As Nebuchadnezzar’s final assult on Jerusalem draws nearer, those who are in denial are discussing God’s justice or lack of it. They say that the guilt and punishment for one generation’s errors should fall upon the following generations. If we do wrong our children should be punished, and if we are punished it is for the sins of our fathers.
Of course this is foolish, so God sets the record straight. The present generation is held accountable for their own sins, not the sins of a former generation, and not the sins of following generations. Chapter 18 is a lesson on this. The soul who sins shall die. That's what God says is fair and just.
Chapter 19 is a lament given to Ezekiel by God, concerning two sons of Josiah. They reigned in Jerusalem after Josiah’s death, but they were not good kings like their father had been. The lament is delivered as two parables, One about a lion and two of her cubs, and the other about a strong and fruitful vine reduced to a stump in a dry and thirsty land.
2 Outline of Ezekiel 18, 19, and 20
The Soul Who Sins Shall Die (Ezekiel 18).
God objects to the proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” [meaning the fathers commit sin and their children bear the guilt]. God says that the soul who sins is the one who bears the guilt and dies (Ezekiel 18:1-4).
God affirms that a righteous man shall live. He will not die because of another’s guilt (Ezekiel 18:5-9).
If that righteous man has a wicked son, that son is guilty, not the father (Ezekiel 18:10-13).
If the wicked son in turn has a son who is righteous, the latter will live by his own righteousness and not bear or share his father’s guilt (Ezekiel 18:14-19).
God repeats that the soul who sins is the one who will die. A son will not bear the iniquity of his father, and a father will not bear the iniquity of his son. The righteousness of the righteous man will fall upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked man will fall upon him (Ezekiel 18:20).
A wicked man who turns from his sins and does what is right shall give pleasure to God and live. His wicked acts will not be remembered. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:21-23).
Nevertheless, a righteous man who turns to sinful ways shall die. His righteous acts will not be remembered (Ezekiel 18:24).
God answers those who say he is unfair in all of this. (Ezekiel 18:25-29).
God pleads with Israel to Repent and live, turn from all their transgressions, cast them away, and fashion for themselves a new heart, for God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner (Ezekiel 18:30-32).
A Lament for the sons of Josiah (Ezekiel 19).
Ezekiel is told to preach a lament for the princes of Israel (Ezekiel 19:1).
Parable: Lion and Her Cubs
Jerusalem is pictured as a lion who lies down among the cubs she reared
One cub became a lion [ie Jehoahaz Josiah’s son became king in Jerusalem] but he was a nasty beast and he reigned 3 monthis only. Pharaoh took him captive into to Egypt
A second cub became a lion [ie Pharaoh placed Jehoahaz’s brother, Josiah’s son Eliakim on the throne in Jerusalem. His name was changed to Jehoiakim] (Ezekiel 19:5).
This second cub also became a nasty lion. Jehoiakim reigned 11 years. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took him captive (Ezekiel 19:6-9).
Parable of the Vine
Jerusalem was a large fruitful vine whose branches made strong scepters for rulers (Ezekiel 19:10-11).
But the vine was uprooted in fury, stripped of its fruit and btanches, and planted in a dry wilderness (Ezekiel 19:12-12).
Fire has come out from her own branches [Jerusalem is corrupted by its own kings] (Ezekiel 19:14a).
The two parables are to be used as a Lament (Ezekiel 19:14b).
7th YEAR (Ezekiel 20:1).
The Rebellion of Israel (Ezekiel 20).
Seven years into his ministry, Ezekiel has another visit from the elders of Israel (Ezekiel 20:1).
God refuses to be consulted by these elders and gives Ezekiel a judgment to pass on to them (Ezekiel 20:2-3).
God reminds them that he made an oath with the children of Israel to be their only God and bring them to the promised land. He made it a condition that they leave behind all idols (Ezekiel 20:4-7).
But they rebelled and did not forsake the idols of Egypt. However God still brought them out of Egypt so the nations watching would not profane his name (Ezekiel 20:8-10).
At Mount Sinai in the wilderness, God gave them his ordinances and sabbaths as a sign between him and them to sanctify them (Ezekiel 20:11-12).
But they rebelled all the more. They refused to obey. They profaned the sabbaths. God was ready to put and end to them. But again he refrained so the nations watching would not profane his name (Ezekiel 20:13-14).
