Lesson 36: The Ministry of Ezekiel – Part 1

Reading Preperation:
  • Ezekiel 1-3; 18; 20; 22; 33
Lesson Notes:
1. Introduction to Ezekiel Part I
As with Jeremiah, we will focus our attention this chapter and the next on the writings of Ezekiel. In this chapter, we will be introduced to Ezekiel and his calling as a prophet of the Lord. We will then focus our attention on seven chapters which include: Ezekiel 1-3; 18; 20; 22, and 33. Chapter 37 of this text, will address the writings of Ezekiel as found in chapters 34, 36 and 37. Part I will focus on “Ezekiel’s commission to be the Lord’s watchman [and his] prophetic messages;” Part II will address “the shepherds of Israel and the relationship between “the stick of Judah and Joseph” (see Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, 1993, 36-37)
2. Introduction to Ezekiel
There is some question amongst scholars as to when Ezekiel was carried captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar which was during the reign of Jehoiachin king of Judah. Most scholars favor 597 B.C.
Sidney B. Sperry gives the dates the time of Ezekiel being carried captive to Babylon as,
“601 B.C. based on [the] Book of Mormon)” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 191).
2 Kings 24:14-15
14 And he [Nebuchadnezzar] carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.
15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon,… and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Ezekiel’s family must have been considered prominent and influential, as it was mostly the “mighty of the land” that were taken captive during this time.
Flavius Josephus states,
“he [Nebuchadnezzar] took the principal persons in dignity for captives, three thousand in number, and led them away to Babylon, among whom was the prophet Ezekiel, who was then but young” (The Complete Works of Josephus. Translated by Wm. Whiston. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1960, [Twenty-fifth Printing 1991[, Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, Chapter VI, 3, 217).
Eight years earlier (609 B.C.), Daniel had been deported to Babylon. He served as a prophet of the Lord in the Babylonia court.
Duane S. Crowther states,
“much of Daniel’s ministry involved the receiving and interpreting of difficult dreams and visions. His ministry was primarily concerned with the affairs of state and the rise and fall of empires” (Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966, 530).
While Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel are contemporary prophets, their area and specific location varied. Jeremiah continued to serve in the city of Jerusalem, then in Egypt. Daniel and Ezekiel both served in Babylon. Daniel, as noted, served in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar, while Ezekiel labored among the Jewish captives and slaves.
Sperry B. Sperry states,
Ezekiel will spend his ministry “in all probability [in] a concentration-camp, with the deported Jews furnishing the forced labor [for] the Babylonian irrigation system” (The Voices of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 191).
3. The Prophet Ezekiel’s calling (594 B.C.)
Stephen D. Ricks states,
“Ezekiel 1 through 3 contains an account of Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet… The prophetic call of Ezekiel… .shows… parallels to the calls of Lehi [1 Nephi 1-2]… and Isaiah [Isaiah 6]… The call pattern [includes the following steps:}(1) historical introduction, (2) divine conformation, (3) reaction, (4) commission, (5) reassurance, and (6) execution of commission (“A Watchman to the House of Israel” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 268-267).
Having noted the six steps of being called as a prophet as identified by Stephen D. Ricks, we will now give apply this formula to the prophetic call of Ezekiel. The definition of the steps by Ricks will be given in quotes followed by the verses in the scripture as they apply to Ezekiel. I have also included the experience of Joseph Smith, a modern day prophet, for comparison.
(1) “The Historical introduction usually contains short introductory remarks providing such background as the time, place, and historical setting of the prophetic call.” (1)
Ezekiel 1:1-3
1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
2 In the fifth day of the month which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin’s captivity,
3 The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.
We learn that Ezekiel was called five years after his arrival in Babylon (594 B.C.).
Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:14
14 So in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
The place where Joseph went to pray was a grove of trees near his parent’s home in Palmyra, Manchester County, New York, in the Spring of 1820.
