EZEKIEL CHAPTER 18.
The Avenging Justice of God.
THE PARABLE OF THE SOUR GRAPES. — V. 1. The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, v. 2. What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, literally, “upon the land of Israel,” in the sense of something that is harmful and wrong, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? This proverbial saying in the land of Judah reflected the self-righteousness of its inhabitants, for they meant to say that the sins of their fathers, of which they considered themselves innocent, were unjustly visited upon them. It is the tendency of natural man to place the blame for his troubles upon others; but although others may be guilty, yet it is the nature of true contrition to disregard the transgressions of every one else and to see nothing but one’s own guilt and proneness to punishment. For that reason this false understanding of Ex. 20, 5 was combated also by Jeremiah, chap. 31, 29; 32, 18. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children only in the case of those who hate Him, who follow their fathers in the enmity against the Lord. V. 3. As I live, saith the Lord God, the sovereign Ruler of the Universe making this declaration with a solemn oath, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. His intention was, by means of His righteous punishments, so to emphasize the justice of His acts that the people would no longer seek excuses of this kind. V. 4. Behold, so the Lord says in stating the theme for His further discussion of the principle of His righteousness, all souls are Mine, they are all equally His, as Creator of the universe, as Father of all mankind; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine, each one standing before the Lord for himself alone, responsible only for his act; the soul that sinneth, it shall die, becoming subject to the final summary and climax of all sufferings which are the consequence of sin, temporal death, in this instance, becoming the portal to everlasting death and damnation. For a sinner to put the blame for his sufferings upon others, whereas he alone is guilty, is both foolish and unjust. True repentance puts aside all excuses and humbly says with the publican, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Cp. 1 Tim. 1, 15.
THE PRINCIPLE OF GOD’S AVENGING JUSTICE. — V. 5. But if a man be just, righteous in all his doing, and do that which is lawful and right, literally, “judgment and righteousness,” exercising himself in the demands of the Law of God, v. 6. and hath not eaten upon the mountains, in sacrificial meals consecrated to idols, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, in order to make them objects of confidence, of worshipful supplication, neither hath defiled his neighbor’s wife, in the sin of adultery, Ex. 20, 14; Lev. 20, 10, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman, Lev. 18, 19; 20, 18, v. 7. and hath not oppressed any, no matter with what degree of violence this was done, Ex. 22, 28; Let. 25, 14. 17, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, the Law requiring that this raiment be restored before sunset, Ex. 22, 26. 27, hath spoiled none by violence, not gaining the property of another by false ware or dealing, hath given his bread to the hungry, Is. 58, 7, and hath covered the naked with a garment, Matt. 25, 26; v. 8. he that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, in exacting interest from a poor neighbor, contrary to the law of love, Deut. 23, 20; Lev. 25, 36. 37, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, from the injustice or wickedness which selfishness prompts, in promoting one’s own gain at the expense of one’s neighbor, hath executed true judgment between man and man, literally, “the judgment of truth,” namely, in a manner in full agreement with the facts and conditions of every case presented, v. 9. hath walked in My statutes and hath kept My judgments, in all ordinances, whether pertaining to Israel only or to all men, to deal truly, with sound integrity: he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God. It is not that the righteousness of a man’s life earns for him the fullness of life, including the blessings of eternal life, but that God rewards such evidences of true faith by bestowing His mercy upon the believers. Such a man, then, stands before the Lord for his own person, responsible for himself, the Lord dealing with his case on its own merits, regardless of his children or other relatives. V. 10. If he beget a son that is a robber, one addicted to violence, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things, becoming guilty of any of the sins mentioned in the next verses, v. 11. and that doeth not any of those duties, or, “whereas the father was not guilty of such wickedness,” but even hath eaten upon the mountains and defiled his neighbor’s wife, v. 12. hath oppressed the poor and needy, those unable to defend themselves against violence in any form, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination, such as is mentioned at the end of v. 6, v. 13. hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? Is it possible for him to become a partaker of that fullness of life which God has intended for His children? He shall not live; he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die, be condemned to eternal death if he persists in his wickedness; his blood shall be upon him, he will have but himself to blame for the terrible fate which will surely strike him. The thought of this paragraph, then, is this: If the wicked son of a righteous man will be punished if he commits even so much as a single sin of those which his father abhorred, how much more if he become guilty of the entire catalog of sins which are enumerated! So much for the second generation and its wickedness. V. 14. Now, lo, if he beget a son, thereby establishing the third generation of the family whose example is cited for the sake of the lesson the entire parable teaches, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, carefully observing the wickedness of his doings, and doeth not such like, not following in his father’s footsteps, v. 15. that hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbor’s wife, v. 16. neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, literally, “and the pledge not hath he pledged,” neither bath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry and hath covered the naked with a garment, v. 17. that hath taken off his hand from the poor, abstaining from doing him harm, even if he might have done so with impunity, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed My judgments, hath walked in My statutes, thus refusing to partake of the guilt of his father: he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, the father’s guilt not being imputed to him; he shall surely live. V. 18. As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, as stated in detail above, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity, being punished for the guilt which he loaded upon himself. V. 19. Yet say ye, in accordance with the ancient false proverb which had been in circulation, Why? Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? That is, Would not that be the right and the just thing? God’s answer is, When the son hath done that which is lawful and right and hath kept all My statutes and hath done them, he shall surely live. On the basis of all the arguments offered thus far the Lord now states His conclusion. V. 20. The soul that sinneth, It shall die, every person in the world being held responsible for his own acts. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, so that his father’s guilt would be imputed to him, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, so that he who is righteous, even if only by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, will receive the reward of righteousness, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him, so that he is compelled to endure its punishment. In this way the Lord stated the principle of His avenging justice, a principle which He has ever followed in all His dealings with men.
