The Watchman Held Accountable
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
“Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: . . . When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning . . . the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” (Ezekiel 3:17-18)
Our text comprises part of Ezekiel’s commission as prophet to Judah. His function was compared to a watchman on the city walls whose duty was to warn the city of impending danger. Ezekiel was to warn the apostate people of Jerusalem of the coming invasion by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. God warned Ezekiel that if he refused to pass on whatever messages he received from God, he himself would be held accountable.
On the other hand, Ezekiel was not accountable for the response of the hearer. “Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness . . . he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul” (v. 19). He would also be requested to give similar injunctions and warnings to righteous men who had fallen into sin, but again he was not held accountable for their response (vv. 20-21).
A corresponding teaching is found in the New Testament. “Obey them that have rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account” (Hebrews 13:17). Church leaders, we are told, will give an account before the Lord someday as to how those in their flock have fared. They will not be accountable for the response of others but are required to see to it that each person in their care clearly and lovingly understands the truth and the consequences of disobedience. This is a heavy responsibility!
Let each of us respond properly to the truth as presented by our church leaders, that they may minister with joy and not with grief. JDM