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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Ezekiel 18

 

 

Verses 1-32

Ezekiel 18:2. The fathers have eaten sour (unripe) grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. Chaldaic, the children follow them. This proverb threw the blame on their fathers, on Adam, on the unbelievers in the desert, and on Manasseh, who went to great excesses. Horace rebukes the Romans; no marvel then that the prophets should do the same.

Delicta majorum immeritus lues, Romane.

Ezekiel 18:4. All souls are mine. As the Judge, my hands are clean, my laws are holy, my decisions just. Therefore, the soul that sinneth, it shall die. The man who robs and murders, who eats at Baal’s feasts on the mountains, who seduces and violates his neighbour’s wife, and oppresses the poor; his blood shall be upon him, as in Ezekiel 18:19. And if the judges fail in doing their duty, I will send my anointed servants, the Assyrians, to do it for them with sevenfold vengeance. The LXX read, “either the soul, or the sin shall die.” Aye, God who searches the heart, may extend mercy, as he promises in Ezekiel 18:21; Ezekiel 18:23; but the magistrate cannot; he must have some mercy on the public, and one sacrifice of justice may prevent a thousand crimes.

Ezekiel 18:8. He that hath not given forth upon usury, upon interest for the use of money. When a man lends money to another to buy food and raiment, neither jew nor christian ought to take interest; but when he lends to the bank, or to any trade, our Saviour, in the case of him who hid his talent, has decided that interest may be taken.

Ezekiel 18:19. Yet say ye, Why? Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?

Do we not in our captivity suffer for our fathers’ sin? A guilty conscience is willing enough to lay its burden at any man’s door. God repeats the law that no man shall die, except for his own sin. This is heaven’s defence against the second charge.

Ezekiel 18:24. But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, as in Ezekiel 18:9. The just or righteous man recedes from the righteousness of God by faith, which is given in Christ Jesus, and all the fruits of righteousness, as love, joy, peace; just the reverse of the robber above mentioned; when he shall turn from his righteousness to all the worship on the mountains, and to all its associate sins, he shall die. His soul being already dead, his blood shall be upon him, as in Ezekiel 18:13. Observe, this is not turning from man’s self-righteousness; the scriptures never blame a man for doing that. By consequence, the death of the soul, as well as the body, are both fully understood.

John Goodwin, B. D., of London, published his Redemption Redeemed, anno 1651. He devotes chap, 12. to this subject. “What more, he asks, can the understanding or conscience of man require for the establishment of truth, than what God himself delivers in this passage, to prove that a just man may decline from righteousness, even unto death. The latter words are very conclusive, Ezekiel 18:26. When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them, for his iniquity he shall die, that is the second death, or perish everlastingly. If otherwise, the words have no meaning.”

“That death which God here threatens against the sin of backsliding, is opposed to that life which is promised on repentance, which all confess to be life eternal. When St. Paul says, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life; is it not apparent, that eternal death is there opposed to eternal life?”

“If it be only a temporal death which God here threatens to men who apostatize, (and commit the four grievous crimes named above) then may not all sinners presume, that they shall die only a temporal death, and also that they shall inherit eternal life? What then becomes of the equity of God; and what effect can our calls to repentance have upon the wicked?” pp. 270, 271.

Ezekiel 18:29. Yet saith the house of Israel, the way of the Lord is not equal. Here is their third objection. It is a hard battle when the vanquished return three times to the charge. God commands an obedience beyond the ability of man. Alas, oh Israel, your ways are unequal. God in his covenant promises to give you pardon, a new heart, a right spirit; therefore grace having done all, it is just that he should say, use the grace which heaven confers. Wash you, make you clean; make you a new heart, and a right spirit. You were martyrs for Baal, but now for the Lord you cannot lift a little finger. Out of thine own mouth will I condemn thee, thou wicked and slothful servant. Oh christian preacher, you little think how your hearers reason against your reproaches for sin, and injustice for what you require. Oh study the heart of man, and trace out the beautiful harmony of grace and will.

Ezekiel 18:32. I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. Sanctius thinks that a temporal death is here principally implied; but Augustine contends, and his views are well supported in the new testament, that all the temporal blessings and curses of the law were shadows of spiritual and eternal things to those who so understood; for many of the jews rested in exterior services, while others placed the anchor of their hope in future times.

REFLECTIONS.

It is the glory of the sacred ministry to come to a full issue with discontented and rebellious men, and to propose religion with a fairness which shall gain the judgment, and force the conscience of evasive men. Ezekiel mixed among the people; he heard their low mutterings and complaints, which terminated in a wish to transfer their faults to their fathers’ habits, who had eaten the unripe grapes of idolatrous pleasures, as Jeroboam and Manasseh, and set the children’s teeth on edge. Thus the wicked are ever ready to shelter themselves under high examples, till at length they call good, evil; and evil, good. Yea, till in some oblique way, they charge all their calamities on God himself.

To men who thus grossly erred, and loved to err, the Lord fairly repeats the terms of his covenant. He would not involve in the common calamity, the man who refrained from the feast of demons on the mountains, which offered the highest of insults to God; and the man who kept himself pure from adultery, a sin which damns two souls at once, and which is pursued with judgment. But though abstinence from a few sins only be named, others are implied, and when any vice is forbidden, the opposite virtue is always enjoined. Now this man is really sincere in his religion, and he shall surely live saith the Lord: and accordingly all those were marked who sighed for the sins of Jerusalem.

The apostate and profligate son of a good father shall not be saved by his father’s piety. Covenant grace, or initial salvation may preserve him for awhile, as Ham in the ark, but in the issue he shall receive the curse of his own sin. Yea, the piety and good example of his father shall make his punishment the heavier.

If the son of a robber, a murderer, or an adulterer, shall see his father’s sin with sorrow, and his punishment with sanctifying awe, and shall repent, God will not visit on this son the iniquity of the father. Some temporal affliction a good son may suffer from his father’s errors, but God will most remarkably bless him, because, in a youth so circumstanced, piety is often very exemplary. So he blessed Hezekiah, a pious son of that wicked Ahaz; and so he blessed Josiah, son of the wicked Amon, and grandson of the very wicked Manasseh. God makes a full appeal to the conscience of murmuring men. Are not, on these fair principles, my ways equal? And are not your ways unequal? The scale of God’s justice is true and perfect, and the sinner has leave to try the beam both ways in weighing the righteous and the wicked. What a luminous decision is this of the terms of Israel’s covenant. These terms, or conditions, are equally obvious from smaller branches of the great covenant, as in the election of Eli to the mitre, of Saul and David to the throne, and of the gentiles to succeed the jews as the Lord’s covenant people. Hence God is pure and holy, and all blame attaches to man alone.

The Lord applies these doctrines in a tender exhortation to repentance. Declaring that he would judge Israel by these rules, and consequently, judge the world by them, he calls anew upon his people to repent, and seek the new heart he has promised to give. Surely the Lord is very pitiful and compassionate to his people: there never was a father who took more pains with a profligate son, than God takes with erring man. He seems in all his ways never to strike the sinner with vengeance, till every resource of mercy shall fail, for judgment is his last and strange work.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/ezekiel-18.html. 1835.

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