8:1 The word of the LORD came to me [Ezekiel, a prophet to God’s people in exile in Babylon in 6th century BC; Jeremiah was a contemporary preaching in Judah]:
18:2 “What do you [those seeking to evade personal responsibility for the fall of Judah in 587 BC] people [indicates universal awareness of the proverb] mean by quoting this proverb [popular saying; cf. Jer. 31:29] about [the particular proverb implied that the exiles were innocent victims of the sins of past generations] the land of Israel: “`The fathers [previous generations] eat sour grapes [sinned], and the children’s [refers to Ezekiel’s generation] teeth are set on edge [interpretation (and misapplication of the proverb): we are being unfairly punished (refers to the exile) for the sins of the previous generation]‘?
Note: Why do people tend to blame others for their mistakes or failures? How does society contribute to these attitudes toward responsibility? When you have been faced with personal failure, have you taken ownership or have you sought to place blame on others?
18:3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD [title emphasizes absolute sovereignty of God; literally “Lord Yahweh”], you will no longer [stop immediately] quote this [misleading proverb that spoke of transferring responsibility for their sin to someone else] proverb [because it was false and blasphemed God’s character; God was not punishing the innocent but had merely delayed His wrath until Ezekiel’s day] in Israel.
Note: When have you questioned God’s justice?
18:4 For every living soul belongs to me [universal ownership of all creation], the father as well as the son — both alike belong to me. The soul [individual] who sins [miss the target] is the one [individual] who will die [ultimate outcome of sin].
18:5 [Ezekiel explained the principal of individual responsibility by using an example of a family traced through three generations; note generation one…] “Suppose there is a righteous [basically denotes conformity to an ethical or moral standard] man who does what is just [cf. Amos 5:24] and right [in right relationship with God and man; justice and righteousness are products of faith in God].
18:6 He does not [righteous living includes abstaining from evil; God desires our total allegiance] eat [refers to pagan festivals] at the mountain shrines [high places dedicated to the worship of false gods] or look [to raise his eyes or to long for] to the idols of the house of Israel [cf. 2 Kings 21:11]. He does not defile [to make unclean] his neighbor’s wife [as per the seventh of he Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18)] or lie with a woman during her period [cf. Lev. 15:19-24; 18:19; 20:18].
18:7 He does not oppress [refers to mistreatment of the poor and weak (cf. Ezek. 18:12; 22:29] anyone, but returns what he took in pledge [collateral] for a loan [cf. Ex. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:10-11]. He does not commit robbery [refers to the wealthy violently seizing (or taking by force) property from the poor; cf. Lev. 6:1-4; Isa. 10:1-2; Mic. 2:1-2] but [note examples of righteous living…] gives his food to the hungry [cf. Isa. 58:6-8] and provides clothing for the naked.
18:8 He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest [cf. Ex. 22:25; Deut. 23:19; Deut. 23:20; cf. cf. Neh. 5:7; Ezek. 22:12 re: profiting from others’ difficulties]. He withholds [keeps] his hand from doing wrong [to distort; crooked dealings] and judges fairly between man and man.
18:9 He follows [as a way of life] my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live [this does not teach that people may earn salvation; righteous living gives evidence of genuine saving faith], declares the Sovereign LORD.
18:10 [note example using the generation two…] “Suppose he [the righteous man of 18:4-7] has a violent son [a son who lives a life diametrically opposed to his father’s], who sheds blood [typically refers to the unjust taking of life (cf. Gen. 9:6)] or does any of these other things!
18:11 (though the father has done none of them): “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbor’s wife.
18:12 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.
18:13 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 [the father’s righteousness cannot save the son] and his blood will be on his own head [each person bears responsibility for his or her own sin].
18:14 [note example using generation three…] “But suppose this son [the unrighteous son] has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:
18:15 “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.
18:16 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.
18:17 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.
18:18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.
18:19 “Yet you ask, `Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right [choices in conformity with God’s standards] and has been careful to keep all my decrees [made the right decisions], he will surely live [regardless of what his father did].
18:20 The soul [Heb. “nephesh” refers to the total person; the word here refers to “life” or “person”] who sins is the one who will die [cf. 18:4]. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. [while others may influence us, ultimately each of us make our own choices; each person is responsible and accountable for his or her own sins] The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
18:21 “But [a reminder that there is hope for the wicked] 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.
18:22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.
Note: Whom does God hold accountable for their action? What is one occasion when God punished your behavior? How was God’s action appropriate in that case?
18:23 [two rhetorical questions asked in order to establish God’s concern for individuals] Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked [obvious answer is no]? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn [“to change direction” (denotes a new spiritual direction in life)] from their ways and live [obvious answer is yes]?
18:24 “But if a righteous man turns from [a persistent choice to do wrong rather than a temporary lapse of judgment] 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 [salvation is not the issue here but rather judgment; cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15 re: recompense for a believer’s works].
Note: Correct conduct can be damaged by evil actions.
18:25 “Yet you [exiles in Babylon] say [note charge of injustice leveled against God], `The way of the Lord is not just [right or fair; the people charged God with punishing innocent people (an attack on God’s character)].’ [God’s countercharge…] Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust [“unfair” (NRSV); “not right” (NASB)]? Is it not your ways that are unjust? [the people were in exile because of their own sins]
18:26 [note in verses 26-27 that God did not act in an arbitrary manner] If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die.
Note: Past goodness does not compensate for persistent sinning.
18:27 But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life.
18:28 Because he considers all the offenses [destructive actions] he has committed and turns away [repents] from them [all of them], he will surely live; he will not die.
18:29 [cf. 18:25] Yet the house of Israel says, `The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
Note: Set aside time to critically examine your life for behavior or attitudes that are not acceptable to God.
18:30 “Therefore, O house of Israel [here refers to citizens of Judah], I will judge you, each one [each individual is responsible for his or her own actions] according to his ways [indicates the judgment would be comprehensive], declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent [a decision each culpable person must make]! Turn away from all your offenses [deliberate action against God’s will]; then sin will not be your downfall.
18:31 Rid yourselves [literally “to cause to send away” or “to cast away” (has sense of hurling with deliberate force)] of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart [place where decisions are made] and a new spirit [here designates life]. Why will you die, O house of Israel?
18:32 [cf. Ezek. 33:11] For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!