Ezekiel 18. The Fathers Ate Wild Grapes
and the Children's Teeth Are Set On Edge.
About Sin, the Group, the Individual and God.

Key Notes: A summary on sin and consequences. Corporate responsibility and judgment. Individual responsibility. Sacrifice and obedience.

Ezekiel‘ is a detailed study of the problem of sin. Zedekiah's generation complained that they were being punished for the sins of previous generations. Perhaps they focused on Manasseh (IIK 21) because during his violent reign, God drew the line, and prophesied that Judah's end was in sight. But that was 80 years before-- ~670BC. God reveals to this generation of 590BC that everyone lives or dies before God based on personal sin, not corporate guilt.

18:1–4 God owns all souls; the soul that sins will die.
18:5–13 Some specific sins are defined:
     •idolatry: eating on the mountains (pagan shrines), or  "looking to" the idols.
     •sexual impurity such as adultery, or intercourse during menses.
     •oppression: not returning collateral, robbery, not caring for the poor, taking excessive interest, and injustice in business.
     •disobedience: not following God's law. That covers it all.
Righteousness is the opposite of all these things.

18:13 Sin leads to death, physically.
18:14–24 Repentance reverses the sentence of death.
18:25–29 A person's ending, not the beginning, is crucial.
18:30 Salvation requires repentance, turning away from sin, getting a new heart and a new spirit.

Sin is a complex question in Scripture and something of a mystery, even in its origin. Paul speaks of the mystery of iniquity. (IIThes.2:7). Accountability for sin is the problem of this lesson. A related topic is the righteousness of God in judgment. We will outline the question using Old and New Testament references.

A. Corporate accountability. There is no doubt that God looks on us humans in groups (Israel, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, the Church). Seven aspects of our corporate life are taught in Scripture: married couples, families, neighbors, cities, the Church, the nation, and the World.

1. Imputation of Adam's sin.
"...For as by one man's disobedience the many were made sinners...." (Rom 5:19).
God accounts sin to all men because Adam was our representative. We call this “original sin”. We also actively participate in Adam's sin by rebelling against God's goodness, as he did. In a similar way, God puts righteousness to our account on the basis of Christ's representative sacrifice, which is made available to all who participate by faith in Christ.

Many people object to being tarred with Adam's brush, but fewer object to having Christ's righteousness put to our account. We don't get one without the other. Those who deny that Adam's sin contaminated the race, favor Pelagius, a monk (400AD) who contended that we are responsible only for personal sin, and that we are free to do right. In fact some, like Socrates and Aristotle,  have been righteous on their own account and may not have needed the atonement. Augustine refuted this heresy, but it is still very much alive today.

2. The children suffer for sins of the fathers.
We immediately think of the famous quotation in Ex.20:5 "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Also Ex.34:7, Num.14:18, Deut.5:9, Jer.32:18)

There are examples in Scripture where the children evidently suffered for the sins of the parents. Were they led into sin by their parents?
• Korah, Dathan and Abiram's whole families died as a result of their rebellion. (Num. 16:25.) We note that the rebellion was widespread (Num. 16:41) and ultimately 14,700 more Israelites died.
• Achan's whole family died for Achan's greed and disobedience. (Josh. 7:22). We note that the army of Israel had been defeated as a result of his action.
•Seven of Saul's sons were hanged for Saul's attempt to exterminate the Gibeonites. IISam. 21:6

There are two important Scriptures to help us resolve this problem.
"The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (Deut.24:16)
"Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (Abraham asked The Lord this question; the answer of the passage is "No".) Gen.18:23
From this we must conclude that the whole family groups in these cases must have been involved in the sin for which they were all punished.

We know from experience that sinful tendencies are transmitted down the generations. But the warning from God is "to those who hate me". This gives us hope that for those who love Him, and receive the Atonement, there is the opportunity to break family cycles of alcoholism, child abuse, gambling, violent rages, divorce, etc. We know from experience that this hope can be realized.
3. The group may be saved by the righteousness of a few. We can find examples where many were preserved by the faith and courage of a single faithful person.

