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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Ezekiel 18

 

 

Verses 1-32

7. The Laws of the Divine Punitive Righteousness ( Ezekiel 18)

1, 2And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Why do ye use this proverb upon the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour [wild] grapes, and the teeth of the sons are set on edge? 3As I live—sentence of the Lord Jehovah—if ye shall have occasion to use this proverb longer in Israel4[ye shall no longer use this proverb]. Behold, all souls to me they [belong]; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine. The soul that sinneth, it 5 shall die. And if any man be righteous, and do judgment and righteousness: 6Has not eaten on the mountains, nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, nor defiled his neighbour’s wife, nor drawn near to his wife 7 in her uncleanness; And oppresses no one, restores his debt-pledge, robs not, 8gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing; Gives not on usury, and takes not increase, withdraws his hand from injustice, 9exercises true judgment between man and man; Walks in My statutes and keeps My judgments, to do truth,—he is righteous, he shall surely live,—10sentence of the Lord Jehovah. And should he beget a violence-doing Song of Solomon, a shedder of blood,—and he [the father] did towards his brother each of those11[things]:—And he [the son] does none of all those things, for [but] he has eaten 12 upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour’s wife; The poor and needy he has oppressed, he has robbed, he restores not the pledge, and to the idols 13 he has lifted up his eyes, he has done abomination; Has given on usury and taken increase, and shall he live?—He shall not live. He has done all these 14 abominations; he shall surely die. His blood shall be upon him, And, lo, should he beget a son who sees all the sins of his father which he hath done, 15and sees and does not the like:—He has not eaten upon the mountains, nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel; he has not defiled his 16 neighbour’s wife, Nor oppressed any one, nor taken pledge in pledge, nor robbed; he has given his bread to the hungry, and covered the naked with 17 clothing; From the needy he has turned away [withheld] his hand, usury and increase he took not, he executed My judgments, he walked in My statutes: 18he shall not die in [on account of] his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. His father, because he practised extortion, committed robbery against his brother, and did that which is not good in the midst of his people, lo, he died in his 19 iniquity. And ye say, Why has not the son borne the iniquity of the father? Because the son has done judgment and righteousness, kept all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die 20 The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, and the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him [the one], and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him [the 21 other]. And if [because] the wicked shall turn from all his sins which he hath done, and keep all My statutes, and do judgment and righteousness, he shall surely live, he shall not die 22 All his transgressions which he hath done shall not be remembered to him; in [on account of] his righteousness which he hath done, he shall live 23 Have I any pleasure at all in the death of the wicked? Sentence of the Lord Jehovah. Not when he turns from his way [ways] and 24 lives!? But if the righteous turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and do according to all the abominations which the wicked commits, shall he live?—All his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; in [on account of] his faithlessness which he hath practised, and in [on account of] 25his sins which he hath sinned, in [on account of] them shall he die. And say ye, The way of the Lord is not equal!? Hear now, O house of Israel, is My way 26 not equal? Are not your ways unequal? When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and does iniquity, and dies thereby; in his iniquity which 27 he hath done he dies. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness which he hath done, and does judgment and righteousness, he shall save his soul 28 alive. And should he see and turn from all his transgressions which he hath 29 done, he shall surely live, he shall not die. But they of the house of Israel say, The way of the Lord is not equal!? Are My ways not equal, O house of Israel? Are not your ways unequal? 30Therefore I will judge you, each man according to his ways, O house of Israel,—sentence of the Lord Jehovah. Return, and turn [you] from all your transgressions, and iniquity shall not be your ruin 31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, in which ye have gone astray, and make you a new heart, and a new spirit; and why will ye die, O house of Israel ? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies,—sentence of the Lord Jehovah; therefore turn ye [be converted] and live!

Ezekiel 18:2. Sept: ... τι ὑμιν παραβολη αὑτη—

Eze 18:4. ... αὑτη ἀποθανειται, κ. του φαγοντος τον ὀμφακα αἱμωδιασουσιν οἱ ὀδονσεσ αὐτου.

Ezekiel 18:7. Vulg.: … pignus debitori reddiderit

Ver10. Sept.: ... κ. ποιουντα ἁμαρτηματα, (11) ἐν τη ὁδω τ. πατρος αὐτου του δικαιου οὐκ ἐπορευθη,—Vulg.: … effundentem sanguinem, et fecerit unum de istis, (11) et hæc quidem omnia non facientem—(10. Some codices read: מאחת fem.)