(2) “In the ‘divine confrontation,’ either God, an angel, or some other manifestation of the divine appears to the individual” (1)
Ezekiel 1:28
28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the rightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD…
In the previous verses [Ezekiel 1:4-27], Ezekiel attempts to describe the majesty, dominance and glory of God the Father, probably in symbolic and figurative language. I offer the following commentary for consideration.
In verse 10, Ezekiel saw four creatures which “had the face of a man,… a lion,… an ox,… [and] the face of an eagle.”
The Old Testament student manual states,
“the Prophet Joseph Smith, under inspiration from God, explained that the four beasts in John’s vision were representative of classes of beings (D&C 77:3). The faces of the creatures in Ezekiel’s vision seem to represent the same thing… Ezekiel saw that the throne of God was above the creatures (Ezekiel 1:26-28). That placement represents his having dominion over all living things, though he provides the means for all his creations both men and beast to enter into eternal glory, each in their appropriate order (see D&C 77:2-3)… The creatures of Ezekiel’s vision were in complete harmony and unity. They moved as one, symbolizing the total unity that exists among all living thing who submit to God’s will” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 266).
It is interesting to note that when Joseph Smith experienced his first vision in 1820, he also experienced a very bright and glorious light in the heavens.
Orson Pratt’s first recorded statement of Joseph’s First Vision (1840) states,
“And while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around was illuminated in a more glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hope of being able to endure its presence” (“Orson Pratt’s Account of the First Vision [1840]” in Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980, Second Edition, 172).
(3) “In the ‘reaction’ section the prophet reacts to his confrontation with the divine through words or action reflecting awe, fear, or unworthiness.” (1)
Ezekiel 1:28
28 … And when I saw it [glory of the Lord], I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:17
17 It [Bright light] no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages… No sooner therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light,…
(4) “In the course of the ‘divine confrontation,’ the Prophet has a ‘throne-theophany'[visual manifestation of deity] vision in which he sees God seated on his throne.” (1)
Ezekiel 1:26
26 … This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD… and I heard a voice of one that spake.
Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:17
17 … When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!
H. Donl Peterson states in reference to Joseph Smith’s vision,
“This vision is probably one of the most significant theophanies in history as evidenced by the fact that both the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith” (Moroni: Ancient Prophet, Modern Messenger. Deseret Book, 2000, Paperback Edition, 171).
(5) “In the ‘commission,’ the individual recipient is commanded to perform a given task and assume the role of prophet of the people to whom he was being sent” (1)
Ezekiel 2:3-5
3 And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation, that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.
4 For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God.
5 And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.
Orson Pratt, in the previously referenced statement regarding Joseph Smith’s First Vision, records,
“He was informed that his sins were forgiven. He was also informed upon the subject which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them [join them]; and he received a promise that the true doctrine—the fullness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable” (“Orson Pratt’s Account of the First Vision [1840]” in Joseph Smith’ First Vision. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980, Second Edition, 172).
Due to Joseph Smith’s youth (14th year), he was not called at this time (1820) to be a prophet. Following the bestowal upon him of the authority to act in God’s name, in accompaniment with Oliver Cowdery, through heavenly visitors, (John the Baptist and Peter, James and John), on April 6, 1830, ten years following his first vision, the Church of Jesus Christ was restored upon the earth with Joseph Smith as Prophet and President of the Church.
(6) “In the ‘reassurance’ section of the prophetic call passages, God or his representative promises the prophet that he will be protected so that he can fulfill the call.” (1)
Ezekiel 2:6-7
6 And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou doest dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
7 And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear:…
On September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in response to personal prayer.
Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:33
33 He [Moroni] called me by name [Joseph], and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be hand for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that there should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.
Doctrine and Covenants 122:9 [March, 1839]
9 Therefore, [voice of Jesus Christ] hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.
Joseph Smith at the Female Relief Society meeting [31 August, 1842], shared why the Lord had continued to preserve his life,
“My feelings at the present time are that, inasmuch as the Lord Almighty has preserved me until today, He will continue to preserve me, by the united faith and prayers of the Saints, until I have fully accomplished my mission in this life, and so firmly established the dispensation of the fullness of the priesthood in the last days, that all the power of earth and hell can never prevail against it” (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 5. Edited by B.H. Roberts. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-52, Second Edition, Revised, 139-140).
