Eze 18:1-32. The Parable of
the Sour Grapes Reproved.
Vindication of God's moral government as to His
retributive righteousness from the Jewish imputation of injustice, as
if they were suffering, not for their own sin, but for that of their
fathers. As in the seventeenth chapter he foretold Messiah's happy
reign in Jerusalem, so now he warns them that its blessings can be
theirs only upon their individually turning to righteousness.
2. fathers … eaten sour grapes, …
children's teeth … set on edge—Their unbelieving
calumnies on God's justice had become so common as to have assumed a
proverbial form. The sin of Adam in eating the forbidden fruit, visited
on his posterity, seems to have suggested the peculiar form; noticed
also by Jeremiah (Jer 31:29);
and explained in La 5:7, "Our
fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities."
They mean by "the children" themselves, as though they were
innocent, whereas they were far from being so. The partial reformation
effected since Manasseh's wicked reign, especially among the exiles at
Chebar, was their ground for thinking so; but the improvement was only
superficial and only fostered their self-righteous spirit, which sought
anywhere but in themselves the cause of their calamities; just as the
modern Jews attribute their present dispersion, not to their own sins,
but to those of their forefathers. It is a universal mark of corrupt
nature to lay the blame, which belongs to ourselves, on others and to
arraign the justice of God. Compare Ge 3:12, where Adam transfers the blame of his
sin to Eve, and even to God, "The woman whom thou gavest
to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."
3. ye shall not have occasion any more to use this
proverb—because I will let it be seen by the whole world in
the very fact that you are not righteous, as ye fancy yourselves, but
wicked, and that you suffer only the just penalty of your guilt; while
the elect righteous remnant alone escapes.
4. all souls are mine—Therefore I can
deal with all, being My own creation, as I please (Jer 18:6). As the Creator of all alike I can have
no reason, but the principle of equity, according to men's works, to
make any difference, so as to punish some, and to save others (Ge 18:25). "The soul that sinneth it shall
die." The curse descending from father to son assumes guilt shared in
by the son; there is a natural tendency in the child to follow the sin
of his father, and so he shares in the father's punishment: hence the
principles of God's government, involved in Ex 20:5 and Jer
15:4, are justified. The
sons, therefore (as the Jews here), cannot complain of being unjustly
afflicted by God (La 5:7); for
they filled up the guilt of their fathers (Mt 23:32,
34-36). The same God who
"recompenses the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their
children," is immediately after set forth as "giving to every man
according to his ways" (Jer 32:18, 19). In the same law (Ex 20:5) which "visited the iniquities of the
fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation" (where
the explanation is added, "of them that hate me," that is, the
children hating God, as well as their fathers: the former being
too likely to follow their parents, sin going down with cumulative
force from parent to child), we find (De 24:16), "the fathers shall not be put to death
for the children, neither the children for the fathers: every man shall
be put to death for his own sin." The inherited guilt of sin in infants
5:14) is an awful
fact, but one met by the atonement of Christ; but it is of
adults that he speaks here. Whatever penalties fall on
communities for connection with sins of their fathers,
individual adults who repent shall escape (2Ki 23:25, 26). This was no new thing, as some
misinterpret the passage here; it had been always God's
principle to punish only the guilty, and not also the innocent, for the
sins of their fathers. God does not here change the principle of His
administration, but is merely about to manifest it so personally
to each that the Jews should no longer throw on God and on their
fathers the blame which was their own.
soul that sinneth, it shall die—and it
alone (Ro 6:23); not
also the innocent.
5. Here begins the illustration of God's
impartiality in a series of supposed cases. The first case is given in
18:5-9, the just man. The
excellencies are selected in reference to the prevailing sins of the
age, from which such a one stood aloof; hence arises the omission of
some features of righteousness, which, under different circumstances,
would have been desirable to be enumerated. Each age has its own
besetting temptations, and the just man will be distinguished by his
guarding against the peculiar defilements, inward and outward, of his
just … lawful … right—the
duties of the second table of the law, which flow from the fear of God.
Piety is the root of all charity; to render to each his own, as well to
our neighbor, as to God.
6. not eaten upon … mountains—the
high places, where altars were reared. A double sin: sacrificing
elsewhere than at the temple, where only God sanctioned sacrifice
12:13, 14); and this to idols
instead of to Jehovah. "Eaten" refers to the feasts which were
connected with the sacrifices (see Ex 32:6;
De 32:38; Jud 9:27; 1Co 8:4, 10; 10:7).
lifted … eyes to—namely, in
adoration (Ps 121:1).