Ezekiel 18:14. Sept.: ... κ. ἰδη... κ. φοβηθη—The Chald. only translates: et vidit; Sept, Vulg, Arab.: et timuerit.

Ezekiel 18:17. κ. ἀπο ἀδικιας ἀπεστρεψεν τ. χειρα—Vulg.: … a pauperis injuria averterit manum

Ezekiel 18:18. Vulg.: Pater ejus quia calumniatus est et vim fecit fratri

Ezekiel 18:22. Omnium … non recordabor

Ezekiel 18:23. Sept.: Ὁτι οὐ βουλομαι τ. θανατον... ὡς το ἀποστρεψαι αὐτον ἐκ τ. ὁδου... κ. ζην αὐτον. (For מות there is a reading: במות; for מדרכיו,מדרכו in plur.)

Ezekiel 18:24. Vulg: Si autem averterit … et fecerit iniquitatem secundum omnes abominationes quas operari solet impius, numquid vivet?

Ezekiel 18:29. Another reading: דרככם, sing, Sept, Arab.

Ezekiel 18:30. Sept.: ... κ. οὐκ ἐσονται ὑμιν εἰς κολασιν ἀδικιας. Vulg.: … et non erit vobis in ruinam iniquitas.

Ezekiel 18:31. Sept.: κ. κνευμα καινον, κ. ποιησχτε πασας τ. ἐντολας μου.

EXEGETICAL REMARKS

Ezekiel 18:1-4. The Principle of the Divine Punitive Righteousness

Ezekiel 18:2. Comp. Ezekiel 12:22. A popular expression, arrogating to itself the authority of a divine voice, has established itself in Israel in opposition to the word of God.—The land of Israel should emphatically not be the place for such language, as it is the scene of God’s holy justice as well as His gracious mercy.—The question is not one of mere surprise, but of solemn anger, as befits divine speech.—Fathers taken generally, so that it is left to each to consider for himself who are particularly designated ( 2 Kings 24:3; Jeremiah 15:4). Our chapter at the same time links itself on thereby to what has gone before (especially Ezekiel 16). The proverb took the prophet, as it were, at his word.—יאֹכְלוּ corresponding to the general form of statement: to be accustomed to eat.—The sons, on the other hand, are the definite persons who are exposed to suffering in the existing state of things. In the most thoughtless and frivolous manner the popular criticism of God’s way,—of the history of Israel, expresses itself. What those did wrongly must be visited on us! There is no sense of sin, nor acknowledgment of guilt, and just as little reference to divine judgment and retributive righteousness. Hävernick refers rightly to the “heathenish” disposition of the people, who, “destitute of faith in a living God, were driven to the delusion of a blind Nemesis,” a natural necessity. “Accordingly repentance seems useless”. (Hengst.). They could thus shield themselves against the ever-repeated call to radical repentance. The divine answer sets itself over against the people’s word, energetically, in the form of an oath, Ezekiel 18:3, in which, according to the two-sided tenor of our chapter, it remains undecided whether the impending judgment, or the Messianic redemption, embraced in conversion, shall bring this style of speech to an end in the future.—בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, a thing unbecoming even “upon the land of Israel” ( Ezekiel 18:2), above all, unbecoming among the people to whom ( Romans 3) the oracles of God are committed.—After the form has thus been found fault with, the substance, Ezekiel 18:4, is objected to; and since the question actually touched is the retributive righteousness of God, its ground-principle is first of all stated, from which its individual laws naturally proceed. Behold points to an undeniable fact, and therefore presupposes universal assent.—All souls, sq.: “perhaps an allusion to Genesis 18:25” (Häv.). In other respects, as Calvin: not merely would God here maintain His paramount authority and lordship, but, still more, evince His fatherly love towards all mankind as their Creator. Hengst.: “God would surrender His property if souls suffered punishment for the guilt of others; since they are in the likeness of God, souls cannot be degraded into servile instruments.” Hitz.: “I am not under the necessity of punishing another,—the Song of Solomon,—as if I could not lay hold of the guilty father.” Philipps: “Before God all souls are equal, so that each man represents himself only.” All these explanations are insufficient to meet the thought. The proposition is in reality a fundamental principle, for it goes back to the origin of things, according to which the souls of men, created by the breathing of the divine Spirit of life into corporal matter, breathe supernatural, spiritual vital energy, in a sentient form of life and activity. This divineness of men, at least in respect to their souls, which, on the other hand, they possess in common with the lower creatures as animal life, is opposed to every form of dependence on nature, whether on a heathen fate, or, in particular (which is here the immediate contrast), on bodily parents, therefore to the dependence of the son on the father. God’s exclusive property-right (emphasized by the repeated לִי) in persons could not be maintained, if any man required to suffer death from the fact of being his father’s son. Die, the end of a process,—the separation of the soul from its life-source, the Spirit of God. ( Deuteronomy 30:15; Jeremiah 21:8; Proverbs 11:19.)—Comp. on Ezekiel 3:18. This cannot happen without an act of God’s retributive justice, so that the punishment inflicted by God must correspond to man’s guilt. The soul that sinneth—disloyalty to the living influences of the Spirit of God, considered as a continuous present—it shall die. Through this latter, as a judicial utterance, the general proposition as to God’s possessory-right is more specifically expressed in reference to His authority to judge. Comp. James 4:12.

