The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?Ezekiel 18:2. What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel — With respect to the desolations made in it by the sword, famine, and pestilence. The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge — The present generation is punished for the offences committed by their forefathers, particularly for the sins committed in the time of Manasseh, king of Judah: see 2 Kings 23:26; Jeremiah 15:4. The Jewish people were very prone to plead their innocence, however great their crimes were.
As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.Ezekiel 18:3. As I live; saith the Lord, ye shall not have occasion to use this proverb any more in Israel — I will make such a visible discrimination between the righteous and the wicked, between those that tread in the steps of their forefathers and those who take warning by their examples, that you shall not have any further room to use this proverb among you. God threatens, it must be acknowledged, to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, both in the Old Testament and the New: see Exodus 20:5; Matthew 23:35. But this is to be understood only, 1st, With respect to the temporal punishments of this world, not with respect to the eternal punishments of the next; and, 2d, When the children walk in the wicked steps of their parents, and so by degrees fill up the measure of national iniquity: see notes on Jeremiah 15:4; Jeremiah 31:29, where this matter is more fully explained. “The Scripture takes notice of a certain measure of iniquity, which is filling up from one generation to another, till at last it makes a nation or family ripe for destruction. And although those persons on whom this vengeance falls suffer no more than their own personal sins deserved, yet, because the sins of former generations, which they equal or outdo, make it time for God utterly to destroy them, the punishments due to the sins of many ages and generations are said to fall upon them.” — Dr. Sherlock.
Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.Ezekiel 18:4. Behold, all souls are mine — As they are all equally my creatures, and in my power, so my dealings with them shall be without prejudice or partiality. The soul that sinneth, it shall die — The very same man that committeth sin shall be punished for it. Some commentators explain this of the temporal death which was about to come on the wicked Jews by the sword, famine, and pestilence; and they would confine the whole chapter to these events. “But,” as Mr. Scott justly observes, “it cannot be proved that every righteous man escaped those temporal judgments, or that all who survived them were righteous: without which this whole interpretation must fall for want of a foundation. Many, indeed, of the pious Jews had
‘their lives given them for a prey,’ but even what Jeremiah, Baruch, and others endured in the siege, and after the taking of Jerusalem, nearly equalled the external sufferings of many wicked men among them; and none of those who survived the siege escaped captivity or exile. So that facts, in this particular, did not so fully ascertain the equality of the divine conduct toward these distinct characters, as this hypothesis requires.” Temporal death, therefore, which, as the consequence of the first transgression, passes equally upon all men, cannot be only, or even chiefly, if it be at all, intended here. But, as life signifies in general all that happiness which attends God’s favour, so death denotes all those punishments which are the effects of the divine displeasure, (see 2 Samuel 12:13,) under which are comprehended the miseries of the next world. And these shall be allotted to men according to their deeds, (Romans 2:6,) without any regard to the faults of their ancestors, which shall not then be laid to their charge, or taken into account to aggravate their guilt. This the prophets well knew, and therefore, as they instruct men in the practice of inward and evangelical righteousness, and in order to it speak slightingly of the mere external duties of religion, (see Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 7:22-23,) so they raise men’s minds to look beyond the temporal promises and threatenings of the law, to the eternal rewards and punishments of another life, Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 12:2. In both which respects they prepared men’s minds for the reception of the gospel when it should be revealed. See Lowth.
But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,Ezekiel 18:5-9. If a man be just — Or righteous, rather, as the word צדיק properly signifies; for it is not mere honesty, but true religion that is intended. And hath not eaten upon the mountains — Feasted on the sacrifices they offered to false gods. Idolatrous worship was commonly performed upon mountains or high places; and eating part of the sacrifice was properly maintaining communion with the idol to which it was offered. Neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols — In prayer and adoration. And hath restored to the debtor his pledge — That is, what he could not be in want of without great inconvenience; such as clothes, bedding, and the like. God forbade the Jews to detain all night any pledge of this kind which they took from a poor man, (see the margin,) which was, in effect, to enjoin them to lend to the poor, without either pawn or usury. Hath given his bread to the hungry — After the offices of justice, come those of charity or beneficence: see margin. That hath not given forth upon usury — Usury, when exacted of the poor, has been generally condemned as no better than oppression, and is particularly forbidden by the law: see the margin. It is probable this sort of usury is chiefly here meant, because it is joined with oppression, violence, and want of charity. Every kind and degree of usury, however, was forbidden to the Israelites among one another, 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 vines and olive-trees. Neither hath taken any increase — This seems to be meant of taking any advantage of the poor upon any occasion: see note on Leviticus 25:36. Hath executed true judgment between man and man — Whenever he has been appointed a judge or an arbiter of differences between men; or, according as he has opportunity of doing it. Hath walked in my statutes, and kept my judgments — My ordinances and commandments, attending diligently to the various institutions of my worship, and living in continual obedience to my will as revealed in my word, and that from a principle of faith in, and love to me, Deuteronomy 6:5; and Deuteronomy 30:20; to deal truly — Uprightly and sincerely, according to the best of his knowledge; he is just — Righteous in a gospel sense. Righteousness has been imputed to him, Genesis 15:6; Psalm 32:1-2; and implanted in him, Deuteronomy 5:29; Deuteronomy 30:6; Psalm 51:10; otherwise it would not be thus practised by him. His person has been justified, and his nature renewed, otherwise he would neither have inclination nor power to walk thus before God in all well-pleasing. He shall surely live, saith the Lord God — Shall enjoy the comfort and reward of his obedience, and shall not need to fear any of those punishments that befall the wicked. He lives to God here, and shall live with him hereafter: see notes on Psalms 15.
