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Bible Commentaries

Gann's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 18

Verse 1

GOD’S FAIR JUDGMENT

TEXT: EZEKIEL 18

1. What is the greatest truth I could preach to you? What sermon could make an eternal difference?

1. John 3:16 But that has already happened? Jesus has come to save us!

4. Acts 17:30-31 - A Righteous Judge

God is not partial! Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25

2. Ezekiel served as a prophet to God’s people during the Babylonian Captivity. He was among those already in exile. In Ezekiel 18:31 b we find this question: "For why will you die, O house of Israel?"

a. Ezekiel’s message to the people of Israel was that they were going to die-that is, the nation of Judah was about to be destroyed. However, as Ezekiel saw it, their death, or destruction, was unnecessary. They did not have to die.

3. In much the same way, mankind in general finds itself condemned today. Even more significant, you may find yourself on the road that leads to destruction. Ezekiel’s question is relevant to you too: "Why will you die ... ?" There is no need for you to perish.

4. We want to think about that question and ask, "Why, in fact, was Judah about to be destroyed?" In the process, we will consider some reasons why people today will be condemned, or why they will not be. We also want you to apply the question to yourself: Why will you die?

I.

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS,

NOT SOMEONE ELSE’S (Ezekiel 18:1-20)

A. Ezekiel preached to people who wanted to blame their condemnation on others. Shortly before the destruction of Judah, about 600-586 B.C., the prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were predicting the fall of Jerusalem.

1. The first reaction of the people may have been disbelief.

2. The second reaction was to try to find someone else on whom to blame their fall.

B. It was this second reaction that Ezekiel dealt with in chapter 18. Notice the proverb that these Jews were repeating: "The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge" (v. 2). Maybe the "sour grapes" in the parable would be like green persimmons. Green persimmons were legendary for causing one’s lips to purse together; their taste was so sharp that they would cause one to shake his head and snort.

1. The idea of the parable was that the fathers had eaten the sour grapes, but their teeth were not set on edge. Their children’s teeth were. It would be like my eating a green persimmon, but instead of suffering from it myself, my child does.

C. Ezekiel answered this objection by stating (in verse 4 Ezekiel 18:4) a general principle and then restating it (in verse 20 Ezekiel 18:20): The soul that sins shall die. This general truth means that sin is not passed on from one generation to the next.

He illustrated that fact by describing three individuals (vv. 5-20).

3. Third, Ezekiel spoke of a righteous grandson (vv. Ezekiel 18:14-17). He takes after his grandfather rather than his father. He does good and avoids doing evil. What will happen to him? The prophet said, "He will not die for his father’s iniquity, he will surely live" (v. 17b).1

’Notice that it is possible for a righteous man to have an unrighteous son (and for the father still to be counted as righteous) and for an unrighteous man to have a righteous son. This understanding should figure into our interpretation of Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it." It should help us see that this verse states a general truth, not an absolute truth, and should keep us from accepting a deterministic theory of child-rearing that fails to take into account the free will of the child.

D. Thus each person is rewarded or punished according to his own goodness or evil doing, not according to what his father has done. Ezekiel insisted that this is the only fair way for people to be treated (vv. Ezekiel 18:19-20).

1. The implication for Ezekiel’s audience was that they were to be destroyed– not for their fathers’ sins, but for their own sins.

E. The passage teaches that if you are spiritually dead now, or if you die eternally, your death will not be a result of Adam’s sin (as some teach). Neither will it be punishment for your parents’ sin; rather, it will be the consequence of your own sin.

1. That may be bad news: It means that you cannot go to heaven for your mother’s or your wife’s righteousness. You will be judged on the good you have done or failed to do; the good someone else has done will not get you to heaven.

2. Furthermore, it means that you cannot blame someone else-the preacher, the elders, the hypocrites-if you are lost. They will be judged for any wrong they have done, but you will not be found innocent just because they are judged guilty.

3. Regardless of where they spend eternity, you will be judged according to your own works (see Romans 14:12).

F. On the other hand, Ezekiel 18:20 contains some good news. Maybe your parents were not Christians ... maybe others around you revile God ... maybe society is wicked ... but even if these things are true, these facts will not determine your eternal destiny!

1. You will give an account only for yourself. Everyone else may be destroyed, but you do not have to be. You will be judged by what you have done, not by the evil that others do!

2. If you are lost– if you die– it will not be because of the sin of others.

II.

YOU WILL BE JUDGED IN YOUR PRESENT CONDITION,

A. The illustration in Ezekiel goes on: Not only is it impossible for sin or righteousness to be transmitted from one generation to the next, but we also see that sin or righteousness cannot be automatically transmitted from one period of one’s life to the next (vv. 21-24).

Neither sinning nor living righteously necessarily characterizes the same person all of his life. Ezekiel gave two examples.

1. First, if a wicked man repents, he will be saved.

2. Second, if a righteous man "repents" (or changes), he will be lost.

B. This statement told the first readers two things:

(1) If they were lost, it was not simply because they had sinned. They had also refused to repent! Sin condemns, but that is not the whole story. Sin condemns only if sinners refuse to repent!

(2) Even if they had once been righteous, that was not enough to guarantee their safety now! If people turn from righteousness to wickedness, they will be lost! The Jews who were objecting to the death sentence God had passed on them were asserting that they had been righteous.

C. Ezekiel replied that what they had been was irrelevant; the issue was what they were at that time! Even if they had once been righteous, they had become wicked and deserved to die!

