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This chapter is rather brief, but it is artificially expanded in length by the many repetitions of the points of identification which differentiate between the wicked man and the righteous man.
The Israelites to whom this chapter was addressed were using a false proverb in the vain hope of justifying themselves, namely, `The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'!
"The Captivity generation, overlooking the fact that they were even worse than their fathers, were now trying to lay the blame for their woes on the sins of their fathers. The burden of this chapter is that God judges every man upon the basis of his individual and personal conduct. It ends with a passionate appeal for the wicked to repent (vv. 30-32)."
This is not the only chapter in which Ezekiel deals with this same subject. "He also did so in Ezekiel 3:16-21; 14:12-20; 33:1-20." Of course it was not a new idea at all; see Deuteronomy 24:16, and 2 Kings 14:6. "Also, this chapter is an enlargement upon Jeremiah 31:29, and sets forth fully the doctrine of individual responsibility."
"The word of Jehovah came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father; so also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die."
"This false proverb, untrue on the face of it, was singularly inapplicable by Israel in their situation, because they were by no means innocent of wrong doing, being, in fact, actually worse than their fathers."
In response to Israel's use of this evil proverb, God swore with a mighty oath, that he would stop their use of it at once, because it reflected against the justice of God Himself.
"Evidently, the people thought that they were paying for sins of Manasseh, because nearly everyone in that generation believed that the sins of the fathers could actually be visited upon their children. There was a note of self-acquittal here, also, fatalism, despair, and a what's the use? attitude, what avails the moral struggle? Deeper still, there was a question of God's justice."
"The soul that sinneth, it shall die ..." (Ezekiel 18:4). A number of scholars like to emphasize their allegation that, "eternal death" is not mentioned here, only physical death; but we believe more is intended. As Leath put it, "What is meant here is the separation of the soul from its life-source, the Spirit of God (Deuteronomy 30:25; Jeremiah 21:8; and Proverbs 11:19)." Pearson also agreed in this, saying, "The word `die' is used in both a literal and an eschatological sense. 'To live' is to enter into the perfect kingdom of the Lord (which was at that time in the future); and `to die,' is to have no share in it."
"But if a man be just and do that which is lawful and right, and hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes unto the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbor's wife, neither hath come near to a woman in her impurity, and hath not wronged any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath taken naught by robbery, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment; he that hath not given forth upon interest, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity; hath executed true justice between man and man, hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept mine ordinances, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord Jehovah."
The distinctions between the righteous and the wicked which are listed here are repeated over and over again in this chapter, with only very slight variations. The critical bias that God cares only for the observance of God's law, and that ceremonial considerations are unimportant was succinctly stated thus by Cooke. "The sins enumerated are moral rather than ceremonial offenses"; However, the reference to the righteous man's keeping "all my statutes" in such passages as Ezekiel 18:6,9,11,17,21, cannot possibly support such an error.
Beginning with this paragraph and running through Ezekiel 18:18, "Ezekiel gives a concrete example of the truth announced in Ezekiel 18:4, above. Three generations are presented: (1) a just grandfather; (2) an ungodly son; and (3) a righteous grandson. The three kings of Judah, namely, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah fit the descriptions given here."
"And hath not eaten upon the mountains ..." (Ezekiel 18:6). Such scholars as May and Eichrodt agree that this passage should be translated, "If he doth not eat flesh with the blood." The importance of this lies in the fact that the very first identification mark of the righteous man is that he respects the ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses. Since the "eating upon the mountains" where the idol worship took place almost certainly involved the use of food improperly prepared, the emended text, as proposed, would appear to be correct. A Biblical mention of the sin of eating flesh with the blood is found in 1 Samuel 14:32-34.
"He that hath not given forth upon interest ..." (Ezekiel 18:8). "The embargo against interest, found here and in passages such as Psalms 15:5 is primarily a reference to charitable loans to persons in distress. (Deuteronomy 23:19f) permitted the charging of interest on loans to non-Israelites."
"If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth any one of these things, and that doeth not any of those duties, but hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbor's wife, hath wronged the poor and needy, hath taken by robbery, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination, hath given forth upon interest, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him."
