Ezekiel 18:23
Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord GOD. would I not prefer he turn from his ways and live?
A Summons to RepentanceD. Featly, D. D.Ezekiel 18:23
Divine BenevolenceJ.R. Thomson Ezekiel 18:23
God and the SoulBishop Lang.Ezekiel 18:23
God's Solemn Inquiry of Gospel HearersD. D. Stewart, M. A.Ezekiel 18:23
Sin Slays the SinnerEzekiel 18:23
The Best ReturnD. Featly, D. D.Ezekiel 18:23
God's Remonstrance with Man's ReasonJ.D. Davies Ezekiel 18:5-24
Moral Transformations and Their ConsequencesW. Jones Ezekiel 18:21-29
No such conception of Deity can be found elsewhere . as in the Holy Scriptures. Where can the sentiment of this verse be matched in other sacred literatures? Thousands of years have elapsed since these words were penned; and the world has not produced or heard language in itself more morally elevating and beautiful, more honouring to the Supreme Ruler, more consolatory and inspiring to the sinful sons of men.

I. MEN HAVE CHERISHED SUSPICION OF THE DIVINE MALEVOLENCE. No one who is acquainted with the religions which have obtained among the nations of mankind will question this. The deities of the Gentiles have reflected the moral qualities of the human race, and accordingly attributes morally reprehensible as well as attributes morally commendable have been assigned to the deities whom men have worshipped. Indeed, worship has to no small extent consisted in methods supposed efficacious to appease the wrath of the cruel and malicious powers from whose ill will humanity, it has been thought, had much to dread. And it is not to be questioned that even Jewish and Christian worship have not been free from some measure of this same error. It has been customary to refer the governmental and judicial infliction of punishment to a disposition to take pleasure in human sufferings and torture. The student of Scripture is aware that there is no authority, no justification for such a view; but the student of human nature is not surprised that such a view should have been taken.

II. GOD'S REPUDIATION OF MALEVOLENCE IN PLAIN AUTHORITATIVE WORDS. "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God." It is indeed condescension in the Supreme Ruler thus to remove the misunderstandings and difficulties which men create for themselves by their own ignorance and sin. Again and again he represents himself as merciful and delighting in mercy, but nowhere does he give the least ground for a suspicion that he delights in, or even is indifferent to, the sufferings of the children of men. Since all his words are faithful and true, we can but rest and rejoice in such an assurance as that of the text.

III. GOD'S PROOF IN HIS DEEDS OF THE BENEVOLENCE OF HIS NATURE. Israel, as a nation, had abundant evidence of the loving kindness and long suffering of him who chose the people as his own, trained them for his service, instructed them in his Law, bore with their frequent disobedience and rebellion, and ever addressed to them promises of compassion and of help. But all proofs of the Divine benevolence pale before that glorious exhibition of God's love and kindness which we Christians have received in him who is the unspeakable Gift of Heaven. Had the Almighty felt any pleasure in the death of the wicked, he would not have given his own Son, while we were yet sinners, to die for us. He took pleasure, not in the condemnation and death, but in the salvation of men. In Christ his love and kindness appeared; for Christ came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.

IV. THE ENCOURAGEMENT THUS AFFORDED TO PENITENT SINNERS TO HOPE FOR ACCEPTANCE AND LIFE. The pleasure of God is that the wicked "should return from his way, and should live." Thus there is coincidence between the good pleasure of the Omnipotent upon the one hand, and the best desires and truest interests of penitent sinners on the other. He wire repents of his evil deed, who looks upwards for forgiveness, and who resolves upon. a new and better life, has not to encounter Divine displeasure or ill will; on the contrary, he is assured of a gracious reception, of immediate pardon, of kindest consideration, and of help and guidance in the carrying out of holler purpose and endeavour. The demeanour and the language of God are those of the compassionate Father, who welcomes the returning prodigal, accords him a benign reception, and proffers him all those blessings, now and hereafter, which alone can answer to the glorious and comprehensive gift of Divine love - eternal life! - T.