(7) “The prophetic call generally concludes with a Statement indicating that the prophet begins to execute his commission.” (1)
Ezekiel 3:7
7 But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.
Ezekiel is willing to serve, but is informed that his mission will be difficult.
The Old Testament student manual notes,
“Through the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord gave wayward and backsliding Israel a message of warning and reproof, of justice and judgment, of mercy and love that left no doubt of his indignation at their unrighteousness nor of his desire for their repentance” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition, 265).
As previously noted, Joseph Smith, due to his youth, was not called to be a prophet at the time of his first vision (1820), however his call to be a prophet was formally confirmed on April 6, 1830.
Doctrine and Covenants 21:1-5 [Voice of Jesus Christ]
1 Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou [Joseph Smith] shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof, and to build it up unto the most holy faith.
3 Which church was organized and established in the year of your Lord eighteen hundred and thirty, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.
4 Wherefore, meaning the church thou salt gie heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walk in in all holiness before me [Jesus Christ];
5 For his words ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
Joseph Smith’s commission was to serve as Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ which was now restored upon the earth. Acting through the power and authority of God, once again mankind, through the saving ordinances, had the opportunity for exaltation which was now available to all members of Christ’s Church on the earth.
*(1) reference in quotes: Stephen D. Ricks. “A Watchman to the House of Israel” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 269-271.
4. Ezekiel 3; 33: A Watchman on the Tower
The position of “watchman” was one of sacred trust. In ancient Israel, a city’s defenses consisted mainly of a wall constructed around the city with a tower where a watchman was positioned. It was the sole duty of the watchman to provide sufficient warning to the citizens by a blast from his trumpet so that they might be prepared in advance of pending danger. If he failed to fulfill his duty, the entire city could be in peril. If he were found to be asleep or derelict in his responsibility, he faced severe disciplinary action from his superiors as the strength of the warning system of the city consisted in the watchman doing his job. The qualities of a good watchman included excellent eyesight, a strong sense of responsibility, a willingness to stay on the job in all kinds of weather, and a determination to be constantly alert.
Ezekiel 3:17
17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word of my mouth and give them warning from me.
Ezekiel is be a watchman regarding the spiritual enemies that could cause the loss of spiritual life for the Israelites captives.
Stephen D. Ricks states,
“Ezekiel’s main task as a watchman was to announce the imminent judgment of God upon Judah and Jerusalem, which then loomed on the horizon. Just as the watchman of a city is liable when he fails to warn its inhabitants, so Ezekiel would be responsible if he failed to warn Israel” (“A Watchman to the House of Israel” in Studies in Scripture 4. Edited by Kent P. Jackson. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993, 271).
The penalty prescribed by the Lord, if Ezekiel failed to provide a warning to Israel as her watchman was severe.
Ezekiel 3:18 [underline added]
18 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.
The Lord now outlines two options which if implemented will preserve the life of the watchman.
Option #1: Ezekiel 3:19
19 … 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.
Option #2: Ezekiel 3:20
21 … 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.
The simple key that enables the watchman to preserve his life is to fulfill the duty he has been given to sound a voice of warning. His responsibility includes not only the wicked, but also the righteous. Why also the righteous? We learn from the scriptures “for there is no man that sinneth not” (1 Kings 8:46). The difference between the wicked and the righteous is only one of degree. While the righteous may not have committed the serious sins of the wicked, he/she is guilty of less serious sins that also require their attention. Sins, like weeds in a garden, when not attended to and removed, continue to increase and will destroy the productivity of the garden. It is only through the process of daily recognition and action that we continue our progress toward perfection.
The daily operation of the various wards and stakes in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fulfilled by the members themselves as there is no paid clergy. Today, one may serve as the Bishop or Relief Society President of the ward or as Stake President or Stake Relief Society President, and following their release, tomorrow be called to serve in a position of lesser responsibility.
