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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ezekiel 18


God reproveth the unjust parable of sour grapes: he sheweth how he dealeth with the just father, with a wicked son of a just father, with a just son of a wicked father, with a wicked man repenting, with a just man revolting: he defendeth his justice, and exhorteth to repentance.

Before Christ 593.

Verse 2

Ezekiel 18:2. What mean ye, &c.— See Jeremiah 31:28; Jeremiah 31:40.

Verse 4

Ezekiel 18:4. The soul that sinneth, it shall die That is, "all shall be treated equally and without any respect of persons. God will punish or reward according to the good or evil which every one shall have done. The iniquity of the father shall by no means prejudice the righteousness of the son, and the righteousness of the son shall be no justification to the wickedness of the father." Calmet.

Verse 6

Ezekiel 18:6. And hath not eaten, &c.— Idolatrous worship was generally performed upon the mountains or high places; and eating part of the sacrifice was properly entertaining communion with the idol to whom it was offered. The high places whereof Ezekiel speaks here, were of the most infamous sort, where the grossest idolatries and the vilest prostitutions were committed.

Verse 8

Ezekiel 18:8. Upon usury. See Deuteronomy 23:19-20 : unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; whence it follows, that taking increase is not malum per se; but agreeable to justice, if duly circumstanced. Every kind and degree of usury was forbidden to the Israelites among each other, to promote a spirit of mutual kindness. But this law was peculiar to them; like their not reaping the corners of their fields, and their not gleaning their vine-trees and olive-trees. Leviticus 19:9-10. Deuteronomy 24:19-22.

Verse 13

Ezekiel 18:13. His blood shall be upon him "He hath drawn down upon himself the utmost distress by his sin; which can be imputed to no other than himself." The Chaldee renders it, He is condemned to die.

Verse 19

Ezekiel 18:19. Yet say ye, &c.— Do ye say, why doth the son not bear the iniquity of his father?—Because the son doeth that, &c. Therefore he shall surety live. Houbigant.

Verses 26-27

Ezekiel 18:26-27. When a righteous man A very false and very dangerous opinion prevailed among the Jews, that at the day of judgment a considerable number of good actions would overbalance men's evil ones. In opposition to this doctrine, God here declares, that a righteous man, sinning and not repenting, should die in his sins; and that the wicked man repenting should certainly save his soul alive. See Lowth.

Verse 31

Ezekiel 18:31. Make you a new heart and a new spirit The prophets often exhort the Jews to an inward purity and holiness, that they might not rely upon an outward legal righteousness, and a scrupulous exactness in the observance of the ritual parts of the law. By thus instructing them in a more excellent way of serving God than the ceremonial law directly prescribed, they prepared their minds for receiving those truths which would be more fully displayed by the Gospel. Calmet says excellently upon this verse, "We can do nothing well of ourselves; we have of ourselves nothing but sin: all our power comes from God; and with the aid of his grace we can do all things. But if, on the one hand, we ought to humble ourselves on account of our impotency, on the other hand we ought to hope in Him, who giveth to all liberally, and who willeth not our death, but our conversion."

We learn from this useful chapter, that God is perfectly just as well as good, that he never condemns men for any but their own sins, though it sometimes happens that the children are involved in the temporal evils with which God punishes the sins committed by their fathers. How exquisitely gracious the declaration, that God is always ready to pardon, even those who have committed the greatest crimes, provided they forsake them, embrace the covenant of grace, and for the future keep his commandments! There cannot be a stronger incitement to repentance; the absolute necessity whereof we hence learn, as well as the nature of that repentance to which the promise of pardon is annexed. In a word, the Lord declares, that repentance will then only be effectual, when by grace through faith it produces a new heart and a change of inclinations, accompanied with actual amendment and reformation. See Ostervald's Reflections on the Bible.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have here,

1. The insolent and impious proverb in use among the Jews, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge; which implied a charge of injustice and cruelty in God, as if he punished them for the sins of their fathers, and they had themselves done nothing to provoke the wrath under which they lay. It was true indeed, that, as a nation, their fathers' sins came into remembrance; but the insinuation was false, that for them alone they suffered: had they not copied after their forefathers' wickedness, they had never gone into captivity. Note; When sinners find fault with God, it is a sure symptom that their heart is yet hardened, and unhumbled under their sufferings.

