So, Ezekiel Chapter 18. Yep, um…I think will have to break this into two separate posts. There are some real attention grabbers in this chapter – once you peal away the over attention to detail. Ezekiel really wanted this to be crystal clear. And, it’s that clarity that gives one a feeling of trepidation when you consider the full impact of what he’s saying. Some folks might find some of this just a bit unsettling. Today we’re digging into the justice of God.
For those of you who have been following along with this blog, you will recognize the key touch points that link to the original framework I’ve been developing to find my way through this very intriguing book. If you are just joining me, no need to be alarmed. I’m just trying to find my way into some clear, un-obstructed fresh air, some real open country when reading this book of prophetic writing by Ezekiel. Yes, I’m also reading a number of commentaries along the way, but I keep finding them running into dead-ends and unconvincing explanations of how various verses relate to a scattering of historic events. Much of it is theoretical and in many cases, the commentators just throw their hands up, give a Reader’s Digest summary of what was literally written in the paragraph and just move on. I’ve even heard it said that Ezekiel is closed book, that Christians just aren’t meant to understand it.
I disagree. The very nature of prophecy is to give illumination, to bring a clearer picture of what God sees in a particular situation. Ezekiel wanted like everything for the reader to understand, clearly, and he wanted the reader to have no doubt as to his conviction about what he is writing.
So to tackle Ezekiel chapter 18, there are two separate things that really need consideration. Today I’ll tackle the first, ….warning: it’s a biggee. The chapter is titled “The one who sins will die”.
Seems intuitive enough, you say. So do I. Ezekiel takes on a very specific cycle of circumstances in the form of example 1, then example 2, then example 3. Ezekiel is about to use these to help us understand the Lord’s outrage over a commonly quoted proverb about sour grapes and how that effect is passed on to the next generation.
We are about to be given prophetic insight, clarity into how God sees justice.
Exhibit 1 starts with a person who by all appearances is a perfect saint – never does anything wrong. This guy gets saved. He will live we are to understand. But, what about his son?
Exhibit 2 is the son, the guy who breaks all the rules. He sins and sins heavy despite his father’s teaching. He will not be saved. God says that this person will surely die for his sins.
Now for the wrinkle:
Exhibit 3 is the son of the bad guy we were just reading about. What if, says Ezekiel. What if, what if this man turns out to be good, despite his evil father. What then?
According to the common proverb, this very good hearted child should expect to also feel the wrath of God, to feel God’s judgment, condemnation, and punishment. In fact, we see this all around us today when something bad happens to a given demographic, it’s not all that uncommon to hear that “those people have had it coming”. Hurricane Katrina was blamed on the “historical sinfulness” of the city of New Orleans.
Ezekiel writes otherwise though. God is very specifically interested in the actions of the direct person in question. What are their choices, how do their choices reflect their commitments, God is very interested in our commitments and dedication to covenants. His judgment matches the circumstances. This is justice – even by our limited human standards.
Everybody agreed here. This is good stuff. So to recap, You sin, you are the guilty one, not your parents, and not your kids. You, you and me, we are responsible for our own actions and choices. This is agency as is specifically called out in Numbers eg. Choose this day to serve the Lord. Like I said, good stuff.
The corollaries are also true. If you are responsible only for your own slip-ups, then so was Cain when he killed his brother. This was not traced back to the choices of his father Adam. Therefore, there is no such thing as ‘Original Sin’ as sin can not be transferred from one generation to another. Go back and read this chapter top to bottom again and you will see that this is exactly what Ezekiel is talking about. In fact, the concept of the fall of man really isn’t a Jewish concept; that was more of a Greek mythology concept that was adopted by the Roman thinkers, and as such, adopted by early church leaders as they focused their organization in Rome.
Going back to our agency and our choices, the other corollary is that it is impossible for a small baby to be a sinner. According to the definition we just received from a prophet of God, sin is a direct result of choices we make, not the choices of our parents. So give me a break when we talk about all children are sinners and need to be saved. Enough already.
I told you this was some unsettling stuff. But that is the nature of prophecy, to take us to uncomfortable places.
Ok, time to breath, digest, consider. It’s a bumpy road – this path of being a disciple and things get murky sometimes. It’s about what you choose.
What you choose and what you commit to. What is your covenant? What is my covenant? How do I live my life in relation to the people around me and what does that say about my choices? More on this in the next blog.
Come back for the second half of this blog pair about chapter 18.