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Ezekiel 18:1 The word of Yahweh came to me again, saying- The righteous remnant were actually persecuted by the other Jews in Babylon, according to the testimony of the later parts of Isaiah. One significant problem which they had right from the start was that they insisted that the captivity was unfair, it was not their fault, they were righteous and were being unfairly punished for the sins of their fathers. Ezekiel 18 addresses this at length with them. God's intention was that His exiled people would "declare all their abominations among the nations whither they come", i.e. the 127 provinces of Babylon (Ez. 12:16). Note how confession of personal failure and testimony to God's forgiveness is actually a powerful witness to unbelievers. But instead, Ezekiel had to reason against the Jews' insistence that they had not sinned, and were being unfairly punished for their fathers' sins by an unjust God (Ez. 18). And so likewise it happens with us all too often that the potential witness which we could make simply isn't made. 1 Kings 8:47-50 had predicted that God would give the exiles compassion in captivity if they repented. They didn't repent, as passages like Ez. 18 make clear (they blamed everything on their fathers and protested their personal innocence)- and yet still God gave them compassion in the eyes of their captors, through the amazing decrees of Cyrus enabling them to return to their land and rebuild the temple at his expense.

Ezekiel 18:2 What do you mean, that you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge?- Note that God is aware of even the throwaway language and phrases used by us.

It’s apparent that Judah in captivity weren’t repentant; and yet God granted them His forgiveness so that they might repent. Indeed, the Jews were bitter with God. They claimed that they were suffering unfairly as a result of their fathers’ sins, and that Yahweh was unfair (Ez. 18:25)- when He was showing them a grace so wonderful that all that is within us fights against perceiving it! The lack of perception of God’s grace was terrible- and yet many of us have lived for decades doing just the same! Some of the comments of the Jewish religious leaders during the captivity are preserved for us in the Babylonian Talmud. It's interesting to see the development of their commentaries upon the prophets (See H. Freedman, The Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo'ed (London: Soncino Press, 1938). Hosea clearly taught that he represented God, and Israel were likened to a prostitute, unfaithful to Him. Time and again, Hosea appeals for Israel to "return", the same Hebrew word being used about 'returning' to the land of Judah. But Israel would not. And they obviously found Hosea hard to grapple with. And so the Talmud condemns Hosea for marrying a promiscuous woman (See Peshitta 87b in the Babylonian Talmud; and H.L. Ginsberg, 'Hosea, Book of' in G. Roth and C. Wigoder, eds, Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Macmillan, 1971) Vol. 18 col. 1011). By so doing they were refusing to let the prophetic word bite as it was intended to; their interpretations, like many false exposition today, was intended to justify them. And thereby they effectively condemned the God who loved them so freely. Even those who did return were impenitent. The sins of those who returned are styled "the transgression of those that had been carried away" (Ezra 9:4). Yet those who returned to the land weren't mainly the generation who had been carried away. The intended confusion is surely to suggest that those who returned committed the same sins as had led Judah into captivity a generation earlier. And Ezra comments on this fact in his subsequent prayer (Ezra 9:7).

Ezekiel 18:3 As I live says the Lord Yahweh, you shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel- In Ez. 16:56,63 we noted that God wished to stop Israel using certain proverbs. He paid attention to their sayings, their language, their throwaway expressions. All language is significant to God, and He aimed to reform even the kind of language they spoke. This is part of being in the new covenant- Jer. 31:29 had specifically stated this, contemporary with Ezekiel. So Ezekiel is so labouring the point in Ez. 18, because he wants them to accept the new covenant in exile, and to live and speak according to it. And yet Jeremiah himself seems to say that God has in fact punished the children for their fathers' sins (Lam. 5:7). He was contradicting his own message in Jer. 31:29. We would therefore have in this an example of a man who in depression says things which are wrong, struggling with God, as Job did; and yet still finally accepted.

