Old Testament: Ezekiel 33:7-9 (Pentecost 15: Series A)

Reading Time: 6 mins

Israel's pride is defeated, yet as sinners often do, their focus remains inward on themselves. Like petulant children they bemoan their lot and continue to question their very existence.

In order to preach a full gospel message for this coming Sunday, we will need to draw from the broader context beyond our specific selection from the lectionary. For those who fret over the acceptability of such a move, just know this is perfectly legitimate to do because the pericopal system was designed to get you to the text but not bind you within its artificial boundaries.

In the first part of our reading (verses 7-9), the “watchman” is called to warn God’s people of the reality of His wrath for sin. This is a function of His justice which we can see in the Law. This opening section also clearly demonstrates God’s eagerness to save His people from their sin, which is His gospel attitude towards sinners. The LORD gives fair warning to His people of the consequences of their sin.

In the second part of our text, we deal with the open question of God’s people in view of His just judgement: “We rot away... how then can we live?” (verse 10). The quote directly captures the miserable state of Ezekiel’s hearers. It also expresses something at the core of human existence. Given all of the things which hedge us in, how can we really find any good news in this life? In this section, Ezekiel pushes back on their false answer and engages the basic need for God to save them.

Ezekiel addresses people who are puffed-up with pride but are now exiled in Babylon, and their hands are tied. They must stand still as “indestructible” Jerusalem, the focus of their false pride (Ezekiel 11:11), falls to Babylon (Ezekiel 33:21). Their pride is defeated, yet as sinners often do, their focus remains inward on themselves. Like petulant children they bemoan their lot and continue to question their very existence.

Nevertheless, God loves His wayward children. Verse 11 insists the LORD desires salvation for His people. In fact, God desires salvation for everyone, even for the wicked. Look again at verse 11: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?“ Jesus speaks similar words of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Nevertheless, God loves His wayward children.

In the conclusion (verses 12-20), God promises to forgive sins and not hold their past against them. In order to see this in our text, you must look at a statement that has a bit of dramatic irony in it, which serves as a Gospel Handle that helps us get to the heart of the Gospel in Jesus Christ. In verse 20, the people say: “‘The way of the Lord is not just.’” Here the word for “just” is תכן (taw-kan; to regulate, measure, estimate) and it deals with the idea of correct scales used in measuring something out. This is “referring to the ways of God as opposed to those of men,”[1] and is like the idiomatic phrase “all things being equal.” Here, Francis Rossow does a masterful job of demonstrating the Gospel Handle with this turn of phrase:

“Once again, a peculiarity of King James language provides a unique Gospel handle. It is the word “equal” in the Israelites’ unfair accusation of God in verse 20: “The way of the Lord is not equal.” Modern versions of the Bible clarify this charge by translating it, “The way of the Lord is not just.” But let us retain the word “equal” and connect it with a passage in the King James Version where the same word has its current meaning, Philippians 2:6: “Who [Jesus], being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Though Jesus was indeed equal to God His Father, “very God of very God,” and it would not have been robbery for Him to insist on His rights as God, He refrained from doing so. As the NIV (New International Version) renders it, “[He] did not consider equality something to be grasped.” Instead, He “took upon Him the form of a servant... humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). You know what came of it: Our eternal salvation. Apply the charge of the Israelites in our text to the God-man on the cross and there is an unintended ironical truth to what they say. There, on Calvary, “the way of the Lord [was] not equal,” at least not in the modern sense of the word equal, for Jesus scorned equality and chose instead humility and servanthood.”[2]

A helpful construction for preaching this, which is really drawn from the rhetorical structure of our text itself, is the Question Answered Structure:

“This structure identifies a significant question for the hearers (in other words, one which cannot be easily answered, and addresses matters that are significant to the hearers) and then theologically considers one or more feasible answers before arriving at a satisfactory resolution.

The question is simple, memorable, and remains the same throughout the entire sermon. It cannot be answered with a “yes or no,” but invites the hearers into processing various answers. The movement toward a faithful answer provides the dynamic progression of the sermon. This progression could be a movement from false answers to a true answer or from partial answers to a full answer. The preacher avoids trite false answers that will insult the hearers and he seeks to have a final resolution that proceeds from the Gospel.

