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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 18

The Second Cycle—Chapters 8-19

THE second cycle (ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 19:14) is separated from the first by an interval of a year and two months. The date is here the sixth year after the captivity of Jehoiachin, the sixth month, the fifth day, about five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. A vision here also forms the introduction, a song the close in ch. Ezekiel 19, in the midst of prophetic discourses that elucidate the vision, obviate objections, and form a bridge between it and the mind. The historical starting-point and the tendency also are similar. The prophet here also strives against the political dreams, represents the destruction as inevitable, and points to repentance as the only way of safety.

The vision is here far more comprehensive than in the first cycle. It occupies four whole chapters. It gives a complete representation of the sins of the people; and here accordingly is unfolded what in the first vision is only indicated concerning the punishment. Common to both visions is the delineation of the theophany itself, and in particular the description of the cherubim. The former delineation is supplemented by that here given only in details.

Ch. Ezekiel 8 contains the exposition of the guilt—the delineation of the four abominations of Jerusalem; ch. Ezekiel 9, the first punishment—Jerusalem filled with dead bodies; ch. Ezekiel 10, the second punishment—Jerusalem burnt; ch. Ezekiel 11:1-12, the third—God’s vengeance follows the survivors of the catastrophe. The close consists of comfort for the captives, who are already in exile with Ezekiel, and on whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem proudly look down; of these will God Himself take care, after the total disappointment of all human hopes (vers. Ezekiel 11:13-21). The prophet then sees still (vers. Ezekiel 11:22-23) how the glory of the Lord leaves the temple; and then the ecstasy comes to an end (vers. Ezekiel 11:21, Ezekiel 11:25).

Verses 1-3

Ezekiel 18. A hindrance to the salutary effect of the announcement of judgment in ch. Ezekiel 8:1 to Ezekiel 11:25, a shield which was held up against the implied demand for a radical conversion, lay in the fancy that the Lord visits the sins of the fathers upon the present generation. Accordingly, repentance was represented as fruitless. This fancy, resting on the misinterpretation of Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:7, has its proper starting-point in a mistake about personal sinfulness: instead of this true cause of the divine judgments, a false one is substituted. The prophet, on the contrary, follows out the principle, that every one receives what his own deeds deserve; that not foreign sins involve in the judgments of God, not even personal ones, if they be penitently abandoned ( Ezekiel 18:21-29). Therefore let a man return to God ( Ezekiel 18:30-32). The repeated enumeration of the actions in which the essence of righteousness consists, shows how the people came to refer the guilt to the fathers, and murmur against God, who punished them for guilt not their own, rather than against their own sin. The human heart is prone to place righteousness in external forms and ceremonies. In these they were exact. While the prophet holds up before them the mirror of true righteousness, he shows them that there is a simple solution of the problem, in which the guilt falls not on the side of God, but on their own head, and in which repentance is represented not as fruitless, but as salutary, and absolutely necessary.

Ezekiel 18:1-3. First, in Ezekiel 18:1-3, the ungodly proverb, and the declaration that it shall be no more heard in Israel; then, in Ezekiel 18:4, the thesis by which, while it establishes personal accountability, the misunderstanding must be destroyed. After this, the carrying out into details. Ezekiel 18:1. And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 2. What is for you, that ye use this proverb in the land of Israel, saying, The fathers ate sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? 3. As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, ye shall not use this proverb any more in Israel. 4. 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.

