Ezekiel Chapter 18 Principles of Life and Death

Jun 25th, 2009 | By | Category: Ezekiel, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Ezekiel Chapter 18 Principles of Life and Death

Ezek. 18:1 The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,

Ezek. 18:2 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?

The proverb is a true saying, but God was finding fault with Israel’s use of this proverb to  try to justify their wrong course and their willful sin; they blamed those who lived before them (the “fathers” plural). Moreover, they were blaming their punitive experiences on the sins of their predecessors.

Certain principles are enunciated in this chapter. Taken from a positive standpoint, they show why a person will get life. Various categories of sin are listed. Stated simply, if a man avoids these, he will get life.

Ezek. 18:3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.

No longer would Israel be allowed to blame their sins on their forefathers.

Ezek. 18:4 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.

All souls belong to God. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” proves the soul is not inherently immortal. Each person is accountable for his own willful sins on the principle that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). An outline of Chapter 18 breaks down as follows:

Verses 1–4: Fathers (plural)

Verses 5–9: Righteous father

Verses 10–13: Unrighteous son

Verses 14–18: Faithful grandson

Verses 19–23: Wicked one turns from evil ways to righteousness

Verse 24: Righteous man becomes evil

By listing several generations, God was showing that He judges the individual.

Ezek. 18:5 But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,

When verses 5 and 9 are combined, the thought is that “If a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, … he shall surely live [out his normal life].” The word “lawful” means to know what is right; the word “right” means to do what is right. Therefore, if a man both knows and does what is right, he will surely live out his normal life.

Ezek. 18:6 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,

“Eaten upon the mountains” refers to offerings made to idols in the high places, especially the offering of cakes to the queen of heaven.

Ezek. 18:7 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;

“Hath restored to the debtor his pledge” means to pay back money to the one who loaned it. The Christian is to owe no man anything but love (Rom. 13:8).

“Hath spoiled none by violence” means that physical injury was not inflicted when the matter could be settled another way.

Ezek. 18:8 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,

Loaning money for usury was prohibited by the Law and brought death, for the Israelites were not to take advantage of someone in dire straits. Being under the same covenant with God, the Jews were considered “brethren” and hence were not allowed to loan money and expect interest. (However, they could loan money voluntarily.) By extension, the same principle applies to Christians. Hence we should not loan money to brethren anticipating an increase. “Neither hath taken any increase” implies, further, that we should not accept interest from brethren even if they insist.

“Hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity” signifies not participating in iniquity, shady deals, wrong conduct, etc.

“Hath executed true judgment between man and man” means being a true witness and following God’s judgments according to the Law, not one’s own emotional response or way.

Ezek. 18:9 Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.

Verses 6–8 are a list of sins to be avoided. Since they were covered in the Law, the Israelites were responsible to obey, yet few indeed would not have succumbed on at least one of these points. “Hath walked in my statutes” was the practice of doing what was right, not just doing right now and then. “Hath kept my judgments” would be accepting responsibility by taking action according to what someone else has done.

Many would feel they had tried, to the best of their ability, to do all of these things. Of course the gospel is much deeper. For instance, a young man said to Jesus, “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” (Matt. 19:20). Therefore, “he shall surely live” would mean in the sense of living out a normal life, for if certain infractions were committed under the Law, the guilty one was penalized or put to death. Examples of penalties were illness, crop failures, or being attacked by a wild beast.

Many feel that they have not done the vile things and thus they are “good.” And it is commendable to the extent one does live in harmony with God’s right standards. However, when the whole Law is considered, an honest person admits he has failed in at least some of the more minute points, and if he disobeys “in one point, he is guilty of all” as far as getting everlasting life is concerned (James 2:10).

Ezek. 18:10 If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,

Ezek. 18:11 And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour’s wife,

Ezek. 18:12 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,

Ezek. 18:13 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.

Verses 10–13 pertain to a disobedient son. If a son commits any one of the sins listed, let alone more, “he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.” In fact, several of these sins required immediate death under the Law.

After the statement in verse 2 that “the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” the chapter goes through several members or succeeding generations of a family, some being righteous and some unrighteous, to show there is individual responsibility. A person cannot blame his sins on his forebears. Even though there may be some truth to the matter, one can refrain from gross willful sins.

