God explains that each individual is accountable for his own sins and has the ability to chose righteousness or wickedness.
Ezekiel Chapter 18
Lessons from the text
The Cycle Can Be Broken In this chapter, God makes it clear that a person is not held accountable for the sins of his father; each person is accountable for his own sin. This is a relief for the parent who feels responsible for a wayward child; if you raised your child according to Biblical principles and yet the child rebelled and chose of a life of sin, then you will not be judged for the sins your child commits. However, this is a burden to those who have grown up in ungodly homes; just because your parents were ungodly, you are not excused from your sins. You still have the choice to break away from your parents and choose righteousness.
This goes against the belief in society that a person is merely the product of his upbringing. Instead of being a victim of circumstance, each person has the ability to choose whether or not to follow in his parents’ footstep. Just as a child can turn away from the faith of the parents, so, too, can a child turn away from the sin of the parents. In the end, each of us will have to give an account before God for the choices we made; we will not be able to blame mommy or daddy.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1-4 This proverb was perversive at the time, and its meaning is that the children have to suffer for the parents’ sins. Instead of considering that they might be sinners and thus incurring the wrath of God for their own sins, the Jews rationalize that God’s wrath is punishment for their parents’ sins; that is, the Jews thought that they were too righteous to be under God’s wrath. God rejects this thought by stating that each soul is accountable for its own sins; the current generation is being judged for their own sins.
5-22 God judges on an individual basis. The individual will be cast into heaven or hell according to his own works. God explicitly states what one must do to be acceptable to him. He also warns that if one fails to do these things, one will be judged as wicked. Noteworthy is the fact that God is concerned for those who cannot defend themselves, the widow and the orphan. Since only men owned land and inheritance, the widow and the orphan have special financial hardships in addition to the emotional challenges that arise from the lack of a father in a home.
23 God makes it clear that He does not want one to die in one’s sins. God does not take pleasure in enacting the judgment for wickedness, but being a just God, He must enforce justice. It is God’s desire that all those who do wickedly will return (repent) from wickedness to seek righteousness.
24 This presents a challenge doctrinally. It is clearly making the claim that even if one is righteous with God, one can lose that righteousness through sin. This challenges any doctrine that at the moment of salvation Jesus forgives one of all of the sins that one will commit in the future. Even if one has Christ and is therefore righteous with God, if one turns around to commit sin (do wickedly), then that person will be judged as a sinner; the righteousness one had before one turned to sin will not be remembered in the day of one’s judgment.
25 The people challenge God’s laws of judgment. Humans have a consistent track record of accusing God of being unfair and unjust in His judgments. However, God is just. When one feels offended by God’s standards, such merely points to the fact that there is sin in one’s life. Since God’s ways are perfect in truth and goodness, any resentment to His judgments is resentment to truth and goodness. Namely, this is resentment to the truth that one is not just, not righteousness, and not good. As God asks, if a person has a problem with His ways, is there not a problem with that person’s ways?
26-28 God repeats the theme that a person is judged at death by the final state of that person; if one has lived a life of perfect obedience to God yet in the final week of one’s life commits adultery, then one will die a sinner. While this truth is terrifying, the opposite is comforting; if one lives one’s entire life in sin and in the last minute of life turns in repentance to God, then God will forgive one of all of one’s sins and admit one into heaven. No matter how many sins one commits, if one turns with true repentance to God, God will extend grace and forgiveness. Compare with I John 1:8-10.
29 God repeats verse 25.
30 According to the rules He has just laid out, God will judge Israel. This again points to the discomforting truth that a covenant with God is not automatic admittance into heaven; one must continue to uphold the terms of the covenant. For Israel, this was the Mosaic law. For the Christian, it is abiding in the Spirit (staying in constant fellowship with God, which will automatically distance one from the lusts that leads to sin). Compare with Isaiah 33:14-16.
31-32 God calls Israel to repent because He does not want to have to cast them away from Him. God wants to bless His people, but He cannot bless those who are in sin; He must judge them.
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