“And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.” (Ezekiel 9:4)
People sigh or groan for various reasons. They may be under stress and let out a “groan” as a rather autonomic way of releasing tension. I experienced this when I was in the Philippines in 1989. I was struggling with a medical problem, and I could find no answer, and I was also not accustomed to the climate, which was very hot. One day I let out a huge groan — something I didn’t even realize I was doing — and one of my roommates immediately approached me on it.
In other cases, as is the case of Ezekiel 9:4 (see passage quoted above), righteous people may “sigh” on account of unrighteousness which surrounds them. In this case, the “sigh” is not a sign that something is wrong with them, but with the society, or some of the people around them. In the case of those mentioned in Ezekiel 9:4, the “sigh” was, in fact, their salvation — because it was those who sighed that God “marked” as being those who would not get destroyed!
Ezekiel 9:5-6a are two frightening verses for those who think that sin will not be punished, for we read God commanding one of his servants (likely an angel), “And to the OTHERS [who did not receive the mark] he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old [and] young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come NOT near any man upon whom [is] the MARK; and begin at my sanctuary.” (Emphasis added.)
Then there is another type of sigh, which is not the sigh of stress, neither is it the sigh of mourning over other people’s sin, but it is the sigh of unfulfilled expectations. Recently, my son was in such a situation, in which I perceived him “sigh”. I asked him if I could pray for him and put my hand on his head. I felt there was an unfulfilled expectation there somewhere, in which he was sighing because he couldn’t do something he wanted to do.
As I prayed, the word “sports” very clearly came to my mind! So I prayed that God would bless him with sports. In my mind, I was thinking, “I’m going to enrol him in baseball next summer — I know he wants to be on a baseball team.” (We have our children already in soccer this year.) When I had finished praying, I felt the Lord leading me to ask him, “Did anything come to your mind while I was praying?”
“Well,” he said, “I had a picture in my mind of us throwing ball together!” Wow! Here I was thinking about enrolling him in baseball a year from now, but I didn’t feel the leading to share that with him. Instead, the Lord just said, “Ask him if anything came to his mind while you were praying for him.” So I did. And that was the answer! It was a “here and now” practical, down-to-earth, answer — something that could fill the immediate need.
Needless to say, that’s exactly what we did. We went out and played ball. I admit, I’ve blown it often with my son, not recognizing his needs. The sigh was God’s way of saying to me, “Something needs to change”. It was not a lack of faith on his part, but rather a lack of action on my part that was responsible for it. I needed to perk up and listen a little more! I admit, I still need to think a little more in God’s terms. Here I was thinking about what could be done a year from now, but my son was thinking about what could be done five or ten minutes down the road … quite a big difference!
I believe that to some degree, we all share in the responsibility to “listen” to the needs of others around us, and especially those that God has put us over in terms of authority. Are we in a position where we have some degree of authority over another person’s life? Do you notice them “sighing” sometimes? Do you know that your authority could be used to release them from the weight that they are carrying?
It’s amazing the authority and the power that God has entrusted to human beings. If we would just use it properly, the “mourning” would turn to “joy” (Isaiah 61:3) and the blessing would have a ripple effect on many, quite likely including ourselves! People — employees, children, and countless others — would feel blessed instead of cursed, alive instead of dead, light instead of heavy, full of praise instead of full of mourning.
May the Lord help you today to turn someone’s mourning into joy, and their heaviness into praise, “that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3b).