If a parent had a son who committed these sins and the parent did not act, he would incur responsibility himself. This principle applies with Jew to Jew as well as with Christian to Christian (that is, the consecrated have a measure of responsibility for the conduct of each other—we are our brother’s keeper to that extent). Under the Law, a father was to report a son’s misconduct to the authorities for punishment. A negligent father became liable himself. Brethren have a responsibility when gross sin occurs among the consecrated, particularly at the local level.

Ezek. 18:14 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,

Ezek. 18:15 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,

Ezek. 18:16 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,

Ezek. 18:17 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.

Ezek. 18:18 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.

Now comes a reversal: A son saw the evil of his father but chose to do right. Moreover, the son would have reported the father according to the requirements of the Law. In other words, father and son (parent and child) had a reciprocal responsibility to call attention to the sin or evil committed. Verse 18 states the penalty to be death for the father who is guilty of willful gross sin.

There are many kinds of “pledge” (verse 16). Examples are marriage vows, vows to the Lord, vows in connection with Temple worship, and a contractual (or commercial) pledge for the performance of services.

The righteous individual “hath [not] taken off his hand from the poor.” The point is that it is better to lend less money and not to be agitating for its repayment than to lend more and be impatient.

Ezek. 18:19 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.

Ezek. 18:20 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.

Ezek. 18:21 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.

Ezek. 18:22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.

Ezek. 18:23 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?

What a man sows, he will reap (Gal. 6:7). We should not assume “like father, like son” in matters of judgment and punishment. Each should be considered individually.

In the Kingdom Age, which is the ideal circumstance, each person will be dealt with personally. And “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” We are reading about the days of Ezekiel, not the days of Moses. When the Law was initially given and read every seven years, the Israelites were quite familiar with it, but by Ezekiel’s day, the average person was ignorant of the Law’s requirements in regard to all the detail. The situation did not excuse the people, but they were not living as they should because their teachers were not proper instructors. The time setting was now almost 606 BC when Jerusalem would be destroyed.

In that holocaust, the Israelites were to interpret the judgments as coming from God—that it was His will as to who was killed and who was spared. Hence there was some allowance for reform because of the negligence of the instruction.

Q: How could the Israelites have thought a son was guilty for his father’s sins (verse 19)? A righteous son does not bear the iniquity of his father.

A: The Jews were not accustomed to this type of reasoning, and thus they would have raised this question. With the heathen, sometimes God’s command to the Israelites was to kill every man, woman, and child. Therefore, they might have drawn the lesson that all were responsible if one was guilty, and then applied this principle to their own nation in matters of personal grudges. In the Inquisition during the Dark Ages, Papacy often exterminated a whole family or village for the “heresy” of one or a few. The son who betrayed his “heretic” father was shown favor. Papacy justified all these deeds by the Law.

Lesson: We must be careful lest we misuse the principles of the Law.

Q: At times in Israel’s history, the punishment for a father’s sins was visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. How can we harmonize this with Ezekiel 18?

A: God’s judgment of a matter is one thing, and our interpretation of His judgment is another thing. When the Law clearly stated what should be done in a given situation, it was to be done—period. When Adam sinned, the “father” did eat the sour grape and the penalty of death did come on the human race. Hence the human race was born without the right to life; i.e., Adam’s son, his son’s son, etc., etc., never had the right to life. The fallen  heredity factor was also transmitted, so Adam’s offspring were not perfect. From this standpoint, the whole human race is guilty before God. Therefore, none can rightfully ask, “Why does such and such happen to me?” From God’s standpoint, the human race is condemned.

Note, however, that Ezekiel 18 gave a more liberal code of ethics with the promise that if a person obeyed all of these things, he would live out his normal life. But theoretically, all are condemned, for “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).

Q: We usually think of “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” as applying to Second Death, but wouldn’t it just mean here that an individual who disobeyed would not live out his normal life? How does the Second Death principle fit the context?

A: Death would be the death of the soul—in whatever age. In other words, a soul is not immortal. Anyone who dies is truly dead. The dead figuratively “sleep” until awakened, but they are still dead. Therefore, both Adamic death and Second Death would fit this condition of the soul that sins being dead (and not alive somewhere). The death principle applied to Israel in the past regarding Adamic death, it applies to the Christian in the Gospel Age regarding Second Death, and it will apply to the world in the future regarding Second Death. In each case—but especially for the Christian now and for the world in the Kingdom—a person is individually responsible for his own sin. In the Kingdom, there will be no excuse for ignorance, for even a fool will be informed (Isa. 35:8).