J. Reuben Clark observed,
“In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve, but how” (“Not where but How” in J. Reuben Clark Selected Papers 3. Edited by David H. Yarn, Jr. Provo: Brigham Young University Press,, 1984, 76).
In this regard each member in the Church serves as watchman/woman on the tower as they serve others.
Marion D. Hanks shared the following incident,
“A young woman, away from her family in another city, committed a serious moral transgression. She returned to her home, pregnant outside of marriage. She stood up in a church meeting and “acknowledged her fault and asked the forgiveness of her people. She said, ‘I would like to walk the streets of this town knowing that you know and that you have compassion on me and forgive me. But if you can’t forgive me, she said, ‘please don’t blame my mother–… and please don’t hold it against my baby… she bore testimony of appreciation of her bitterly won but dearly treasured person knowledge of the importance of the saving mission of Jesus Christ. Then she sat down.
“The man who told me the story reported the reaction of the congregation to this experience. There were many tearful eyes and many humble hearts. ‘There were no stone throwers there,’ he said. ‘We were full of compassion and love, and found myself wishing the bishop would close the meeting and let us leave with this sense of appreciation and concern and gratitude to God.’
“The bishop did rise, but he didn’t close the meeting. Instead, he said, ‘Brothers and sisters, Donna’s story has saddened and touched us all. She has courageously and humbly accepted full responsibility for her sorrowful situation. She has, in effect, put a list of sinners on the wall of the chapel with only her name on the list. I cannot in honesty leave it there alone. At least one other name must be written—the name of one who is in part responsible for this misfortune, though he was far away when the incident occurred… It is the name of your bishop. You see,’ he said,’ had I full performed the duties of my calling and accepted the opportunities of my leadership, perhaps I could have prevented this tragedy.’
Others stood up: A counselor to the bishop, then a sister who was the president of the Young Women’s organization. The last was a brother and his companion who were assigned to the young woman’s family. Each stated that they had been worried about her, even prayed for her well being, but then had done nothing. Each concluded with the resolve, “to be the kind of [servant] the Lord seemed to have in mind” (“How Many Apples In a Seed?” in Conference Report, April, 1966, 148-153).
This incident illustrates the sacred responsibility that has been given by the Lord today to each member of the church to care for each other as watchmen/women on the tower.
The admonishment the Lord gave to Ezekiel regarding his accountability as a watchman, is still in effect today.
John Taylor states,
“If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty” (Journal of Discourse 20. London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-86, [Eighth Reprint 1974], 23).
5. Ezekiel 18: Moral Freedom and Responsibility
It is important to understand that it was during the first deportation in 607 B.C. (traditional dating) that Ezekiel and many others were taken captive to Babylon. At the time of their departure, the city and the temple had not been destroyed. It was at the time of the second deportation 588-586 B.C. that the Babylonians returned to completely devastate the city of Jerusalem and its temple and to burn it by fire. It was at this time that Judah was destroyed as a nation and those remaining, who had not gone to Egypt, including Jeremiah, were taken captive to Babylon.
As we begin this chapter we confront the principle of individual responsibility. It involves a well known proverb that was common among the Israelites. It states, “The Fathers Have Eaten a sour Grape, and the Children’s Teeth Are Set on Edge.” It’s meaning was that due to the effect parents have on the rearing of their children, they are responsible for the children’s actions. Wicked parents produce wicked children and righteous parents produce righteous children. It is the parent, not the child who is responsible for the moral choices of the children. The prophet Jeremiah had previously addressed this proverb.
Jeremiah 31:29-30 [underline added]
29 In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth shall be set on edge.
30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.
Victor L. Ludlow notes,
“Many Jews in exile felt the sins of their fathers and others of their own generation were to blame for their condition” (Unlocking the Old Testament. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981, 191).
It is not surprising that the Lord felt the need to again clarify the misunderstanding of this common proverb among those of Ezekiel’s day. Even today there are individuals who seek to blame others in order to avoid being held responsible for their own actions.
Ezekiel 18:2-3
2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?
