Ezekiel 18:24
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.
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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.

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?" 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.

After the stating the equity of God’s ways in his dealings with parents and children, and his mercy in dealing with sinners that return according to his own promise, he proceeds to vindicate the equity of his ways in another case.

When, or if; should it so happen at any time. The righteous; one who really had observed the commands of the law, not done the abominations the wicked do, but done the good which the righteous doth, and in the sight of man appears as righteous, and as good as any one; whose apostacy is first full proof of his unsoundness and hypocrisy.

Turneth; changeth his course into sinful practices, like the wicked.

His righteousness; there is a righteousness which is of God, and there is a righteousness which is a man’s own, such as does arise from a man’s own reason and will, improved by common grace, or education, or awed by fears, or swayed by interest, or maintained by some failing spring which may easily dry up; these righteous ones easily fall away, and of such the prophet speaks.

Committeth iniquity; makes sin his work and business, John 8:31 1Jo 3:8,9.

Doeth according to all the abominations; forgets all better rules, derides his own former preciseness, and shakes off all restraints, that he may run to the excess of sin.

Abominations; recounted Ezekiel 18:10-13.

That the wicked man doeth: see Ezekiel 18:21.

Shall he live? do you think I will be so partial as to acquit him from real wickedness, committed with his whole heart, from his last works, which are abominable? Do you think his first heartless, partial, temporary righteousness will counterbalance his last and final apostacy? I tell you nay, but he shall die in it.

All his righteousness that he hath done; though he could produce his own righteousnesses, (as the Hebrew,) and these multiplied to many, all, and that they were really done, yet these should not avail before a just judge; who by a law that requires man should ever be and do what he was and did at best, is to determine his rewards or punishments according to what the man is at last, not according to what he was or seemed to be at first.

Shall not be mentioned; the parable tells us, Matthew 25:44,45, some will plead that they did what they had opportunity of doing, and others, Matthew 7:22, will mention what they have done. But though they may mention these, the just judge will not, nor the law by which they are to be judged will not, allow it for a good and sufficient plea: see the phrase Ezekiel 18:22.

In his trespass that he hath trespassed: this expression shows that this man’s heart was on his sin; in his transgression he transgressed with full bent of mind, with delight and consent he did what he did, and could not say, I do what I would not; or, So then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me, as Romans 7:17. Lest any stumble at sight of infirmities in all, or needlessly disquiet themselves with fears of wrath at last, because they cannot be sinless, yet they do not fall under the character of such as are here threatened.

In them; in these great, wilful, continued, and multiplied sins.

Shall he die; every such obdurate and final apostate shall be condemned and punished temporally and eternally, and therefore look to it, ye wicked Jews, and consider, ye sinful Christians.

But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness,.... This is to be understood, not of a truly righteous man; for no man can be so denominated from his own righteousness; but from the righteousness and obedience of Christ; and such a man cannot turn from his righteousness; for that is the righteousness of God, and can never be lost; and is an everlasting one, and will always endure; and with which eternal life is inseparably connected: but this is to be interpreted of one that is reckoned so from his own righteousness, what he himself has done, and not from another, from the righteousness of Christ, which he has wrought out; he is one that is righteous in his own esteem, and in the account of others; who is outwardly righteous before men; who trusts in himself that he is righteous, and trusts to his own righteousness; see Ezekiel 33:13; whose righteousness is not an evangelical one, but either a ceremonial righteousness, or at most a mere moral one, consisting of some negative holiness, and a few moral performances, as appears from Ezekiel 18:5; and from such a righteousness as this a man may turn, commit iniquity, sin and die; see 2 Peter 2:20; and is no proof or instance of the apostasy of real saints, true believers, or truly righteous men; besides, this man is represented as a transgressor, or "prevaricator", as the word signifies; a hypocrite, a man destitute of the truth of grace, and of true righteousness:

and committeth iniquity; makes a trade of sinning; goes into a vicious course of life, and continues in it; which a truly gracious man, one that is born again, and has true faith in Christ's righteousness, by which he is justified, can never do, 1 John 3:8;

and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth; such as theft, murder, adultery, idolatry, oppression of the poor, and giving upon usury, Ezekiel 18:10;

shall he live? in his own land, in peace and prosperity, enjoying all manner of good things? he shall not; much less shall he live an eternal life, so living and dying:

all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: or, "all his righteousnesses" (k); all the good works which he has done will never come into any account, or be of any avail; as they merited nothing, they will meet with no reward; they will not preserve him from present calamity, which his now sinful life exposes him to, nor secure him from eternal ruin; these may be mentioned and pleaded by himself, but to no purpose; God will not mention them, nor take any notice of them, nor the Judge at the great day of account, Matthew 7:22;

in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die; or, for his hypocrisy, "prevarication" (l), and vicious course of life he now lives in, a death of affliction shall come upon him; great calamities and distresses in this world; and, if grace prevent not, eternal death in the other; if he dies in his trespasses and sins, he will die the second death.

(k) "omnes justitiae ejus", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Cocceius.

(l) "propter prvevaricationem ipsius, vel suam", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Polanus.

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 {g} 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.

(g) That is, the false opinion that the hypocrites have of their righteousness.

24. Although it would have sufficed for the prophet’s purpose to assure the repentant sinner of God’s forgiveness, he has a certain theoretical interest in the principle which he is insisting on which makes him develop it on the other side also.

Verse 24. - In the previous argument (ver. 21) the truth that the individual character may change had been stated as a ground of hope. Here it appears as a ground, for fear and watchfulness. The "grey-haired saint may fail at last," the apostle may become a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27), and the righteousness of a life may be cancelled by the sins of a year or of a day. Whether there was an opening for repentance, even after that fall, the prophet does not say, but the law that a man is in spiritual life or death according to what he is at any given moment of his course, seems to require the extension of the hope, unless we assume that the nature of the fall in the case supposed fetters the freedom of the will, and makes repentance impossible (Hebrews 6:4-7; 2 Peter 2:20). Ezekiel 18:24Turning 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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