Ezekiel 18: Call to Repentence
"The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." Can you find this proverb anywhere else in the Bible? What does it seem to mean? Is it true or false? As you read on in the chapter, you find the lesson that one is not condemned for another's sins. Each one is the Lord's child. Each of us stands on our own feet before the Lord, with our own opportunity, our own duty, and our own responsibility.
Does this lesson, taught so clearly in Ezekiel, help you to understand the words of the first commandment: "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments"? (Exod. 20:5-6) It certainly shows that while the wrong-doing of parents may make it harder for children to do right, the sins of the parent do not descend upon the children in a way to condemn them or to take away their opportunity and responsibility to do right. That opportunity and responsibility are given to everyone and are carefully guarded by the Lord.
In the latter part of our chapter, the same lesson is applied in a slightly different way—to the opportunity, the duty, and the responsibility of the present, and to its independence of the past. The past is a sort of parent, and the present is the child; and while the present is affected by the past, it still is essentially free for us to make it what we will. We must not feel secure in the present because some good has been done in the past. Such a sense of security makes us weak and is certain to bring trouble. On the other hand, we should not be hopeless in the present because of wrong in the past. Both thoughts are important. The latter thought especially is urged most tenderly in our chapter, encouraging people who have done wrong to repent, and assuring them of their opportunity and ability to repent, and of the Lord's desire that they should repent. You find this same lesson urged again in Ezekiel 33. Remember these chapters of Ezekiel when you feel discouraged about doing right, or when you find someone else despairing, feeling that it is no use to try to do better, that the wrong has gone too far, that it is too late to repent. Find courage and help others to find courage in these promises of the prophet.
The chapter is explained as follows in the Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms: "That it is said, if the fathers are evil, their offspring are also evil, verses 1, 2; but that the offspring are not condemned on account of the father, but everyone on his own account, verses 3, 4; that there are some of that offspring who do not commit evils, nor act contrary to the goods and truths of the church, and that they are saved, verses 5-9; on the other hand, that the offspring who commit evils, or act contrary to the goods and truths of the church, are condemned, verses 10-13; but that he who does not act thus is saved, verses 14-17; but that the fathers are condemned, verse 18; that everyone is dealt with according to his deeds, verses 19, 20; that the impious, who converts himself, is saved, verses 21-23; and that the pious, if he becomes impious, is condemned, verse 24; that both the former and the latter are of Divine justice, verses 25-29; an exhortation that they would turn themselves, because the Lord desires the salvation of all, verses 30-32."
The saying in verse 4, "Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine," teaches very clearly the independent relation of each one to the Lord. Each of person’s life is a gift from the Lord to him or her. Each is the object of the Lord's loving care. Each has his or her own responsibility to the Lord.
In verse 2, we find the words, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"; and in many places in the chapter, it is said that they who do right shall live, and that they who do evil shall die. It is everywhere plain that the Lord is not speaking of the death or life of the body, but of the death or life of the soul. An evil state chosen and confirmed is spiritual death, and a good state chosen and confirmed is spiritual life. The kind of death and life which is meant throughout the chapter is very plain. "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?" See also verse 23. (A. 5407; R. 853)
In speaking of the man who turns away from his wickedness to a good life, it is said in verse 22, that his transgressions shall not be mentioned unto him. We are taught that whatever has been a part of one's life can never be absolutely removed; but that evil which is repented of is removed from the center of life to its circumference, where it ceases to disturb. That transgressions shall not be mentioned certainly means that they shall not annoy, that they shall not come to consciousness in any painful way. We may remember this verse in connection with what is taught us about the memory in the other world. We take with us to the other world the complete record of all that has been a part of our life, and if there is occasion the memory may be opened, and evils which have been committed may be brought to view even to the least detail. This is done at times with hypocrites who profess goodness but have not repented of evil. The memory then is opened with such clearness and such detail that it is impossible longer to deny the wrong. But it is different with those who have sincerely repented and turned away from evil. There is no necessity for opening the memory of wrong which they have humbly and thoroughly repented of. Of such a one it is written: "All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him." They have been left behind by the Lord's help, and the memory of them is not revived. (P. 79: H. 462)
In verse 25, the Lord's way is described as equal or just. The word does not imply that the Lord's way is mechanical and impersonal, alike to all. With infinite adaptation to the needs of all, the Lord's love extends to all, and desires the salvation and eternal life of all.