Yet say you, Why? does not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son has done that which is lawful and right, and has kept all my statutes, and has done them, he shall surely live.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Why? Doth not the son bear?—It would be clearer to read this as a single question, “Why doth not the son, &c?” It is the question proposed by the people in objection to what has been declared. To them it seemed the law of nature, the necessity of the case, the teaching of history, that the son should bear the iniquity of his father. Their ideas had not risen to the conception of man’s individual responsibility to God; to them the individual was still but a part of the nation or the family. They ask, therefore, why this universal law should now be reversed. It was not true that any law was reversed, it was only that the superior prevailed over the inferior law; but, as usual in such cases, the Divine word does not reason with the human objection, but in this and the following verse only reiterates most emphatically the law of individual responsibility.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.
Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? The prophet here brings in what he met with among them; still every where they insist on it that they deserved not by any sin of their own what they now suffered, and so would cast the sin and guilt on their fathers, and the rigour and severity on God, and clear themselves to all; which the prophet answers by a recapitulation of what he had more largely spoken, and avows it, that the righteous son of an unrighteous father shall live, and not die.
Kept all my statutes; as Psalm 119:44.
doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? have not we proof of it every day we live? are not our present case and circumstances a full evidence of it? or the words may be rendered, "why does not the son bear the iniquity of the father?" so the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, and Arabic versions; or, as the Targum,
"why is not the son punished for the sins of the father?''
and so they are an objection, which is foreseen might be made, and is here anticipated, to which an answer is returned; and so the Syriac version introduces it, "but if they said", &c. then adds, "tell them", as follows:
when, or "because"
the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them: this is the reason why he shall not bear his father's sins, or be punished for them; intimating that they had not done these things that made the complaint, or put the, question; but had committed the same sins their fathers had, and so were punished, not for their fathers' sins, but their own: for otherwise the man that does what is just and right with God, and between man and man,
he shall surely live; See Gill on Ezekiel 18:17.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)19. Yet say ye, Why?] Rather: and ye say, wherefore doth not the son bear …? The prophet refers to the current view, and supposes it quoted as an objection to his principle. So long as the idea prevailed that the son was, so to speak, part of the father, it was natural to suppose that he should be included in the father’s punishment; hence the people ask, Why doth the son not bear, lit. bear part of, share in bearing (so Ezekiel 18:20), the iniquity of the father? In opposition to this idea the prophet states his principle on both its sides, Ezekiel 18:19-20.
Secondly, Ezekiel 18:21-32. As men shall not be involved in the sins of their people or their fathers, so the individual soul shall not lie under the ban of its own past.
The sinner who turneth from his evil and doeth righteousness shall live in his righteousness, Ezekiel 18:21-23. And on the other hand, the righteous man who turneth away from his righteousness and doeth evil shall die in his evil, Ezekiel 18:24.Verse 19. - Why? doth not the son, etc.? The words are better taken, with the LXX., Vulgate, Revised Version, and most critics, as a single question, Why doth not the son bear, etc.? What is the explanation of a fact which seemingly contradicts the teaching of the Law? The answer to the question seems at first only an iteration of what had been stated before. The son repents, and therefore does not bear his father's iniquity. A man is responsible for his own sins, and for those only. To think otherwise is to think of God as less righteous than man.
Ezekiel 18:5. If a man is righteous, and doeth right and righteousness, Ezekiel 18:6. And doth not eat upon the mountains, and doth not lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, and doth not defile his neighbour's wife, and doth not approach his wife in her uncleanness, Ezekiel 18:7. Oppresseth no one, restoreth his security (lit., debt-pledge), committeth no robbery, giveth his bread to the hungry, and covereth the naked with clothes, Ezekiel 18:8. Doth not give upon usury, and taketh not interest, withholdeth his hand from wrong, executeth judgment of truth between one and another, Ezekiel 18:9. Walketh in my statutes, and keepeth my rights to execute truth; he is righteous, he shall live, is the saying of the Lord "Jehovah." - The exposition of the assertion, that God only punishes the sinner, not the innocent, commences with a picture of the righteousness which has the promise of life. The righteousness consists in the fulfilment of the commandments of the law: viz., (1) those relating to religious duties, such as the avoidance of idolatry, whether of the grosser kind, such as eating upon the mountains, i.e., observing sacrificial festivals, and therefore sacrificing to idols (cf. Deuteronomy 12:2.), or of a more refined description, e.g., lifting up the eyes to idols, to look to them, or make them the object of trust, and offer supplication to them (cf. Psalm 121:1; Deuteronomy 4:19), as Israel had done, and was doing still (cf. Ezekiel 6:13); and (2) those relating to moral obligations, such as the avoidance of adultery (compare Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; and for טמּא, Genesis 34:5), and of conjugal intercourse with a wife during menstruation, which was a defilement of the marriage relation (cf. Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:18). All these sins were forbidden in the law on pain of death. To these there are appended duties to a neighbour (Ezekiel 18:7.), viz., to abstain from oppressing any one (Exodus 22:28; Leviticus 15:14, Leviticus 15:17), to restore the pledge to a debtor (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 24:6, Deuteronomy 24:10.). חוב is hardly to be taken in any other sense than as in apposition to חבלתו, "his pledge, which is debt," equivalent to his debt-pledge or security, like דּרכּך זמּה in Ezekiel 16:27. The supposition of Hitzig, that חוב is a participle, like קום in 2 Kings 16:7, in the sense of debtor, is a far less natural one, and has no valid support in the free rendering of the lxx, ἐνεχυρασμὸν ὀφείλοντος. The further duties are to avoid taking unlawful possession of the property of another (cf. Leviticus 5:23); to feed the hungry, clothe the naked (cf. Isaiah 58:5; Matthew 25:26; James 2:15-16); to abstain from practising usury (Deuteronomy 23:20; cf. Exodus 22:24) and taking interest (Leviticus 25:36-37); in judicial sentences, to draw back the hand from wrong, and promote judgment of truth, - a sentence in accordance with the true nature of the case (see the comm. on Zechariah 7:9); and, lastly, to walk in the statutes and rights of the Lord, - an expression which embraces, in conclusion, all that is essential to the righteousness required by the law. - This definition of the idea of true righteousness, which preserves from death and destruction, and ensures life to the possessor, is followed in Ezekiel 18:10. by a discussion of the attitude which God sustains towards the sons.
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