Ezekiel 18


Moral freedom and individual responsibility

The proverb and word of God. Every man to bear his own sins. Ezekiel 18:1-4.

The righteous man shall not die. Ezekiel 18:5-9.

The righteousness of the father does not protect the wicked son. Ezekiel 18:10-13.

Each bears his own righteousness or sin. Ezekiel 18:14-20.

Turning to good leads to life; Turning to evil to death. Ezekiel 18:21-24.

Another earnest call to repentance. Ezekiel 18:25-32.


The proverb circulating in Jerusalem. God’s answer: The individual’s responsibility to God. The individual’s ability to change his ways. It is only natural in times of pending punishment to place the blame on others, to hide behind prior good conduct, or perhaps to take security in one’s family or heritage.

God discredits any idea that the people of Judah are only suffering because of their predecessor’s sins, or that they claim immunity as descendants of faithful forefathers such as Abraham. No, each person is accountable for his own sins, says Ezekiel, and God assures his people that just as the wicked can repent and be saved, the righteous can fall into sin and be destroyed.

‘The word of the LORD came to me: ‘What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child— both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. Ezekiel 18:1-4

The law of individual responsibility

This chapter arises from a proverb spoken amongst the people.

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?’ The simple meaning of this proverb is that the children are directly affected or suffering because of the previous generation. The teaching which follows shows us that the people were saying that they were being punished for the sins of a past generation.

Jeremiah 31:29 shows us that this was a proverb well known in Jerusalem as well as in Telabib.

The background for this is Manasseh. We recall 2 Kings 21:10-15, the proclamation by God that Judah would be exiled. 2 Kings 21:10-18 / 2 Kings 23:26-27 / 2 Chronicles 33:10ff. Basically, they are thinking, Manasseh was wicked, for which God promised he would exile and destroy the nation. However, Manasseh was forgiven because of his change of heart, but the sentence was still going to be carried out.

Hear the people crying, ‘It isn’t fair!’ God’s answer will be that they are not being punished for the sin of Manasseh, but their own sin. Each soul will die because of his own sin. To prove this God will use 5 examples to show the people he is acting fairly and justly.

Note, that this was not a new teaching. The prophets seldom brought new teaching but directed the people back to the law. God had said it before. Deuteronomy 24:16.

‘Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbour’s wife or have sexual relations with a woman during her period. He does not oppress anyone but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ Ezekiel 18:5-9

Example 1

Here is described a righteous man. God has described him as righteous and does so in terms of the law. This man’s desire is to keep the law. He is the first generation in the example.

‘He shall surely live’. Ellison suggests that this chapter can only refer to the immediate context of Babylonian captivity. That those of the exiles who are righteous will live and those who are not, will die. A weeding out of the remnant he calls it.

But that is hard to accept, for not all the unrighteous attitudes were cleansed by exile. A quick glance at Ezra and Haggai will prove that. No, this is talking about spiritual life and death, Ezekiel 18:18.

‘Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them): ‘He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbour’s wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.’ Ezekiel 18:10-13

Example 2

This righteous man’s son is wicked, he shall die. Again, this wickedness is described in terms of lawbreaking. This man chooses to go against God, it is his choice to rebel. So, the first-generation lives, and the second generation dies.

‘But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things: ‘He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbour’s wife. He does not oppress anyone or require a pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor and takes no interest or profit from them. He keeps my laws and follows my decrees. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. ‘Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. Ezekiel 18:14-20

Example 3

Now, this wicked man has a righteous son, he shall live. He like his grandfather will live, but not because of his grandfather’s righteousness, but his own. The third-generation lives. Just to remind them of what he is teaching, the prophet repeats his message. One generation will not be punished for the sins of another.

‘But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?’ Ezekiel 18:21-23

Example 4

The wicked man who repents shall live. This is Manasseh. All the sins that had been committed were wiped away, not one remaining. Here is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Verse 23 is echoed in 1 Timothy 2:4 / 2 Peter 3:9.

The New Testament often simply repeats what God has already said about himself in the Old Testament, but we are sometimes inclined to think they are new concepts.

‘But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.’ Ezekiel 18:24

Example 5

The righteous man who turns away shall die. The opposite of example 4. His former acts of obedience will not save him, no matter how much they had been. The rebellion will condemn him.

‘For one thing, the individual cannot today be held personally responsible for the presence of evil within his own heart, as he has inherited the fatal seed from his forefathers.’ The Redemption of Man. John MacDonald.

‘Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? ‘Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!’ Ezekiel 18:25-32

Here God sums up his argument and proves that he is a just God. The people are questioning his justice in this matter of course. The way out for them to escape what is being promised to them is repentance. Calvinism, the doctrine of limited atonement or particular redemption has a problem here. The following are random quotes from ‘The Five Points of Calvinism’ by W.J. Seaton.

‘If, however, some men and women are raised out of their spiritual death, ‘’born again’ as John’s Gospel puts it, and since they are unable to perform this work for themselves, then we must conclude that it was God who raised them. On the other hand, as many men and women are not ‘made alive’, we must likewise conclude that that is because God has not raised them. If man is unable to save himself on account of the Fall in Adam being a total fall, and if God alone can save, and if all are not saved, then the conclusion must be that God has not chosen to save all, Christ died positively and effectually to save a certain number of hell-deserving sinners on whom the Father had already set His free electing love.’

Whichever way you turn that around it says that God has pleasure in the death of some sinners. God says, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of any one’. Ephesians 2:1ff.

Three aspects of God’s character:

1. God’s love. Ezekiel 18:32. ‘I have no pleasure in the death of any one’. 2 Peter 3:9

2. God’s mercy. Ezekiel 18:21. ‘If a wicked man turns, He shall live.’

3. God’s justice. Ezekiel 18:4 / Ezekiel 18:20. ‘The soul that sins shall die.’

Finally, there is a message of hope here for us. We can change our lives with the help of God. The Gospel can change people. How we have been brought up and our habits of life can change.

Go To Ezekiel 19