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?
If we spare not our sins, but slay them with the sword of the Spirit, God will spare us. The words are uttered by a figurative interrogation, in which there is more evidence and efficacy, more life and convincing force. For it is as if He had said, Know ye not that I have no such desire? or think ye that I have any desire? or dare it enter into your thoughts that I take any pleasure at all in the death of a sinner? When the interrogation is figurative the rule is, that if the question be affirmative, the answer to it must be negative; but if the question be negative, the answer must be affirmative. For example: Who is like unto the Lord? the meaning is, none is like unto the Lord. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? that is, I have none in heaven but Thee. On the other side, when the question is negative, the answer must be affirmative; as: Are not the angels ministering spirits? that is, the angels are ministering spirits; and, Shall the Son of man find faith? that is, the Son of man shall not find faith. Here, then, apply the rule, and shape a negative answer to the first member being affirmative, thus: I have no desire that a sinner should die; and an affirmative answer to the negative member, thus: I have a desire that the wicked should return and five; and ye have the true meaning and natural exposition of this verse. But here some cast a dark mist, which hath caused many to lose their way. How (say they) do we maintain that God desireth not the death of a sinner, who before all time decreed death for sin, and sin for death? This mist in part is dispelled by distinguishing of three sorts of God's decrees —

1. There is an absolute decree and resolute purpose of God, for those things which He determineth shall be.

2. There is a decree of mandate, or at least a warrant for those things which He desireth should be.

3. There is a decree of permission for such things, as if He powerfully stop them not, will be. Of the first kind of decree or will of God, we are to understand those words of the Psalmist (Psalm 135:6), and of our Saviour (John 17:24). To the second we are to refer those words of the apostle (Romans 9:19; Ephesians 1:5; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Romans 12:2). If ye rightly apply these distinctions, ye may without great difficulty loosen the knots above tied: the first whereof was, whether God decreed sin original or actual. Ye may answer according to the former distinctions, that He decreed effectually all the good that is joined with it, or may come by it, or it may occasion; but He decreed permissively only the obliquity or malignity thereof: He neither doth it, nor approveth of it when it is done, but only permitteth it. and taketh advantage of it for the manifestation of His justice.To the second question, which toucheth the apple of the eye of this text, whether God decreeth the death of any? ye may answer briefly, that He doth not decree it any way for itself, as it is the destruction of His creature, or a temporal or eternal torment thereof; but as it is a manifestation of His justice.

1. Doth God take no pleasure in the death of the wicked that daily transgresseth His law, ungraciously abuse His mercy, and slightly regard His judgments? Doth He use all good means to reclaim them, and save them from wrath to come? Is the life of every man so precious in His eyes? Doth He esteem of it as a rich jewel engraven with His own image? How careful, then, and chary ought we to be, who are put in trust with it (locked up in the casket of our body), that we lose it not.

2. If judges, and all those who sit upon life and death, did enter into a serious consideration thereof, they would not so easily (as sometimes they do) cast away a thing that is so precious, much less receive the price of blood.

3. If a malefactor arraigned at the bar of justice should perceive by any speech, gesture, sign, or token, an inclination in the judge to mercy, how would he work upon this advantage? — what suit? what means would he make for his life? how would he importune all his friends to entreat for him? how would he fall down upon his knees and beseech the judge for the mercies of God to be good unto him? Ho, all ye that have guilty consciences, and are privy to yourselves of many capital crimes, though peradventure no other can appeach you! behold, the Judge of all flesh makes an overture of mercy, He bewrayeth more than a propension or inclination, He discovereth a desire to save you! Why do ye not make means unto Him? Why do ye not appeal from the bar of His justice to His throne of grace? Why do ye not fly from Him, as He is a terrible Judge? to Him, as He is a merciful Father?

(D. Featly, D. D.)