Ezekiel 18:4 Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine- The idea may be that God created all people and therefore He will judge each individually. But the allusion is surely to Lev. 20:26: "You [all Israel] shall be Mine", out of all the families of the earth. All Israel were indeed God's people, but this did not mean that the person ["soul"] who sinned would not be punished with death. For the contrast is with the righteous who would "live" (:19) and in that sense, not die. And perhaps specifically the reference is again to the priesthood, who appear to be the subject of much of Ezekiel's criticisms; for it was they and the royal family who were taken into captivity rather than the common masses. For "the Levites shall be Mine" (Lev. 3:12; Num. 8:14). This would explain the male reference, to "the son"; for the priesthood was male. The phrase is used again in Mal. 3:17, of the repentant remnant amongst the exiles. But even amongst them, those who sinned would die.

The soul who sins, he shall die- Proof enough that "the soul" simply means 'the person' and is not immortal. The death in view is death at the hands of the Babylonians, in the context. For some souls / people implicitly didn't commit the sin which led to death. It is judicial death which is in view, rather than the death which is common to all men.

Ezekiel 18:5 But if a man is just, and does that which is lawful and right- The things listed as exemplifications of this are all from the second table of the ten commandments. Doing justice and right was the characteristic of Abraham's true seed (s.w. Gen. 18:19). Those who did not do so were therefore not the true Israel of God. Again, the Jewish assumption of salvation from the Babylonians on account of their fleshly descent is being deconstructed.

Ezekiel 18:6 And has not eaten on the mountains, neither has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither has defiled his neighbour’s wife, neither has come near to a woman in her impurity- The sexual immorality is bracketed together with the idolatry, because as made clear in Ez. 16, the two went together. The sexual aspect of idolatry was not solely in sleeping with the cult prostitutes but with other women who had come to worship, even your neighbour's wife. The idol cults apparently had no restrictions regarding sleeping with menstrous women. And so at the very time when her husband could not sleep with her due to the Mosaic prohibitions about this, she could go to the idol worship and sleep with her neighbour's husband. Thus the inability of compromise between God's law and idolatry is emphasized, whereas the priests were teaching that the idolatry was being performed as part of Yahweh worship.

Ezekiel 18:7 And has not wronged any but has restored to the debtor his pledge, has taken nothing by robbery, has given his bread to the hungry and has covered the naked with a garment- Such sensitivity and generosity to the poor is not a mere optional extra in the spiritual life; it is in fact part of being basically "just" and committed to social justice (:5), part of 'dealing truly' (:9).

Ezekiel 18:8 He who has not given forth on interest neither has taken any increase, who has withdrawn his hand from iniquity, has executed true justice between man and man- These issues suggest that the person addressed is in a position of power; to lend to others, and to judge between persons. This strengthens the impression that Ezekiel is addressing specifically the leadership; it was the priests and ruling classes who had been taken into exile at that time, and they were his audience. 'Executing true justice' was appealed for again by Zechariah after the restoration (Zech. 7:9 s.w.). Clearly the community addressed by Ezekiel were still failing in this as they had before the exile, and continued to do so after the restoration. The captivity didn't produce the reformation intended. But by grace, God still restored them, in the hope that this further outpouring of grace would motivate them to repentance; and yet it didn't.

Ezekiel 18:9 Has walked in My statutes, and has kept My commandments, to deal truly: he is just- See on :7. Dealing truly is a phrase often used of keeping covenant promises. By not doing these things, Israel had ended their covenant with God.

He shall surely live, says the Lord Yahweh- "Surely live" isn't necessarily an offer of eternal life; it could refer to how those who repented in Jerusalem would be spared the destruction and death which would otherwise come.