1. In a similar way, we will not be judged by what we once were, but by what we are at the time of judgment. I have talked with people who were once faithful members of the church but have become unfaithful. Now they only want to talk about how faithful they once were. I always want to tell them that past faithfulness will not get someone to heaven if he or she has since become unfaithful.

2. However, the other side of the coin contains good news for you: If God will not pardon your recent sins on the basis of your past righteousness, neither will He condemn you for your past sins if you have recently become (by His grace) righteous.

3. In other words, no matter how great a sinner you used to be, God can forgive you and wipe away every sin, if you will repent and turn to Him.

D. Why will you die? If you die, your death will not be the result of what you used to be; it will be the consequence of what you are now!

III.

A. The Jews of Ezekiel’s day wanted to excuse themselves by laying the blame for their destruction on God. They claimed that God was not just or fair (vv. 25-29).

1. Their accusation seemed to stem from their belief that they were being treated unfairly. After all, if they were being condemned for their parents’ sins, or if God was overlooking how righteous they had been earlier in their history, that was, in their opinion, surely unfair.

2. Perhaps they were also claiming for their generation a measure of righteousness. "Since we are righteous," they may have been saying, "it is unjust for God to condemn us."

B. Ezekiel answered by saying that God is just and treats every man as he deserves. If a righteous man turns to sin, he will be condemned (v. Ezekiel 18:26). If a wicked man repents and does what is right, he will live (vv. Ezekiel 27:1-28).

1. Then Ezekiel turned the charge around. The people had said that God was not being fair. God now said that they were not being fair. How? Perhaps Ezekiel meant that they were charging God unjustly:

2. If God was just, then they were unjust in calling Him unjust. Perhaps they were also treating other people unfairly.

C. Do you think that God is unjust in the way He has treated you? Maybe you should ask yourself if you have been unjust. The main point, how ever, is that if we die, we cannot accuse God of being unjust or unfair. He treats each person fairly, saving those whom He has declared righteous and condemning unrepentant sinners.

D. Again, this fact contains both good and bad news. The good news is that on the Day of Judgment, there will be no mistakes. God will know exactly what you have done and judge you perfectly, according to your individual record (see 2 Corinthians 5:10).

1. Your repentance and acceptance of Christ will not go unnoticed. The bad news is that on the Day of Judgment, there will be no mistakes. God will know exactly what you have done and judge you perfectly, according to your individual record.

2. Your sin, your refusal to accept Christ, will not go unnoticed! If you die, therefore, it will not be because God is unfair or unjust.

IV.

YOU ARE ACCOUNTABLE TO A GOD

A. It may be that the Jews were saying that God was going to condemn them so He could watch them suffer-that God would take pleasure in destroying them (vv. 30-32).

1. Ezekiel’s reply to this idea was that God does not want you to die! (See v. Ezekiel 18:23.) No more plain, forceful, and beautiful statement of God’s will for man could be found than this: "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies" (v. Ezekiel 18:32).

2. God wanted His people to live. He did not want Judah to be destroyed; He wanted His people to live, not to die! If they died, it would not be because that was what God wanted to happen; it would be instead because they refused to listen to the prophet and turn from their sins that they might be saved, that they might live!

B. Even so today: If you die– if you are lost now and are lost eternally– it will not be because that is what God wants. God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9); rather, He wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Jesus died for all (Hebrews 2:9); the grace of God that brings salvation is available to all (Titus 2:11).

C. If you ultimately are lost, then, why will it happen? The answer is sin. Sin condemns (Romans 6:23). Even that answer is incomplete. We are lost because of our sins, certainly; but if that were the complete answer, everyone would be lost eternally, for all have sinned (Romans 3:23).

D. Why, then, will you be lost? The answer is unrepented-of sins! That was Judah’s problem: It was not merely that Judah had sinned, but that Judah had, in spite of the warnings of the prophets, refused to repent.

1. Ezekiel came with a final appeal: "Repent and live"! (Ezekiel 18:32 b). In the end, Judah was destroyed as a result of the people’s failure to heed Ezekiel’s appeal.

CONCLUSION

1. Consider Ezekiel’s question: Why will you die? Why indeed? God will not hold you accountable for your parents’ sins.

a. God will not even hold you accountable for your own past sins, if you will repent of them.

b. Furthermore, God is fair and just. He will not condemn you if you do not deserve it.

2. Finally, God does not want you to be lost! He wants you to be saved. He has done much for you in order to make it possible for you to be saved.

a. He gave His only Son, that through Him you might be saved (John 3:16) if you will only accept the terms of pardon found in His plan– if you will believe in Christ (John 8:24), repent of your sins (Luke 13:3), confess your faith in Jesus as God’s Son (Romans 10:10), and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16).

b. God even now waits to save you.

3. God wanted His people to be saved, so He cried out to them with a broken heart, "Why will you die?" They were His people; He did not want them to be destroyed. Likewise, God loves you and wants you to be saved, so today He cries out with the same broken heart, "Why will you die?"

a. He is as reluctant to give up on you as He was to give up on Judah.

b. Will you continue to break God’s heart with your refusal to repent and come to Him?

4. Why, then, will you die? There is no reason for you to continue your life of sinfulness and be lost! Give up your excuses, quit blaming your lost condition on others, and turn to God today.

"’Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!

Verse 24

Ezekiel 18:24

When the Righeous turn away -- See James 5:19 note on APOSTASY

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Bibliographical Information
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gbc/ezekiel-18.html. 2021.