3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
One reason why the Lord takes such a strong stand against Israel and Us also?, is that it’s teaching is false! The Lord makes it clear to his children, through his prophet Ezekiel, that the blame lies with themselves and they, not their forefathers, are personally responsible for their sins.
To emphasize this point, Ezekiel gives the illustration of three generations, (1) A Grandfather who is righteous his entire life escapes death (see Ezekiel 18:5-9); (2) His son becomes a wicked man and dies as a result of his own sins (see Ezekiel 18:10-13), and (3) the grandson, who considers his father’s actions, does righteously and lives (Ezekiel 18:14-17),.
Ezekiel 18:20-21
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteous of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Thus, in the final analysis, each of us are responsible for our own actions and we alone will be held accountable for the choices we have made in our lives at the time of the final judgment. While there may have been times when we were found innocent for crimes we have committed by an earthly tribunal, we will receive the full penalty of our actions at the bar of heavenly justice.
To those of us who are willing to take individual responsibility for our sins, the Lord offers to us the opportunity for forgiveness if we will seek sincere repentance and forsake our sins.
Ezekiel 18:21-22
21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right,…
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him; in his righteousness [repentance] that he hath done he shall live [be forgiven].
We learn from the words of an American prophet, Moroni, son of Mormon, that “if ye have no hope, ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity” (B/M, Moroni 10:22). The Lord’s promises are the substance out of which shattered lives can be rebuilt. Being able to repent makes us greater than our sins; our repentance brings us back to the Lord and his spirit whispers assurance that engenders hope in our souls. Therefore, no person in a state of despair because of sin, who is willing to repent, needs to remain in that state. It was Amulek who taught an important truth regarding our repentance.
B/M, Alma 34:33
33 … as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day o your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
For each of us, the wicked and the righteous, now is the time for us to prepare for our heavenly judgment. Tomorrow may be too late. Repentance as well as enduring in righteousness is important as Ezekiel taught.
Ezekiel 18:24
24 ….when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
At times we may be inclined to think that God at the time of our final judgment will remember the good deeds we used to do and somehow overlook any of the sinful ways we recently may have adopted. The teachings of Ezekiel bring further clarity to our thinking. Life is a process of becoming better each day of our lives, repenting as necessary. The judgment process will not consist of weighing our good deeds against the bad. It is not a bookkeeping process where the Lord cancels out one of our bad deeds with every good deed we have done. It is instead our living lives of righteousness, improving each day, and continuing to repent throughout our entire life. Because we all error in our lives, in spite of our sincere efforts, we know that is it is only by the “grace [of Jesus Christ] that we are saved after all we can do” (B/M, 1 Nephi 25:23). Our works alone will not save us, any more than just the Lord’s grace. Eternal life requires a joint efforts of our works combined with the Atonement offered by Jesus Christ.
Ezekiel 18:30-31
30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye did, O house of Israel?
6. Ezekiel 20: Israel’s Iniquity and Promised Redemption
After an extended period of time we learn that, “certain elders” came and inquired of Ezekiel if he would enquire of the Lord on their behalf” (Ezekiel 20:1). The Lord replies,
Ezekiel 20:3-4
3 Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are you come to enquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you.
4 Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers.
The Lord does not give them an answer to their inquiry. Instead He instructs Ezekiel to remind them of “the abominations of their fathers.” Why does the Lord direct Ezekiel to remind them of His intercession with their fathers and their accompanying response.
Ezekiel 20:13
13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them.
Having reiterated the transgressions of the children of Israel to those who sought the Lord’s direction, the Lord tells Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 20:30-31 JST, Ezekiel 20:30-31
30 Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? And commit ye whoredom after their abominations? 30 Wherefore say unto the house of Israel; Thus saith the Lord God; Ye are polluted after the manner of your fathers, and ye commit whoredom after their abominations.
31 For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be enquired of by you. 31 For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourself with all your idols, even unto this day; and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, said the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.