Ezekiel 18:5-9. The Law of the Righteous Man

Ezekiel 18:5. The first application of the principle is made to the righteous man. Comp. Ezekiel 3:18 sq. He is described according to Being and Doing,—essentially and actually; in particular, doing judgment, in general, righteousness: his doing is then more precisely depicted, not without a tendency to antithesis.

Ezekiel 18:6. Even kings who were otherwise loyal to the law, were unable to abolish the worship of the “high places.” [Usually the expression is made to refer to the gross forms of idol-worship ( 1 Corinthians 8:4-10; 1 Corinthians 10:7); and what follows, to the more refined.]—The feasts referred to are sacrificial feasts which were not observed in the sanctuary, Deuteronomy 12.—The second thing, singled out in reference to the first table of the law, is the undoubtedly rare case of complete apathy and indifference towards the popular idols of Israel. Hitzig understands it of supplicating, worshipping, Job 31:26 ( Psalm 121:1). Hävernick, of inward longing. Comp. Ezekiel 6:4.—The natural transition, after Ezekiel 16, to the marriage relation singles out from the second table of the law not ordinary adultery (the word is neither נָאַף, nor even תָמַד, Exodus 20), but the more precise and deeper defilement (טָמֵא) of the neighbour’s wife, in order, through the selected expression, to throw a clear ray of light on their own marriage relation and its mysteries (domestic purity). Comp. Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18.

Ezekiel 18:7. Oppression in general, in its more peaceful as well as its directly violent (וָּזֵל) form ( Leviticus 19:13).—תוֹב, according to Hengst, the accusative of restriction: debt-pledge; Hävernick, on the other hand: his pledge, a debt, i.e., along with the pledge, the obligation, softening the always rather offensive signification of תְַבֹלָה (from חָבַ, to bind, to tie), so that just demands are referred to. Hitzig makes the word a participle: “restores his pledge to the debtor (Gesen.: for debt).” Compare besides at Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 24:12. Following this, more positive benevolence.

Ezekiel 18:8. Comp. Leviticus 25:36-37; Deuteronomy 23:20.—The close of the verse probably refers to the special activity of a judge or arbiter.

Ezekiel 18:9. Concluding summation corresponding to the introduction in Ezekiel 18:5,—the apodosis to the protasis. Righteousness before God in contradistinction to its semblance (לַעְַשׂוֹת אְֶמֶת). The Septuagint read אוֹתָם.—חָיֹה יִחְיֶה, live in the fullest, deepest sense of the word.

Ezekiel 18:10-13. The Law of the Unrighteous Son

A second application of the principle deals with the case of an unrighteous Prayer of Manasseh,—the son of the righteous man. Personally there is a connection (should he beget), essentially, the greatest contrast, as פָּרִיץ, etc, immediately shows. But the actual contrast shall become still more decided, and shall, for that reason, appear as a personal one,—therefore וְעָשָׂה, etc.

Ezekiel 18:10. The description of the father reduced to a minimum: if there was any one of these forementioned just and righteous things, he did it,—in short, he was righteous. [את Hengst.: in relation to his brother, as the antithetic parallel in Ezekiel 18:18 decidedly recommends. So also the Chaldee version. Rosenm.: simile quid. According to others, it is the apocopate form of אַתַד. Others, again, have omitted it. את has also been proposed as a reading. Hitzig, Ewald: = אַךְ, “only.”]—The contrast follows more at length in Ezekiel 18:11, in the description of the son. And he does none of all those things, which are then mentioned in detail. Comp. Ezekiel 18:6.