With the Kingdom application, the comparison will be everlasting life for the obedient and Second Death for the disobedient. With Israel in the past, the comparison was between living out one’s normal life and dying sooner. Hence certain lessons are taught between the lines.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). This text pertains to character. Habitual unconsecrated gross sinners will have to pay a penalty when they come forth from the tomb; they will not receive carte blanche forgiveness. Whatever a person has done to others along heinous lines, he will probably have to experience himself—and without the need for anyone to be murdered, for example. How, then, will the retribution be accomplished? It will be done genetically. The perpetrator of violence will have put into his brain (his “computer,” as it were) the experience of the one to whom the injury was rendered. The guilty one will thus get all the same sensations that his victim felt years earlier. The Law teaches the principle of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Exod. 21:23–25). Sins committed against the “spirit” must receive stripes. This “spirit” is not the Holy Spirit but understanding, that is, knowing what one is doing and doing it willfully—without an extenuating circumstance such as insanity, which would mitigate responsibility and take away the premeditated aspect. Deliberate gross wrongdoing will receive stripes—without the spilling of blood. Experiencing the sensation in the brain will be as real as the original event itself.

When a wicked one repents and keeps the statutes, his former transgressions are forgotten by God. But others might continue to mention the transgressions and remind the one who repented. Reminding is wrong because it could discourage the one who has repented. This is particularly true of those who have given their hearts to the Lord, and it is particularly true of sins committed prior to consecration. However, sins committed after consecration should be pointed out if they will do damage to the individual and to others.

We are reminded of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). The father forgave the prodigal son, who had squandered his inheritance and lived in sin. The other son lived righteously and expected more, but the father welcomed the prodigal son joyously. The same principle applies here to the whole nation.

Ezek. 18:24 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.

A righteous man who turns to iniquity dies in his sins. We will discuss the Gospel Age application now, for the Kingdom and Jewish ages have already been treated and would, of course, also be applicable here.

With the consecrated, there is a dividing line for sin depending on whether the sin was committed before or after consecration. At consecration, one’s prior sins are forgiven. If the individual lives a “righteous” life henceforth, he will get life. The New Testament gives the requirements for retrieval for certain types of sin, should they occur after consecration. In the Kingdom, there will be perfect teachers, which we do not have at the present time, and that is a big factor. The Christ will be the mediators and instructors. Moreover, the world will be rewarded with health for obedience; they will be mentally, physically, and morally strengthened for every act of obedience. Hence certain allowances are made in the Gospel Age for the Christian that will not occur in the Kingdom. In the Kingdom, man will be judged according to his works. Although works are a factor in the Gospel Age, for “faith without works is dead,” current works must be a result of an active and living faith (James 2:17). Therefore, we should not equate obedience in the Gospel Age with obedience in the Kingdom Age. Also, Satan will be bound in the future.

If one who is consecrated transgresses and becomes evil, if he practices sin, committing acts worthy of Second Death, he dies in his sin. The Apostle John instructs us not to pray for that individual, and generally speaking, we should be able to discern such a situation (1 John 5:16). It is NOT “love” to desire to be blind to such situations. False love does NOT cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20). We should consider such Scriptures in context and not use them as slogans for life.

A brother wrote a booklet that demeaned Jesus and the Law. At his funeral, it was said, “Let us remember him as he was several years ago,” the implication being that we should forget his more recent actions. Verse 24 is NOT advocating that attitude. We are to walk as “children of the day,” and our judgment day is NOW. Hence we should not use for those who are consecrated the laws of liberality that applied prior to consecration, that is, the laws that apply to the world at present.

The “abominations” of verse 24 are all those sins listed in Ezekiel 18 plus others just as bad. This chapter gives general good behavior rules but not all the specifics.

“All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned.” If a brother or sister goes into gross sin at the end of his or her life, we are not to mention the former “righteousness” from the standpoint of excusing the sin, of trying to suggest that maybe he or she is not so bad, of trying to counteract the sin. But we certainly could mention the individual as an example of what to avoid or as an example of how one can be very zealous and loyal and then turn and commit the unpardonable sin.

