Ezekiel 18:23
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?
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(23) Have I any pleasure at all?—This brings out that fundamental truth which underlies the whole teaching of both the Old and New Testaments, and which should have satisfied Israel of the Lord’s readiness to receive every penitent sinner. God created man; and when he had fallen, ordered both the old and the new dispensations, and employed methods of infinite love to win him to salvation. He can have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; His delight can only be when man fulfils the design for which he was created, and returns to obedience and communion with God. Yet neither, as is declared in the next verse, can the Almighty suffer that His creature should set at nought His love and despise His salvation.

18:21-29 The wicked man would be saved, if he turned from his evil ways. The true penitent is a true believer. None of his former transgressions shall be mentioned unto him, but in the righteousness which he has done, as the fruit of faith and the effect of conversion, he shall surely live. The question is not whether the truly righteous ever become apostates. It is certain that many who for a time were thought to be righteous, do so, while ver. 26,27 speaks the fulness of pardoning mercy: when sin is forgiven, it is blotted out, it is remembered no more. In their righteousness they shall live; not for their righteousness, as if that were an atonement for their sins, but in their righteousness, which is one of the blessings purchased by the Mediator. What encouragement a repenting, returning sinner has to hope for pardon and life according to this promise! In verse 28 is the beginning and progress of repentance. True believers watch and pray, and continue to the end, and they are saved. In all our disputes with God, he is in the right, and we are in the wrong.Why?... - Rather, "Why doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?" 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). Now, O ye perverse Jews! if by these truths you will judge of me, could it enter the thoughts of any one of you, that I should, as delighting in the death of sinners, impute other men’s sins to you, that you might die for them, when I could not slay you for your own? Think not thus of the God of mercy, who pities, forbears, and though at last hath punished obstinate sinners, yet never delighted in their death. Is it not my command that you and other sinners repent? Have not you and others found mercy upon seeming repentance? And as for that repentance which is sound, it ever had a full pardon; and the promise of life and pardon hath been repeated and confirmed to you again and again; so that it is the most unjust, unreasonable, and impious quarrel you, O Jews, have taken up against your God, who would have you repent of your own sins, and you should live, but if you repent not, you shall die, but for your own sins, not your fathers’. Since therefore I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, turn yourselves, and live ye, as it is Ezekiel 18:32; for this 23rd verse equally declares God’s mercy and our duty, the one in his pleasure at our return, the other in our pleasing him herein.

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God,.... Perish by sword, famine, or pestilence, or go into captivity; this, though the Lord's will and work, yet is his strange work; mercy is his delight. This is to be understood not absolutely; for the Lord does take pleasure in these things, as they fulfil his word, secure the honour of his truth and holiness, and glorify his justice, and especially when they are the means of reclaiming men from the evil of their ways; but comparatively, as follows:

and not that he should return from his ways, and live? that is, it is more pleasing to God that a man should repent of his sins, and forsake his vicious course of life, and enjoy good things, than to go on in his sins, and bring ruin on himself, here and hereafter.

{f} 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?

(f) He speaks this to commend God's mercy to poor sinners, who rather is ready to pardon than to punish, as his long suffering declares, Eze 33:11. Though God in his eternal counsel appointed the death and damnation of the reprobate, yet the end of his counsel was not their death only, but chiefly his own glory. Also because he does not approve sin, therefore it is here said that he would have them turn away from it that they might live.

23. The verse meets a feeling of despair both in regard to themselves and in regard to God which was beginning to take possession of the minds of some, perhaps many, among the people. The despair in regard to themselves is seen in ch. Ezekiel 33:10-11, “We pine away in our iniquities, how should we live?” and the despair in regard to God, which is but another side of that in regard to themselves, is expressed in such passages as Lamentations 3:42-44, “We have rebelled and thou hast not pardoned … Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud that our prayer should not pass through.” The Lord had brought the evil on them which he had purposed (Lamentations 2:8; Lamentations 2:17), and it was final (Lamentations 2:9). The same despondency, though softened in some measure by the lapse of time, appears in another prophet, Isaiah 40:27-31; Isaiah 49:14, “Zion hath said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” So long as the state existed the covenant might also be thought to remain, and the prophets could sustain the hearts of men by reminding them that the Lord was their God; but when the state fell and Israel was no more to appearance the people of Jehovah, they had to go behind the covenant and fall back on that unchanging nature of Jehovah which originated the covenant—that mercy which endureth for ever. The prevailing disposition of the mind of Jehovah was towards the salvation of men.