Ezekiel 18:12. Poor and needy illustrates the undefined object of Ezekiel 18:7. Compare in other respects with Ezekiel 18:6.

Ezekiel 18:13. See Ezekiel 18:8.—וָתָי, the apodosis. The facts oppose every other issue; the emphatic divine negative only adds confirmation. His deeds adjudge him to death,—yes, he himself is to blame. With the judicial form of expression (מוֹת יוּמָת, not as in Genesis 2:17) comp. Leviticus 20:9; only that in this case the son curses his righteous father virtually by his life!

Ezekiel 18:14-20. The Law of the Righteous Son

Third application of the principle, in which, as in the first case, the reference is to a righteous person,—the son of the forementioned unrighteous Prayer of Manasseh,—who takes warning from his father’s sins. Always father and Song of Solomon, corresponding with the proverb which was being answered.

Ezekiel 18:14. Comp. Ezekiel 18:10. He sees, repeated for the sake of emphatic description. The reading וַיִרָא, followed by the Sept. and Vulg. in the latter part of the verse, is to be rejected.

Eze 18:15. Comp. Eze 18:6.

Ezekiel 18:16. Comp. Ezekiel 18:7.—(“He allowed himself even less than he might,” in contrast to the conduct of his father—Hitzig.)

Ezekiel 18:17. From the needy, etc. Not only doing him no violence, but, as described, showing him compassion. Ewald reads מֵעָוֶל from Ezekiel 18:8. Comp. as to further details, Ezekiel 18:8-9. Here and in Ezekiel 18:18, עָוֹן, in anticipation of Ezekiel 18:19. In order to separate and contrast father and son as decidedly as possible, the former is once more briefly described.

Ezekiel 18:19. There is here no allusion, as most suppose, to Exodus 20:5. Nothing necessitates this. Since the proverb ( Ezekiel 18:2) in its frivolous rude form was at once disregarded, and since the divine reply to it immediately made it more profound, and, especially from Ezekiel 18:17, applied it to the question of guilt and perdition on the one hand, righteousness and life on the other—so with the inquiry as to the why, a perception of the deeper signification of its contents generally may therefore be attributed to the people. This not only recommends itself on rhetorical grounds, since in the case before us the conclusion is introduced by it,—and the thought can hardly be introduced in a more lively manner than by the deduction of a general maxim from the foregoing concrete examples,—but the moral presumption that the people are so far interested in the profound gravity of the subject, requires that they also should contribute the “why,” which was altogether so natural (not merely with reference to the law), and which sounds so full of meaning, because by what has gone before the unity of Israel must seem shattered, nothing being taken into account but the individual. “Have ye (supposition) said: Why,” etc. The individual facts answer you. So say ye; so did he! Comp. further, Ezekiel 18:5; Ezekiel 18:9.

Ezekiel 18:20. A quotation from Ezekiel 18:4, which is impressively extended, concludes the paragraph with a statement which so sharply contrasts righteousness and wickedness, that a new solution, to wit, through the action of the one or the other, i.e. through a change of disposition, must come into view.

Ezekiel 18:21-32. The Principle of Grace, as against the Principle of Retribution, expressed in the Call to Repentance

Ezekiel 18:21. Comp. Ezekiel 3:18 sq. Return from wickedness to God’s righteousness, evidenced by facts, ensures true life instead of death. The principle of divine retribution affected the case of persistent, continued sinning only. Whoever abandons sin is left untouched by the retributive righteousness of God.

Ezekiel 18:22. In such an event, viz. of return, the past, however full of sin, is left out of account; one is not required to bear the penalty of one’s own, much less of another’s sin. Righteousness is done. But the principle thus contrasted with the previously explained law of retribution proclaims itself in the plainest way as the principle of grace and divine compassion.

Ezekiel 18:23. If the retributive righteousness of God—the law of His government—must occupy itself with the sin of the sinner, the sinner himself is God’s property ( Ezekiel 18:4), and to the profoundest law of the Divine nature (חָפֵץ) not death, but life corresponds, although for righteousness’ sake, the right of the divine Possessor must exhibit itself in the case of the sinner who continues in sin, or who apostatizes, as the might of the Judge.—Hengst. translates תְַלאֹ׳, “Should he not live if he returns,” etc.?

