Ezekiel Bible Study (A New Heart)

Ezekiel 18, No More Excuses


There is a funny proverb that we have in our world today: excuses are like belly buttons; everyone has one. Making excuses is a common default way of thinking. When something happens, we make an excuse how it is not our fault. When we forget something, we make an excuse to show how it is not our fault. Typically, we like to show how the person who has shown us our failure is the reason why for our failure when we make our excuse. Excuses are not new. The very first account of humanity in the scriptures reveal everyone’s excuse for their sin. Adam blames Eve for his sin. Eve blames the serpent for her sin. Everyone has an excuse.

This is also true as we come to Ezekiel 18. Ezekiel is prophesying to the people who have been carried into captivity by the Babylonian Empire. He is preaching to them about two key ideas. First, Ezekiel is preaching to them about what is going to happen in Judah and Jerusalem. He is seeing visions of how God has left the temple and his people and how the city and temple will be destroyed. Second, Ezekiel is preaching to the people to change their hearts so that they are repentant and ready for when God calls for his people to return to the land. One of the problems God must address through Ezekiel are the excuses they are making about their condition.

The Excuse (18:1-4)

The Lord begins by quoting what the people in captivity are saying about their circumstances. Look at verse 2. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (ESV). The point of the proverb concerning the people is that they think they are being punished for their parents’ sins. Our parents ate the sour grapes. But we are the ones reaping their punishment. They are acting like they did not do anything wrong. The people back in the land who had not be exiled were also saying this proverb, which is recorded in Jeremiah 31:29. They believe that all of their troubles are because of the prior generations. Their excuses may come from what God said about his character throughout the scriptures. Listen to how God describes himself.

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)

They might have understood God to be saying that future generations pay the punishment for the sins of the prior generations. So God is going to get rid of this false proverb that the people are saying. God has a two part answer to their proverb. Then God is going to illustrate how he judges sins.

The Lord’s first answer is that every life belongs to him. Every life is in the hands of God. Therefore, they are not subject to a series of unfortunate events. God is telling them that they should not be fatalistic in their thinking. The wheels of life were not set in motion so that, no matter what they people did, they would have to be crushed in the gears. God is destroying a fatalistic point of view about the world and about punishments. You are not doomed to particular outcome regardless of what you do.

The Lord’s second answer in verse 4 is that only the person who sins will die. You are not being punished for your parents’ sins. You do not bear the guilt of what your parents or your grandparents or your great grandparents have done. This is not how God runs the world. This is not how God determines punishments for sins. Here is the key truth: you will receive the punishment that is rightly due to you.

Illustrating God’s Dealings With People (18:5-24)

God is now going to illustrate this truth in a number of ways. In verses 5-9 God describes a righteous man who does what is right and just. God says in verse 9 that this man will surely live. But if he has a violent son who breaks God’s laws, he will not live. He has committed all of these abominations and his blood is on himself (18:13). But God keeps going with the illustration. Suppose this wicked son now himself has a son and sees all the wicked ways of his father and does not follow in his footsteps (18:14). Verse 17 says that this son will not die for the father’s sins. He will surely live. The father will die for his sins but his son will not. In verses 19-20 God sets forward the principle. The person who sins will die. The son does not suffer punishment from God for the sins of his father. The father does not suffer punishment for the sins of the son. The righteousness of the righteous is his own and the wickedness of the wicked are his own.

Notice that God will end his illustration with a really important truth. Look at verses 21-24. If a wicked person turns from all his sins and does what is just and right, he will surely live. Look at verse 22. None of the transgressions committed will be remembered. God is declaring two important truths.

First, repentance is possible. You are not doomed by your parents’ sins. Having wicked parents does not mean you have to be wicked. Having a wicked family does not mean that you are doomed to punishment. God says that you can see their sins and turn away from them. You are not doomed to a life of sin just because your parents may be set you on that path. You do not have to do what your parents did. You are not doomed to be just like your parents. We see to think that this is not true in our society. We seem to think that if you had bad parents, or lacked parents, or were brought up in a bad environment that you had no choice but to continue in those evil ways. But the Lord says that this is not true. You do not have to replicate your family life. You can repudiate your family life and go a different direction.

Second, God explains why it is true that you are not destined to punishment because of your parents. Look at verse 23. God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. Do we have this view of God? God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. God wants the wicked to turn from their wicked ways and to live. God wants you to have life, not punishment. Repentance is possible. Removing the punishment that is due to us is possible. Our great hope is that none of our sins will be remembered if we turn to him (18:23). You are not doomed to sin. You are not destined to punishment. Everyone can turn and live.

God also says that this is true in the other direction. In verse 24 God says that the righteous is able to turn from his righteous ways and do evil. If we turn from the Lord, then none of our righteous deeds will be remembered. They will die for their sins. Notice that God does not picture taking all of our good deeds and weighing them against our evil deeds and seeing which we have more of. God does not put our deeds on the scale and say that if we have more righteous deeds than wicked deeds then we will live. God does not put our deeds on the scale and say that if we have more wicked acts than righteous act then we will die. Notice what God is saying. It is all about how you end. If your end is in turning from wickedness then you will have life. If your end is turning from righteousness, then you will be punished. It is not about your past. It is about the present. You are evaluated for what you are doing right now.

God Is Just (18:25-32)

Now the people have been saying that God is not fair. But God rejects this in verse 25. God is fair. The people are the ones who are unfair. God is just. Do not say otherwise. God is not the problem. We are the problem. Punishment is because of what we have done. No one else is to blame. We are not bearing the punishment of what other people have done. God is just and you will be judged by what you do. God is as fair as it gets. You will be judged by what you do. You have the ability to change what you are doing and save your life (18:27-28). Listen to how God ends his message.

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live. (Ezekiel 18:30–32 NRSV)

You will be judged for your actions. Therefore, repent! Now why did God have to go through this whole paragraph illustrating that the person who sins will die? Why is this so important? Because we will not repent until we get rid of our excuses and see God’s justice. So long as we blame everyone else for our sins, we will never repent. If we blame our parents, then we will not repent. If we blame our friends, then we will not repent. If we blame our culture, then we will not repent. If we see ourselves as completely innocent, excusing our sins because of what others did, then we will never turn and have life.

So God must underscore this important truth. Our excuses are useless. Everyone will be judged according to their ways. So repent and turn so that your sins will not be ruin (18:30). What does this repentance look like? First, cast away from you all the sins you have committed (18:31). God has made it possible to save your life. God wants us to thoughtfully turn to him. Throw away these sins that are going to bring about your eternal death. You do not have to follow through on your desires. You do not have to follow through on your temptations. Say no to sin and throw them away. Peter said it like this in his sermon:

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40 NIV)

This is what God proclaimed through God’s word. Save yourselves from your evil ways. Cast away all of these sins from your life. Second, God instructs his people to get a new heart and a new spirit. God’s heart for you is that he does not want you to die (18:31-32). God does not want your destruction. So turn from your sins and make a new heart and spirit for yourselves. God is begging us to turn before it is too late. But we must want a new heart and a new spirit.

Our new way of thinking includes some key truths. First, every life belongs to the Lord. We are accountable to him because he made. Second, we do not bear the punishment of our parents or anyone else. Third, we are not destined to sin and punishment. We are able to change the direction of our lives. Fourth, God is just. We are the problem. God is not the problem. Everyone else is not the problem. Stop making excuses for our sinning. Finally, God does not desire the wicked to perish. So he gives opportunities for us to turn before judgment comes. He will not judge you for your past if you will turn to him today.

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