The superstitious are compared to harlots; their eyes go eagerly after
spiritual lusts. The righteous man not merely refrains from the
act, but from the glance of spiritual lust (Job 31:1; Mt
idols of … Israel—not merely
those of the Gentiles, but even those of Israel. The fashions of his
countrymen could not lead him astray.
defiled … neighbour's wife—Not
only does he shrink from spiritual, but also from carnal, adultery
(compare 1Co 6:18).
neither … menstruous
woman—Leprosy and elephantiasis were said to be the fruit of
such a connection [Jerome]. Chastity is
to be observed even towards one's own wife (Le 18:19;
7. restored … pledge—that which
the poor debtor absolutely needed; as his raiment, which the creditor
was bound to restore before sunset (Ex 22:26, 27), and his millstone, which was needed
for preparing his food (De 24:6, 10-13).
bread to … hungry … covered …
naked—(Isa 58:7; Mt 25:35, 36). After duties of justice come those of
benevolence. It is not enough to refrain from doing a wrong to our
neighbor, we must also do him good. The bread owned by a man, though
"his," is given to him, not to keep to himself, but to impart to the
8. usury—literally, "biting." The law
forbade the Jew to take interest from brethren but permitted him to do
so from a foreigner (Ex 22:25; De 23:19, 20; Ne
5:7; Ps 15:5). The letter of
the law was restricted to the Jewish polity, and is not binding now;
and indeed the principle of taking interest was even then sanctioned,
by its being allowed in the case of a foreigner. The spirit of
the law still binds us, that we are not to take advantage of our
neighbor's necessities to enrich ourselves, but be satisfied with
moderate, or even no, interest, in the case of the needy.
increase—in the case of other
kinds of wealth; as "usury" refers to money (Le 25:36).
withdrawn … hand, &c.—Where
he has the opportunity and might find a plausible plea for promoting
his own gain at the cost of a wrong to his neighbor, he keeps back his
hand from what selfishness prompts.
9. truly—with integrity.
surely live—literally, "live in life."
Prosper in this life, but still more in the life to come (Pr 3:1, 2; Am
10-13. The second case is that of an impious
son of a pious father. His pious parentage, so far from excusing,
aggravates his guilt.
robber—or literally, "a breaker,"
namely, through all constraints of right.
doeth the like to any one—The
Hebrew and the parallel (Eze 18:18) require us to translate rather, "doeth
to his brother any of these things," namely, the things which
follow in Eze 18:11,
11. those duties—which his father did
12. oppressed the poor—an aggravation to
his oppressions, that they were practised against the poor;
whereas in Eze 18:7 the
expression is simply "oppressed any."
abomination—singular number referring
to the particular one mentioned at the end of Eze 18:6.
13. shall he … live?—because of
the merits of his father; answering, by contrast, to "die for the
iniquity of his father" (Eze 18:17).
his blood shall be upon him—The cause
of his bloody death shall rest with himself; God is not to blame, but
is vindicated as just in punishing him.
14-18. The third case: a son who walks not in
the steps of an unrighteous father, but in the ways of God; for
example, Josiah, the pious son of guilty Amon; Hezekiah, of Ahaz (2Ki 16:1-20; 18:1-37;
seeth … and considereth—The same
Hebrew stands for both verbs, "seeth … yea, seeth." The
repetition implies the attentive observation needed, in order that the
son may not be led astray by his father's bad example; as sons
generally are blind to parents sins, and even imitate them as if they
17. taken off his hand from the
poor—that is, abstained from oppressing the poor, when
he had the opportunity of doing so with impunity.The different sense of
the phrase in Eze 16:49,
in reference to relieving the poor, seems to have suggested the
reading followed by Fairbairn, but not
sanctioned by the Hebrew, "hath not turned his hand
from," &c. But Eze 20:22
uses the phrase in a somewhat similar sense to English Version
here, abstained from hurting.
19. Here the Jews object to the prophet's word
and in their objection seem to seek a continuance of that very thing
which they had originally made a matter of complaint. Therefore
translate, "Wherefore doth not the son bear the iniquity of his
father?" It now would seem a consolation to them to think the son might
suffer for his father's misdeeds; for it would soothe their self-love
to regard themselves as innocent sufferers for the guilt of others and
would justify them in their present course of life, which they did not
choose to abandon for a better. In reply, Ezekiel reiterates the truth
of each being dealt with according to his own merits [Fairbairn]. But Grotius supports English Version, wherein the
Jews contradict the prophet, "Why (sayest thou so) doth not the son
(often, as in our case, though innocent) bear (that is, suffer for) the
iniquity of their father?" Ezekiel replies, It is not as you say, but
as I in the name of God say: "When the son hath done," &c.
English Version is simpler than that of Fairbairn.
20. son shall not bear … iniquity of …
father—(De 24:16; 2Ki 14:6).
righteousness … wickedness—that
is, the reward for righteousness … the punishment of wickedness.
"Righteousness" is not used as if any were absolutely righteous;
but, of such as have it imputed to them for Christ's sake,
though not under the Old Testament themselves understanding the ground
on which they were regarded as righteous, but sincerely seeking after
it in the way of God's appointment, so far as they then understood this
21-24. Two last cases, showing the equity of
God: (1) The penitent sinner is dealt with according to his new
obedience, not according to his former sins. (2) The righteous man who
turns from righteousness to sin shall be punished for the latter, and
his former righteousness will be of no avail to him.
he shall surely live—Despair drives
men into hardened recklessness; God therefore allures men to repentance
by holding out hope [Calvin].
