Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
Ezekiel 33:32 | NIV | Other Versions | Context
Ezekiel was an accomplished prophet, one of the major prophets of the Old Testament days, and the book of Ezekiel is one filled with end times prophecies. In chapter 33 we see Ezekiel’s renewal of his role as Israel’s watchman – what a heavy responsibility by the way – and we see that in his time, Ezekiel was a man of some repute – the fella whom your everyday folks would be talking about in during their meals and gatherings – your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord’ [Eze 33:30]. At first glance, this may seem to be a result of the success of Ezekiel as a prophet. But God dissects and reveals the real situation for what it is. In today’s study, we will examine the hearts of the people in Ezekiel’s time, and reflect if we have a tendency to do the same these days.
Indeed, to them – referring back to the previous verse, that is in agreement here; we will be referring a lot back to Ezekiel 33:30 – 31 in this analysis. ‘Them’ refers to the people mentioned in verse 30 – your countrymen who talk about Ezekiel by the walls and the doors of the houses and tell each other to come and listen to Ezekiel – come and listen to the word of the Lord. And this isn’t just all talk but no action – these people really do go to Ezekiel and listen to him – my people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. Finally, note that the Lord calls Ezekiel’s countryman ‘my people’. There is ownership here, despite what seems like a complaint against the people. These are the Lord’s people. The Lord cares for them. Ezekiel, you are the watchman of this people. Don’t lose yourself in the fame and accomplishments that you have now, for they mean nothing in my kingdom, but instead, keep serving the people.
you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well – let’s get some perspective here. Ezekiel speaks the messages of the Lord. The word of the Lord. Warnings from the Lord of their destruction [Eze 33:8-9], and these may not always be nice words that people want to hear. Yet people keep coming back, why? To them, Ezekiel is an attraction. This verse may not literally mean that Ezekiel sings psalms and plays music along with his prophecies and preaching – no, I don’t suppose he actually does that, but maybe he did sing some psalms – no matter. This is more like an analogy that Ezekiel is an attraction that people come to sight-see. It’s like us going for concerts. Why do we go? There are love songs and beautiful voices and people who plays the instruments well. It’s like the people of the ancient past going to the village market to hear the village sage tell stories. Why do they do that? For entertainment, because they have nothing better to do. Hence we see that they enjoy Ezekiel’s words and time. Hence the warnings of Ezekiel doesn’t deter them from coming back to him – because they simply treat him as an attraction, he’s just telling entertaining stories, we don’t have to take him seriously. And at the same time, we can feel good about ourselves by claiming to have heard the word of the Lord.
Aren’t we equally guilty of this today? In fact, this verse becomes far more literal today. Churches today have instruments and bands and sound systems that Ezekiel would never have dreamt of. Our microphones make our worship leader sound like they are angels singing for God. So many people go to church these days because they enjoy the praise and worship. But are the worship leaders and the preachers nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well? We have no doubt that they have beautiful voices and plays an instrument well. But they have got to be more than just that to us, or there is no point in calling it a worship, or a church. We might as well go to a pop concert.
for they hear your words but do not put them into practice – herein lies the difference between concerts and attractions outside of church, and activities inside of church. You learn nothing and get to apply nothing in life outside (we’re not talking about seminars of practical skills). It is purely for the moment, for the ‘now’, for the laughter or tears that you’re appealed to make during that session – enjoyment, entertainment. Occasionally, there may be a moral of the story if you watch a play or listen to a seminar. But how many morals of stories can you really apply in your life? Church is more than just that. Ezekiel’s message is more than just a moral of the story. The only difference that qualifies whether you have heard the word of God with the right attitude or not, is whether you put them into practice or not. If you do not, don’t blame the quality of the preaching. Don’t blame the sound of the music. Don’t blame the distractions around you. Instead, if it is but just one thing you can apply from the word that you’ve heard, apply it.
It’s the same for worship sessions these days, no? Christian music has rock, jazz, hymns (okay, I’m really limited in my knowledge of musical genres, but you get my point) – there’s something for everybody, and you can replace mainstream secular music with the equivalent of Christian music. And that’s what many of us do. We listen to Christian music instead of mainstream secular music, and we feel like we are good Christians doing that. We sing Christian music like how we sing mainstream music – with emotions, and not with thoughts. With our hearts, certainly, but not with our minds. For the moment, for the immersion of our feelings at that moment, but not for the future. The Christian song becomes nothing more than a piece of good music.
I was going to write this exegesis from the vantage point of worship, since it really applies to me; but I have been reminded just recently about something else, so I will skip that. Sometimes, we don’t hear good sermons. Sermons become extremely unattractive to us. If we had to pay to listen to that sermon, we wouldn’t. We’d rather pay a hundred bucks and watch a good play. It’s time better spent that way. As harsh as this sounds, it is true that some preachers are more appealing than others. Some are more charismatic and animated, hence they draw out points to us better. Some are more knowledgeable and insightful, and even if they are monotonous, the impact of their analysis shocks us. Some are more fluid and understand the needs of the congregation. And then there are those who, really, have a bad hair day or something.
I have sat through sermons where I wanted nothing more than to walk out of the hall, squirming and fidgeting for the entire hour wishing I was somewhere else, horrified at the poor delivery of what could have been a very good message. Ezekiel 33:32, the verse we’ve looked at today, doesn’t merely speak about the good. When our songs are bad, when our preachers and their delivery are poor – this verse still stands. They become to us, just bad music and bad voices, and we want nothing but to forget about that day. Yet what we truly forgot, is that even if their delivery is bad, even if they are not skilled enough to express the main point of the message succinctly, it is still the gospel that they are preaching. Not just some random love song.
I have been reminded recently to pray for our pulpit. Pray, instead of squirming and fidgeting. Pray for the preacher. Pray for myself, my own heart, my own mind – to be able to pick out something no matter how I dislike the delivery of the content – or, worse, no matter how I dislike or disagree with the content. As long as the true gospel is preached, of course. This verse should apply in all settings – when you are having your quiet time reading the Bible or your devotional materials, don’t read them like a story book; don’t read them like how you read a magazine. They are more than that. When you’re serving – don’t treat your fellow co-workers as your colleagues and the people you serve as your clients. They are more than that. Even if it is a bad session, even if it is a bad read, even if it is a bad discussion – pray, and find one thing to learn or apply or thank God for.
James reminds us – Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says [James 1:22|Article]. Let us not be like King Herod, who knew John the Baptist to be a holy and righteous man, and enjoyed hearing him, but never took the effort to understand his words, or sought to apply his words, and ended up killing him instead [Mark 6:20].