Ezekiel 18 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence
Not all proverbs that are found in Scripture are true and authoritative for the people of God, for some of them were actually coined by wicked men rather than inspired by the Lord. Previously, in chapter twelve of Ezekiel the Lord had confronted one of these so-called proverbs by some of the men in Israel that cast doubt upon the Word of God. There were some who were saying, “The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing.” But the Lord had revealed to them a coming day of judgment that would put an end to such a lie. And now, once again in our text this morning, God is confronting another proverb coined by men that cast aspersion upon God’s Word.
They were saying, “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” In other words, the children are reaping the consequences of their parents’ sins. The assumption being made here is that the younger generations were being unfairly treated by God by being punished for the sins of their fathers. They believed that they were innocent, or at least that they were not as wicked as their parents, yet God was punishing them harshly nonetheless. The same sentiment was shared plainly in Jeremiah’s day as recorded by the people in Lamentations 5:7 “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities.” The same proverb is also mentioned again in Jeremiah 31:29-30, but there the Lord corrects the proverb to read: “Everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”
And in our text this morning, Ezekiel provides an extended case study to prove this very point by considering how the Lord treats a particular grandfather, his son and his grandson based upon how they lived their lives. Each of them would be held accountable for their own actions and the person who sins would die for his own sin. Throughout this case study the prophet mentions the concepts of life and death twenty-eight times to show the consequences of those who do or do not live for the Lord.
In the first example, he describes a righteous grandfather who kept God’s law and walked in all of his ways. That man would live, God says. Then in a second example, his son is wicked, forsakes God’s laws and walks according to his own convictions: God says that man will die. Then in a third example, the grandson is born and grows up to be a righteous man who walks in the ways of his grandfather and of the Lord. That man will certainly not die for the sins of his father, but will live just as his grandfather had lived in pleasing the Lord.
Of course, the prophet isn’t really saying anything new here. Moses had said the same thing back in Deuteronomy 24:16 when the Lord declared that “Fathers are not to be put to death for their children or children for their fathers; each person will be put to death for his own sin.” Nevertheless, some had misinterpreted the Law of God in Exodus 20 when God had said, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” They took this to mean that no matter how the child or the grandchild chooses to live, he will still be condemned along with his father and grandfather for particular sins he himself didn’t commit. Obviously that can’t be true for then there would be no room for repentance, no motivation for changing one’s ways and no reward for walking by faith. The law of God never presents a fatalistic view of man; it merely states what the duty is that God requires of man and then presents the consequences if one fails to live up to those requirements. And there are clearly consequences for sin that not only affect us but also affect all of our family members and even those yet to be born through the sinful habits practiced from generation to generation.
But the hope that the prophet provides us in this text is that there is room for repentance and that each generation will be judged on how it responds to God’s law and God’s call to repentance. There is even room for the most wicked man to repent of his sins even after ruining his life through much sin and idolatry. On the other hand, there is no amount of good that we can ever do that would keep us safe from the judgment of God if we do not express the grace of God through faith and repentance. In other words, there is no fire insurance or Get Out of Jail Free card that we can use to excuse our latter day sins because of some earlier works done in God’s name. That is why we never use that other faulty proverb coined by man “once saved, always saved.” Rather we teach the principle consistently taught in Scripture that those who are true saints of God will continue to persevere both in faith and repentance throughout their lives, for this is a sure sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.
Strangely at the end of the chapter the prophet urges the people to make for themselves a new heart and a new spirit that they might live and not die. If that language sounds familiar to you it should, for God will use that same language later on in Ezekiel 36:26-27 when he promises that He himself will give them a new heart and a new spirit causing them to walk in ways. For as another proverb states: “God gives what he commands,” which is the only way any of us could ever stand up under the burden of the law. For all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all of us are worthy of death due to our own sin and not just the sins of our fathers. There is only one son who actually paid for the sins of his fathers and even his brothers and that son is Jesus the Christ. It is precisely because he kept God’s law and walked in all of His ways that we are called to place our faith in him and not to trust in our own righteousness for that will never be pleasing to God. And it is precisely because he is able to bear the wrath of God for sinners that we are called to cast our sins upon him, to repent and live. For God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone. And this is the day of salvation, declares the Lord, so turn to Christ and live.