Ezekiel 18 focuses on one central idea: individual accountability for one’s own sinfulness.
The chapter opens with God’s rejection of the pervasive Israelite idea that the suffering of one generation is the result of the sins of previous generations.
The message God wants to communicate through the prophet is that the Israelites in captivity in Babylon and those about to suffer the destruction of Jerusalem have no one but themselves to blame.
But yet the idea of corporate responsibility and the effects of sin being felt “unto the third and fourth generation” is found in the Torah.
This class discusses how individual and corporate responsibility are complementary, not contradictory.
Next Chapter (eze 18)
We're at Ezekiel 18.
What I'm going to do to start off with...
The chapter is not too long, so I'm going to read the whole chapter and then go back and cherry pick a few things that we need talk about or that will sort of seem obvious to talk about.
So I'm reading from ESV.
Again, this is Ezekiel 18.
Who is Responsible?
Now, this is another famous chapter in the book of Ezekiel.
It's famous for a very clear statement of individual responsibility.
We should say at the outset that this isn't about... for instance, eternal life was never mentioned in here.
This isn't like earning your way to heaven or something like this.
Put it in its context.
This is about the impending judgment on the people.
They go back to this proverb in the first couple verses.
I'll repeat those:
The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, [and here’s the proverb:] ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge’?
Now this was apparently a common proverbial statement in ancient Israel.
Jeremiah also refers to it in Jeremiah 31:29, which says:
29 In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.’
So you have two prophets mention this.
Again, this was apparently an axiom that people in ancient Israel not only heard, but used and put stock in.
What it means is that the sufferings of one generation (in this case, the children) are caused by the sins of the previous generations (the fathers).
What the past generation did produced an outcome for the new generation.
The new generation is suffering and it's because of what their fathers did.
And that was viewed as proverbial.
"This is just the way it is, the way it should be.
This is what we know."
Here in this chapter, God is basically saying, "I don't want to hear that."
And the reason he doesn't want to hear it is because God doesn't want excuses.
God wants to convince them through Ezekiel is, "Look, the reason you're suffering is not because of what your fathers did.
It's because of what you have done."
This is a statement of individual responsibility, and it's really not put forth any clearer in the
Hebrew Bible than in this particular chapter.
Taylor, in his little Tyndale Old
Testament commentary has a couple sentences here I want to read because I think, again, he summarizes this pretty nicely:
Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel saw this [proverb] as a pernicious doctrine, because it inevitably led to a spirit of fatalism and irresponsibility.
If the fault could really be laid at the door of a previous generation, those on whom the judgment was falling could reasonably shrug off any sense of sin and accuse God of injustice (‘The way of the Lord is not just’, verse 25).
They were using this as an excuse, and that's why God wants Ezekiel to address it.
God just doesn't want to hear it.
He’s saying, “This is notthe case.
What's happened to you and what's going to happen in Jerusalem (to the people back home) is your fault and their own fault, it's not somebody else's fault.”
And we should talk a little bit about this whole idea.
Let's put it in the form of a question.
We know that God is rejecting this proverbial statement ("because of what the fathers did, that's why we're under judgment here").
Is that proverb unreasonable in terms of biblical thinking?
It actually isn't!
It actually wasn't.
And there are really two reasons for this.
The notion of being punished for the sins of a previous generation (sins of the forefathers), you can find that in the Torah.
Exodus 20:5 says:
So you can see that somebody can read Exodus 20:5 and come out with this idea.
Secondly, Ezekiel himself has sort of endorsed the idea earlier when he says (and how many times have we mentioned this in the course as we’ve gone through Ezekiel as a book?)... He's constantly referring to the
persistent and unrepentant idolatry of generations of Israelites that have gone before as being the cause of the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, the cause of the exile.
Referencing back to Leviticus 26, God says, "This happens and then this other thing is going to happen."
And so Ezekiel, on a number of occasions, has gone back to Leviticus 26 and said, "See, your fathers screwed up and this is why this is happening.
So it's not an unreasonable thought for people to think.
But, nevertheless, God says here in Ezekiel 18 that he doesn't want to hear this because it isn't true in this situation.
That's the key thought.
How do we understand this—what I would call an "apparent inconsistency?" (I don't think it is inconsistent and we're going to talk about why.)
But how do we parse all this?
A couple of things.
I would say first off,there's only an inconsistency here if the present generation wasn't idolatrous and was, in fact, innocent.
But that's simply isn't the case.
The preceding chapters in Ezekiel make it really, really clear that it wasn't just the generations of Israel in the past who were idolatrous.
The preceding chapters make it clear that both the people back in Jerusalem and even the ones in Babylon are not innocent.
The ones back in Jerusalem (and we've talked about this in a number of episodes, a number of chapters) are sitting there thinking, "Okay, we've been spared.
We've had a couple waves of exile, but we're still here.
We have divine favor.
It's over and we're okay."
They believe they've been spared and they don't clean up their act.
They don't stop worshiping other gods.
It's very clear.
In Ezekiel 14 (more recently) we saw that even the exiles in Ezekiel's presence were still doing some of these things.
They were still in rebellion!
So it's really not inconsistent.
What God is trying to convince them of isn't, "Oh, Exodus 20:5 is wrong.
I made a mistake there.
No, that's not what he's saying.
It's not to invalidate Exodus 20:5, it's to say, "Look, what's happening to you right now... you have nobody but yourself to blame."
And that's why he goes into it in the chapter: "Look, if you're doing these horrible things and you repent, you'll live!
I'll spare you if I see repentance."
But, of course, the implication is, "I don't see any.
It ain't happening."
So you go back and it's quite clear that they don't have an argument here.
To reference Ezekiel 14 just to make it a little more clear, remember the group of elders who were sitting at Ezekiel's feet.
They come, presumably, in the hope of hearing some oracle about how they're going to get out of here soon or maybe get good news from home.
And, of course, that's not what they get.
But the reference is to what the elders in Babylon were doing.
They brought their idolatry with them.
Ezekiel 15 has the whole parable of the useless vine, referring to the people back in Jerusalem who are still there.
The passage very plainly says, "You have acted faithlessly.