Ezekiel 18: 1-32
“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’?” This “proverb” no doubt originated from a misinterpretation of the second commandment: “…for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…”, and here we need to ask ourselves the question “Is it right for God to punish the child for sins that are not committed by the child?” Nowhere in the scriptures is it recorded that God will punish the righteous with the unrighteous, but we must readily acknowledge the fact that future generations can be directly affected by the ungodliness of their fathers, and it is the duty and obligation of each generation to acknowledge their sin and turn to God in repentance; for the command concludes with: ” but showing love to a thousand [ generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.”, for God’s mercy is extended, not to two or three generations, but to thousands who turn to Him in repentance . So God instructs the people through Ezekiel that: “…you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.” . Previously to this, Jeremiah had also addressed this proverb giving the reason why, indicating that each individual would account to God for their own sin because God would introduce a new covenant which would put the Law in their minds and hearts; that is, a personal or individual covenant and any one who accepts this covenant would be forgiven of their sins and wickedness , so Ezekiel is reminded: “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son — both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.” .
Ezekiel is then given three examples of what God is saying to him: first there is a man who demonstrates his righteousness by what he does, and God declares “He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live”. Secondly, there is his son who lives an ungodly and wicked life and God states: “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.” . Thirdly, there is his grandson, the third generation, who is not “the product of his environment” because, unlike his father, he withholds his hand from sin and keeps the Law of God following the decrees, and God says: “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin”. Here then we see the correct interpretation of the Law: “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.” . It is obvious from this that not only is the child not punished for the sins of the father, the child cannot inherit the righteousness of the father, since each individual is responsible to God and will give an individual account to God, and this is explained to Ezekiel in the closing section of this dialogue.
“But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.” .Here we see the result of the new covenant where God extends His love and mercy to the sinner, for under the Law sin would be swiftly dealt with and the individual put to death, now the individual can turn to God in true repentance and sin will be forgiven and removed from the record 31:31-34; Heb. 8:12>.
“But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.” This is a difficult statement to understand in light of what the new covenant (N.T.) teaches, for our Lord taught His disciples that His sheep will never perish because He has given them eternal life and no one can take them from His Father’s hands; we are also taught by Paul in his teaching that nothing can separate us from the Love of God – not even death!. , but we must be very careful to acknowledge that God is sovereign and will deal with us according to His grace and mercy, and when a believer blatantly sins against God He can, and sometimes will, remove that individual from this life so that His glory is maintained and not disgraced by the sinful believer’s life, yet still the individual will have eternal life but will suffer the consequences of sin . Let us not forget that all sin, whether in the life of a believer or unbeliever, separates us from God, a believer will be out of fellowship with the Lord and lose the blessings of the spiritual life, while the unbeliever will never know peace with God until sins are forgiven .
Here then we see the righteousness of God versus the unfaithfulness of mankind: “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?” God is calling all mankind to repentance for unless we repent of our sins we will surely pay the penalty set by God which is death, or eternal separation from a Holy God ; and He continues by asking “why will you die” when He has made provision for our complete forgiveness through the death and resurrection of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. His love is expressed in His final statement of the section: “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” , and this is the reason for the preaching of the gospel, for we, as Ezekiel, are instructed to warn everyone of their fate when they refuse to heed the warning .