And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour's wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,
And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;
He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,
Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.
If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,Ezekiel 18:10-13. If he — The righteous man before described, who transmits his human nature, but cannot transmit his graces and virtues to his son; beget a son who is a robber, &c. — Who is guilty of any of the evil practices above mentioned; and that doeth not any of those duties — That lives in the neglect of the just and humane offices which have been mentioned, and which are commanded by the law; he hath committed abomination — This may chiefly refer to the last two clauses of Ezekiel 18:6. He shall not live — Namely, because of his father’s righteousness. He shall not enjoy the divine favour and blessing here or hereafter: he shall not escape punishment; namely, unless he turn to God in true repentance and reformation, Ezekiel 18:21. He hath done, or, because he hath done, all these abominations — Which have rendered him an object of the divine wrath; his blood shall be upon him — He is the cause of his own destruction; the whole blame of it must lie at his own door.
And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour's wife,
Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,
Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.
Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,
That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour's wife,
Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,
That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.
As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.
Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.Ezekiel 18:19-20. Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? — God here puts into the prophet’s mouth what he knew the Jews would object (at least in their minds) to the foregoing declarations, namely, that they would deny what the prophet had said on this head, and would appeal to facts and experience that the son did bear the iniquity of the father; so that the sense of the first clause of the verse is, Why do you affirm this? does not experience show that the son bears the iniquity of the father? Is it not plain and undeniable, notwithstanding your fine discourse to the contrary? To be sure, we feel the truth of it in our own cases. To this cavil God makes answer in the following words, affirming that this was no otherwise so than when the son followed the example of his father’s iniquity; for that, when the son did that which was lawful and right, and kept God’s statutes, or lived a life of true piety and virtue, he should surely live, that is, should not be punished, or cut off, on account of the iniquity of his father. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him — That is, the righteous shall receive the reward of his righteousness. And the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him — That is, the reward of his wickedness. As certainly as it shall be well with the righteous, because he shall eat the fruit of his doings, so certainly shall woful punishment be executed upon the wicked who persist in their wickedness: see Isaiah 3:10-11.
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.Ezekiel 18:21-23. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins — That is, repent and bring forth fruit worthy of repentance. He shall surely live — He shall escape punishment: he shall be pardoned, and it shall be well with him in time and in eternity; as if he had said, So far is God from punishing the sins of guilty parents on their innocent children, as is objected above, that it is certain he does not punish even the guilty for their own sins, when they repent of and forsake them. Our God, who mercifully pardons the penitent for their own sins, will not, cannot for a moment, be supposed to charge innocent children, or any others, with the sins that are not their own. All his transgressions — That is, not one of all his transgressions; shall be mentioned unto him — Or remembered against him; that is, imputed to or punished on him; they shall be as if they were forgotten. God is said in Scripture to remember men’s sins when he punishes them, and not to remember them when he pardons them: see Jeremiah 14:10; Jeremiah 31:34. Have I any pleasure, &c., that the wicked should die? — “Is it any pleasure to me that men should be wicked; or that those who are now wicked men, should die everlastingly? Is it not rather my desire that men should repent, and that the repentant should live? Is not this the very sum of my gospel, which I send into the world? Do I not call, and cry, and sue to men, that they would return from their sins, and be saved?” — Bishop Hall. It is not in the nature of God, which is infinitely holy and gracious, to have any pleasure in the unholiness and misery of any of his creatures. It does not comport with the wisdom and rectitude of the eternal lawgiver and sovereign ruler of the world, to take delight in seeing his laws violated, the rights of his government infringed, and his subjects punished. And it cannot consist with the boundless love of the almighty Father of the universe to take pleasure in witnessing the wretchedness of his offspring; or with the infinite mercy of the Redeemer and Saviour of the fallen race of Adam, to delight in seeing those perish for whose salvation he gave his Son to die. On the contrary, he willeth all men to be saved, and, in order thereto, to come to the knowledge of the truth, and is not willing that any should perish, 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9. It is true that God has determined to punish sinners continuing in sin; his justice calls for it; and, pursuant to that, impenitent sinners will lie for ever under his wrath and curse. This is the will of his decree, his consequent will, but it is not his antecedent will, the will of his delight and good pleasure. For though the righteousness of his government requires that sinners should die, yet the goodness of his nature causes him to choose far rather that they should turn from their ways and live; and he is unspeakably better pleased when his mercy is glorified in their salvation than when his justice is glorified in their damnation. Hence that affectionate wish, Deuteronomy 5:29, O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, &c., always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.Ezekiel 