The dictum of the people mentioned in Ezekiel 18:2 occurs before in Jeremiah 31:29. It has been shown in my Contributions ( Beiträge), iii. p. 544 f., that the passages of the law that lie at the foundation of this dictum contain no such doctrine; that, according to the uniform doctrine of the Holy Scripture, no man is punished but for his own guilt; that only the ungodly son is involved in the punishment of the fathers; that Ezekiel comes forward here simply as the expositor, not the amender, of the law. The Lord asserts, in Ezekiel 18:3, that such a proverb shall no more be heard in Israel. He does not forbid it, but He declares that He Himself will expel it from them; comp. the passage cited from Jeremiah. The cause of its cessation is the severity of the divine judgments. When these come on, the fig-leaves fall off, the slumbering conscience awakens, and cries out, It is I and my sins. There is a multitude of philosophies and theological dogmas that are only possible in certain times, and sneak away in confusion when the thunders of the divine judgment begin to roll. In Ezekiel 18:4, the antithesis to the thesis of the people. “The souls are mine”—belong to me. God would surrender His property, if He permitted souls, whether individuals or whole generations, to suffer punishment for the guilt of others. In the likeness of God, on which the sentence “All souls are mine” rests, lies the principle that souls cannot be degraded into servile instruments—that each can only be treated according to his works. “The soul of the son as that of the father:” in reference to the proverb, son and father represent at the same time the earlier and the later generation.

Now follows the carrying out into detail. First ( Ezekiel 18:5-9), true righteousness—which exhibits itself in the fulfilment of the commandments of God—and salvation are inseparably connected. In the more exact designation of righteousness—which was necessary, because so many gave themselves over in tins respect to false imaginations, from which the fancy that men suffer for the extraneous sins of their fathers originated—such sins are especially made prominent as were at that time in vogue.

Verses 5-9

Ezekiel 18:5-9. And if a man be just, and do judgment and righteousness, 6. And eat not upon the mountains, nor lift up his eyes to the abominations of the house of Israel, nor defile his neighbour’s wife, nor come near to a menstruous woman, 7. And do not oppress any, restore his pledge for debt, [106] I do not commit robbery, give his bread to the hungry, and cover the naked with a garment; 8. If he give not on usury, nor take increase, turn his hand from iniquity, execute true judgment between man and Man_1:9 . Walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, to do the truth; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord Jehovah.

[106] חוב is the accusative of restriction.

In Ezekiel 18:6, out of the first table the command. Thou shalt have no other gods before me—the mountains as the places of the idolatrous nature-worship; out of the second. Thou shalt not commit adultery. The prohibition of impurities in the married state is included in the latter, which is directed against unbridled lust, that bows not to the ordinance of God. The pledge, in Ezekiel 18:7, is more exactly defined by reference to the legal decisions in Exodus 22:25, Deuteronomy 24:6, Deuteronomy 24:10 f., as something which is necessary to the existence of the poor man. The truth, in Ezekiel 18:9, is the real righteousness in opposition to the show of it, with which so many deceive themselves and others.

Verses 10-13

Ezekiel 18:10-13. On the contrary, if a righteous man have an unrighteous son, he will come short of salvation, and his father’s righteousness will not avail him.

Ezekiel 18:10. And if he beget a violent son, who sheds blood, and doeth to his brother [107] any of those things, 11. And he Doeth not all those things, for he eateth upon the mountains, and defileth his neighbour’s wife, 12. He oppresseth the poor and needy, committeth robbery, restoreth not the pledge, and lifteth up his eyes to the abominations, and practiseth that which is detestable, 13. Giveth forth on usury, and taketh increase, should he live? He shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall be put to death; his blood shall be upon him.

[107] אח , in regard to his brother, in relation to him. That אח must have the usual meaning of brother, is shown by Ezekiel 18:18. Among the characteristics of the son in the first member, the violations of the commandments of the second table are specially regarded. Fellow-men, and especially fellow-Israelites, are expressly designated in the law as friends and brothers, to show that the violation of love towards them is unnatural and penal. מאחד , one or other, as Leviticus 4:2. Luther, “or does this thing once,” omitting the brother.

“Of these things” ( Ezekiel 18:10)—the things that are characterized as ungodly in the previous verses. “And he doeth not all those things” that are enumerated in Ezekiel 18:6-9 as necessary qualifications of the righteous, and are practised by his father. “His blood shall be upon him” ( Ezekiel 6:13): he is the author of his own misfortune; he must ascribe it to himself.

