|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
18:1-20 The soul that sinneth it shall die. As to eternity, every man was, is, and will be dealt with, as his conduct shows him to have been under the old covenant of works, or the new covenant of grace. Whatever outward sufferings come upon men through the sins of others, they deserve for their own sins all they suffer; and the Lord overrules every event for the eternal good of believers. All souls are in the hand of the great Creator: he will deal with them in justice or mercy; nor will any perish for the sins of another, who is not in some sense worthy of death for his own. We all have sinned, and our souls must be lost, if God deal with us according to his holy law; but we are invited to come to Christ. If a man who had shown his faith by his works, had a wicked son, whose character and conduct were the reverse of his parent's, could it be expected he should escape the Divine vengeance on account of his father's piety? Surely not. And should a wicked man have a son who walked before God as righteous, this man would not perish for his father's sins. If the son was not free from evils in this life, still he should be partaker of salvation. The question here is not about the meritorious ground of justification, but about the Lord's dealings with the righteous and the wicked.
Verses 1, 2. - What mean ye, that ye use this proverb, etc.? Another and entirely different section opens, and we see at once from what it started. Ezekiel had heard from the lips of his countrymen, and had seen its working in their hearts, the proverb (already familiar to him, it may be, through Jeremiah 31:29) with which they blunted their sense of personal responsibility. They had to bear the punishment of sins which they had not committed. The sins of the fathers were visited, as in Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Leviticus 26:39, 40; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9, upon the third and fourth generations. Manasseh and his people had sinned, and Josiah and his descendants and their contemporaries had to suffer for it. The thought was familiar enough, and the general law of the passages above referred to was afterwards applied, as with authority, to what was then passing (2 Kings 23:26; 2 Kings 24:3). Even Jeremiah recognized it in Lamentations 5:7 and Jeremiah 15:4, and was content to look, for a reversal of the proverb, to the distant Messianic time of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:29-31). The plea with which Ezekiel had to deal was therefore one which seemed to rest on the basis of a Divine authority. And that authority was confirmed by the induction of a wide experience. Every preacher of righteousness in every age has to warn the evil doer that he is working evil for generations yet unborn, to whom he transmits his own tendencies, the evil of his own influence and example. It is well that he can balance that thought with the belief that good also may work in the future with a yet wider range and mightier power (Exodus 20:5). Authority and experience alike might seem to favour the plea that the fathers had eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth were set on edge. Ezekiel was led, however, to feel that there was a latent falsehood in the plea. In the depth of his consciousness there was the witness that every man was personally responsible for the things that he did, that the eternal righteousness of God would not ultimately punish the innocent for the guilty, he had to work out, according to the light given him, his vindication of the ways of God to man, to sketch at least the outlines of a theodicy. Did he, in doing this, come forward as a prophet, correcting and setting aside the teaching of the Law? At first, and on a surface view, he might seem to do so. But it was with him as it was afterwards with St. Paul He "established the Law" in the very teaching which seemed to contradict it. He does not deny (it would have been idle to do so) that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, i.e. affect those children for evil. What he does is to define the limits of that law. And he may have found his starting point in that very book which, for him and his generation, was the great embodiment of the Law as a whole. If men were forbidden, as in Deuteronomy 24:16, to put the children to death for the sins of the fathers; if that was to be the rule of human justice, - the justice of God could not be less equitable than the rule which he prescribed for his creatures. It is not without interest to note the parallelism between Ezekiel and the Greek poet who was likest to him, as in his genius, so also in the courage with which he faced the problems of the universe. AEschylus also recognizes ('Agam.,' 727-756) that there is a righteous order in the seeming anomalies of history. Men might say, in their proverbs, that prosperity as such provoked the wrath of the gods, and brought on the downfall of a "woe insatiable;" and then he adds -
"But I, apart from all,
Hold this my creed alone." And that creed is that punishment comes only when the children reproduce the impious recklessness of their fathers. "Justice shines brightly in the dwellings of those who love the right, and rule their life by law." Into the deeper problem raised by the modern thought of inherited tendencies developed by the environment, which itself originates in the past, it was not given to Ezekiel or AEschylus to enter.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And the word of the Lord came unto me again, saying. The word of prophecy from the Lord, as the Targum; and its being mentioned is coming from the Lord is to give it weight and authority. This is a distinct sermon or prophecy from the former, and was sent and delivered out at another time.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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