The key words in the lack of reply by the Lord to the Babylonian captives are emphasized in the Joseph Smith Translation [JST]. “Ye are” makes the joint statement found in both KJV and JST, “even unto this day” clear for those in Babylon are just as wicked as their forefathers were. Their forefather did not listen to the Lord and follow his directives, nor do they. Why then would the Lord speak when Israel has not and is not now listening to his words? His silence is in fact a manifestation of his tender mercy for to give them more and they continue to be disobedient, would only bring them greater condemnation! This truth was taught by the prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon.
B/M, Alma 12:10
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word…
The Lord speaks to Ezekiel regarding the gathering of scattered Israel in the latter days.
Ezekiel 20:34
34 And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out.
At a time in the future, the Lord will gather scattered Israel out of the countries wherein they live. They will be refined and purified.
Ezekiel 20:37
37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bonds of the covenant.
Adam Clarke clarifies the statement, “cause you to pass under the rod, and “bring you into the bond of the covenant,”
“This alludes to the custom of tithing the sheep. I take it from the rabbins. The sheep were penned; and the shepherd stood at the door of the fold, where only one sheep cold come out at once. He had in his hand a rod dipped in vermillion; and as they came out, he counted one, two, three,… nine, and a the tenth came out, he marked it with the rod, and said, ‘This is the tenth’; and that was set apart for the Lord”.
“Bring you into the bond of the covenant refers to “you shall be placed under the same obligations as before, and acknowledge yourselves bound; you shall feel your obligation, and live according to its nature” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible. Edited by Ralph Earle. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1967, [Nineteenth Printing March, 1991], 674).
Those who are gathered will divide themselves into two groups. One group will consist of those who are gathered who will willingly make their covenant with the Lord, and will accept their obligation to serve the Lord and keep his commandments. The second group will choose not to accept the offer by the Lord’s to enter into a covenant with him. Instead, they will rebel against Him.
Ezekiel 20:38
38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
The “rebels’ of the second group will lose their opportunity to come into the fold of the Lord, and will thereby lose the reward that might had been theirs.
Ezekiel 20:40-41
40 For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, and with all your holy things.
41 I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the countries wherein ye have scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen.
In the latter days the Lord will gather through the missionary work, his remnant from among the children of the nations and bring them under the bond of the covenant (gospel), and purge the rebellious element from among them. Those who accept the invitation from the Lord, will do so with the desire to be numbered among his righteous people.
7. Ezekiel 22: The Sins of Jerusalem
Ezekiel outlines the sins of the people of Judah that brought them into captivity and will result in the final destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Their sins include: idolatry (vs. 3), shed blood [murder] (vs. 4), made light of parents(vs. 7), wronged the fatherless and the widow (vs. 7), despised holy things (vs .8), profaned the Sabbath (vs. 8), committed incest (vs. 11), and made dishonest gains (vs. 12-13). In short they have set a naught the counsel and guidance they have received from the Lord through his holy prophets.
Ezekiel 22:22
22 As silver is melted in the midst of the furnace, so shall ye be melted in the midst thereof; and ye shall know that I the Lord have poured out my fury upon you.
As a people, they are going to be tried in the furnace of affliction which is one of the factors in Israel being scattered throughout all the nations of the earth.
Sidney B. Sperry states,
“There is no man in the land who is suitable to step into the breach and save the country from the destruction that the Lord shall bring upon it” (The Voice of Israel’s Prophets. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1952, 215).
It is important to understand that this prophecy was given by the Lord to the Babylonian captivities prior to the final siege of Jerusalem so that the people might know why Jerusalem fell.
8. Ezekiel 33: Jerusalem’s Destruction
As previously noted in Ezekiel 3:17-21, Ezekiel calling as prophet was likened to the “watchman on the tower” and his responsibility was to warn. As the watchman fulfills his/her responsibility, even if the wicked do not repent, his blood is not required at the Lord’s hand. However if he/she does not open their mouths and warn the wicked, the Lord will hold the individual responsible for failing to offer the voice of warning!
