“Cry Aloud, Spare Not”
Warning people of the consequence of sin was an important part of the job of a prophet. Is that instruction still relevant in the modern era?
“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). This is the direct order God gave to His prophet and servant Isaiah regarding what he was to say to the nation of Israel.
God did not tell Isaiah to sugarcoat or find a politically correct way to say things, but to cry aloud and spare not—which, in modern language, could be translated, “Shout it out and don’t hold back.”
But what exactly is meant by the instruction to cry aloud and spare not? Does God still require His servants to “cry aloud, spare not” today? How does this connect to the gospel message?
What does the Bible say? What is the meaning of “cry aloud, spare not”?
The Ezekiel warning
Ezekiel was a prophet of God in Babylon, speaking His words to the captive exiles who were there as a result of Judah’s disobedience and punishment.
Ezekiel had to preach about the difficult reality that the Jewish exiles were not going home anytime soon and that the glorious temple would be buried under a heap of rubble.
In Ezekiel 33:1-9 God explained that one of the jobs of a true prophet is to fulfill the role of “watchman.”
While the typical job of a watchman was to serve as a “sentinel on the city walls,” as in 2 Samuel 18:25 (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Watchman”), God’s prophets were given the duty of watching out for the spiritual welfare of His people. These watchmen were given revealed insight of fearful future events that would come upon the people if they did not repent of their sins.
God told His servant Ezekiel, “When I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head” (Ezekiel 33:2-4).
God’s plan included warning the people of the looming reality and giving them an opportunity to avert disaster through heartfelt repentance and change.Bringing the sword upon the land refers to God’s divine judgment on a nation, usually one that culminated in the cities being laid waste at the hands of another kingdom.
The watchman’s blowing of the trumpet refers to his giving a formal warning—communicating the danger that was ahead.
The phrase “his blood shall be on his own head” answers the question of who would be responsible for a person’s death—in this case, the one who heard and did nothing.
God’s plan included warning the people of the looming reality and giving them an opportunity to avert disaster through heartfelt repentance and change.
Notice Amos 3:6-7: “If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it? Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.”
That is how the purpose of a prophet as a watchman comes into play.
His God-given job was to lift up his voice like a trumpet and tell the people what was coming because of their sins.
If the people ignored the warnings and refused to change, the blame would be on them, not on the watchman. Once he delivered the warning, he was, from that point on, cleared of responsibility.
Those who heard the warning and did nothing were at fault (Ezekiel 33:5)!
But what if the watchman neglected to sound the warning?
Notice what God says about a negligent watchman: “If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (verse 6).
In this scenario, the watchman becomes responsible for the blood of the people because he failed to warn them. He wasn’t motivated by genuine love and desire for the people to repent and turn to God. He failed to carry out his mission to cry aloud and spare not.
Now notice the last part of the responsibility given to Ezekiel: “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me” (verse 7, emphasis added throughout).
But warn them how? What would he say?
God continued in His instruction, telling Ezekiel that he was to “warn the wicked to turn from his way” (verse 9).
This included telling the people how they were wicked—showing the people their sins—and the judgment that awaited them as a consequence.
(All of this parallels God’s instruction to Isaiah: Cry aloud, spare not.)
Ezekiel’s message was specifically directed to “the house of Israel” (verse 7). To learn more about how this warning applies to the modern nations descended from Israel, download our free booklet The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth in Prophecy.
It’s also important to note that this wasn’t the only message the prophets proclaimed. God also tasked them with proclaiming the hopeful message of the coming Kingdom of God. There are hundreds of prophecies of Christ’s coming rule found throughout the Major and Minor Prophets. You can read about many of those prophecies in our booklet The World to Come: What It Will Be Like.
A responsibility for God’s servants in the first century
But some might say: That is all Old Testament—that doesn’t really apply to the New Testament Church. We just need to preach love and Jesus.
The truth is that the New Testament also includes warnings and calls to repentance. There are many New Testament examples of God’s servants crying aloud like watchmen.
The message these individuals preached was not only the good news about the Kingdom of God, but the dire warning to repent or be punished. Let’s consider a few examples:
John the Baptist
A powerful example of a New Testament watchman would be John the Baptist.