One of the masters of Old Testament theology, a student of singular nobility of mind and penetration of judgment, Dr. A.B. Davidson, has said of this and of the kindred 33rd chapter: "Perhaps there are hardly any more important passages in the Old Testament than those two chapters of Ezekiel." And why? Because, as he says, "there we may say that we see the birth of the individual mind taking place before our eyes." It was the first, or one of the first, assertions of the truth that man is more than the circumstances of which he is a part; that in God's sight he stands single and free. We can best understand the force of this particular chapter if we remember the historical circumstances out of which it came. Nebuchadnezzar, the ruthless conqueror, had laid waste Jerusalem. "He carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, and all the craftsmen, and none remained save the poorest of the people of the land." That band of exiles, among whom was the young Ezekiel, was carried to Babylon, and there the best of them lay astonished at the crushing blow which God had dealt to them. Jerusalem, the inviolable hill of Jehovah, spoiled and degraded, within eleven years laid waste and desolate, abandoned of God. It seemed to them that they were involved in the punishment of the sins of their fathers. There could be no escape, no penitence in the land of their exile could disentangle their souls from the ruin in which the sins of their forefathers had engulfed them. It was natural that their thoughts should run in such a channel. Hebrew religion tended to merge, the individual in the state or family. The covenant of God was made not with the individual so much as with the State. The dealings and punishments of God with His people embraced not only the person, but his whole family, to the third and fourth generation; and so it seemed to them that they could not, for all their anguish, escape the consequences of their fathers' sins. It was the object of Ezekiel to lift the burden of despair from his fellow exiles. He discerned in the very breaking up of the national life a call to the individual to become deeper and more personal in his obedience and faith. He sought to disentangle the person from the nation and the family, to make him realise his own freedom and separate responsibility in the sight of God. God is sovereign over the dispensations of His own laws. He treats every man, at every moment, precisely as that man is by virtue of his own separate and solitary responsibility. Man is free morally, whatever the chain that may bind him to his ancestors. God is free morally, and judges every man by virtue of that freedom. But the prophet carried the truth a stage further. Among these exiles there were doubtless individual men and women who felt that the chain that bound them, bound them to an irreversible destiny, was not the chain of their fathers' sins, but of the sins they themselves had committed. They remembered the law of Jehovah which they had despised, the worship of their fathers in the temple, which they had ignored or polluted by their idolatry. It seemed to them that their cup was full; they could not escape the punishment of the sins of the past. They were shut up to the impotence of unavailing remorse. To them the prophet's message was like that which he gave to his community. He reminded each of them that still, in spite of their sins and shortcomings, there was within a separate life, a freedom which could arise from the past impenitence and return, and that matching that freedom there was also the sovereign grace of Almighty God. That was the prophet's message to his own day. I wonder if any of you have discerned with what singular force it applies to our own? The place which was taken when Ezekiel wrote, by the customary habits and traditions and principles of Hebrew religion, is taken today by the characteristic teaching of modern science. The old words of the covenant of God's punishment of men to the third and fourth generation have given place to the new words of "heredity" and "environment." But the principle is the same. Science has been teaching us wonderfully, beautifully, terribly, with what a subtlety and closeness of tie we are bound through our brains and bodies to the ancestors from whom we sprang, the circumstances under which we live, the progeny which we leave behind us; we know that our character is the product of a thousand influences of climate, of scenery, of sights and sounds, of food, of tendencies in the blood, of faculties and perversions of the brain, and we accept the truth. It gives a very wonderful and real, as well as a very solemn, aspect to this universe of which we are part. We build upon it. It is the truth that is the main-spring of all our zeal for education, of all our efforts for social reform; to that truth we turn when we wish to measure the fulness of our social responsibility. But is it the last and only word? Is man nothing but the product of these circumstances, the creature of invisible laws? If it be so, then before long we may come to that feeling of despair which lay upon the breast of these exiles of Jerusalem. We must balance that truth with the other which Ezekiel recovered for his contemporaries — the truth that man's nature, though it is inwoven by the influences of blood and surroundings, yet has within it a personal life higher than, and apart from, that nature. It is free — it is capable, when aroused, of moulding that nature to its own will. God Himself is something more than an union of irreversible and irresistible laws. He is, He remains, a sovereign moral Personality, caring as a Father for the children that He has made, knowing them as individuals, dealing with them man by man in the separateness of their own single freedom and responsibility. I ask you to consider the basis which Ezekiel is teaching us in its reference to our lives as members of a community and as personal beings.

