Ezekiel 3:16-21 – The Prophet as a Watchman


Ezekiel 3:16-21


The prophetic role of Ezekiel is compared to a lookout on the city walls during a battle.


A full week – 7 days – after the grand vision of chapters 1-3, the word of YHWH comes again to the prophet. Perhaps it has taken this long for Ezekiel to recover from the overwhelming nature of his initial experience. God tells the prophet that he is a sentinel, a lookout for Israel. This prophetic task of warning the people uses a military position – someone who stands attentively on the city walls and watches for the enemy’s approach so as to warn the city – metaphorically to emphasize Ezekiel’s assignment. The image makes sense in this exilic context of siege and conquest, yet the metaphor does not clarify who the approaching enemy is. Is Ezekiel to warn the people (not the city) about God or just some vague impending disaster or specific acts of wrongdoing? The passage seems to emphasize more the hypothetical responses of the wicked and the righteous. It is possible then to read God as either the chief watchman or the enemy.

Ezekiel must prophesy God’s word of judgment, even if the wicked do not listen or repent. The prophet must warn the righteous and the wicked alike in order to fulfill his obligation to his Lord; otherwise “their blood I will require at your hand” (3:18b), that is, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for their deaths. See also 33:1-9.