Ezekiel 18:10 If he fathers a son who is a robber, a shedder of blood, and who does any one of these things- These were all things going on at the time of Ezekiel. The exiles needed to repent of these things. Perhaps he is viewing coveting as theft, and hatred of brethren as murder. But there is strong reason to suspect that these actual things had been practiced by the ruling classes who were now in exile with Ezekiel. The same word is used to express how the Jerusalem temple had been turned by the priests into a "den of robbers" (Jer. 7:11). Again we have the impression that Ezekiel as a priest is addressing the leaders of the priests and their children who had been taken into captivity. One reason Judah was destroyed was because Manasseh was a 'shedder of blood' (2 Kings 21:16; 24:4). Perhaps this was being focused upon by the exiles, complaining that God was unfairly punishing them for Manasseh's sins. But the reality was that in essence, his descendants and wider family had done the same as he had done. For they too had been involved in the shedding of the innocent blood of their own children to the idol cults (Ps. 106:38). Indeed Jer. 7:6 says that this innocent blood was shed in the temple; it was there that the idols were worshipped and child sacrifice made. This is in proximity to the description of that temple as a den of robbers (Jer. 7:11), which is the same word used here in Ez.

Ezekiel 18:11 And who does not any of those obligations- The idea of "obligations" may be that the theft and shedding innocent blood in child sacrifices (:10) were performed as part of their religious obligations to the idols of the surrounding nations whom they had contracted to worship, in return for material and political help.

But even has eaten on the mountains and defiled his neighbour’s wife- There was perhaps the idea amongst some of the exiles that they had not performed child sacrifice nor theft in the Jerusalem temple (:10), and were therefore acceptable. But they had eaten idol sacrifices elsewhere, and in that context slept with their neighbour's wife; see on :6 for the connection.

Ezekiel 18:12 Has wronged the poor and needy, has taken by robbery, has not restored the pledge and has lifted up his eyes to the idols, has committed abomination- Lifting up the eyes can be understood as meaning to trust in, to look towards for help. Judah's leadership, whose children were now in exile and formed Ezekiel's first audience, had made deals with other nations, trusting in their gods to help them against the Babylonians; instead of looking to Yahweh. 

Ezekiel 18:13 Has given forth on interest, and has taken increase: shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations. He shall surely die; his blood shall be on him- Nehemiah makes it clear that this lending to brethren on interest was going on amongst the restored exiles, and clearly they were just continuing to live how they had done in exile. For those whom Ezekiel is addressing in captivity were apparently doing this, just as they had done before their exile. The experience of restoration by grace had not affected their behaviour. We too must allow ourselves to be challenged by this.

The prohibition of taking interest was so that "your brother shall live by / with you" (Lev. 25:36). By having done so, those now in exile were separated from their poorer brethren. They had placed personal material gain before the unity of God's people. Again, that is a timeless warning. This taking of interest specifically happened in the temple, according to Ez. 22:12; suggesting the priesthood had become a financial racket which exploited the poor. It is the priesthood and ruling classes whom Ezekiel addresses, for they were those in exile with him.

"He shall surely die" sounds like a legal pronunciation of death at judgment. "He shall not die... live" is an allusion to the words of the serpent, who had taught that God's people would not "surely die" for their sins. The Jews faced the same test, from false teachers acting as the serpent in Eden, the sanctuary of God at that time.

Ezekiel 18:14 Now, behold, if he fathers a son, who sees all his father’s sins which he has done, and sees, and does not such like- Ezekiel was especially addressing the children of the priesthood, royal family and ruling classes. He was inviting them to repent. Those young people were the ones who could have brought about the repentance required to trigger God's amazing plan of restoring His Kingdom in Israel. So often young people have great potential in God's plan. But we get the impression that Daniel and his friends were the only truly faithful young men amongst the exiles.

Ezekiel 18:15 Who has not eaten on the mountains, neither has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, has not defiled his neighbour’s wife- The idols are described specifically as belonging to "the house of Israel". The reference may be to the temple, where Ezekiel had seen the idols being worshipped. Or perhaps the sense is also that it took a strong individual to refuse to worship the idols of his house / family. The gods of the nations were now those of the people of Israel.

