Ezekiel 33:1-33

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Again YHWH’s “word” or message (“word of prophecy” [Targum]) came to Ezekiel. (33:1) As at other times, Ezekiel was addressed as “son of man,” as a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. “To the sons of [his] people” or to fellow Israelites,” the message related to a man whom the “people of the land” would appoint as “their watchman” or sentinel at a time when YHWH would be bringing a “sword” (“those who slay by the sword” [Targum]) against their land or permitting the people of the land to come under enemy attack. (33:2) If the appointed watchman “sees the sword coming against the land and blows the shofar (a ram’s-horn trumpet) to warn the people (33:3) and a man hears the sound of the shofar but fails to act in harmony with the warning signal, he could not blame the watchman for his death when the sword arrives against him. “His blood” would come to be “on his [own] head,” for he would have made himself responsible for his death because of ignoring the warning signal of the watchman. (33:4) The individual would have no excuse for his inaction. He heard the “sound of the shofar” but did not heed the warning, and so “his blood” would come to be upon him. He would bear the responsibility for his own death. If he had heeded the warning, his “soul” or his life would not have been lost. (33:5)

If a “watchman sees the sword [those who slay by the sword (Targum)] coming and does not blow the shofar,” failing to warn the people, and the “sword comes and takes away from them a soul” or a life, the man who perishes would die for his own iniquity. The watchman, however, would bear responsibility for his death because he did not sound the warning signal. Therefore, YHWH would hold the watchman accountable, asking back the shed blood “from his hand.” The watchman would forfeit his life. (33:6)

YHWH had appointed Ezekiel, a “son of man” or a mortal, in his service as a watchman (“teacher” [Targum]) to the “house” [or people] of Israel.” From YHWH (literally, “from [his] mouth”), Ezekiel would hear the “word” or message. Whenever this occurred, Ezekiel was to give YHWH’s warning to the people. (33:7)

If YHWH said to a wicked person, “Wicked man, you will surely die [literally, dying, you will die], and Ezekiel failed to warn the man “to turn [away] from his [corrupt] way,” the man would die for his own iniquity, but Ezekiel would be held accountable. YHWH would ask back the blood of the man from Ezekiel’s hand. The prophet would have made himself bloodguilty for not giving the warning and, therefore, would forfeit his life. (33:8)

If Ezekiel warned the wicked man to turn away from his evil way, but the man “did not turn from it,” that man would die for his own iniquity, but Ezekiel would have preserved his own “soul” or life. (33:9)

Addressed as “son of man,” as a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH, Ezekiel received a message for the “house” or people of Israel. He was to tell the people, “Thus you have said, “For our transgressions and our sins are upon us and in them we are wasting away, and how can we live?” The thought appears to be that the people of Israel felt that the punishment for their transgressions and sins was just too great for them to bear. They simply could not imagine continuing to live under this heavy burden. (33:10)

With a solemn expression worded like an oath (“as I live”), the Lord YHWH declared through Ezekiel that he had no pleasure in the death of a wicked man but wanted the individual to turn from his evil way and to continue living. This was followed by an appeal to the people of Israel, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways. For why should you die, O house of Israel?” If they abandoned their lawless course, the people would continue to live. (33:11)

Ezekiel, a “son of man” or a mortal in the service of the eternal God, was to tell the “sons” of his people, his fellow Israelites, that the “righteousness of the righteous man” would not provide the basis for delivering him “in the day of his transgression” or at a time when he would be found guilty of serious wrongdoing. “In the day” or time of his having turned away from his wickedness, the former wickedness of the wicked man would not cause him to stumble to a calamitous fall, and the man who formerly had been righteous would not continue to live in the “day of his sinning” or in the time of his abandonment of his upright way of life. (33:12) If YHWH were to tell a righteous man that he would “surely live” (literally, “living, he will live”) and that man trusted “in his righteousness” (his former course of upright living) and committed iniquity, “all his righteous deeds” would not be “remembered” or taken into account. He would die “in the iniquity” that he had committed, perishing as the lawless man that he was at the time of YHWH’s judgment. (33:13)

If YHWH were to say to a wicked man, “You will surely die” (literally, “dying, you will die”), and that man then turned away “from his sin” and did “what is lawful and right” (33:14), he would not die. His changed course would become evident by his actions. As God’s law required, the former wicked man would return the pledge he had taken, give back what he had seized by robbery, conduct himself according to the “statutes of life” (or the commands of God that would lead to a continuance of life), and would not commit iniquity or serious transgression. In that case, the man would surely live (literally, “living, he will live”); he would not die. (33:15) “All his [former] sins that he committed” would not be “remembered against him” or be the basis for a punitive judgment. As one who had changed his course and done what is “lawful and right,” the man would continue to live. (33:16)

Regarding the manner in which YHWH dealt with individuals, the “sons” of Ezekiel’s people or fellow Israelites would say, The “way of the Lord” is not right (literally, “measured,” that is, measured according to a just standard). It was “their way,” however, that was not right. Apparently they thought that former good deeds and former evil deeds should be taken into account at the time of judgment, whereas YHWH’s judgment was based on the uprightness or evil of individuals at the time of judgment. (33:17) If a righteous man turned away “from his righteousness” and committed iniquity, he would die for his serious wrongs. At the time of judgment, he would be revealed as a wicked man deserving of death. (33:18) If a wicked man turned away “from his wickedness” and then did what is “lawful and right,” he would “live by them [the lawful and right things he did].” The man would continue to live because, at the time of judgment, he would be an upright man who conducted himself in a divinely approved manner. (33:19)