2. The reproof which God gives them hereupon. What mean ye, that ye use this proverb? with such a blasphemous insinuation. God therefore will silence them; and swears by himself, that they shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb. He will inflict immediate judgment on the sinners, and not defer it to another generation; and will make it manifest to themselves and others, that their sufferings are no more than their deserts.

3. He lays down the equitable method of his procedure. He, as the eternal sovereign, indeed, is not bound to give us any account of his matters. All souls are his, the work of his hands, accountable to him; and, as in mercy they have received their being from him, they may be assured that he will do them no wrong. He waves, however, his right of sovereignty, and establishes a rule of judgment to which none can reasonably object.

[1.] The soul that sinneth, it shall die, be exposed to temporal judgments in this life, and the punishment not be deferred to another generation; and, if he continue impenitent, he shall die eternally, separated from the blissful presence of God, and consigned to the place of torment. Let impenitent sinners hear and tremble.

[2.] The just man shall live: and that we may not mistake, God gives his character in several particulars, both negatively and positively. Happy for us will it be, if we can through grace call the character our own. (1.) He is no idolater: neither joins in the worship nor gives the least countenance to the service, hating both the idols and the things sacrificed to them, never deigning to lift his eyes to the one, nor to sit down to feast on the other. (2.) He is no adulterer, nor lewd person. (3.) He is not oppressive; he neither by force nor fraud deprives his neighbour of what is his just due; nor takes advantage of his necessity; but restores to the debtor his pledge when the redemption-money is paid; and, since the law had forbidden him to take usury of his brethren, lending freely, hoping for nothing again. (4.) He is charitable to the extent of his power, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked; willing to give, glad to distribute; and this not as depending on his works as meritorious, but actuated by a principle of love. (5.) He withdraws his hand from iniquity; will have no fellowship or connection with wicked men or their deeds; and, if he has been inadvertently drawn into evil, he hastily returns, with grief and shame, to the right way. (6.) In all his dealings, either as a magistrate, a witness, a referee, or a man in business, he pays the strictest regard to truth and justice; and according to his power desires that every man may enjoy his right. (7.) To finish his character; he is not only just and merciful towards man, but pious towards God, walking in God's statutes, making them the rule of his conduct; constant in his worship and ordinances, and keeping God's judgments to deal truly; never deviating from the line of justice which God has marked out. He is just: such a conversation is an evidence to men of that righteousness which by faith he possesses before God. And he shall surely live, saith the Lord God, happy in the enjoyment of God's favour, exempted from the plagues which are the portion of the ungodly; and, continuing to the end to walk with God, shall shortly live eternally with him in glory.

2nd, God, having laid down his method of procedure, applies it to particular cases, demonstrating the justice of his dealings, and the injustice of their censures.
1. For the justice of his dealings he observes,
[1.] That an ungodly son, though sprung from a pious father, shall bear his own burden. The case is not uncommon; for grace does not run in the blood, nor is the most careful education always successful; the best of men have, to their grief, beheld the most ungodly children. Dreadful are the sins here supposed; and, indeed, usually they grow most abandoned who sin against the greatest light and warnings. This wicked son is described as the very reverse of all goodness; a robber, a murderer, an idolater, an adulterer, an oppressor, an usurer, in short devoted to every abomination; the consequence of which must be, that he shall not live in the enjoyment of God's favour, or in peace in his possessions; he shall surely die, given up to the sword of the enemy, or led captive, and, if he die impenitent, consigned to the eternal death of body and soul in hell; his blood shall be upon him, he has only himself to blame for his destruction, his sins the more aggravated and inexcusable, and his misery the more intolerable, through the abuse of the mercies that he has enjoyed.

[2.] The gracious son of a wicked father shall never fare the worse for his descent from him. And a happy thing it is when a child, instead of being influenced by his parents' ill example to imitate it, sees, considers, and takes warning to shun those vices to which they were addicted. His character is the same as described before; for all just men walk by the same rule, and mind the same things; and, being found in the same way, have the same blessed end, he shall surely live, and shall not die for his father's iniquity; but his graceless father, whose ways were perverse before God, oppressive, unjust, and negligent of every good work, shall bear his own iniquity, and perish under it.