Ezekiel 18:16 Neither has wronged any, has not taken anything to pledge, neither has taken by robbery, but has given his bread to the hungry and has clothed the naked- The times of the exiles were those of famine, as God tried to bring Judah to repentance. Bread was to be removed from them (Ez. 4:17; 5:16). For the righteous to share their bread with those lacking bread was therefore tantamount to saying that they would pity sinners in their judgment, and not simply leave them to their sufferings because they had brought those sufferings upon their own heads. If a man digs a pit and falls into it, he is still in the pit and deserves our compassion. This is at the heart of God's compassion towards His sinning people.

Ezekiel 18:17 Who has not oppressed the poor, who has not received interest nor increase, has kept My commandments, has walked in My statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live- The 'death' in view here is the judicial death threatened at the hands of the Babylonians; see on :4. 'Living' means being spared those judgments. These warnings take on especial relevance if indeed Ezekiel was preaching the message to the literal, exiled sons of those who had oppressed the poor in Judah. "Not oppressed [the poor]" in Ez. 18:17 is literally 'to turn back the hand from'. God did not turn His hand back from destroying Jerusalem (Lam. 2:8 s.w.) because the people of Judah and those already in exile had not responded to Ezekiel's call to 'turn back their hand' from oppressing the poor. Their attitude to their poor brethren was to become God's attitude to them. And that is taught by the Lord Jesus in His parables as being the principle by which we too shall be judged.

Ezekiel 18:18 As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, robbed his brother, and did that which is not good among his people, see, he shall die in his iniquity- "Robbed" is 'plundered', exactly as Jerusalem and the temple was to be plundered, along with the houses of the wealthy. How they treated their brother was how they were to be judged; they were plundered because they plundered their brother. And that is the principle upon which we too shall be judged.

Ezekiel 18:19 Yet you say, Why doesn’t the son bear the iniquity of the father?- The Hebrew is ambiguous, maybe purposefully so. It could be read as a complaint about they the children bearing the result of their father's sins, as AV: "Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?". Or it could be read as a statement that they the children who had gone into exile were bearing the punishment of their father's sins, and therefore, their fathers shouldn't suffer any more. Even though their fathers continued sinning.

When the son has done that which is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes, and has done them, he shall surely live- The emphasis upon "When..." would suggest that the sons, the young people in exile, were not doing what was lawful and right. If they did, then they would "live", be spared the judgment which was threatened to come upon them even in Babylon. But they were powerless to alter the outcomes for their parents, unless their parents personally repented.

Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins, he shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be on him- As noted on :19, this bearing sin, or the punishment for sin, was thought to work in that a sinful son could have his punishment carried by the suffering of his father, and vice versa. God doesn't operate such a substitutionary system of atonement. The Lord Jesus bore the punishment for our sins in that He was representative of those who are willingly "in" Him and identify with Him in order to seek forgiveness of their sins which they fully acknowledge. This is different to substitutionary atonement.

Ezekiel 18:21 But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all My statutes and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die- "Turn" is the word also used for the 'return' of the exiles. Their repentance would lead to their return. They didn't repent, yet by grace God took the initiative and returned them anyway. Yet most didn't want to return and preferred the soft life in Babylon / Persia, and those who did, as the later prophets make clear, didn't repent.

Ezekiel 18:22 None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live- "Remembered" is one of a series of Bible verses which could imply that there will be a 'going through' of the sins of the rejected at judgment day, and a 'going through' of the good deeds of the righteous, the water and clothing provided as it were to the Lord Jesus. "Whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Eph. 6:8)- at judgment day. Not in this life, when the righteous often suffer for their goodness. Every good deed will then have its recognition; but their sins have been dealt with, and these will not be 'gone through' with them.