The people still objected, saying that the “way of the Lord” is not right (literally, “measured,” that is, measured according to a just standard), but they were wrong. Therefore, to the “house [or people] of Israel,” YHWH repeated his standard of true justice. He would judge each man or individual “according to his ways” or according to his conduct at the time for the execution of judgment. (33:20)

On the fifth day of the tenth month (mid-December to mid-January) in the twelfth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, an escapee from Jerusalem arrived and told Ezekiel that the city had been conquered (literally, “struck down”). The year is commonly considered to have been 585 BCE. (33:21; see the Notes section.) In the evening before the arrival of the escapee, the “hand of YHWH” or his spirit came to be upon Ezekiel. As had previously been revealed to Ezekiel, his muteness respecting prophesying that would affect the exiles was to end at that time. (24:27) So, in fulfillment of his word, YHWH did open Ezekiel’s mouth before the escapee came to him in the morning, and Ezekiel ceased to be mute. (33:22)

YHWH’s “word” or message (“word of prophecy” [Targum]) came to Ezekiel (33:23), a “son of man” or a mortal in the service of the eternal God YHWH. The message from YHWH revealed to him that the few survivors in the desolated areas of the conquered kingdom of Judah (the “land of Israel”) imagined that the land had been given to them to possess. Their thinking was that they were more numerous than Abraham, who, though being only “one,” received possession of the land (not in actuality but on the basis of YHWH’s promise that was unerringly fulfilled). (33:24) Therefore, the Lord YHWH declared through Ezekiel that they would not come to possess the land, for they had acted contrary to his commands. They ate meat with the blood, not slaughtering animals properly so as to drain the blood. Instead of being exclusively devoted to YHWH as their God, they continued to “lift up [their] eyes to [their] idols” (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]), revering the nonexistent deities that these idols represented and expecting their help and favorable attention. The survivors in the land had also made themselves guilty of shedding innocent blood. In view of these detestable acts, YHWH’s rhetorical question was, “And should you possess the land?” (33:25; see the Notes section.)

Among the survivors, other serious transgressions had been committed. They “stood” upon their “sword,” either using it to seize what they wanted or relying on it (instead of on YHWH) for their security. The “abomination” they practiced likely was their involvement in idolatry. Instead of being faithful to their wives, men committed adultery with the wives of companions, neighbors, or fellow Israelites. Therefore, YHWH’s rhetorical question was repeated, “And should you possess the land?” (33:26; see the Notes section.)

With a solemn declaration that was worded like an oath (“as I live”), the Lord YHWH declared through Ezekiel that the lawless people then living in the desolated areas would “fall by the sword,” and wild animals would devour the one perishing in the open field, and individuals who had taken refuge “in strongholds and in caves” would die from pestilence (by “death” [LXX]) or infectious disease. (33:27)

YHWH decreed that he would make the land a “desolation and a waste,” an uninhabited and devastated place. The “pride of its strength” (possibly meaning the power the people once had before the Babylonian conquest and in which they took great pride) would end. “Mountains of Israel” or the mountainous and hilly areas of the land would become so desolate that no one would pass through these areas, possibly because of fearing attack from wild animals. (33:28) After YHWH had caused the land to be transformed into a “desolation and a waste,” an uninhabited and devastated area, because of all the “abominations” (idolatry and other God-dishonoring actions), the people would “know” or be forced to recognize YHWH as the God who had expressed his judgment against them. (33:29)

YHWH revealed to Ezekiel (a “son of man” or mortal in his service) that the “sons of [his] people,” fellow Israelites, would talk together about him as they stood beside walls and at the entrances of their houses. To one another, they would say each man to his “brother” or fellow Israelite, “Come, and [let us] hear what word [or message] is issuing from YHWH.” (33:30) They would then come to Ezekiel as a group (literally, “as people come”) and sit before him “as [God’s] people,” probably meaning as if they truly were YHWH’s people and wanted to hear his word and act on it. Although they would hear Ezekiel’s words, they would not do the things he said to them. Their failure to heed his words was linked to “their mouth” and “their heart.” The phrase about the “mouth” is somewhat obscure, and this is reflected in the variety of renderings found in translations. “They produce nothing but lust with their mouths.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Their mouths are full of lustful words.” (NLT) “‘Fine words!’ they will say with insincerity.” (REB) “Love songs are on their lips.” (NAB, revised edition) “Their mouths speak of love.” (NIV) “Loving words are on their lips.” (TEV) “They claim to be faithful.” (CEV) The Septuagint says, “Falsehood [is] in their mouth.” “Their heart” was prompting them to make unjust gain. In thought or in their inner selves, they were bent on taking advantage of others. According to the Septuagint, their heart was after “unclean things,” the things that led to moral defilement. (33:31)

The word for “look” focused attention on who Ezekiel was to the people who came to him. They regarded him as one who entertained them with a “song of love,” had a “beautiful voice,” and was accomplished in playing a stringed instrument. The Septuagint says that Ezekiel was to them like the “tone of a pleasant-sounding, well-tuned stringed instrument.” Though they heard his words, they refused to heed them. (33:32)

When the message that Ezekiel had proclaimed was fulfilled (literally, “when it comes — come it will”), the people would “know” or be forced to recognize that a prophet had been in their midst. (33:33)


In verse 21, the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) says that it was the “tenth year,” but other Greek manuscripts agree with the reading of the Masoretic Text. A number of Hebrew manuscripts indicate that it was the “eleventh year,” and this is also the reading of the Syriac. Instead of the “tenth month,” Greek manuscripts say that it was the “twelfth month.”

Printed Greek texts do not include the words of verse 26 and only contain the introductory words of verse 25 (“Therefore, say to them, Thus says the Lord Lord”). Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, however, does contain the wording that corresponds to that of the Masoretic Text.