2. Hence he infers the injustice of their censures. Yet say ye, Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? No, in no wise. He that doeth that which is lawful and right, shall surely live; but the soul that sinneth, it shall die, whether father or son: the son shall not be chargeable with his father's iniquity; nor the father, when he has discharged his duty towards him, be answerable for the conduct of his ungodly son. This is the settled rule of God's judgment: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, the faithful soul shall have the present and eternal comfort of well-doing; and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him, crushing him down under temporal judgments, and sinking him at last into the belly of hell.

3rdly, The equity of the divine government is here farther demonstrated. As God will not punish one man for the sins of another, neither will he be rigorous to mark the transgressions of those who return to him. The finally impenitent only shall perish.
1. The sinner who repents, and turns to God, shall surely live. Not that of himself by his own natural powers he is able to turn and change his own heart. The work is God's to give repentance: and this he does, [1.] By leading the sinner to consider his ways, giving him an enlightened knowledge of the evil and danger of sin, and opening his eyes to a discovery of that guilt to which he was before a stranger; in consequence of which, [2.] He turns from ALL his sins, hating and forsaking them, and makes no allowed reserve of the least sin. [3.] His obedience is sincere and universal, keeping all God's statutes, and doing that which is lawful and right, according to his best knowledge of God's word, in simplicity and truth. And, when this is the case, he has, [4.] An assured evidence of his pardon and acceptance with God. His transgressions shall not only be forgiven, but as it were forgotten, not so much as mentioned unto him. [5.] He shall surely live, he shall not die. He shall be in a great measure exempted from temporal calamities; which blessing seems to have been eminently promised to the pious under the Mosaic dispensation; and, persevering in righteousness and true holiness, he shall have the enjoyment of God's love and favour both here and for ever.

2. God encourages sinners, from the views of his rich grace and mercy, to return to him. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God. No: vengeance is his strange work, but mercy is his delight. And though his justice is glorified in the punishment of the obstinately rebellious, yet he would rather glorify his grace in pardoning them, when they return from their ways and live. Note; The soul that perishes will have only itself to blame for its damnation.

3. The righteous man who turns apostate, will perish. If any commit iniquity according to all the abominations of the wicked, joining with them, and in practice like them, shall such live? No. Their good deeds, however many, will not be mentioned in their favour. They turn back unto perdition, and die in their sins, and for them.

4. God appeals to their consciences for the equity of his ways and the injustice of their reflections. Yet ye say the way of the Lord is not equal. Impudently and blasphemously they dared to arraign the divine justice at the bar of their partial self-love; though the procedure was so evidently equal and just: nor could it possibly be otherwise; the judge of all the earth must needs do right. The inequality therefore was in themselves, not in him: he was righteous, but they had done wickedly; his judgments altogether just, their murmuring under them wicked as unreasonable.

4thly, The case being thus fairly stated, God's methods of procedure appear fully vindicated. I will judge you according to your ways, giving to every man as his work is. Yet, as their works and ways would so ill bear the severity of his inquiry, he lengthens their day of grace, and gives them yet space to repent, and an earnest invitation to engage them thereunto.

1. He invites them to repent and live, turning from all their transgressions with shame and rooted aversion, and casting them away, with full purpose of heart never to return to them again. And he calls on them to make them a new heart and a new spirit, thoroughly changed in all their tempers and dispositions; which though indeed their duty, yet God must give the power to enable them for what he does command, and he is willing so to do: see chap. Eze 11:19 and by his grace, preventing and following the word of exhortation, it becomes effectual to the conversion of every sinner who will accept of the offers of mercy.

2. He enforces his invitation with various arguments. [1.] So iniquity shall not be your ruin, as otherwise it infallibly would be; for, except we repent we must perish. [2.] God has no delight in the sinner's death, and therefore expostulates, Why will ye die, O house of Israel? It is as pleasing to him to see the sinner turned from the evil of his ways, as it is unspeakably advantageous to ourselves. They who refuse therefore to give him this satisfaction, sin against their own mercies, and die because they will die. [3.] Immortal life and glory are before us, if we truly turn to God. Turn yourselves, and live ye. And what can engage us, if these considerations are ineffectual?

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezekiel 18". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.