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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

The Watchman's Warning

Ezekiel 3:16-27

          Modern technology is competing for the jobs of beat cops and night watchmen.  Here’s some excerpts from an article in the New York Times: “The night watchman of the future is five feet tall, weighs 300 pounds and looks a lot like R2D2 — without the whimsy. And will work for $6.25 an hour.  A company in California has developed a mobile robot, known as the K5 Autonomous Data Machine, as a safety and security tool for corporations, as well as for schools and neighborhoods.

          “The system will have a video camera, thermal imaging sensors, a laser range finder, radar, air quality sensors and a microphone. It will also have a limited amount of autonomy, such as the ability to follow a preplanned route. It will not, at least for now, include advanced features like facial recognition, which is still being perfected.

          “But what is for some a technology-laden route to safer communities and schools is to others an entry point to a post-Orwellian, post-privacy world.

Knightscope’s robot watchman service raises questions about whether artificial intelligence and robotics technologies are beginning to assault both the top and the bottom of the work force as well.

          “Knightscope envisions a world of K5 security bots patrolling schools and communities, in what would amount to a 21st-century version of a neighborhood watch. The all-seeing mobile robots will eventually be wirelessly connected to a centralized data server, where they will have access to “big data,” making it possible to recognize faces, license plates and other suspicious anomalies.  There is concern such abilities would rapidly encroach on traditional privacy rights.”

          That article was written by John Markoff and was published on Nov. 29, 2013.  I went to the Knightscope website to see if the machine ever made it into the real world.  The company reports that K5 units have put in 2.5 million hours of commercially logged service.  They claim the use of these “robo cops” have resulted in a 46% reduction in crime reports, a 27% increase in arrests, and a 68% reduction in citations.  All of that for $9 an hour.

          Interestingly, the prophet Ezekiel was call by God to be a watchman.  Ezekiel was directed by God’s Spirit, not by a CPU.

Being God’s watchman is a great responsibility to know the truth and

to tell the truth.

CONTEXT = After a week of being in BITTERNESS and TURMOIL and feeling OVERWHELMED, the LORD spoke to Ezekiel again.  He clarified the prophet’s responsibilities where the divine messages were involved. (16)  The LORD identified Ezekiel’s role as that of a WATCHMAN. (17)  This is not an image unique to Ezekiel 3.  For example, in Habakkuk 2:1, the prophet used a similar figure of speech, saying he’d climb his WATCHTOWER to see what God’s answer to his second complaint would be.  In Jeremiah 6:17, the LORD said He’d set WATCHMEN over Israel to warn them of trouble but they wouldn’t listen.  Hosea 9:8 identifies THE PROPHET as a WATCHMAN OVER ISRAEL.

          In daily life, a WATCHMAN was posted on the walls of the city or in a tower to scan the horizon for approaching threats and deliver appropriate warnings as necessary.  He couldn’t control people’s reactions to his warnings but he was required to give warning anyway.

1. The watchman’s responsibility to the wicked. (17-19)

          The WATCHMAN was responsible for promptness.  He was not to waste time, but to WARN THE PEOPLE IMMEDIATELY. (17)  God gave the Law through Moses to allow His people to enter covenant-relationship with Him, to describe their best life possible, and to turn them away from the sin that would hurt and kill them.  In this sense, the WATCHMAN was to remind them of the Law and warn them that discipline would come because true love demands justice.

          The WATCHMAN’S message to WICKED people would be a warning, “YOU ARE UNDER THE PENALTY OF DEATH.”  Romans 6:23 = FOR THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH, BUT THE FREE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE THROUGH CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  Sin is an act of disobedience that so offends God that death is the natural consequence. 

          At this point in biblical history, the threat is of physical death and the promise is for extended life.  This is not a threat of Hell or a promise of Heaven.  In fact, salvation has always been granted by faith in God.  Heaven is never earned, but Hell is always deserved.

          Should they fail to heed the warning, responsibility for their failure needs to be determined.  If Ezekiel refused to warn them, he would be responsible for their deaths.  The penalty for this is not specified. (18) If Ezekiel warned them and they refused to repent, they would be responsible for their own deaths, but Ezekiel would have saved himself. (19)

2. The watchman’s responsibility to the righteous. (20-21)

          If RIGHTEOUS people should turn to wickedness and IGNORE the OBSTACLES God put in their path to deter that wickedness, the penalty is death, just as for any WICKED person, and worse, NONE OF THEIR RIGHTEOUS ACTS WILL BE REMEMBERED.  (See Matthew 7:20-23.)

          1) This passage specifically warns persons who have previously done RIGHTEOUS ACTS that turning AWAY FROM THEIR RIGHTEOUS BEHAVIOR brings them under penalty for unrighteous acts, death.  These verses cannot be used to argue against the doctrine of Eternal Security as salvation has not been promised.  The person being warned has done good deeds but has turned away from them to do evil instead, choosing to ignore every obstacle the LORD put in his way to discourage their evil deeds.

          What kind of OBSTACLES might God place in the path of a righteous person?  It could be anything that encourages them to choose RIGHTEOUS actions or deters them from doing evil.  What’s interesting about this is that God is not distant from us when we make ethical choices, but He is always with us, helping us to do the right thing.