One day, while preaching, teaching and baptizing in the Jordan River, John the Baptist strongly warned a group of Pharisees and Sadducees who were interested in some parts of his message, but evidently had no interest in genuinely repenting and changing their lives.
The message these individuals preached was not only the good news about the Kingdom of God, but the dire warning to repent or be punished. “Brood of vipers!” he cried out. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8).
Notice that he was very blunt. John’s warning to these hypocritical religious leaders was that they were in danger and should repent, or they would suffer the consequences for their disobedient lives.
He continued, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I . . . His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (verses 11-12).
These passages indicate that John understood his role as a watchman and—motivated by love—made this bold proclamation regarding those who listened to the warning but did not respond. At the same time, John the Baptist also emphasized the good news of the coming Kingdom (verses 1-2).
What about the approach of Jesus Christ? Was there a warning component to His message?
Notice the words His ministry began with: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The message of repentance—genuine spiritual change—was at the heart of His message!
But was there ever a time during Jesus’ ministry when He sounded the alarm of looming judgment?
Matthew 11 tells of an incident when Jesus charged three different cities of His day for their hard-hearted refusal to believe—despite the spectacular miracles they had personally witnessed.
He even went so far as to say that they would be worse off in the day of judgment than the wicked and perverted residents of Sodom and Gomorrah!
An even more pointed example of Jesus’ giving a warning message is in Matthew 23, where we get an impression of Jesus that is vastly different from that heard in Sunday school.
In this passage Jesus, in righteous anger, pronounces a series of woes—divine judgments—on the religious leaders of the day.
These misguided men were barring other people from entering the Kingdom, taking advantage of defenseless widows, tolerating great sins—even while acting righteous through long, public prayers and getting picky about minor offenses.
In addition, Jesus could perceive that many of them truly did understand that He was the Christ, but opposed Him anyway in order to maintain their privileged positions. God the Father gave Jesus special discernment of people’s hearts.
Because of all this, He cried aloud and spared not.
He referred to them as “serpents” and “brood of vipers,” “blind guides,” “whitewashed tombs” and even children of hell (verses 33, 16, 27, 15).
He wasn’t using these terms to ridicule them. He used them because He had a keen insight into their hearts and could see that their inner character truly reflected these traits. Undoubtedly, His hope was that these warnings would cause some of them to reconsider their approach and repent.
The apostle Paul
Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, was deadly serious about his commission to preach the gospel.
Paul’s custom was to visit the synagogue and preach the gospel whenever he came to a new town. He would preach Jesus as the Messiah and explain how forgiveness of sin is possible through repentance and faith.
But Paul’s message also included a warning that Jesus would return to judge the world (Acts 17:31).
Paul followed this same approach when he was in Macedonia, testifying to the Jews there that Jesus was indeed Christ (Acts 18:5).
But the Scripture records that they rejected Paul and his teachings, and even began to blaspheme Jesus’ name.
Notice what happened next: “[Paul] shook his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean’” (verse 6)—a direct reference to Ezekiel 33 and the responsibility of the watchman!
In other words, “I did my part. I sounded the trumpet, but you refused to listen. You did not heed the warning.”
The apostle Peter
When explaining who Jesus was to those assembled in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31, Peter passionately implored them to “be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).
A short time later, he urged worshippers at the temple to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
The message to repent—warning and urging people to change their ways—has been consistently preached by God’s servants. This was not a job only for the Old Testament prophets.
These scriptures show that God’s servants in the New Testament continued to “cry aloud, spare not” about sin and its consequences.
Christ’s mission to the Church
Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus gave His disciples their marching orders: “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
This echoes the prophecy He gave in the Olivet Discourse that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
To preach as a witness means to give evidence or knowledge for the hearers’ benefit (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
The Church of God continues to preach the gospel “as a witness.” It preaches the truth with authority, warns about sin, urges repentance and proclaims Christ’s return to establish His Kingdom on earth. It speaks “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)—out of a genuine concern for people.
Both elements have always been at the heart and core of the message proclaimed by God’s servants from the Old Testament to the New Testament! We at Life, Hope & Truth are still striving to proclaim the same message today.
To learn more, read “This Gospel Will Be Preached.”