Verses 14-20

Ezekiel 18:14-20. Again, if this unrighteous man have a righteous son, the unrighteousness of his father will not injure him, and salvation will return to him. Ezekiel 18:14. And, lo, he hath begotten a son, and he seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and seeth them, [108] and doeth not the like; 15. He eateth not upon the mountains, nor lifteth up his eyes to the abominations of the house of Israel, and defileth not his neighbour’s wife; 16. And oppresseth no one, taketh no pledge, and committeth no robbery; giveth his bread to the hungry, and covereth the naked with a garment; 17. Turneth away his hand from the poor, taketh not usury or increase, executeth my judgments, walketh in my statutes: he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live. 18. His father, because he cruelly oppressed, committed robbery on his brother, and did that which is not good among his people, lo, he died in his iniquity. 19. And ye say, Why doth not the son partake in the iniquity of the father? And the son hath done judgment and righteousness, hath kept my statutes and done them: he shall surely live. 20. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not partake in the iniquity of the father, and the father shall not partake in the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.

[108] Luther, “and feareth.” The reading is to be pointed as before. The Masoretes wish to read ויראה , thinking that the full form suits the emphasis.

“And seeth them:” this is in Ezekiel 18:14 emphatically repeated, to show that the seeing of the sins of his father in their terrible odiousness, and of the punishments inseparably connected with them, serves as a warning to him. Ezekiel 18:19-20 refer the special to the general, the individual case to the rule. It is a mere variation, if the question as to the “why” is put in the mouth of the people. The thought is thus only introduced in a more animated way, as much as to say, And will ye know why the son takes not upon him the iniquity of the father, as I say? The close of the amplification returns to the general thesis of Ezekiel 18:4. “And the father shall not take upon him the iniquity of the son,” no more than the father suffers for the iniquity of the son.

Verses 21-29

Ezekiel 18:21-29. So far from the sins of his fathers excluding from salvation, not even his own do this, if they be penitently forsaken. Ezekiel 18:21. And the wicked, if he turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do judgment and righteousness, he shall surely live, he shall not die. 22. All his transgressions that he hath committed shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. 23. Have I any pleasure at all in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah: if he return from his way, [109] should he not live? 24. And when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked doeth, should he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his perfidy that he hath practised, and in his sin that he hath sinned, therein he shall die. 25. And ye say. The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel, Should not my way be equal? Are not your ways unequal? 26. When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth therein, for his iniquity that he hath done he dieth. 27. And if the wicked turn away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and do judgment and righteousness, he shall save his soul alive. 28. And he seeth and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. 29. And the house of Israel saith, The way of the LORD is not equal. Are not my ways equal, O house of Israel? Are not your ways unequal? [110]

[109] Luther, “and not rather that he turn from his nature, and live.” “From his way:” for this the Masoretes read, “from his ways.”

[110] The singular, יתכן , at the close, is explained by this, that the actual plurality of the way is compressed into the ideal unity of the walk.

They asserted ( Ezekiel 18:25) that the ways of God were not right—properly, not weighed in the balance of righteousness ( Job 31:6)—but regulated by caprice. This assertion proceeded from defective consciousness of sin, that could find no other key to suffering than this, that it was decreed unrighteously, on account of the sins of the fathers. The prophet points to this, that the guilt lies on their side. If they only sincerely return to God, they will no more have cause to complain of Him.

Verses 30-32

In Ezekiel 18:30-32 the practical result: Turn ye, so shall ye attain to salvation. Ezekiel 18:30. Therefore will I judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord Jehovah. Return ye, and turn from all your transgressions, and let not iniquity be your ruin. 31. Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit; and why will ye die, O house of Israel? 32. For I have no pleasure in the death of the dead, saith the Lord Jehovah; turn ye, then, and live.

“And turn” ( Ezekiel 18:30)—heart and senses (comp. Ezekiel 14:6). “And let not iniquity be your ruin:” provide that iniquity involve you not in the judgment of God, and occasion your fall. “Make you a new heart” ( Ezekiel 18:31): only God can do this, which the O. T. teaches no less emphatically than the N. (Psalms 51; Ezekiel 11:19). But it does not come, unless the human will move to meet it; comp. Matthew 23:37, “And ye would not.” Hence the act is ascribed to man also. “The dead,” in Ezekiel 18:32, is one given over to certain death, who is already as good as dead.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-18.html.