What could you do to increase how much you actively fulfill the mission, like Ezekiel was called to be a watchman for his people? What things are in your life that are distracting you from the things and ways of God? What is distracting you from living a life that is about the heart of God?