Ezekiel 18:24. The foregoing strengthened and confirmed by a counter-proof, as it were, and that the strongest imaginable, by a caricature of the holy—the reverse if conversion. The previous sentence is still in a manner continued by בְ, yet so that with the contrasted case the appropriate negative is also understood; then it breaks off, and the matter of fact which is adduced brings in the question which must naturally be negatived,—וָתָי, as in Ezekiel 18:13. The usual translation is: “but if the righteous turn, etc, should he live?”—“All his righteousness,” etc.—The antithesis to Ezekiel 18:22. Comp. Ezekiel 3:20; Ezekiel 15:8; Ezekiel 17:20.

Ezekiel 18:25. תָּכַן, to measure, weigh; to be equal. Comp. 1 Samuel 2:3. The assumed objection presupposes, like Ezekiel 18:19, that the people have intelligently followed the exposition up to this point. “And (supposed) say ye,” etc. Measure your own ways! Hitzig rightly refers the questioned “way of the Lord” to a procedure, such as has just been described in regard to an apostate righteous person, which would leave all his righteousness unweighed. The counter-accusation, contained in the divine answer, is in complete harmony with the scope of our chapter, since it points at self-examination, and thereby at the sense of sin. For the argument finally occupies itself with each individual Prayer of Manasseh, and with the way which each chooses, and continues in.

Ezekiel 18:26 is therefore a recapitulation from Ezekiel 18:24, as Ezekiel 18:27 from Ezekiel 18:21.—But as the conclusion of the whole is to be the call to repentance, the case of Ezekiel 18:27 is again introduced with this in view.

Eze 18:28. Comp. Eze 18:21.

Ezekiel 18:29. Renewed remonstrance, with the object of inducing them to seek self-knowledge by means of trying their own ways—see Ezekiel 18:25. (Not: “and ye say,” but: and they of the house of Israel say.) יִתָּכֵן, the singular, according to some: each of your ways, thus individualizing them; or, the actual diversity of the way comprehended in the ideal unity of the walk; or better, what they had said of the Lord’s way (it is not equal) adopted as a motto which is far more applicable to their ways.

Ezekiel 18:30. לָכֵן points, in the first place, as a reason for judgment, to the equity of God’s way as compared with Israel’s; then, as a reason for every one being visited according to his ways, to the principle of Ezekiel 18:4 sq. Finally, however, Ezekiel 18:27-28, as Return, etc. shows, also come in with the greatest emphasis. Comp. Ezekiel 14:6.—עָוֹן לְמִכְשׁוֹל, rendered by Hitzig and most others as in Ezekiel 14:3; sin as a stumbling-block, whereby one falls into guilt and punishment. This is right in point of fact, but not in this connection (nor according to the accents), according to which iniquity, even their own, does not prove their ruin, and this because Israel shall abstain from everything which entails guilt. Hengst.: “let not iniquity be your ruin.”

Ezekiel 18:31. And make you, to be understood agreeably to Ezekiel 11:19, and therefore without difficulty. The divine gift of grace stands as it were ready, and Israel only requires to cast away sin ( Ezekiel 11:18; Hebrews 12:1) and to lay hold of it, while death is equally in their choice ( Matthew 23:37)! Comp. Philippians 2:12-13. And as this readiness of divine grace here, so in Ezekiel 18:32 the statement of Ezekiel 18:23 is made as intense as possible. Instead of רָשָׁע we have הַמֵּת ( Deuteronomy 17:6),—the wicked being represented as already the victim of death. (“The prophet unveils to us the nature of the divine retributive righteousness in its most glorious light. Here no one but the unrepentant sinner dies unblessed. Whoever repents, and does what is good in God’s sight, receives the gracious promise of life. The Living One can have no pleasure in death,” Umbreit.)

