Ezekiel 18:1-3 (NIV) 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
On verses 1-3: In Ezekiel’s day, this was a popular saying among the Israelites: “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v2). What did that saying mean and why would the Israelites say it? The Israelites would say this phrase as a way of blaming their ancestors for their current difficulties. When people would ask the Israelites, “Why are you going through such difficulties and suffering right now?” many Israelites would respond by saying, “It’s not my fault. It’s my father’s fault.” Here in chapter 18, God responds to this tendency of many Israelites to blame their problems on their parents.
Ezekiel 18:4a (NIV) 4 For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son–both alike belong to me…
On verse 4a: God has authority over every living soul and every soul is accountable to God. For those who like to blame and criticize others, remember that God isn’t just watching what your parents or the people around you are doing. He’s watching what you do too. For those who of us who like to think of the people in our care as belonging to us (whether it’s our parents, our kids, our friends, etc.), remember that ultimately they belong to God. You don’t own them. God does.
Ezekiel 18:4b (NIV) 4 …The soul who sins is the one who will die.
On verse 4b: God has stipulated that “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (v4). In other words, if a person sins, according to God’s law, that person is to be forever separated from the eternal life that is in God. Because of sin we do not have any right to be with a holy God or to be in heaven where there is no sin. What we deserve for our sin is death and separation from God. Thankfully, when our sins sentenced us to death, God made a way for us to have life once again. It’s through His Son Jesus Christ.
Ezekiel 18:5-9 (NIV) 5 “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. 6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of the house of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife or lie with a woman during her period. 7 He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. 8 He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man. 9 He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD.
On verses 5-9: Here we see God’s definition for a “righteous” person. A righteous person is one “who does what is just and right” (v5), who follows God’s decrees and faithfully keeps God’s laws. The reward for the righteous person is that “he will surely live” (v9); in other words, the righteous person will have eternal life in God and be with God forever. The problem is that all of us have sinned in some way, and thus what we deserve is not eternal life with God, but death and separation from God. But because God loved us and did not want us to be separated from Him, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins, so that by trusting in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, we can be forgiven by God, called righteous and not guilty before God, and possess eternal life with God. This is all because of God’s amazing grace expressed through Jesus Christ.
Ezekiel 18:10-13 (NIV) 10 “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things 11 (though the father has done none of them): “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbor’s wife. 12 He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things.” 13 He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.
On verses 10-13: If we have sinned against God, it doesn’t matter how righteous or holy our parents or ancestors were. Their righteousness will not save us.
Ezekiel 18:14-20 (NIV) 14 “But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things: 15 “He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of the house of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife. 16 He does not oppress anyone or require a pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. 17 He withholds his hand from sin and takes no usury or excessive interest. He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.” He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. 19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
On verses 14-20: Here God clarifies that no one dies for the sins of their parents. Each of us is accountable to God for our own sins. We cannot be saved because of our parents’ righteousness, nor can we be condemned because of our parents’ sins and mistakes. So when you encounter suffering or problems, do not simply blame your parents and say, “It’s all because of them.”
Do you tend to blame others for your problems? If so, it’s time to starting taking ownership for our own failings and mistakes. May we be quick to confess our own sins and slow to blame others for our problems.
“But, JB, what does Exodus 20:5 mean then when it says that God punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation?” It means that when parents in one generation sin, and that sin is not confessed, forgiven and dealt with appropriately, that sin will naturally have negative consequences for the next generation. The children who come after those parents will have to deal with the practical impact of their parents’ sin. The children may even struggle with committing that same sin themselves, since such a powerful precedent has been set in their lives. However, that does not mean that God holds the next generation responsible for the older generation’s sins. Rather it’s about recognizing that the effects of our sin on our relationships are real and need to be dealt with.
Heavenly Father, please forgive me for all the times that I have played the blame game, blaming those around me for my problems and unhappiness, when in fact I am responsible for my own sins and unhappiness. May I have the humility, the maturity and the wisdom to take ownership of my own mistakes and problems, and not simply blame others for them. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!