Ezekiel prophesied to God’s people during a very tumultuous time. Israel was falling to Babylon (most were already captive in that pagan land), as a consequence of turning away from God and delving into a life of sin. The prophet was informing the Jews (often in vivid terms) of the reason for their exile and of the future that God had in store for them.
Some of the Israelites questioned God’s judgment against them, so Ezekiel dealt with that matter directly. In the great “Watchman Chapter” (which records the final fall of Jerusalem), God’s prophet said to God’s people, “When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die” (33:13).
Note carefully that God was going to allow “the righteous” to “die.” Why would He do that? The answer is simple—the righteous put his trust “in his own righteousness,” which led him/them to commit iniquity against God. The phrase “in his own” is key. Instead of trusting “in God’s” righteousness, he had turned to trust “in his own.” The folly of such a decision should have been obvious, but he had closed his eyes to God’s way. The consequences were disastrous.
Could that happen again today? Could “the righteous” today actually be allowed by God to “die”? It depends on where (i.e., in whom) they place their trust—in God or in themselves. Consider the emphasis that other Scriptures give to the danger of one trusting “in his own” ways.
The book of Judges twice records that during that period in Israel, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25). The book of Proverbs warns repeatedly of the same, stating not only that “Every way of man is right in his own eyes” (21:2), but “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (12:15). Solomon sounds the alert, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (26:12). Using a different expression, the wise sage revealed, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (14:12; 16:25).
Do you ever follow what seems right…in your own eyes? Sometimes we believe that we have a right to see whatever we want to see, think whatever we want to think, go wherever we want to go, say whatever we want to say. If it is right in our own eyes, then is must be right. Right? Wrong!
The clear warning of Ezekiel is that even “the righteous” will “die” (eternally), if “he trusts in his own righteousness” instead of God’s. May God help us to truly submit “to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3), and not our own!