The sermon usually opens by depicting the human or textual dilemma which raises the focusing question. The answers are then arranged in a climactic scheme, offering more development to the later answers. In dismissing the false or partial answers, the preacher is clear about the theological reasoning that guides the discussion and thereby teaches the hearers how to think through matters theologically. Along the way, the preacher is careful not to raise distracting issues or to change the question. Finally, the sermon concludes by proclaiming the satisfactory gospel-based answer.”[3]


Here is a potential outline using this structure:

  • The Focusing Question: Is God “Just?”
    • Review the “theological confession” of Theodicy
      • Theodicy: God is all powerful (so He must be able to prevent suffering), and God is good (so He must want to prevent suffering) yet suffering exists.
      • Assenting to any two of these propositions presents no problem, but since the three together appear contradictory, various attempts have been made to negate one.”[1]
      • If the question, “Is God just,” is the frame of the sermon, then the watchman on the walls answer is: Yes, He is! But what does that answer mean (verses 7-9)?
    • Make a rhetorical move with a story or example towards the three false answers.
  • The First False Answer: The entire Old Testament is about an angry God who is not “just,” which is why we need Jesus in the New Testament to be kind and fair.
    • The problem with Ezekiel’s hearers:
      • They view God’s actions as unfair.
      • “We rot away... how can we live” (verse 10) like this!
      • Marcion (2nd Century) would later expand this by stating that the God of the Old Testament was evil.
    • The problem with this answer:
      • You cannot justify God’s actions.
      • You are only trying to justify your own actions.
      • We cannot justify ourselves before God or make sense of the world apart from God’s justifying grace.
  • The Second False Answer: Maybe God has not made His decision about things yet.
    • The problem with Ezekiel’s hearers:
      • They thought Jerusalem’s continued existence meant God was still undecided about their fate (Ezekiel 11:11).
      • They could not have been more prideful and/or wrong (Ezekiel 33:21).
      • This is known as “Open Theism” and it has dangerous conclusions.
        • God might not in fact be omnipotent.
        • Some worldly affairs are, perhaps, beyond His control.
    • The problem with this answer:
      • You cannot justify God’s actions by making Him less-than-God.
      • You are only trying to justify your own conclusions.
      • We cannot justify our conclusions about God or make sense of the world apart from God’s justifying grace.
  • The Third False Answer: Suffering is a lie or an allusion.
    • The problem with Ezekeil’s hearers:
      • Ezekiel’s hearers just flat out deny God (verses 17-20).
      • Another way to put this: You just need to look on the bright side of life.
      • The modern cult of Christian Science follows the same pattern by denying the existence of suffering, dismissing it as an illusion.
    • The problem with this answer:
      • We cannot justify God.
      • You are only trying to justify yourself.
      • We cannot fix God or make sense of the world apart from justifying grace.
  • The Gospel-Based Answer: God is “just,” but not in the way you would expect.
    • The connection to Ezekiel’s hearers and your hearers:
      • See the Gospel Handle from Rossow above for.
      • Augustine rejected all attempts to justify humans by separating them from the causes of suffering.
        • He correctly stated the existence of evil was the primary cause of suffering.
        • The source of evil is not God Himself or His creation.
        • Instead, evil is traced to humanity and to the sin first introduced by human free will (Genesis 3).
      • Theodicy is not a problem with God, it is a problem with humanity and sin.
    • Humanity and sin are the primary reasons why God sent His only begotten Son Jesus (Genesis 3:15).
      • Jesus deals with our sin and is our Savior.
      • Jesus is the watchman on the wall and the Word of repentance which brings life through His substitutionary atonement and glorious resurrection.
      • Jesus is the prophet greater than Ezekiel who speaks a word which definitively answers all the questions and objections about God’s graciousness.
      • God justifies a sinful humanity by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Jesus’ shed blood and third day resurrection alone.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Ezekiel 33:7-9;.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 33:7-9.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ezekiel 33:7-9.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!


[1] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, et al. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000. 1733.

[2] Francis C. Rossow, Gospel Handles Finding New Connections: Old Testament Lessons. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. 183-184.

[3] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/question-answered/

[4] Steven P. Mueller, ed. Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology, vol. 3, Called by the Gospel. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005. 123–124.