Comment: The Nazarite vow taught this principle too. The hair could have been growing for a long time, but if the taker of the vow became contaminated with a dead body or whatever, all of his hair had to be cut off. In other words, grievous sin, unrepented of, can negate years and years of faithful consecration and right doing.

Comment: One who says, “Let us remember the brother as he was” (that is, “Let us forget the dreadful thing that has happened”) incurs responsibility, especially if he is an elder. When shown from Scripture that his statement and thinking are wrong, the elder should apologize to the brethren and make the situation right lest he fall into the Second Death category too. Obstinate refraining from correction is dangerous.

Many lay down certain statements in talks but do not make the line of demarcation between the consecrated and the unconsecrated. It is important to know if a sin occurred before or after consecration.

Comment: It was said to me not long ago, “Have you heard the brother’s side?” But, according to Scripture, the act itself was wrong, whatever the reason. To give comfort to the family is not justification for going contrary to the principles in Scripture.

Reply: The responsibility of an elder is a lot different from the understanding of just an individual. We judge wrong conduct but not the wrongdoer personally until the sin becomes gross in nature. We should give the benefit of the doubt as long as possible but not beyond that point. The grievous nature of the sin must be taken into account, for there are various plateaus of judgment in Scripture.

Evil communications corrupt not only good manners (conduct) but also good doctrine (1 Cor. 5:6; 15:33; Gal. 5:9). To parley with wrong doctrine makes adverse inroads into our consecrated walk.

Ezek. 18:25 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?

Ezek. 18:26 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.

Ezek. 18:27 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.

Ezek. 18:28 Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Ezek. 18:29 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?

Ezek. 18:30 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.

In many ways the Israelites thought God was not “equal.” For one thing, they thought that He was too severe, that the requirements laid down were unreasonable. But this chapter is more lenient than the Law itself, for it is slanted toward the people coming forth from the tomb and having an opportunity for life. Another element, a self-righteous element, as pointed out in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, resented the thought that an iniquitous man could turn away from his sins and get life.

The principle about the fathers eating a sour grape and the children’s teeth being set on edge applies to Adam. In the Law, this principle applied to sin, for the results of sin followed down through generations. Yet now God was criticizing the Israelites for their reasoning.

What was the problem? They were justifying their own sin. They misunderstood the principle to begin with. Make no mistake: God’s principle is righteous. It is God’s grace and mercy that provide a way of redemption for fallen man. By all being condemned in the one man Adam, all in Christ are redeemed by his one sacrifice.

Why did God bring up what He will do in the Millennial Age under these circumstances when Israel was in captivity? The reason is that the Israelites were a typical people. Also, a groundwork was being laid for the New (Law) Covenant in connection with Ezekiel’s Temple.

While all are condemned in Adam, it is still beneficial to the individual to view his life as a personal responsibility and to shun evil. It is dangerous for one to justify himself by thinking he will do what he wants now and then reform in the Kingdom. Such thinking damages character. Therefore, God gave the warnings in this chapter for the benefit of the Israelites’ character. A small remnant or righteous group would be spared in the coming captivity. In fact, in the three captivities of Judah, those who were spared were meek and handpicked by the Lord. They are listed in Jeremiah as follows: (1) In the Jehoiakim captivity, the remnant consisted of 3,320 individuals, among whom were Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego, and Ezekiel (Jer. 52:28). (2) In the next captivity, 832 comprised the remnant (Jer. 52:29). (3) In the third captivity, only 745 were spared (Jer. 52:30). Those in the remnant were the choice Israelites, whom Nebuchadnezzar took into exile to build up his empire. If the meek attitude of the handpicked remnant were maintained, they would return to Israel in 536 BC.

Ezek. 18:31 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?

Ezek. 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

God does not have an innate desire to destroy individuals—He destroys only when necessary for the good of society as a whole. Although He has “no pleasure” in the death of individuals, the implication is that He will do it. He was saying, through Ezekiel, “Turn around and change your ways so that I will not have to destroy you.”

There are two types of sin: (1) Adamic and (2) willful. Adamic sin can be forgiven outright, whereas willful sin requires retribution. Paul stoned Stephen. As retribution, Paul himself was stoned and almost died. Although he was miraculously restored, he got the sensation of stoning. The same principle of retribution for willful sins committed will operate in the Kingdom. Incidentally, “all things work together [in their accumulation, in the summation] for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28).

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