1. First of all, there is a message to us as members of a community. Sometimes the Hebrew took joy from the thought that he was bound with his fathers and children in the bonds of the covenant of the will of God. And sometimes we take joy in the thought that we are bound together by those subtle and intricate ties to the nature which surrounds us, and to our fellow beings in long distances of the past and future. But when the Hebrew realised God's punishment in the waste of Jerusalem, he was filled with the chill of despair. No doubt, for a time, the thought that man is the product of his circumstances fills us with the energy of reform. It makes us, perhaps, with even greater zest, turn to every effort to improve the condition of the environment of the people. But when we try, how long the task seems, how thick and obstinate the difficulties, how impossible it seems to compass it within the short generation in which the necessities of life permit us to labour. And meanwhile, what have we to say to the individual men, women, and children who are living under these conditions? Think for a moment of those atoms of social waste whom we call the unemployable. You see them as they pass before your eyes, the product, indeed, of circumstances — the sins of their fathers written in the marks of disease, the sins of their own youth written in the furtive glance of the eyes and the shambling gait, the sins, it may be, of the community which has failed to find a place for them, in the hopelessness and futility of every effect that they may make. And yet, what are we to say to them? Are we to say to them with the mere teaching of determinist science: "Your transgressions and your sins are upon you, and you pine away in them, why should you live?" Yet apart from some vast, at present as it seems, inconceivable change of our industrial conditions, are they not hopeless? If science says the last word, surely they are. Yet when you find yourself placed face to face with an individual man of these multitudes, can you use that language? Can you turn to them and say: "You are the doomed product of a bad environment; there is no hope for you. You must stay as you are"? Nay! rather you make it your one object to disentangle the man from the mesh in which he is placed. You seek to find out somewhere the springs of the real man within him. You desire to create some emotion, some motive, some interest, by which that self of his, that manhood of his, may be aroused, re-created, and go forth and be strong. And you can venture upon that effort because you believe, with an instinct that is stronger than a one-sided theory, that somewhere or other in that poor, broken life there remains dormant and hidden the germ of a freedom of his own that he can arouse and use, if only there is sufficient strength and motive power given to him. You try to reach and touch and find the man within him; and that instinct of yours restores the balance of the truth. Science is true. There is this product of the environment. We must work and labour with unremitting toil to change and improve it. But the one inevitable, indispensable factor of social reform is the individual freedom and responsibility of the man. Even when you change his circumstances, this alone will be powerless unless you have changed the whole man's will so that he cooperates with the change in his circumstances; and therefore every scheme of charity which neglects this truth, which belittles this factor of the man's own individual freedom and power and responsibility, is a real danger.