          In such cases, responsibility for their failure to do righteous deeds needs to be determined.  If Ezekiel failed to warn them, he would be responsible for their deaths. (20)  If Ezekiel warned them and they chose to repent of their sin, they will LIVE and so will Ezekiel. (21)

3. The watchman’s training. (22-27)

          If this seems like a lot of responsibility, it is.  It is also a lot of trust that God placed in Ezekiel.

          For Ezekiel to fully appreciate his responsibility as a WATCHMAN, God put him through another unique experience.  In vs. 22-23, God directed Ezekiel to return to the place where he’d received his calling to service.  Ezekiel was obedient and was rewarded: there he had another vision of the GLORY OF THE LORD, the same as he had seen in his first vision.  In response, Ezekiel FELL FACE DOWN ON THE GROUND.

          In vs. 24, the most important part of the narrative occurred: Ezekiel received the Holy Spirit to facilitate his prophecy.   Then God directed him to return home.  There his fellow exiles would bind him and God would make him mute.  He would remain in his house, apart from the EXILES, and unable to communicate with them.

          Based on vs. 25-26, we can speculate about God’s purpose in this ordeal.  This experience would simulate Ezekiel’s potential choice not to warn them.  He would experience the implausibility of knowing the truth (especially in the form of a warning) and keeping it to yourself.

          This experience emphasized the fact that Ezekiel would not speak to the people until God gave him a message and leave to speak it.  This would also prepare Ezekiel for giving his first oracle.  In 4:8, Ezekiel was told he’d be tied up for 430 days while he demonstrated the siege of Jerusalem to the exiles.

          In v. 27 God explained His purpose, WHEN I GIVE YOU A MESSAGE, I WILL LOOSEN YOUR TONGUE AND LET YOU SPEAK.  On those occasions, Ezekiel was to fulfill his role as a WATCHMAN.  Some will choose to heed his warning.  Others will refuse to heed his warning; they will reveal themselves to be REBELS (v. 9).

          The only message worth repeating, the only warning worth delivering would be the one that God gave him.  Ezekiel would speak for God only when told to do so by God and only using the message God gave him.  He had to learn to be entirely obedient to the will of God.

Being God’s watchman is a great responsibility to know the truth and

to tell the truth.

          Has God made you one of His WATCHMEN?  Was this a unique case involving Ezekiel uniquely or is Ezekiel’s case an example for all of us to follow? If we’re being honest, we acknowledge that not everyone is keen on confrontational evangelism, following the example of Ezekiel’s ministry.  However, if we’re being faithful, we will occasionally find ourselves in a situation where the truth must be asserted.  Ask yourself, “If I don’t speak truth to these people, who will?”

          We learned last week that God’s gift of a flinty forehead is primarily a defensive thing, enabling us to stand firmly on our faith, enduring pressure to compromise or give in entirely.  We learned today that witnessing to others is an act of faithfulness that must be entirely under God’s direction.  I call this “Opportunity Evangelism.”   To explain what Opportunity Evangelism is, let’s finish with a quick look at 2 Peter 3:15-16; INSTEAD [of giving in to fear], YOU MUST WORSHIP CHRIST AS LORD OF YOUR LIFE.  AND IF SOMEONE ASKS ABOUT YOUR HOPE AS A BELIEVER, ALWAYS BE READY TO EXPLAIN IT.  BUT DO THIS IN A GENTLE AND RESPECTFUL WAY.  KEEP YOUR CONSCIENCE CLEAR.  THEN IF PEOPLE SPEAK AGAINST YOU, THEY WILL BE ASHAMED WHEN THEY SEE WHAT A GOOD LIFE YOU LIVE BECAUSE YOU BELONG TO CHRIST.

          Opportunity Evangelism starts with WORSHIP, enacting our faith in Christ and our decision to obey Him.  A holy lifestyle may prompt questions, start conversations, and earn you a hearing among good people.

          The next step is preparation.  Assume someone will ask you about how you came to have such a good attitude and loving actions.  Prepare an answer that explains your faith and how they might share in it.

          When you receive a question or any other kind of opportunity to speak about your faith, use your prepared answer but deliver it in a GENTLE AND RESPECTFUL WAY.  If your aim is to tell them the truth and invite them to share it, you will naturally want to be GENTLE and RESPECTFUL.  If your aim is more prideful, like winning arguments, or based on anger, to “set them straight,” you will be tempted to be gruff and disrespectful.  And you will lose the opportunity to show them Jesus.

          In every situation, work to do the right thing and thereby KEEP YOUR CONSCIENCE CLEAR.  That way should anyone respond to the Gospel with angry slander, they will be proved wrong by your genuine devotion to Jesus.

          Opportunity Evangelism is a biblical approach that doesn’t require us to create opportunities to witness, but to be obedient and prepared when opportunities are given to us.  This is a way to follow the direction of God’s Holy Spirit and be used by Him to reach people He has especially prepared for us to encounter.  We need wisdom to prepare our answer and courage to use it at every opportunity he gives us.



          John Markhoff, “A Night Watchman with Wheels?”, the New York Times, retrieved from, on 8 February 2024.

          K5 data retrieved from, on 8 February 2024.

          C.F. Keil and F. Delitzch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 9. Ezekiel-Daniel, 1982, pp. 58-68.

          Ralph H. Alexander, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, Isaiah-Ezekiel, 1986, pp. 762-767.

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