GOD’S MERCIFUL CALL TO REPENTANCE. — V. 21. But if the wicked, no matter where or what he may be, or in what relation he may stand to others, will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, by an act of true repentance, and keep all My statutes, in particular those given to the children of Israel, and do that which is lawful and right, what God expects all men to observe, as evidence and proof of the faith of his heart: he shall surely live, he shall not die. God, in His great mercy, is ready to deal with him according to his new obedience, not according to his former sins. V. 22. All his transgressions that he hath committed, by which he brought guilt upon himself, they shall not be mentioned unto him, the Lord’s forgiveness being essentially a complete forgetting of the former sins; in his righteousness that he hath done, by virtue of the new life which followed his repentance, he shall live. V. 23. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God, an inherent delight, as it were, in cruel punishment of the wicked, and not that he should return from His ways and live? this being much preferable in the sight of the Lord, since He delights in showing mercy. This is the one side of the question, by which the Lord intends to call the wicked to repentance. On the other hand, however, He just as earnestly warns against backsliding and apostasy. V. 24. But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, in the foolish notion that he may do so with impunity, since his good record will serve to excuse him, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? Will he be able to escape from the punishment which threatens sinners? The Lord’s answer is: All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned, not be taken into account so as to save him; in his trespass that he hath trespassed and in his sin that he hath sinned, by which he nullified all his former good conduct, in them shall he die. Thus the justice of the Lord weighed the acts of men, as expressive of their inner life, and dealt with them accordingly. V. 25. Yet ye say, in a statement which lacked all foundation, The way of the Lord is not equal, not in agreement with true equity. Hear now, O house of Israel, Is not My way equal? Did He really treat different classes of men in a different way? Are not your ways unequal? since they, although living in sin, expected the Lord to treat them as if they were righteous. That surely was not fair and just. The Lord therefore states the two cases once more, in inverse order, to impress their significance upon His hearers. V. 26. When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity and dieth in them, or “on account of this wickedness”; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. V. 27. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, by a true repentance, not from a mere aesthetic loathing, and doeth that which is lawful and right, in agreement with God’s holy will, he shall save his soul alive, the mercy of God being put into operation in his case. V. 28. Because he considereth, observing carefully and thereby, under the guidance of the Lord, obtaining the right understanding, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Thus the divine procedure was justified, and the complaint of the people proved to be unfounded. But since the object of the Lord was to effect the deliverance of his people from corruption and perdition, he closes this section of the prophecy with an earnest appeal. V. 29. Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal, right and just. O house of Israel, are not My ways equal? Are not your ways unequal? V. 30. Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, thereby bringing their whining and caviling to an end, every one according to his ways, according to his manner of living and acting, saith the Lord God. The Lord’s way was right and good, and those who were not in agreement with His way and order would be unfortunate indeed. Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin, the cause of their damnation. This admonition is now repeated in a still more emphatic vein. V. 31. Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, the expression referring especially to the utter removal of all idols and idolatrous ways, and make you a new heart and a new spirit, not in their own strength, indeed, but by the gracious gift of God; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? The way of death and damnation is ever a matter of man’s deliberate choice, and he has no one but himself to blame in that event. V. 32. For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, a victim of perdition by his own fault, saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves and live ye. Every sinner is a victim of spiritual death, and this will eventually lead to eternal death, unless the way of repentance is followed at the Lord’s urgent invitation. The readiness of the divine grace is the outstanding feature of the Gospel-message.