THE UNGODLY SON OF A JUST FATHER
If, as a number of scholars have suggested, there is a reference in these verses to Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah, then the place of murder first in this list that pertained to Manasseh would be appropriate; because that monarch is said to have filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. The variations in the list are not important.
"Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins, which he hath done, and feareth, and doeth not such like; 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, neither hath wronged any, hath not taken aught to pledge, neither hath taken by robbery, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment; that hath withdrawn his hand from the poor, that hath not received interest nor increase, hath executed mine ordinances, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live. As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, robbed his brother, and did that which is not good among his people, behold, he shall die in his iniquity."
THE CASE OF THE GODLY GRANDSON
"That hath withdrawn his hand from the poor ..." (Ezekiel 18:17). "This is to be understood in a good sense, to withhold his hand from oppressing the poor. He withdraws the hand that was tempted to exact the full legal claim against the poor."
"Yet say ye, Wherefore doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? 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. The soul that sinneth, it 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 upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him."
Here it is stated both positively and negatively that God's government and God's justice are eternally equitable and fair. Again, if the example here has any reference to Josiah, there is a special significance that, "he hath kept all my statutes." This sheds light upon the false notion that only the moral considerations, not the ceremonial commandments, were involved in determining who was, or was not, righteous. Josiah, it will be recalled, brought Israel once more to their duty of observing the passover!
"But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah; and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he hath done shall be remembered, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die."
"Keep all my statutes ..." (Ezekiel 18:21). Note the word all. Again, we see the truth that God is not merely concerned with moral requirements of the holy Law, but with the strict human observance of all of it.
The strong inference here that the passage may indirectly refer to Manasseh occurs in the fact that despite his being such an evil monarch, at the end of his days, Manasseh turned from his sins and returned to the true God.
Regarding Ezekiel 18:21, here, Beasley-Murray stated that, "A man is not only free from the sins of his father, but he may also be free from his own sins, if he so wishes; he can repent and turn away from them."
This passage regarding the possibility of a man becoming free from his own sins has been called, "the most precious word in the whole Book of Ezekiel."
What is God's ultimate objective for human life? It certainly is not the destruction of the wicked. As an apostle said, "God is longsuffering to you-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). "God's pleasure is that the wicked should turn from his evil way, and live."
The Calvinistic nonsense that a person "once saved is always saved" encounters here a shocking refutation in the behavior of the righteous man, "who turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and all the abominations that the wicked man doeth (Ezekiel 18:24)." Could such a thing occur? Is the Word of God true?
"Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel: Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth therein; in his iniquity that he hath done, shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth and turneth away from all his transgressions, he shall surely live, he shall not die."
"The earnestness with which Ezekiel here pleads with Israel concerning the righteousness and justice of God's ways shows that he is addressing people who simply do not want to believe it, as witness Ezekiel 18:25,29."
"Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord Jehovah. Return ye, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, wherein ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves and live."
"The way of the Lord is not equal ..." (Ezekiel 18:29). This was an unqualified slander on the part of apostate Israel. We cannot agree with Howie who said, "This kind of an outcry against the Lord is understandable when we remember how great was the suffering of the people." The people were well aware of their consummate wickedness, but the national pride and arrogant conceit of ancient Israel knew no restrictions nor boundaries. They thought that God owed them the world with a ribbon on it, no matter how morally corrupt they became. They were not only totally wrong in this slander, God's response to it was prompt and positive. "Therefore, I will judge you!" (Ezekiel 18:30).
"Make you a new heart and a new spirit ..." (Ezekiel 18:31). O no, a man cannot create in himself a new heart; but he can so order his behavior that God will indeed create in him a new heart. God commands men to "Save yourselves from this wicked generation" (Acts 2:40); but men cannot "save themselves," except in the sense that they can comply with the conditions that will enable God to save them! Men cannot "create" a new heart in themselves, but they can repent of their wickedness and turn to God who will then "give them" a new heart. As Leal put it:
"Man cannot indeed create either a new heart or a new spirit; God only can give them to anyone. But a man can and should come to God to receive them; he can repent and turn to God and thus allow both heart and spirit to be renewed by the Spirit of God."
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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