DOCTRINAL REFLECTIONS

1. Proverbs reflect the moral and religious mood of a people in any particular period.

2. The proverb cited here and in Jeremiah 31:29 is usually regarded as containing a reference to Exodus 20:5 ( Ezekiel 34:7). The words of the proverb do not require this, nor does the surrounding context involve the slightest allusion. Neither is its substance, nor, corresponding to that, the divine controversy against it, of a nature to lead us to infer that a misunderstanding of the passage of the law in question, regarding the visitation of the sins of the fathers on the children, is to be combated. The idea that Ezekiel here and Jeremiah in Ezekiel 31. announce the repeal of the retribution-doctrine contained in the law of Moses, is quite foreign to the sense and connection of the passage. Ezekiel appears here neither as improver nor yet “simply as expositor of the law” (Hengst.). Hitzig is of opinion that Exodus 20:5 “leaves the question undecided (!) whether children, who are themselves guiltless, also bear the sin of their fathers,” and that “the fact that the son is often quite unlike his father morally, has at last gained recognition, and subjectivity received its due at the hands of Ezekiel.” The assumed indefiniteness of the teaching of the decalogue would place the law of God ( Genesis 18:25) upon the same level with ‘the righteousness of men in the east,” from which, as from heathen retributive justice universally, the judicial practice which should obtain in Israel is expressly distinguished ( Deuteronomy 24:16). Comp. also 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chronicles 25:4. The jealousy of the holy and righteous God which subscribes the two first commands ( Exodus 20:5) is illustrated and made more conspicuous by the well-known words, “visiting the iniquities of the fathers,” etc.; the words only say that sin, especially the sin of hating God, shall certainly be overtaken by divine vengeance, even if not till the third and fourth generation, although it was not punished judicially in its own time, nor even appeared to incur divine retribution. Moreover, the national character of the ten commandments is also to be taken into account, and the fact that Israel’s national life rested essentially on the family, and especially the relation between parents and children. But the defence of the truth and equity of such retribution is foreign to our purpose, for the proverb which the prophet uses as the text of his discourse has nothing to do with Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9 (comp. also Jeremiah 32:18; Lamentations 5:7). For this style of criticising the national circumstances which had taken the form of a proverb never once touches the question of sin and chastisement—into this region the proverb is first carried by the divine address—but merely the question of the natural result of an insipid craving being visited upon those who yet “will not eat sour grapes,” who consider themselves too prudent to do so ( Matthew 23:30). Only when one perceives the levity (the gallows-humour) of the self-satisfaction and self-righteousness which display themselves in the proverb, will one be in a condition to recognise the thunder of the Eternal in Ezekiel’s treatment of it.

3. According to Jeremiah, the proverb ceases to be used contemporaneously with the dawning of the Messianic epoch. The connection in Ezekiel is to be similarly interpreted, especially with Ezekiel 17:22 sq. It should, however, be peculiar to the Messianic redemptive-period, that while Israel as a people would reject the Messiah, the individual would be brought to account for himself, according to his personal guilt, for his unbelief, the result of his outward, seeming, hypocritical work-righteousness. One supposes oneself planted among statements like John 3:17 sq. The question is not one of outward family or national weal and woe, but of life and death in their most pregnant and individual sense. The case before us is just as little that of teeth set on edge in regard to the children, as of sour grapes in regard to the fathers. (Comp. Ezekiel 16:17.) The moment of judgment decides as to the soul’s salvation and blessedness, but it is a self-determination, a self-judgment. “To every man will be given the opportunity of turning to God, the door will stand open to all; he only who persists in wickedness through his own unbelief shall die” (Cocceius).

4. As in the law, even the taking of a pledge is difficult, almost impossible, so according to it, whatever could be properly called interest or usury falls aside. What was permissible towards a foreigner, the duty of benevolence towards the fellow-Israelite, as well as the fellow-inhabitant of the land, even though he were a stranger, for bade. Lending in these circumstances could only aim at relieving sudden, personal, domestic necessities. (Israel was not a mercantile people, at least in an inland sense.) [“The tendency of usury is to oppress one’s brother, and hence it is to be wished that the very names of usury and interest were buried and blotted out from the memory of men,” Calvin.]

5. If Ezekiel 16. depicted the Jewish people as it were in their ancestral sin, according to their Canaan-nature, the turning to grace, repentance, which is wholly in Christ, exonerates from the ancestral sin. Liability to death, increased by each actual sin, issues in the punishment of death in his case only who does not flee from it in the appointed way of God’s righteousness (judgment and grace). “Thereby a contrast is indicated between nature’s order, and the supernatural order of grace” (Neteler). “Dying, according to our prophet, means more than returning to the dust of the ground, for that happens to all, even to the repentant. Still the latter do not die, but live. The reference is not to the judgment of God which follows sin, but the reference to divine grace is to be held fast” (Cocceius).

