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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Ezekiel 18

 

 

Verse 1

The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,

Vindication of God's moral government as to His retributive righteousness, from the Jewish imputation of injustice, as if they were suffering, not for their own sin, but for that of their fathers. As in Ezekiel 17:1-24 he foretold Messiah's happy reign in Jerusalem, so now he warns them that its blessings can be theirs only upon their individually turning to righteousness.


Verse 2

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?

What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning ... Israel ... The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. Their unbelieving calumnies on God's justice had become so common as to have assumed a proverbial form. The sin of Adam in eating the forbidden fruit, visited on his posterity. seems to have suggested the special form; noticed also by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:29) where he foretells the coming reign of Messiah, wherein the proverb shall be used "no more:" and explained in Lamentations 5:7, "Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities." They mean by "the children" themselves, as though they were innocent, whereas they were far from being so. The partial reformation effected since Manasseh's wicked reign, especially among the exiles at Chebar, was their ground for thinking so; but the improvement was only superficial, and only fostered their self-righteous spirit, which sought anywhere but in themselves the cause of their calamities; just as the modern Jews attribute their present dispersion, not to their own sins, but to those of their forefathers. It is a universal mark of corrupt nature to lay the blame on others which belongs to ourselves, and to arraign the justice of God. Compare Genesis 3:12, where Adam transfers the blame of his sin to Eve, and even to God - "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."


Verse 3

As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.

Ye shall not have occasion anymore to use this proverb - because I will let it be seen by the whole world in the very fact that you are not righteous, as ye fancy yourselves, but wicked, and that you suffer only the just penalty of your guilt; while the elect righteous remnant only escape.


Verse 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.

All souls are mine - therefore I can deal with all, being my own creation, as I please (Jeremiah 18:6). As the Creator of all alike, I can have no reason, but the principle of equity, according to men's works, to make any difference, so as to punish some and to save others (Genesis 18:25).

The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The curse descending from father to son assumes guilt shared in by the son: there is a natural tendency in the child to follow the sin of his father, and so he shares in the further's punishment; hence, the principles of God's government involved in Exodus 20:5; Jeremiah 15:4, are justified. The sons, therefore (as the Jews here), cannot complain of being unjustly afflicated by God (Lamentations 5:7); because they filled up the guilt of their fathers (Matthew 23:32; Matthew 23:34-36). The same God who "recompenses the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children" is immediately after set forth as "giving to every man according to his ways" (Jeremiah 32:18-19). In the same law (Exodus 20:5) which "visited the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation" (where the explanation is added, "of them that hate me" - i:e., the children hating God, as well as their fathers-the former being too likely to follow their parents, sin going down with cumulative force from parent to child), we find (Deuteronomy 24:16), "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither the children for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." The inherited guilt of sin in infants is an awful fact, but one met by the atonement of Christ; Romans 5:14, "Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression;" but it is of adults that he speaks here.

Whatever penalties fall on communities for connection with sins of their fathers, individual adults who repent shall escape, as Josiah did (2 Kings 23:25-26), and even Manasseh himself (2 Chronicles 33:12-13). This was no new thing, as some misinterpret the passage here: it had been always God's principle to punish only the guilty, and not also the innocent for the sins of their fathers. God does not here change the principle of His administration, but is merely about to manifest it so personally to each that the Jews should no longer throw on God, and on their fathers, the blame which was their own.

The soul that sinneth, it shall die - and it alone (Romans 6:23); not also the innocent.


Verse 5

But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,

But if a man be just. Here begins the illustration of God's impartiality in a series of supposed cases: Firstly, from Ezekiel 18:5-9, the just man; the excellences are selected in reference to the prevailing sins of the age, from which such a one stood aloof; hence, arises the omission of some features of righteousness which under different circumstances would have been desirable to be enumerated. Each age has its own besetting temptations, and the just man will be distinguished by his guarding against the special defilements, inward and outward, of his age.

Just ... lawful ... right - the duties of the second table of the law, which flow from the fear of God. Piety is the root of all charity: to render to each his own, as well to our neighbour as also to our God.


Verse 6

And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour's wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,

Hath not eaten upon the mountains - the high place, where altars were reared. A double sin: sacrificing elsewhere than at the temple in Jerusalem, where only God sanctioned sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:13-14); and this to idols instead of to Yahweh. "Eaten" refers to the feasts which were connected with the offering of sacrifices (see Exodus 32:6; Deuteronomy 32:38; Judges 9:27; 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 8:10; 1 Corinthians 10:7).

Neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols - namely, in adoration (Psalms 121:1). The superstitious are compared to harlots: their eyes go eagerly after spiritual lusts. The righteous man not merely refrains from the act, but from the glance of spiritual lust (Job 31:1; Matthew 5:28). Idols of ... Israel - not merely these of the Gentiles, but even those of Israel. The fashions of his countrymen could not lead him astray.

Neither hath defiled his neighbour's wife. Not only does he shrink from spiritual, but also from carnal adultery (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:18).

