Scripture: Ezekiel, chapters 33-35; Revelation, chapter 18
Ezekiel 33:30-33 (NASB) – “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk with one another about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak one with another, each with his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is that comes from the Lord.’ And they come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them; for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart follows their unlawful gain.
And behold, you are to them like a love song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. So when it comes – as it certainly will – then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
Observations: I never noticed this metaphor in this passage before today: like a love song. That brings to mind all sorts of songs that I have enjoyed listening to over time. There are many types of love songs. Some songs declare love, asking the object of that love to respond. Love Me Do by the Beatles comes to mind. Other songs speak of a love that has been lost, like Hopelessly Devoted to You by Olivia Newton-John. We all relate to love songs on one level or another. I would imagine that most of us have experienced the joy of love, and the heartbreak of love that’s lost. We listen to those songs because they’re beautiful songs. Even though we might not feel the particular emotion expressed in the song, we still listen.
Back when I first started preaching, I had a man come up to me after a service. He told me that he never said “good sermon,” because that tended to reflect how he felt. Instead, he would say, “That really made me think.” Sometimes he would tell me, “You really dug down around the roots today!” The difference between “good sermon” and the other statements is in the impact. A sermon – which is supposed to be a message from God – ought to move us to an active response. Love songs may give us “warm fuzzies,” but they don’t often motivate us to action.
God’s comment to Ezekiel, that you are to them like a love song, focuses on the lack of response by the people. They enjoyed listening, but they didn’t do anything about what they heard. We see that in the rest of today’s reading. God begins by telling Ezekiel that he’s the “watchman.” It’s his responsibility to tell the people what God says. “I have appointed you as a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them a warning from Me” (33:7).
God always intended to move people toward repentance, but that did not always happen. Even when they didn’t repent, though, God still kept trying. “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then should you die, house of Israel?’” (33:11).
Part of the blame – perhaps a large part – belonged to the leaders of the people. Chapter 34 contains a message to the “shepherds of Israel.” They had failed to lead the “sheep” well, and had gotten fat themselves at the expense of the “sheep.” (That brings to mind all sorts of connections with the contemporary church, but those are beyond the scope of today’s post.) God’s concern was for everyone to turn to Him. As He says at the end of chapter 34, “As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are mankind, and I am your God” (34:31, emphasis added).
Application: God is reminding me today that when He gives me something to say, I have a responsibility to say it. Within the Church, we often interpret that as a call to “speak prophetically.” By that, we mean to tell the world about its sinfulness and warn people to turn to God. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do that, but God also calls us to speak prophetically to the Church. When God’s people fail to do what He calls us to do, their shepherds should warn them. We certainly shouldn’t encourage God’s people to do things which are not pleasing to Him. I believe that one of the most important things that we shepherds have to do is to model Christlike behavior. Just as Jesus taught the disciples by having them “follow” Him, so we need to allow people to see what discipleship looks like – in every aspect of life.
The imagery of a love song reminds me that I am not focused on entertainment, but on communication. The people listened to Ezekiel like a love song, but God says that they weren’t really listening. “And they come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them.” It’s not bad that people enjoy listening to God’s Word, but we should always focus on their response. And that response is not to us, but to God!
Finally, lest we forget, we have a responsibility to everyone, not just to “the Church.” As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are mankind, and I am your God. The way we frame the message may be different, but the goal is the same. We are called to help people move toward Christlikeness. That begins with accepting the offer of forgiveness and life. After that, we participate in God’s work in us to form us in the image of Jesus. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).
Prayer: Father, thank you for the call to be a watchman for your people. It is an overwhelming responsibility, but You always supply everything that we need. Help me to be faithful to You, and to proclaim Your message to Your people. Protect me from the desire to please people, to be “like a love song” that they listen to, but don’t follow. Help me to keep Your people focused on You, and to lead others into a relationship with You. Amen.