2. Secondly, the prophet's message is to the personal life. There were men to whom Ezekiel spoke who felt the burthen upon them, not of the load of their fathers' sins, but of their own. It may be that among the men to whom I speak there are some who are conscious of the same impotence of remorse. The sins of your body have immeshed your body and mind in the bondage of evil habit. You can think of some mistake that you made, irreversible now, which has spoilt your life. You are tied up in the doom of your destiny. Or, perhaps, there are others, who have not gone so far, but when there comes to them the prompting of some better impulse they meet it with such replies, expressed or unexpressed, as this: "It is no good, it is too late; my nature is made, I cannot change. These heights are for others, I cannot attain unto them. Like Sir Lancelot, the quest is not for me. I am what my life has made me, and it is too late to change." And so when these better impulses come they are avoided, they are refused. Possibly they gradually die out, and the prison gates begin to close. Now, in this there is a truth which cannot be gainsaid. We cannot escape, not even God Himself can enable us to escape, from the actual consequences of our sins. That is true; we cannot quarrel with the teaching both of science and conscience. But it is not the whole truth. There remains that hidden self, that inner man, and it is free. It has always the power of rising from its past and going forth to a new future. You say it is impossible. With man perhaps it is impossible. But with God all things are possible. For that freedom of mine, however feeble and broken, is not alone; there is another free and sovereign power waiting for it, acknowledging it as His own image, welcoming it, coming down upon it, with His own strength and power. When I use my freedom I meet and touch the freedom of the sovereign grace of God Himself. If only we act upon that impulse which is the sign of the persistence of our better self, we find somehow that that strength comes down upon us. It may be a miracle. Our Lord asks the unanswerable question whether it is easier to say to the sick of the palsy, "Arise and walk," or to say, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." I know not what mystery may be behind that truth, but truth it is if only we will act upon it; if only that will, broken and feeble as it may be, will emerge from the ruins of its past, and act for itself in the spirit of return. Then it will find that the freedom of God's grace is at its hand, and will come to it and strengthen it. We must, it is true, continue to bear our sins, but there is all the difference in the world between that and being borne by them. When we bear them, our recovered spirit is master of them. Even remorse can be a continual reminder of the long-suffering of God. The weakness, baffling and humiliating to the end, can be the occasion for the triumph of the strength of God. You have seen sometimes the coast when the tide is far out. It looks a mere barren tract of sand and stone, but somewhere far out in the deep a movement takes place. The tide turns, and soon the water covers the waste land. So my life, when I look back upon it, may be the barren tract of sand, the grave of lost opportunities, strewn with stones of stumbling and rocks of offence. But if only in the great deep, where the Spirit of God touches the spirit of man, my free self can go out to Him, then there is the turning of the tide, and sooner or later that full tide of God's refreshing and restoring grace will cover the waste places. I am — in my own personal self; God is — in His own sovereign Personality; and on these two truths we can all base the perpetual hope of a new beginning.

(Bishop Lang.)

Manton says: "The life of sin and the life of a sinner are like two buckets in a well — if the one goeth up, the other must come down. If sin liveth, the sinner must die." It is only when sin dies that a man begins truly to live. Yet we cannot persuade our neighbours that it is so, for their hearts are bound up in their sins, and they think themselves most alive when they can give fullest liberty to their desires. They raise up their sins, and so sink themselves. If they could be persuaded of the truth, they would send the bucket of sin to the very bottom that their better selves might rise into eternal salvation.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)


1. A true penitent is readily forgiven. Two striking illustrations suggested here: a rebellious father's repentant son (ver. 14, etc.) , and a man once rebellious who amends (vers. 21, 22). In each instance his soul is saved. None can fairly meditate on the promptness of such pardons without perceiving God's delight in mercy (Micah 7:18).

2. The reason why the righteous God can so promptly pardon (Titus 3:4-7; John 3:16; Romans 8:32).

3. God has appointed a class of men to urge on the unworthy His unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 5:20). Did He wish the destruction of the Ninevites when He sent Jonah to them? He has as little pleasure in the death of the wicked now (Revelation 22:17).


1. With the turning of true repentance, which involves a thorough change of service. Note details of practical love in this chapter (ver. 17), and see conduct of Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

2. With the turning of trust (in the appointed Mediator) for all the needed mercy and grace. (See the description in 1 Peter 2:24, 25.)

3. With the turning quickened by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), which should be fostered by prayer (Psalm 80:18, 19).

4. With the turning which issues in life; the life of the acquitted and holy (Romans 5:l, 2), which is a sure earnest of life everlasting (John 6:40).

