Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 27 2019 - Ezekiel 18:1-24 – The soul who sins will die

It is clear from verse two of this passage that the exiles in Babylon were fond of quoting a proverb, whether of their own making or of ancient origin, "The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge." It would seem that they believed that their exile in Babylon was unfair. They had done nothing wrong, it was all the fault of their parents or of preceding generations. Their ancestors had rejected the Lord and turned to idols, why did they have to suffer the punishment?

Perhaps they felt that they had some Scriptural warrant for their views. In his law prohibiting graven images God himself had declared, "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:4). Now they were suffering for the "sin of [their] parents to the third and fourth generation." The exile was not their fault, it was entirely the fault of their parents.

In the face of these protestations of innocence and claims to be suffering unjustly, Ezekiel is given a message to proclaim to the people. The Lord wants them to know that parents and children alike are his and are accountable to him. "The one who sins is the one who will die" (v. 4). This is then followed by a lengthy poetic discourse in which the Lord, through Ezekiel, labours the point to ensure that the exiles cannot fail to understand it. The righteous person: the one who seeks to live to please God by avoiding idolatry, adultery, oppression and robbery; the one who provides food and clothing to the poor, freely lends to those in need and who seeks to obey all God's laws – this righteous person will live (vv.5-9).

On the other hand, the person who devotes themselves to idols, commits adultery, oppresses the poor and needy and seeks to exploit those in need to his own profit, a wicked person like that will die (vv. 10-13). But if such a wicked person turns from his wicked ways and begins to honour God, keep his commandments and live to the blessing rather than the hurt of others, that person will live. Their previous evil deeds will be remembered no more (vv. 21-23).

But equally, if a person who has lived a righteous and God-fearing life turns from his obedience to God to worship idols and exploit others, his previous good deeds will no longer be remembered; he will die for his sin (v. 24).

In summary, "The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them" (v.20).
Through Ezekiel the Lord is telling the exiles that Jerusalem fell because of their own sin. If, however, they now repent of their sin and turn back to the Lord, he will forgive their past sins and will save them; they will live before him.

It is part of the wonder of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that we who have failed to live as we should – we who have each fallen short of the glory of God – are forgiven, accepted by God and given life in him not because of any good that we have now done but solely because of what Jesus has done for us. The gospel says more than, "The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them"; it declares that through faith in Christ, his righteousness is credited to us even as our sin was laid on him. Our hope and assurance does not rest in our own shaky obedience but on Christ our rock and our salvation.

Father God, we praise you for our wonderful Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that we might share in his inheritance of life. He is our life, our hope, our joy and our Lord. Help us to live in glad obedience to him, not because we hope for acceptance through what we do but out of love for him who has given himself for us. Help us to share the good news of the acceptance, blessing and life that is freely available to all who come to you through him.

Peter Misselbrook