Today’s lesson text highlights the responsibility of the prophet Ezekiel: he must preach repentance to the people. Whether they listen to him and turn away from wickedness is not his ultimate concern. Repentance will be their choice, not his. If the people choose not to turn back to God, they will die. The question concerning their refusal to repent is this: who will bring the punishment of death upon them?
If Ezekiel decides not to obey God and fulfill his responsibility as a prophet by warning the people, he will have a high price to pay. Those who continue in their evil ways must “die in their iniquity” (v. 8) whether Ezekiel preaches to them or not. But if he does not, God says, then the unrepentant must die by his hand. Ezekiel will have to kill them! Better to keep preaching his difficult sermons of warning so that the people are fully knowledgeable than to keep silent and have to bring God’s violent sentence upon them if they don’t repent. God’s justice will prevail.
Today’s lesson text also highlights the loving nature of God. “As I live,” God says to Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from their ways and live…for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (v. 11). The prophet is to share these words with the people. Anyone who thinks God is gleefully watching to catch people in sin should understand that this will never be true. If anything, God watches mournfully as people destroy their lives and communities through harmful words and actions. God wants life, not death.
This bears out when we look at the whole picture of Scripture and read stories of grace, second (and third and fourth and fifth…) chances, and vibrant renewal. God must bring justice, but God’s ultimate nature is love. God’s love will prevail.
• Why do you think Ezekiel might find it difficult to fulfill his responsibility as God’s prophet?
• Why do you think God’s punishments are so harsh—both for those who continue in wickedness and for a prophet who fails to prophesy?
• What is the balance between God’s love and justice? How do the two work together?
• In verse 11, God says God takes pleasure in people turning away from evil so that they can live. When we remain stuck in sin, how is that like a death?
• What are some of your most cherished stories of God’s grace and renewal—both in the Bible and in your life or the lives of others?
Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.
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