"God shall judge the righteous and the wicked (at the second coming): for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work...for God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or bad" (Ecc. 3:17; 12:14). Note the emphasis on "every". Even what we have spoken in the ear will be shouted out (Lk. 12:3) -implying others will somehow observe our judgment, cp. Mt. 12:41. If the judgment is merely a yes/no statement which has been worked out taking our whole life into consideration, then this emphasis on every work having a time for consideration and judgment "there" is pointless. God will "require" the flock at the hand of the pastors (Ez. 34:10), or, as the NT puts it, the ecclesial elders must give an account at judgment day for their flock. The Hebrew word translated "require" in the above passages has the sense of to search / enquire- which suggests a process of discussion during the judgment process. Paul prayed that the fact the brethren in Rome hadn't stood with him in his court case "may not be laid to their charge" (2 Tim. 4:16). This sounds as if he expected their behaviour in this specific matter to be something which could be brought up with them in the last day and possibly be the cause of their rejection.

"I will never forget any of their works" (Am. 8:7) was God's judgment against the wicked in Israel. Their works would be mentioned to them again at judgment day. Nehemiah several times asks God to "remember unto me" the good deeds he had done for Judah (Neh. 5:19 RV), and to likewise "remember" the bad works of the wicked (Neh. 6:14 RV). He clearly perceived judgment day as featuring the good deeds of the righteous being as it were listed, and the sins of the wicked being likewise recounted. Perhaps his prayer was heard in that in a restoration context, Mal. 3:16 comments that a book of remembrance was written by God to record the good deeds of the faithful at that time.

For those who suffer persecution, prison etc. for the Lord's sake, "it shall turn to you for a testimony" (Lk. 21:13). When? How? Surely in that these things will be 'gone through' with them at judgment as a testimony to their faithfulness. At judgment God "shall bring forth thy righteousness (good deeds) as the light, and thy judgment as the noon day" (Ps. 37:6). The sins of the rejected and the good deeds of the righteous will be publicly declared at the judgment, even if they are concealed from men in this life (1 Tim. 5:24,25). This is how men will receive "praise of God" (1 Cor. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:7; Rom. 2:29). The wicked will see the generous deeds of the righteous rehearsed before them; and will gnash their teeth and melt away into condemnation (Ps. 112:9,10).

Ezekiel 18:23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? says the Lord Yahweh; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?- The desire of God for repentance is stronger than His need to punish sin. Hence LXX "Shall I at all desire the death of the sinner, saith the Lord, as I desire that he should turn from his evil way, and live?". This is why He hangs on so long with sinful people, and Israel are the parade example. His desire for repentance, His passion for human reformation, is active and huge. It's not that He has set a bar which must be jumped over, and is passive toward us until that is achieved.

Ezekiel 18:24 But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die- As explained on :22, the good deeds of the righteous will be 'gone through' at judgment day. But if they turn away, then those good deeds will not be remembered or gone through, but rather his sins.

Ezekiel 18:25 Yet you say, The way of the Lord is not fair. Hear now, house of Israel: Is My way not fair? Aren’t your ways unfair?-
Is. 40:3, which is quoted in Lk. 3:4, speaks of “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”, whereas Is. 62:10 speaks of “Prepare ye the way of the people”. Yet tragically, the way / path of Israel was not the way / path of the Lord (Ez. 18:25). We are not only Jesus to this world but also effectively we are the witness to God Himself. We minister His care to others; to the extent that Paul could write both that he was a minister of God, and also a minister of the church (2 Cor. 6:4; Col. 1:24,25).

Ezekiel 18:26 When the righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and dies therein; in his iniquity that he has done shall he die- This was perhaps a warning to the righteous remnant who had so far repented in exile; they were liable to be dragged back into sin by the other exiles and the depressive situation they found themselves in.

Ezekiel 18:27 Again, when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed and does that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive- "Save his soul alive" implies that judgment is about to come, the death penalty already passed, but his repentance just about averts this at the last moment. It is the term used in Gen. 19:19 of how Lot was just about saved by grace out of Sodom, which was a symbol of Jerusalem under judgment, as Ez. 16 has made clear. This was the desperate urgency of Ezekiel's appeal; and yet he was seen at best as a singer of fairy tales or old time love songs (Ez. 33:32).