(D. D. Stewart, M. A.)

And not that he should return from his ways, and live?
St. Austin, lying on his death bed, caused divers verses of the penitential psalms to be written on the walls of his chamber, on which he still cast his eyes, and commented upon them with the fluent rhetoric of his tears. But I could wish of all texts of Scripture that this of the prophet Ezekiel were still before all their eyes who mourn for their sins in private. For nothing can raise the dejected soul but the lifting-up of God's countenance upon her; nothing can bring peace to an affrighted and troubled conscience but a free pardon of all sins, whereby she hath incurred the sentence of death, which the prophet tendereth in the words of the text. I will endeavour to open two springs in my text — the one a higher, the other a lower; the one ariseth from God and His joy, the other from ourselves and our salvation. That the conversion of a sinner is a joy and delight to God, I need not to produce arguments to prove, or similes to illustrate; He that spake as never man spake, hath represented it unto us by many exquisite emblems (Luke 15:4, 8, 10, 32). Scipio (as Livy writeth) never looked so fresh, nor seemed so beautiful in the eyes of his soldiers, as after his recovery from a dangerous sickness which he took in the camp; neither doth the soul ever seem more beautiful than when she is restored to health after some dangerous malady. The Palladium was in highest esteem both with the Trojans and Romans, not so much for the matter or workmanship, as because it was catched out of the fire when Troy was burnt. And certainly no soul is more precious in the eyes of God and His angels than that which is snatched out of the fire of hell and jaws of death. I have opened the first spring, and we have tasted the waters thereof; I am now to open the second, which is this, That as our repentance is joy unto God and His angels, so it is grace and salvation to ourselves. As repentance is called repentance from dead works, so also repentance unto life. For God pawns His life for the life of the penitent: "As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should return and live." Pliny writeth of a fountain in Africa, in which torches that are blown out being dipped are kindled again: such is the fountain of tears in the eyes of a penitent sinner; if the light of his faith be extinguished to his sense and all outward appearance, yet dipped in this fountain it is kindled again, and burns more brightly than ever before. The Scripture furnisheth us not with many examples in this kind, lest any should presume; yet some we find that none might despair. To comfort those that are wounded in conscience, the good Samaritan cured him that was wounded between Jerusalem and Jericho, and left half-dead; to comfort them that are sick in soul, He recovered Peter's wife's mother lying sick in her bed; to comfort them that have newly, as it were, given up the ghost, He raised Jairus's daughter; to comfort them that have been sometimes dead in sins and transgressions, He raised the widow's son; to comfort them that have been so long dead in sins that they begin to putrify, He raised up Lazarus stinking in His grave. Therefore, if we have grievously provoked God's justice by presumption, let us not more wrong His mercy by despair; but hope even above hope in Him whose mercy is over all His works. Against the number and weight of all our sins, let us lay the infiniteness of God's mercy, and Christ's merits, and the certainty of His promise confirmed by oath: "As I live, I desire not the death of a sinner; if he return, he shall live." It is a most sovereign water which will fetch a sinner again to the life of grace, though never so far gone. It is not well water springing out of the bowels of the earth, nor rain poured out of the clouds of passion, but rather like a dew falling from heaven, which softeneth and moisteneth the heart, and is dried up by the beams of the Sun of Righteousness. "Turn and live." Should a prisoner led to execution hear the judge or sheriff call to him, and say, Turn back, put in sureties for thy good behaviour hereafter, and live — would he not suddenly leap out of his fetters, embrace the condition, and thank the judge or sheriff upon his knees? And what think ye if God should send a prophet to preach a sermon of repentance to the devils and damned ghosts in hell, and say, Knock off your bolts, shake off your fetters, and turn to the Lord and live? Would not hell be emptied and rid before the prophet should have made an end of his exhortation? This sermon the prophet Ezekiel now maketh unto us all.

(D. Featly, D. D.)

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