Wednesday, December 3, 2008


There was life-and-death accountability for the prophet Ezekiel regarding the words he spoke - and a heavy penalty for the words he failed to speak. God says:
If I [God] say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you [the prophet Ezekiel] give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Ezekiel 3:18
God goes on to reiterate the prophet's responsibility in the verses that follow. I can't help but ask, if God already spoke to the wicked, saying that they should surely die, why would it make any difference for the prophet to repeat that message? If the "wicked" didn't listen to God Himself, why would they hear the prophet any better? And why should Ezekiel be responsible for the destruction of the "wicked" if for one reason or another the prophet kept silent?

The theme is repeated in chapter 33, where God uses the analogy of a watchman in a guard tower. The watchman is responsible to blow a trumpet in warning if he sees danger approaching:
. . . if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand. from Ezekiel 33:6
In our society, polite folks leave others to their own choices when it comes to right and wrong, and we call it friendship. How does the truth of the Bible sit with you in that regard? Are we responsible, as Ezekiel was, to speak a warning when we see a friend go astray? Are you and I under the same penalty as Ezekiel if for one reason or another we keep silent?

For me the idea that I'm responsible to "call 'em as I see 'em" is hard to swallow! It is far more pleasant, when I'm out to coffee with a friend or just having a casual conversation on the phone, to simply say what the other person wants to hear, offering "positive affirmation" of the friend's choices or moral position. Though I may abstain from condoning, I certainly don't want to make waves by raising questions or objections. I choose instead to hold my tongue. After all, I don't want to be rude, do I?

God surely doesn't call me to speak doom and gloom to friends and loved ones, does He? You are surely not called to predict fire and brimstone, are you? After all, God's ultimate intentions are clear:
. . . "As I live," declares the Lord God, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back . . ." from Ezek. 33:11
And yet, even God's good intentions have to be verbally expressed if they are to be known. So, where do we fit in? Does it fall in the lap of those who see truth to speak it out? In this day and age, how are we to balance the extreme example of Ezekiel's truth-speaking responsibility with the apparent moderation of the commandment to "judge not lest you be judged?" Only God's own Spirit in you can give you grace to balance truth with love and acceptance, but at the very least, the message of the book of Ezekiel brings to light the awesome power of the spoken word.

Look at the power of Ezekiel's voice in chapter 27, where he's ordered to speak to a jumble of dry, human bones. Granted, this passage describes a prophetic vision, as opposed to physical reality, but what a powerful picture it paints for for us today. There is a good reason the bones came clacking together in response to the prophet's verbal command, and there is good reason the restored bodies didn't receive the breath of life until the prophet was urged to speak again.

The message is this: there is power in our spoken words -- a power and responsibility that cannot be ignored or denied. One of my favorite snippets from Scripture describes God as the One " . . .who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist." This is the God we serve, the One who created us in his own image and gives us His authority - and more than authority, the life-or-death obligation - to speak truth and life in Jesus' name.

In many ways I could feel sympathy for Ezekiel, who must have looked like a raving lunatic in his time! He certainly did not live in comfort, convenience, and complacency as many Christians (even prophets and preachers) do today. In between his prophetic utterances, the poor guy was struck entirely mute! Still, at times of missed opportunity, I could almost wish life were as cut and dried for me as it was for Ezekiel.

I'll stop short of wishing to be struck mute, but I do pray that God will make me uncomfortably aware that speaking truth (and crossing boundaries of politeness or political correctness) is not merely an option for me, but an obligation. I hope you'll make it your prayer, too, that the Lord will stop our mouths from affirming and encouraging friends who are in the wrong. May He bring truth from our lips, and may He bring life to dead hearts! I pray God will make us accutely aware of the power of our spoken words today.