The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. (Ezekiel 33:1-4)
In the Ancient Near East, the watchman stood on guard at the most strategic point of the city and was on the lookout for impending danger. When a potential threat approached, the watchman’s responsibility was to report the danger by word of mouth or by sounding a trumpet. That was the watchman’s entire job. It was not his responsibility to make sure the troops were rallied or that people were moved to safe places.
As long as he followed through with his warning, the watchman was absolved of any responsibility for the aftermath of the people’s actions. After all, the watchman wasn’t able to force people to heed the warnings. However, if he did not warn the people and they suffered, his blood was expected in exchange for theirs.
If you’ve ever been tempted to force others into certain actions or behavior, then there’s a clear lesson for you. There are times we want to force people into doing what’s right, but they have a free will and are responsible for their own actions. We can warn them and walk beside them and encourage them, but we cannot choose for them. If truth needs to be spoken, we have a responsibility to speak truth and to leave the decision up to the person.
Is there someone in your life whom you’re trying to direct? Do you wish he or she would behave differently? The answer isn’t badgering or nagging or pushing. Simply speak truth in as kind or gracious of a way as possible, and allow the other person to decide how to respond.
Lord, it’s easy to want to force people into changing their behavior – particularly when I see them making bad decisions that I think will lead to negative consequences. Rather than forcing, however, let me be gracious. Help me to speak truth when it needs to be spoken to others, and help me to listen to truth when it needs to be spoken to me. Let me be a kind watchman with others and attentive to the watchmen You allow into my life.