•Noah saved his family by his act of faith. Gen.6:11; Heb.11:7
•Abraham saved Lot's family by a prayer of intercession. Gen.‘:23
•Joseph fed his extended family in Egypt. Gen. 47:27
•Moses saved his people by intercession. Ex.32:30
•The Judges (Ehud,Shamgar,Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson) rescued Israel, each in their time.
•Boaz saved Ruth and Naomi's family and their property. Ruth 4
•Jonathan single-handedly beat the Philistines. I Sam. 14

4. The righteous suffer on account of sins of the wicked. Sometimes that is persecution.
•Obadiah was oppressed by the evil of Ahab. IK.18:7–16
•David suffered from the wicked jealousy of Saul. ISam.26:17
Jeremiah suffered at the hands of Zedekiah. Jer.37:18 

5. The wicked and the righteous joy and suffer together. God has decreed that the wheat and the weeds shall grow up together. (Matt. 13:24-). If God "makes his sun to shine on the just and the unjust", we also know that when judgment comes upon a whole people, everyone suffers, righteous and wicked alike. Drought, famine, war, and economic depression affect everyone in the society.

The same is true in the church:  "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." I Cor. 12:26

6. The wicked sometimes escape while the righteous suffer. Job voiced his complaint with feeling:
"How often is it that the lamp of the wicked is put out? That their calamity comes upon them? God distributes pains in His anger? You say, 'God stores up their iniquity for their sons.' Let Him recompense it to themselves, that they may know it. Let their own eyes see their destruction and let them drink of the wrath of the Almighty. For what do they care for their houses after them?" Job 21:17–21

Peter's answer to the problem of the righteous suffering is to trust God. "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator." IPet.4:19

7. The righteous will escape the judgment which God imposes on the wicked.
"Touch no one on whom is the mark." Ezek.9:5
The locusts in Revelation were ordered not to harm the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those of mankind who did not have the seal of God upon their foreheads. Rev.9:4

Since we are all involved in an unrighteous society, are we helpless to overcome its damaging effects? Erickson (Christian Theology. Baker,’85; p655–658) offers three strategies for dealing with corporate sin:

•evangelism and regeneration. We change society one sinner at time.
•reform. "Evil must be made illegal." We say we cannot legislate morality, but we do. Taxes on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages are intended to restrain the use of these poisons. We make laws to restrict gambling, prostitution and mind-altering drugs.
•revolution. This is the approach of liberation theology. Erickson opposes it because it ignores the need for a transformed life. The aftermath of revolution is also usually a worse political situation. “The revolution eats its children.”

B. Individual responsibility is simpler to understand. "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. Ezek.18:20.

At the bar of God's justice sinners are judged one at a time. The moral is "Don't blame your parents."
Also we note that our deeds are not weighed in a balance to find out whether the good outweighs the bad. The direction of our life—toward God or away from Him—is crucial. The righteous one who turns to disobedience dies away from God in spite of a previously good record. Ezek.18:24. The unrighteous who turns to righteousness finds a bad record erased. 18:21. The thief on the cross is our witness. God does not put our deeds on a balance to see which way the scale tilts.

How is an individual righteous? We would simply answer "by receiving Christ as Savior". In the Old Testament, righteousness was based on obedience linked to a faith-relationship with God. Many times the sacrifice is not conspicuous.

"Abraham believed God and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." Gen.15:6
"Hear me when I call, God of my righteousness". Psa.4:1, NKJV
"Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to the integrity that is in me." Psa.7:8
"The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me." Psa.18:20.
Righteousness is a right relationship with God, but it is not sinlessness. David knew that he was not sinless. Psa.32, Psa.51

The sacrifices were often rejected by God when people were disobedient.
"To obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams." ISam.15:22
"I will not accept your burnt offerings and cereal offerings. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream". Amos 5:21–24
"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?" Isa.1:11 "Wash yourselves. Make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good." Isa.1:16
"I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6
The conclusion is that in the Old Testament, sacrifice without obedience is worthless. I Sam.15:22–23. In the New Testament, the sacrifice of Christ is not effective for us without obedience.

"Not every one who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven but he who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven." Matt.7:21

Can Jesus be Savior and not Lord?