6. Israel’s question ( Ezekiel 18:19) must not be narrowed by referring it solely to Exodus 20:5. It is a “why” from the Old Testament view-point as a whole; and in so far as in the answer to it the significance of the individual becomes more prominent, so far also is another view-point, viz. that of the New Testament, placed in opposition to that of the old, which is emphatically abandoned. The matter could not have been settled in this way from a merely Old Testament standpoint.

7. “The expression of the prophet has rightly been reckoned as a dulcis exhortatio ad peccatores for all times. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, is a dictum of itself sufficient to refute the charges of a modern heathenism (Feuerbach), which professes to discover its own cold, unfeeling God in the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament has a heart: Himself the essence of all blessedness, and mirroring Himself in the blessedness of the creature, He has a heart for every being who has fallen away from Him, and who is exposed to death. The fundamental feature of His character is holy love: He delights in the return of the sinner from death to life” (Häv.).

8. “How deeply and clearly our prophet sees into the nature of redemption! Here are crowded together, the law with its demands, God’s rigour in executing its sentences, His boundless grace and compassion, the conversion of the sinner to God, the laying hold of that divine grace which obliterates all guilt, and the proof of repentance in sanctification of life” (Häv.).

9. As the sinner who persists in sinning, rather than sin, comes into view in this chapter,—sins are treated of in so far as they bring to light the sinful personality of the sinner,—so righteousness also is here that which the man who was previously righteous, or who becomes so by conversion, manifests in his life and walk. To be in the law as in the covenant of God, through faith, or to return to the law of the covenant God full of grace and compassion, by repentance; this is righteousness. The law was there for the knowledge of sin, so also the righteousness of the law is a mirror, that Israel, recognising itself in its distance from God, may seek the righteousness of God which is His grace. (See Introd.)

10. Prayer of Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, may be regarded as an example of a godless son ( Ezekiel 18:10 sq.) of a God-fearing father, as Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, of the opposite case ( Ezekiel 18:14 sq.). Manasseh (see 2 Chronicles 33:11 sq.) may also illustrate the case of Ezekiel 18:21 sq.

HOMILETIC HINTS

Ezekiel 18:2. “It is the way of the old Adam never to acknowledge sin, but always to put the blame on others, Genesis 3:12-13” (O.). “There is no greater folly than a man’s murmuring against God on account of chastisement, and exculpating himself before this all-seeing and most righteous Judge” (Tüb. Bib.).—“The insolent sinner has neither shame nor sorrow, but must boast and proclaim himself before the whole world “(Stck.).—“The teeth are set on edge only when a man himself eats sour grapes” (B. B.).—“Men lay hold of and quote bad proverbs more readily than good” (St.).—The end of all the words we have spoken will be that for each useless word we shall require to give an account.—“The cause of its cessation is the severity of the divine judgments. When these appear, the fig leaves fall off, the slumbering conscience awakens and cries out, It is I and my sins! There is a multitude of theorems and theological dogmas which are possible only in certain times, and slink away abashed when the thunders of divine judgment begin to roll” (Hengst.). Either one recognises in judgment—in the self-judgment of a believing repentance—his guilt before God, or God makes the whole world recognise it in us, through the judgment which overtakes us, even when we would deny our guilt.—God swears by His life; for where His righteousness is called in question, His life in this world of sin and death is assailed.

Ezekiel 18:4. If God is the father of all souls, other fathers cannot destroy souls. Each man is his own self-destroyer through unbelief.

Ezekiel 18:5 sq. “Righteousness of life is necessarily associated with the righteousness of faith, Romans 6:22” (St.). Righteousness is defined by the law of God, but the end and fulfilment of the law is Christ; whosoever believes in Him is righteous.—There is a righteousness in works which is a mere semblance, but one is not justified by it. The justified man must be righteous.

Ezekiel 18:6. “God’s table and the devil’s do not agree” (Stck.).—“What the idols are here, creatures to whom one cleaves idolatrously are now-a-days” (Lange).—“God abhors these three, atheism, indifferentism, syncretism” (Stck.).—Our conduct towards our neighbour, towards the nearest of all also, who is one flesh with us, reflects our relation to God.

Ezekiel 18:7. “Covetousness is a root of all evil, and a vice which is too little accounted of, 1 Timothy 6:10” (St.).

