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Ezekiel 18-19 Listen
1 The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
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?
3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb 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.
5 But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,
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,
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;
8 He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,
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.
10 If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,
11 And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour’s wife,
12 Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,
13 Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.
14 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,
15 That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour’s wife,
16 Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,
17 That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.
18 As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.
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.
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.
21 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.
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
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?
26 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.
27 Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
28 Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
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?
30 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.
31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.
The stage is set for this chapter in the first 3 verses. These exiled Jews insisted that they were being punished solely because of the sins of their forefathers and not their own. They had an old saying (a proverb, but not one of Solomon's), "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the childrens teeth are set on edge? (verse 2). Jeremiah repeats their old proverb as well in Jeremiah 31:29 (see notes) just before he outlines the New Covenant. It was a saying of conventional wisdom among these sinning Jews, even though it was not true in this situation - at least not to the extent to which they were applying it. Let's be clear about the incorrect nature of their assertion. They had absolved themselves of personal responsibility for God's wrath in the fall of Jerusalem; they claimed it happened because of the sins of their forefathers - not their own. Israel/Judah/Jerusalem had incorrectly applied the message of Exodus 20:4-5 (see notes) and Deuteronomy 5:9 (see notes).
Let's take a look at the words of Exodus 20:4-5 that were being incorrectly adopted by these exiles:
Exodus 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Exodus 20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
Never mind that they still had their own idols with which they could not seem to part. While it is true that the decisions made by our ancestors have an impact on our own lives, Ezekiel carefully (very carefully) goes through several scenarios in this chapter to hold these contemporary Jews personally responsible for their own sins, and thus the fall of the land into captivity and punishment. He explains that Exodus 20:5 was given as a logical consequence to sin, but was not intended to lock descendants into an impossible-to-do-right situation. These exiled Jews saw their beloved city, Jerusalem, destroyed because they themselves served other gods and idols. Ezekiel is very clear that he intends to put a stop to the use of this proverb when he speaks on behalf of God in verse 3, "As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel." Ezekiel then sets the stage for three examples to illustrate the point in 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." We're talking individual accountability for sin here when he proclaims, "the soul that sinneth, it shall die."
Ezekiel very specifically lists three scenarios to make his point about individual accountability:
Ezekiel sums up these scenarios in verses 5-17 the same way he introduced them in verse 4 by saying in 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." In other words, sons don't pay for fathers' sins, and fathers don't pay for sons' sins; everyone pays for their own sins. If you're looking for the bottom line of this chapter, read verse 30, "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." The exiles were paying for their own sins and not the sins of their ancestors.
He concludes this discussion of their sin by answering their criticism regarding God's consistency in 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?" These wicked Jews apparently are forwarding the proposition that wickedness was more prevalent during the time of their ancestors, yet they did not fall into captivity; that's not fair! In verse 29 Ezekiel tells them that they should not be pointing their fingers at God's inconsistency when they, themselves, are the inconsistent ones - the unequal ones. God's solution is seen in verse 30, "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."
Incidentally, many people (who fail to rightly divide the word of truth) have taken this chapter out of the context of the fall of Jerusalem and tried to maintain that there is a universal message of spiritual salvation and loss of salvation here for New Testament believers. They take the physical death and punishment spoken of here in chapter 18 and convert the concept from physical to spiritual death. You'll find in nearly all of these misuses of this passage that they have no clue about the specifics of which Ezekiel is really speaking here. Likewise they have done the same with Ezekiel's comments about his responsibility to warn the Jews in Ezekiel 3 (see notes) and Ezekiel 33 (see notes). One only needs to read the list of sins identified in verses 5-9 to realize that it is improper to abuse this passage by identifying it with Christians living today. Again to clarify, the exiles are being told that their nation has been terminated because of their own wickedness before God - not the wickedness of their forefathers.
Israel as a lioness (Ezekiel 19:1-9)
1 Moreover take thou up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,
2 And say, What is thy mother? A lioness: she lay down among lions, she nourished her whelps among young lions.
3 And she brought up one of her whelps: it became a young lion, and it learned to catch the prey; it devoured men.
4 The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit, and they brought him with chains unto the land of Egypt.
5 Now when she saw that she had waited, and her hope was lost, then she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion.
6 And he went up and down among the lions, he became a young lion, and learned to catch the prey, and devoured men.
7 And he knew their desolate palaces, and he laid waste their cities; and the land was desolate, and the fulness thereof, by the noise of his roaring.
8 Then the nations set against him on every side from the provinces, and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit.
9 And they put him in ward in chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel.
Ezekiel does a lion metaphor on Israel. Israel is the lioness. Ezekiel's metaphor is very specific here as he implicates the last kings of Judah. The first whelp was Jehoahaz (verses 3-4) - placed on the throne by the Judeans following the death of his father, Josiah (II Kings 23:31-33, see notes). Verse 3 identifies him as an evil king, and verse 4 mentions his fate, death after being taken as a prisoner to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco in 609 B.C. The second whelp (verse 5) was Jehoiakims son, Jehoiachin, (II Kings 24:8-17; II Chronicles 36:8-10, see notes). He was evil also (verses 6-7) and was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. (verses 8-9). Confusing? Take a look at the brief summary of the last five kings of Judah found in the next paragraph for clarification.
So, to recap the last kings of Judah and put this prophecy into perspective, note the following reigns in Judah:
Ezekiel is prophesying here around 592/591 B.C. during the reign of Zedekiah, based upon the fact that his prophecies are listed sequentially. Ezekiel 8 (see notes) is dated 592 B.C. and Ezekiel 20 (see notes) is dated 591 B.C.
10 Thy mother is like a vine in thy blood, planted by the waters: she was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters.
11 And she had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule, and her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude of her branches.
12 But she was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit: her strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them.
13 And now she is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground.
14 And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.
Then the imagery turns to a vine in verse 10.