To threats the stubborn sinner oft is hard,
Wrapt in his crimes, against the storm
But when the milder beams of mercy play,
He melts, and throws the cumbrous cloak away.
Hitherto the cases had been of a change from bad to good, or vice
versa, in one generation compared with another. Here it is such a
change in one and the same individual. This, as practically affecting
the persons here addressed, is properly put last. So far from God
laying on men the penalty of others' sins, He will not even punish them
for their own, if they turn from sin to righteousness; but if they turn
from righteousness to sin, they must expect in justice that their
former goodness will not atone for subsequent sin (Heb
10:38, 39; 2Pe 2:20-22). The
exile in Babylon gave a season for repentance of those sins which would
have brought death on the perpetrator in Judea while the law could be
enforced; so it prepared the way for the Gospel [Grotius].
22. in his righteousness … he shah
live—in it, not for it, as if that atoned for
his former sins; but "in his righteousness" he shall live, as
the evidence of his being already in favor with God through the
merit of Messiah, who was to come. The Gospel clears up for us many
such passages (1Pe 1:12),
which were dimly understood at the time, while men, however, had light
enough for salvation.
23. (1Ti 2:4; 2Pe 3:9). If men perish, it is because they
will not come to the Lord for salvation; not that the Lord is
not willing to save them (Joh 5:40).
They trample on not merely justice, but mercy; what farther hope can
there be for them, when even mercy is against them? (Heb 10:26-29).
24. righteous—one apparently
such; as in Mt 9:13, "I
came not to call the righteous," &c., that is, those who fancy
themselves righteous. Those alone are true saints who by the grace of
God persevere (Mt 24:13; 1Co 10:12; Joh 10:28, 29).
turneth away from …
righteousness—an utter apostasy; not like the exceptional
offenses of the godly through infirmity or heedlessness, which they
afterwards mourn over and repent of.
not be mentioned—not be taken into
account so as to save them.
his trespass—utter apostasy.
25. Their plea for saying, "The way of the
Lord is not equal," was that God treated different classes in a
different way. But it was really their way that was unequal, since
living in sin they expected to be dealt with as if they were righteous.
God's way was invariably to deal with different men according to their
26-28. The two last instances repeated in
inverse order. God's emphatic statement of His principle of government
needs no further proof than the simple statement of it.
in them—in the actual sins,
which are the manifestations of the principle of "iniquity," mentioned
27. he shall save his soul—that is, he
shall have it saved upon his repentance.
28. considereth—the first step to
repentance; for the ungodly do not consider either God or themselves
(De 32:29; Ps 119:59, 60; Lu 15:17, 18).
29. Though God's justice is so plainly
manifested, sinners still object to it because they do not wish to see
it (Mic 2:7; Mt 11:18, 19).
30-32. As God is to judge them "according to
their ways" (Pr 1:31),
their only hope is to "repent"; and this is a sure hope, for God takes
no delight in judging them in wrath, but graciously desires their
salvation on repentance.
I will judge you—Though ye cavil, it
is a sufficient answer that I, your Judge, declare it so, and will
judge you according to My will; and then your cavils must end.
Repent—inward conversion (Re 2:5). In the Hebrew there is a play
of like sounds, "Turn ye and return."
turn yourselves, &c.—the
outward fruits of repentance. Not as the Margin, "turn
others"; for the parallel clause (Eze 18:31) is, "cast away from you all
your transgressions." Perhaps, however, the omission of the
object after the verb in the Hebrew implies that both are
included: Turn alike yourselves and all whom you can
from all … transgressions—not as
if believers are perfect; but they sincerely aim at perfection,
so as to be habitually and wilfully on terms with no sin (1Jo 3:6-9):
your ruin—literally, "your snare,"
entangling you in ruin.
31. Cast away from you—for the cause of
your evil rests with yourselves; your sole way of escape is to be
reconciled to God (Eph 4:22, 23).
make you a new heart—This shows, not
what men can do, but what they ought to do: what God
requires of us. God alone can make us a new heart (Eze 11:19;
36:26, 27). The command to do
what men cannot themselves do is designed to drive them (instead of
laying the blame, as the Jews did, elsewhere rather than on themselves)
to feel their own helplessness, and to seek God's Holy Spirit (Ps 51:11,
12). Thus the outward
exhortation is, as it were, the organ or instrument which God uses for
conferring grace. So we may say with Augustine, "Give what thou requirest, and (then)
require what thou wilt." Our strength (which is weakness in itself)
shall suffice for whatever He exacts, if only He gives the supply
spirit—the understanding: as
the "heart" means the will and affections. The root must be
changed before the fruit can be good.
why will ye die—bring on your own
selves your ruin. God's decrees are secret to us; it is enough for us
that He invites all, and will reject none that seek Him.
32. (La 3:33; 2Pe 3:9). God is "slow to anger"; punishment is
"His strange work" (Isa 28:21).