18:24. But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, &c. — “The question here,” say some commentators, “is not whether truly righteous men ever do thus apostatize.” No? Surely it is the question, and the sole question: for if the truly righteous (of whom alone the prophet is speaking, and not of the hypocritically righteous, or mere professors of righteousness) do never apostatize, why does the prophet suppose that they do? Nay, why does he expressly affirm it, saying, When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity? &c. Which is repeated Ezekiel 18:26, with the addition, And dieth in them; for the iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Surely these words are utterly irreconcilable with the notion, that the truly righteous never fall away. They who maintain this position may, on similar grounds, maintain, and, to be consistent with themselves, ought to maintain, in contradiction to the 21st and 27th verses, that the truly wicked never turn from their wickedness, never truly repent, and save their souls alive. For both events are equally supposed by the prophet frequently to take place, and it is affirmed in similar terms that both do take place. See note on Ezekiel 3:20. Nor is this prophet singular in teaching this doctrine, or this the only passage of Scripture in which it is taught: it is abundantly and explicitly declared and attested in other parts of holy writ, and by other inspired writers, especially those of the New Testament, and even by Christ himself, as the reader may see, if he will take the trouble of consulting the passages quoted in the margin. All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned — For, better had it been for him not to have known the way of righteousness, than after he hath known it, to turn aside from the holy commandment, 2 Peter 2:21. Such a one sins against a clearer light, and greater convictions, and withal is guilty of the highest ingratitude in doing despite unto the Spirit of grace.
Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?Ezekiel 18:25-29. Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal, &c. — Yet ye allege that I do not act according to the strict rules of justice and equity: but “the declarations I have so often repeated concerning the eternal rewards and punishments allotted to the righteous and the wicked, are sufficient to vindicate the justice of my proceedings against all your objections.” When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, &c. — “It is an opinion that prevails among the Jews, even till this day, that at the day of judgment a considerable number of good actions shall overbalance men’s evil ones. See Ezekiel 33:13. So they thought it a hard case for a man who had been righteous the far greater part of his life, if he did at last commit iniquity, that his former righteousness should avail him nothing. In opposition to this doctrine, God here declares that a righteous man sinning and not repenting, should die in his sins; and that a wicked man, upon his repentance, should save his soul alive.” — Lowth. Again, when the wicked man, &c. — These verses are, as it were, a repetition of what had been said before; or rather, the conclusion of the matter, or the whole of the chapter summed up and brought to a point; namely, that men suffer the divine punishments only on account of their sins; that they cannot enjoy the divine favour while they continue in sin; and that, in order to obtain it, it is indispensably necessary that they should turn from all their transgressions and become new creatures, and that even former righteousness cannot obtain for them, or preserve to them, the favour of God, while they relapse into and continue in subsequent iniquity. In a word, that sin and wickedness are the sole objects of God’s aversion and indignation, and holiness and righteousness of his favour and approbation.
When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.
Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.Ezekiel 18:30-31. Therefore will I judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, &c. — You complain of the injustice of my ways or proceedings; but if I judge you according to the desert of your ways, you will certainly be all found guilty: and nothing but repentance, and a real turning to God in heart and life, can avert that ruin to which your sins have exposed you. Cast away from you all your transgressions — Here God, in a most tender and pathetic manner, exhorts the Israelites, and in them all sinners, to comply with those terms on which alone he could or can take men into favour, and save them from destruction, namely, the casting away or forsaking all their sins, whether of omission or commission, all their sinful tempers, words, or works; and giving up themselves sincerely and heartily to his love and service. And to show that a mere attendance on modes of worship, and an external obedience to the precepts of God’s law, are not sufficient, nor can be accepted without internal purity and holiness, he adds, Make you a new heart and a new spirit — Which words imply, both that a new heart and a new spirit are absolutely necessary in order to salvation, and that means must be used by us in order to the attainment of these blessings. It must be well observed, that what is here commanded as our duty, to show the necessity of our endeavours in the use of means, is elsewhere promised as God’s gift, (see Ezekiel 36:26; Ezekiel 11:19,) to show man’s inability to perform this duty, without the special grace of God, which, however, will not be denied to those who sincerely and earnestly seek it, in the way God has prescribed, namely, the way of prayer, watchfulness, self-denial, attention to and faith in the word and promise of God, assembling with his people, and carefully shunning the appearance of evil. For, as Lowth well observes, the difference of expression is thus to be reconciled, “that although God works in us to will and to do, and is the first mover in our regeneration, yet we must work together with his grace, and not quench or resist its motions:” see notes on Jeremiah 31:18; Jeremiah 31:33-34. To the same purpose are the words of Calmet here: “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 impotence, on the other hand we ought to hope in him, who giveth to all liberally, and who willeth not our death, but our conversion. He informs us of our freedom of will, by enjoining us to make us a new heart: he would have us to do what we can, and to ask of him what we cannot.”
Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.