Verse 23. - Have I any pleasure, etc.? Ezekiel's anticipations of the gospel of Christ take a yet wider range, and we come at last to what had been throughout the suppressed premise of the argument. To him, as afterwards to St. Paul (1 Timothy 2:4) and St. Peter (2 Peter 3:9), the mind of God was presented as being at once absolutely righteous and absolutely loving. The death of the wicked, the loss, i.e., of true life, for a time, or even forever, might be the necessary consequence of laws that were righteous in themselves, and were working out the well being of the universe; but that death was not to be thought of as the result of a Divine decree, or contemplated by the Divine mind with any satisfaction. If it were not given to Ezekiel to see, as clearly as Isaiah seems to have seen it, how the Divine philanthropy was to manifest itself, he at least gauged that philanthropy itself, and found it fathomless. Ezekiel 18:23Turning to good leads to life; turning to evil is followed by death. - Ezekiel 18:21. But if the wicked man turneth from all his sins which he hath committed, and keepeth all my statutes, and doeth right and righteousness, he shall live, and not die. Ezekiel 18:22. All his transgressions which he hath committed, shall not be remembered to him: for the sake of the righteousness which he hath done he will live. Ezekiel 18:23. Have I then pleasure in the death of the wicked? is the saying of Jehovah: and not rather that he turn from his ways, and live? Ezekiel 18:24. But if the righteous man turn from his righteousness, and doeth wickedness, and acteth according to all the abominations which the ungodly man hath done, should he live? All the righteousness that he hath done shall not be remembered: for his unfaithfulness that he hath committed, and for his sin that he hath sinned, for these he shall die. Ezekiel 18:25. And ye say, "The way of the Lord is not right." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right? Ezekiel 18:26. If a righteous man turneth from his righteousness, and doeth wickedness, and dieth in consequence, he dieth for his wickedness that he hath done. - The proof that every one must bear his sin did not contain an exhaustive reply to the question, in what relation the righteousness of God stood to the sin of men? For the cases supposed in vv. 5-20 took for granted that there was a constant persistence in the course once taken, and overlooked the instances, which are by no means rare, when a man's course of life is entirely changed. It still remained, therefore, to take notice of such cases as these, and they are handled in Ezekiel 18:21-26. The ungodly man, who repents and turns, shall live; and the righteous man, who turns to the way of sin, shall die. "As the righteous man, who was formerly a sinner, is not crushed down by his past sins; so the sinner, who was once a righteous man, is not supported by his early righteousness. Every one will be judged in that state in which he is found" (Jerome). The motive for the pardon of the repenting sinner is given in Ezekiel 18:23, in the declaration that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but desires his conversion, that he may live. God is therefore not only just, but merciful and gracious, and punishes none with death but those who either will not desist from evil, or will not persevere in the way of His commandments. Consequently the complaint, that the way of the Lord, i.e., His conduct toward men, is not weighed (יתּכן, see comm. on 1 Samuel 2:3), i.e., not just and right, is altogether unfounded, and recoils upon those who make it. It it not God's ways, but the sinner's, that are wrong (Ezekiel 18:25). The proof of this, which Hitzig overlooks, is contained in the declarations made in Ezekiel 18:23 and Ezekiel 18:26, - viz. in the fact that God does not desire the death of the sinner, and in His mercy forgives the penitent all his former sins, and does not lay them to his charge; and also in the fact that He punishes the man who turns from the way of righteousness and gives himself up to wickedness, on account of the sin which he commits; so that He simply judges him according to his deeds. - In Ezekiel 18:24, ועשׂה is the continuation of the infinitive שׁוּב, and וחי is interrogatory, as in Ezekiel 18:13.
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