Neither hath come near to a menstruous woman. Leprosy and elephantiasis were said to be the fruit of such a connection (Jerome). Chastity is to be observed even toward one's own wife ( Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18).


Verse 7

And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;

Hath restored to the debtor his pledge - that which the poor debtor absolutely needed, as his raiment, which the creditor was bound to restore before sunset (Exodus 22:26-27), and his millstone, which was needed for preparing his food (Deuteronomy 24:6; Deuteronomy 24:10-13).

Hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked - (Isaiah 58:7; Matthew 25:35-36). After duties of justice come those of benevolence. It is not enough to refrain from doing a wrong to our neighbour; we must also do him good. The bread owned by a man, though "his," is given to him, not to keep to himself, but to impart to the needy.


Verse 8

He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,

Usury - literally, biting [ neshek (Hebrew #5392)]; because usury bites and consumes a man's substance and the man himself. The law forbad the Jew to take interest from brethren, but permitted him to do so from a foreigner (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Nehemiah 5:7; Psalms 15:5). The letter of the law was restricted to that Jewish polity, and is not binding now; and, indeed, the principle of taking interest was even then sanctioned by its being allowed in the case of a foreigner. The spirit of the law still binds us, that we are not to take advantage of our neighbour's necesssities to enrich ourselves, but be satisfied with moderate, or even no interest, in the case of the needy.

Neither hath taken any increase - in the case of other kinds of wealth; as "usury" refers to money (Leviticus 25:36). Withdrawn his hand from iniquity. Where he has the opportunity, and might find a plausible plea for promoting his own gain at the cost of a wrong to his neighbour, he keeps back his hand from what selfishness prompts.

Hath executed true judgment - justice.


Verse 9

Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.

To deal truly - with integrity.

He shall surely live - literally, live in life. He shall prosper in this life, but still more in the life to come (Proverbs 3:1-2, "Length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they (my law and my commandments) add to thee;" Amos 5:4).


Verses 10-13

If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,

If he beget a son that is a robber. The second case is that of an impious son of a pious father. His pious parentage, so far from excusing, aggravates his guilt.

Robber - or, literally, 'a breaker,' namely, through all constraints of right.

And that doeth the like to any one of these things. The Hebrew [ 'aach (Hebrew #251)] and the parallel (Ezekiel 18:18, "spoiled his brother by violence") require us to translate rather, 'doeth to his brother any of these things,' namely, the things which follow in Ezekiel 18:11, etc. (Maurer.)

Verse 11. And that doeth not any of those duties - which his father did (Ezekiel 18:5; Ezekiel 18:9).

Verse 12. Hath oppressed the poor - an aggravation to his oppressions, that they were practiced against the poor; whereas in Ezekiel 18:7 the expression in simply, "oppressed any."

Hath committed abomination - singular number, referring to the particular one mentioned in the end of Ezekiel 18:6.

Verse 13. Shall he then live? - because of the merits of his father; answering, by contrast, to "die for the iniquity of his father" (Ezekiel 18:17).

His blood shall be upon him - the cause of his bloody death shall rest with himself; God is not to blame, but is vindicated as just in punishing him.


Verses 14-18

Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,

Now, lo, if he begot a son, that seeth all his father's sins ... and doeth not such like. The third case: a son who walks not in the steps of an unrighteous father, but in the ways of God; e.g., Josiah, the pious son of guilty Amon; Hezekiah, of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Kings 18:1-37; 2 Kings 21:1-26; 2 Kings 22:1-20).

Seeth ... and considereth. The same Hebrew [ raa'ah (Hebrew #7200)] stands for both verbs, "seeth ... yea, seeth." The repetition implies the attentive observation needed, in order that the son may not be led astray by his father's bad example; as sons generally are blind to parents' sins, and even imitate them as if virtues.

Verse 17. Hath taken off his hand from the poor - i:e., abstained from oppressing the poor, when he had the opportunity of doing so with impunity. The different sense of the phrase in Ezekiel 16:49 ("neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor"), in reference to relieving the poor, seems to have suggested the reading followed by Fairbairn, but not sanctioned by the Hebrew, 'hath not turned his hand from,' etc. But Ezekiel 20:22 uses the phrase in a somewhat similar sense to the English version here, abstained from hurting.


Verse 19

Yet say ye, Why? 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.

Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? Here the Jews object to the prophet's word, and in their objection seem to seek a continuance of that very thing which they had originally made a matter of complaint. Therefore translate, 'Wherefore doth not the son bear the iniquity of his father?' It now would seem a consolation to them to think the son might suffer for his father's misdeeds; because it would soothe their self-love to regard themselves as innocent sufferers for the guilt of others, and would justify them in their present course of life, which they did not choose to abandon for a better. In reply, Ezekiel reiterates the truth of each being dealt with according to his own merits (Fairbairn). But Grotius supports the English version, wherein the Jews contradict the prophet, "Why (sayest thou so)? doth not the son (often, as in our case, though innocent) bear (i:e., suffer for) the iniquity of the father?" Ezekiel replies, It is not as you say, but as I in the name of God say; 'When the son hath done that which is lawful. The English version is simpler than that of Fairbairn.