Ezekiel 18:28 Because he considers and turns away from all his transgressions that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die- "Considers" is literally 'see'. Part of our spiritual blindness is in refusing to see that our current path will lead to death and not life. They were to 'see' their situation and turn back, literally, 'return'. Their return from captivity was to be associated with their return from sin. But God took the initiative and returned them anyway, despite their impenitence. And even that initiative of grace was refused by the majority. The same words are used of Ezekiel being bidden both to 'consider [see]' and to 'turn' (Ez. 8:6,13,15;47:6). He was set up as their pattern, as the parade example of how the remnant ought to be.

Ezekiel 18:29 Yet the house of Israel says, The way of the Lord is not fair. House of Israel, aren’t My ways fair? Aren’t your ways unfair?-
The majority of the captives insisted, according to Ez. 18, that they hadn’t sinned, and they were suffering unjustly because of the sins of their fathers; whereas this righteous remnant in Babylon were intended to admit that “we have sinned. Equally with them of old time have we transgressed” (Is. 64:5). They took the message of Ezekiel to heart- unlike the majority. And thus this was the sad end of the great plan developed by the God of all grace for His people in Babylon. They rejected it, and hated His servants who brought that good news to them. The complaint that God is unfair is answered by reminding them that they have sinned. And this finally is one aspect of the answer to 'the problem of suffering'.

Ezekiel 18:30 Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel, each one according to his ways, says the Lord Yahweh. Return, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin- Time and again the prophets judged Israel according to their "ways", rather than according to their theological or academic knowledge. "Each one" was a reminder to the exiles that not one of them were mere victims of some group judgment whilst being personally innocent. They had sinned, but the appeal was not to allow that iniquity to be their "stumblingblock", which is how the Hebrew for "ruin" is usually translated. We all sin, but we are not to allow that sin to become a stumblingblock which plunges us headlong into further sin. And that involves a conscious attempt to turn themselves. God lay a stumblingblock before those who had sinned (Ez. 3:20) in that He psychologically confirmed them in the way they chose to go. He confirmed them in how they had laid the stumblingblock themselves before their own faces (Ez. 14:3,4), blocking their mental vision with a desire to do wrong, specifically to attain or retain personal wealth (Ez. 7:19). All these passages use the same word for "ruin" as here, but translated "stumblingblock". This again is the urgency of our situation; we have sinned, but we must urgently repent. Otherwise, that sin becomes entrenched in our mental vision, and will stumble us into the mire of sinful being and thinking.

Ezekiel 18:31 Cast away from you all your transgressions in which you have transgressed; and make yourself a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, house of Israel?- Elsewhere in Ezekiel, God promises to give them a new heart and spirit (Ez. 11:19; 36:26). This was part of the new covenant God was offering the exiles, seeing they had broken the old covenant. On one hand, God can give the new psychology, the new pair of eyes, the heart of the Spirit... just like that. But to simply do so regardless of human volition would be to turn man into a mere puppet of an almighty psychological controller. There must be a desire for that new heart and spirit, and then God will confirm it. This offer of a new spirit due to the work of God's spirit on human hearts is just as much part of the same new covenant which God has given to all who accept it in Christ today.

Ezekiel 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies, says the Lord Yahweh: therefore turn yourselves, and live- God is not passive to human repentance. He wants us to repent and  wills us to do so. Those who refuse to turn or repent will die, and He has no satisfaction or pleasure or will for that to happen. The exiles could have repented, both individually and collectively ["turn yourselves" in Hebrew carries that collective implication], and averted the death which was otherwise planned for them and their brethren back in Judah at the hand of the Babylonians. Peter alludes to these words in saying that for all time, God is not willing ["pleasure" in Hebrew can mean 'will'] that any should perish but that all should repent (2 Pet. 3:9). His work of judging insistent sinners is in this sense for Him a "strange act... a strange work" (Is. 28:21). His passion is for our repentance and salvation, not our condemnation.