Ezekiel 18:8. “Not without reason is that which is said of usury coupled with compassion and gentleness towards the poor; Christ also connects giving and lending, Matthew 5:42” (Cocc.).

Ezekiel 18:9. “Were it possible for a man to abandon all that is evil, and yet do nothing positively good, should he fulfil the will of God? Isaiah 1:16 sq.” (St.)—By conduct it is made clear of whose spirit one is the child. If the fruits are wanting, where is faith?

Ezekiel 18:10 sq. The apple often falls far from the stem. Nothing has so much power as children, to bring shame and disgrace on their parents.—That struck at the hope and boast of the Jews, that they were the children of Abraham, who was justified by faith.

Ezekiel 18:11 sq. “Sins are linked together; whoever plunges voluntarily into one sin will not shrink from another when the temptation comes. This is to be noted, for when Satan entices us at the beginning, we believe that we are always free to turn back as soon as it seems good to us. But we are presently entangled in this sin and that, and when we are now taken in the snares of Satan we no longer desire to become free. Since one can make such progress, let each be careful lest he fall into any sin” (H-H.).

Ezekiel 18:15 sq. “It does no harm to pious children that they have had godless parents, provided they walk not in the same footsteps” (St.).—“The righteousness of the works of the children of God is no doubt but halting, although they are at pains to fashion themselves according to the directions of God’s law; yet it is regarded by God as perfect, because He does not impute to them their sins, and their works are pleasing to Him because His Spirit operates in them. Sanctification of life proceeds doubtless from faith alone. Yet God also recognises the hidden faith of those who have not yet come to clear knowledge of His saving grace, but who sincerely fear Him, and commit themselves to the discipline and guidance of His Spirit” (H-H. after Calv.).

Ezekiel 18:19. “Men are more concerned about the question of God’s equity than with searching into their own sins” (Stck.).

Ezekiel 18:20. “Sinner, see to it that thou thyself sinnest not!” (Tüb. Bib.).

Ezekiel 18:21. “If a man turn honestly to God, he must resolve to forswear all sins: here no reservations can be made, 1 Peter 3:11” (St.). —“The true turning consists in this, that one gives his sins their dismissal, and consecrates himself to God for obedience. One sees a half conversion in many: they join virtues with transgressions, and imagine that their guilt will be removed when they do something praiseworthy. But that is as if a servant should bring to his master spoiled wine, for God will not so save men as to abolish the distinction between good and evil” (H-H.).—How do we escape death, and enter into life? By passing over from the sin which is our own to the righteousness which is God’s.

Ezekiel 18:22. “To the truly penitent sins are so forgiven as if they had never been committed, Isaiah 43:25” (O.).—He who turns does righteousness.

Ezekiel 18:23. The immediate element in the turning is faith in God’s mercy.—“A word of comfort which can and should encourage every forlorn sinner to turn” (Schm.).—The question from heart to heart.—It grieves God when the wicked perish.—Life is not on our way, when our way is not God’s.

Ezekiel 18:24. The bad and the good turning.—One can fall from righteousness, but that he can fall from grace is not here said.

Ezekiel 18:25 sq. Jehovah’s way, and the ways of Israel.—Accusations enough, only no self-accusation!—God must be weighed by sinners!

Ezekiel 18:26. “As thou leavest this life, so must thou appear before the judgment-seat” (B. B.).

Ezekiel 18:27 sq. Turning from iniquity a defence against death.—The true life assurance.—The sinner is blind; but he who repents receives eyes to see.

Ezekiel 18:30. Iniquity brings ruin when it is not removed through forgiveness, as in the case of the repentant.—The thought of divine retribution a motive to repentance.

Ezekiel 18:31 sq. “God, who is rich in love, as it were meets the sinner’s soul wandering under its burden of sins on the way which leads to perdition. Although it will not recognise Him, yet in beseeching love and compassion He unceasingly addresses it” (Scriv.).—“David made himself a new heart when he entreated God to create it within him, Psalm 51.” (Cocc.).—“Give what thou requirest, and require what thou wilt!” (Aug.) Why will ye die? Again a question from heart to heart.—“As a worthy forerunner of the great apostle, the prophet exhorts us, not only to put off the old filthy garment of sin, but to put on an altogether new man” (Umbr.).

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/ezekiel-18.html. 1857-84.

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