God revoked the oath they broke, and swore not to take them into the promised land. But he pitied them, and let them live out their lives in the wilderness (Ezekiel 20:15-17).
God told their children not to follow the ways of their parents but to keep his statutes and sabbaths, yet they too rebelled But again God witheld his hand so the nations watching would not profane his name (Ezekiel 20:18-23).
However he swore to them that he would scatter them throughout the nations because they disobeyed his ordinances, profaned his sabbaths, and worshipped idols (Ezekiel 20:23-24).
For a time God abandoned them to idolatry and its spurious sacrifices and ordinances by which none can live (Ezekiel 20:25-26).
So Ezekiel must tell the Israelites that they have done just as their fathers did when God brought them into the land as he had sworn to do. The fathers defiled the beautiful land. And still in Ezekiel’s time they continue the rebellion and defilement. Hence God will not allow them to consult him. Nor will he let them serve wood and stone anymore (Ezekiel 20:27-32).
Judgment and Restoration
God says, "With a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and outpoured wrath I will rule over you... I will enter into judgment with you face to face". They will go into "the wilderness of the nations," [meaning they will live among the Gentiles] (Ezekiel 20:33-35).
Just as God punished their fathers in the wilderness [in Moses’s time] so he will punish and purge the rebels and transgressors (Ezekiel 20:36-38).
God abandons the Israelites to serve their idols, but he promises that all the righteous remnant [marked as it were by the man with the inkhorn in Ezekiel 9] will return to the land of Israel after the purge (Ezekiel 20:39-42).
Those who will return to Jerusalem will remember and loathe wickedness and defilement that God punished (Ezekiel 20:43-44).
A Bushfire in the Forest
God says he will set Judah’s southern forest ablaze. It will be a bushfire that cannot be quenched till it has devoured every tree. This fire will be a sign. Every Israelite is a tree to be purged from the land by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 20:45-48).
Ezekiel worries that Israel will say he speaks in parables as though to dismiss his teaching as babble (Ezekiel 20:49).
3 Are the Innocent Punished?
Regarding the consequences of sin, there are two considerations that can be easily confused.
I. Punishment of Sin.
There are times when God has punished sin by destroying cities and killing wicked people. As a consequence, their families and children died too. Those who died innocent will be compensated in heaven, whilst the guilty will face eternal punishment.
When God says, "The soul who sins shall die"(Ezekiel 18:1-4) he is referring to eternal punishment, not to death of the body. It's the same as he said to Adam and Eve, "In the day that you eat of [this tree] you will surely die."(Genesis 2:17). The death they died, on the day they ate, was spiritual death.
When God in his wrath finds it necessary to punish the wicked in this world, innocent people suffer. They may even suffer death. However they are not being punished. Not all the pain and death in this world is punishment for guilt.
II. The Effects of Sin.
It is a consequence of sin that others suffer who are not guilty. Over time, even one’s children and grandchildren can suffer because of one’s sin. We probably all know of people who suffer because someone in a previous generation sinned.
For example, God tells Ezekiel that, after Jerusalem is ruined, God will gather the scattered remnant of Israelites and they will return to rebuild Jerusalem. But they will remember with loathing the wickedness and defilement of their ancestors, and the loss of beautiful Jerusalem which they will labour in hardship and pain to rebuild (Ezekiel 20:43-44).
As the word says, God is "keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but he 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 20:5, 34:7,Jeremiah 32:18)
This does not mean God punishes later generations for sins they didn't commit. Rather, it means that normally God allows the consequences of sin to run their course. This is so whether or not the person who transgressed has been forgiven.
We cannot expect God, when he forgives sin, to trace and cancel every present and future consequence of that sin upon the innocent. You don't have to think very hard to realise that this would make a very strange world.
For example suppose a drunk driver causes a crash, smashes the other car and kills the people in it. But they nevertheless remain alive, unharmed, and their car shows not a scratch because God cancels the suffering of the innocent.
So we must accept that sin causes harm sooner or later, but when that consequence falls into the lap of innocent people, they are not being punished for something they didn't do.
Furthermore God doesn't abandon the innocent who suffer. He supports them in their trials. He says, "I will never leave you or forsake you"(Deuteronomy 31:8,Hebrews 13:5).