In Ezekiel 18:24-28, the Lord speaks directly to the righteous and the wicked. He speaks first to the righteous who fail to continue in righteousness, but later turn to wickedness. He shall be held responsible for his failure to continue in his/her righteousness. To the wicked who turns from their wickedness and “keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right” (Ezekiel 18:21), shall have his/her sins forgiven and “he/she shall save his soul alive” (Ezekiel 18:27).
The issues in these two previous chapters speak directly to the one who has the responsibility to warn and either the blessing or the consequences that will occur dependent upon how they fulfill their responsibility. The second involves the response of the righteous who turns to wickedness and the wicked individual who repents and turns to righteousness. Each will receive on the final day from the Lord, either punishment or blessing based upon their final state.
The importance of fulfilling our duty to the Lord in warning our neighbor and the significance of enduring in righteousness or not procrastinating our day of repentance is so important, that the Lord reiterates both concepts in this chapter (Ezekiel 33:2-9; 12-19).
We learn that word comes to the captives in Babylon that their beloved city and temple have been destroyed.
Ezekiel 33:21
21 And it came to pass in the twelfth year of our captivity, in the tenth month, in the fifth day of the month, that one that had escaped out of Jerusalem came unto me, saying, the city is smitten.
Ezekiel learns that those who are in Jerusalem and in the surrounding areas, believe that they are now the chosen recipients of the land!
Ezekiel 33:24
24 Son of man, they that inhabit those wastes of the land of Israel speak, saying, Abraham was one, and he inherited the land: but we are many; the land is given us for inheritance.
The Lord informs Ezekiel that this shall not be.
Ezekiel 33:26, 28-29
26 Ye stand upon your sword, ye work abomination, and ye defile every one his neighbour’s wife and shall ye possess the land?
28 For I will lay the land most desolate, and the pomp of her strength shall cease; and the mountains of Israel shall be desolated, that none shall pass through.
29 Then shall they know that I am the LORD, when I have laid the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.
Despite of the warning voice that Ezekiel had given to the inhabitants of Judah, they did not understand that the devastation that had come to their nation by the Babylonians was a direct result of their wickedness. Only on condition of their complete repentance would they again inhabit their beloved land. They had chosen to remain in their wickedness; they would now reap the consequences.
Ezekiel 33:30-32
30 Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another,… Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD.
31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but thir heart goeth after their covetousness.
32 … for they hear thy words, but they do them not.
I believe that Ezekiel understood the words of the Lord and his role as watchman. He had warned the people. They had chosen not to heed his warning, therefore, they, not he, would suffer.
In confirmation of Ezekiel’s being valiant in fulfilling his calling as prophet, the Lord gives his these words.
Ezekiel 33:33
33 And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.
In other words, Ezekiel you have done your duty and someday those to whom you have preached, will come to know that they had been warned and were now without excuse for their actions.
I believe that this is also true for each of us. When we are given an errand from the Lord, to share the truths he would have us speak, if the individual does not listen or even value our concern for them, someday they will know of our efforts on their behalf. It is also true, the scriptures teach, if we fail to fulfill our errand, we will also share the consequences for our lack of action.
9. Conclusion
Ezekiel had been a faithful watchman. He has sounded the alarm initially to the Judean captives and now to us. Will we also hear and then not do?, or will we learn from his warning?
The Old Testament student manual states,
Ezekiel taught: (1) “Each of us as individuals are responsible for our own actions and will be rewarded or punished according to the way he use the agency given him. (2) He taught that no one can reject the Lord’s counsel and escape the judgments that invariably follow justice and that are intended to purge the soul of iniquity. (3) He taught also that no one who repents and turns from his iniquities will lose the blessings of God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness” (Old Testament student manual 1 Kings—Malachi. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982, Second Edition. 265, Numbers added).
I might add, Ezekiel has taught us that no one can turn from righteousness to wickedness and believe that his/her previous acts of righteousness will cancel out his/her current acts of unrighteousness. Forgiveness from the Lord comes only when we have purged sin from our lives and fully repented of our sins. It is where we are, in heart and actions at the end of our lives, that will determine our joy or regret.