Ezekiel 33:11

The Well-Meant Offer: God Begs the Wicked to Repent (Ezek 33:11), Part 5

Two Practical Applications

What bearing do our exegetical conclusions from Ezekiel 33:11 have for our understanding of God’s disposition toward the lost and the well-meant offer of the gospel?

God Prefers Mercy Over Judgment

The Scriptures clearly teach that God angry with the wicked every day (Psa 7:11), and he will eventually judge every impenitent sinner (Rom 2:5-16; 6:23; Rev 20:11-15). Moreover, when the Lord Almighty enacts justice, he finds a holy and righteous satisfaction (Exod 34:7; Deut 28:63; Jer 9:24; Ezek 5:13; Rom 2:4-16; 3:24-26; Rev 15:3; 16:7).

Nevertheless, Ezekiel 33:11 teaches us that God’s wrath and judgment are his “strange” or “alien” work. In contrast, God’s love and salvation are his “proper” or “more natural” work. God prefers the repentance and salvation of wicked over their demise. “In a vehement protest,” says Leslie Allen,

Yahweh objects to being cast solely in the role of punitive destroyer. It does not express his ultimate will, which is to bestow life on those who turn from the bad lifestyle that occasioned the punishment. The judgment was a means to this very end.20

The Preacher’s Compassion is Not Blind!

In an article entitled “The Language and Theology of the ‘Free Offer,’” Paul Helm disagrees with John Murray support of the well-meant offer, and he sides instead with John Gill. Helm asserts,

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The Well-Meant Offer: God Begs the Wicked to Repent (Ezek 33:11), Part 4

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The Objections Answered

As noted in the introductory lecture, some Calvinists object to the idea that God may desire what he does not decree. We shouldn’t be surprised to find them objecting to the conclusions we’ve drawn from Ezekiel 33:11. Not only do they object to the idea that God may have desires that he doesn’t decree, but some of them also decry that view that God is really offering salvation to the non-elect. God may issue commands, but he’s not making offers! Thus, to avoid the conclusions we’ve drawn from the passage, they usually redefine one or more of the following: (1) the meaning of divine pleasure, (2) the identity of the wicked, and (3) the nature of the repentance and the life.

God Commands the Nation to Reform

John Owen identifies God’s pleasure in this passage as his preceptive will. Then he insists that God’s preceptive will only defines the duty of the wicked. In no way does it define God’s disposition.

Moreover, Owen argues that God’s directive is not directed to the nations but to the nation of Israel, that is, to the physical seed of Abraham. Therefore, we cannot apply this passage to the wicked in general.

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The Well-Meant Offer: God Begs the Wicked to Repent (Ezek 33:11), Part 3

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An Impassioned Entreaty

Having provided an oath-bound affirmation of his preference for mercy over judgment, God now turns to the wicked and entreats them: “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11b, ESV).

1. We should view this entire response as an entreaty.

Some commentators and preachers divided the second half of Ezekiel 33:11 into two parts: an entreaty and a question. Syntactically, that’s correct. First, God gives a double imperative: “turn back, turn back from your evil ways.” Then, God asks a question, “For why will you die, O house of Israel?”

However, the question in this case is rhetorical. When God says, “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” he is using a question to tell them quite emphatically, “I do not want you to die!”

This kind of rhetorical question is found elsewhere in Scripture. In Numbers 32 Moses urges the Reubenites and the Gadites to help their brothers take the land west of the Jordan. He uses two rhetorical questions:

But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them?” (Numbers 32:6–7, ESV)

The question “Why will you discourage the heart of the people” is equivalent to “Don’t do that! Don’t discourage their hearts!”

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The Well-Meant Offer: God Begs the Wicked to Repent (Ezek 33:11), Part 2

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God instructs Ezekiel to respond to the people’s complaint, and the Lord’s response has two parts: first, God makes an oath-bound affirmation; second, he issues an impassioned entreaty. Let’s consider each of those in turn.

An Oath-bound Affirmation

Yahweh begins his response to the people’s complaint by swearing an oath. In the ancient Near East, people would sometimes swear by the life of their deity or by the life of the king to add solemnity to what they were about to say. They also did it to underscore the absolute truthfulness of their affirmation. It was roughly equivalent to the modern practice of placing one’s hand on the Bible and saying, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” We would think it sufficient to say, “I will tell the truth.” How in the world is “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” more truthful than just the “truth”?! It’s like saying, “I promise to be completely honest” instead of saying, “I promise to be honest.”

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The Well-Meant Offer: God Begs the Wicked to Repent (Ezek 33:11), Part 1

The Prodigal Son, Nikolay Losev, 1882.

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The setting of Ezekiel’s prophecy in general and of our text in particular is the exile. The first phase of the exile took place around 605 B.C. The second phase of the exile took place about 7 or 8 years later, around 597 B.C. And the final stage of the exile took place in 586 B.C. This is when the Babylonians destroyed the walls and temple of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel was part of the group of people who were deported in the second phase of the exile, and God called him to the prophetic ministry in the fifth year of that second phase, which puts the beginning of his ministry at somewhere around 593 B.C. The specific prophecy that we’re going to examine was given sometime during the siege of Jerusalem, which began in 588 B.C. (see 24:1-2), and just prior to the third and final deportation in 586 B.C. (see 26:1; 33:21-22). So the nation of Israel has already experienced God’s judgment, and they are about to experience another phase of God’s judgment.

Into that context, God calls Ezekiel to serve as a “watchman” (33:1-9).

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