Verse 20

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.

The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father - (Deuteronomy 24:16, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers." So Amaziah dealt with the murderers of his father, Joash king of Judah; 2 Kings 14:6).

The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him - i:e., the reward for righteousness and the punishment of wickedness shall be upon the righteous and the wicked respectively. "Righteousness" is not used as if any were absolutely righteous, but of such as have it imputed to them for Christ's sake; though not, under the Old Testament, themselves understanding the ground on which they were regarded as righteous, but sincerely seeking after it in the way of God's appointment, so far as they then understood this way.


Verses 21-24

But if the wicked will 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.

But if the wicked shall turn from all his sins ... But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness ... Two last cases) showing the equity of God:

(1) The penitent sinner is dealt with according to his new obedience, not according to his former sins.

(2) The righteous man, who turns from righteousness to sin, shall be punished for the latter, and his former righteousness will be of no avail to him.

He shall surely live. Despair drives men into hardened recklessness: God therefore allures men to repentance by holding out hope (Calvin). (Psalms 138:4, "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.")

`To threats the stubborn sinner oft is hard, Wrapt in his crimes, against the storm prepared; But when the milder beams of mercy play, He melts, and throws the cumbrous cloak away.' Hitherto the cases had been of a change from bad to good, or vice versa, in one generation compared with another. Here it is such a change in one and the same individual. This, as practically affecting the persons here addressed, is properly put last. So far from God laying on men the penalty of others' sins, He will not oven punish them for their own, if they turn from sin to righteousness; but if they turn from righteousness to sin, they must expect in justice that their former goodness will not atone for subsequent sin (Hebrews 10:38-39; 2 Peter 2:20-22). The exile in Babylon gave a season for repentance of those sins which would have brought death on the perpetrator in Judea, while the law could be enforced; so it prepared the way for the Gospel (Grotius).

Verse 22. In his righteousness that he hath done he shall live - in it, not for it, as if that atoned for his former sins; but "in his righteousness" he shall live, as the evidence of his being already in favour with God through the merit of Messiah, who was to come. The Gospel clears up for us many such passages, which were dimly understood at the time, while men, however, had light enough for salvation (1 Peter 1:12).

Verse 23. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? - (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). If men perish, it is because they will not come to the Lord for salvation, not that the Lord is not willing to save them (John 5:40). They trample on not merely justice, but mercy: what further hope can there be for them when even mercy is against them? (Heb. 10:26-20 .)

Verse 24. When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness. "Righteous" - one apparently such; as in Matthew 9:13, "I came not to call the righteous," etc. - i:e., those who fancy themselves righteous, and who are so apparently and outwardly before men. Those alone are true saints who by the grace of God persevere (Matthew 24:13; 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall").

Turneth away from his righteousness - an utter apostasy; not like the exceptional offences of the godly through infirmity or heedlessness, which they afterward mourn over and repent of.

All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned - not he taken into account so as to save them.

In his trespass ... shall he die - i:e., in his utter apostasy.


Verse 25

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?

Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Their plea for saying "The way of the Lord is not equal," was that God treated different classes in a different way. But it was really their way that was unequal, since, living in sin, they expected to be dealt with as if they were righteous. God's way was invariably to deal with different men according to their deserts.


Verses 26-28

When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.

When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness ... Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness. The two last instances repeated in inverse order. God's emphatic statement of His principle of government needs no further proof than the simple statement of it.

And committeth iniquity, and dieth in them - in the actual sins, which are the manifestations of the principle of "iniquity."

Verse 27. He shall save his soul alive - i:e., he shall have it saved upon his repentance.

Verse 28. Because he considereth - the first step to repentance; because the ungodly do not consider either God or themselves (Deuteronomy 32:29; Psalms 119:59-60, "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments." So the prodigal, "when he came to himself," thought on his ways, and so resolved to return to his Father, Luke 15:17-18).


Verse 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?

Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. Though God's justice is so plainly manifested, sinners still object to it, because they do not wish to see it (Micah 2:7, "O thou that art named The house of Jacob is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? are these His doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" Matthew 11:18-19, " Wisdom is justified of her children").


Verses 30-32

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.

Therefore ... As God is to judge them "according to their ways" (Proverbs 1:31), their only hope is to "repent;" and this is a sure hope, because God takes no delight in "judging" them in wrath, but graciously desires their salvation on "repentance." I will judge you. Though ye cavil, it is a sufficient answer that I, your Judge, declare it so, and will judge you according to my will; and then your cavils must end.

Repent-inward conversion (Revelation 2:5. "Repent and do the first works"). In the Hebrew [ shuwbuw (Hebrew #7725) w

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/ezekiel-18.html. 1871-8.

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Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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