Series on Ezekiel, I The Fall of Jerusalem, I Free Choice, Text: 18: 1-32, Title: Freedom and Judgment

Introduction

This chapter brings us face to face with the mystery of man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. There are some things we should not try to figure out. They are beyond our finite minds. For  37 chapters in your Old Testament Job, his friends and advisers try vainly to figure out what God is doing. Then in Job 38-42 God speaks. The debate ends, but  there is still no answer other than  God saying what parents have said to their young children for thousands of years. It is because it is; it is because I said so. Job’s response in  40:4 is what we should all say, essentially, “I’ll shut up now!” The word mystery has two meanings in considering the teaching of the Bible. It can mean the mystery of the gospel that has been revealed in Christ because He fulfilled all the promises of God. This mystery we are supposed to understand. Then there are mysteries like the trinity and predestination, which we can describe, but we can never fully comprehend. In these mysteries we must be like Job in 40: 4 and 5 and say, I put my hand over my  mouth...I have no answer.

I The Rule

The people were saying in verses 1-3 that the children bear the sins of their fathers, but God says, “No,” The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son-both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The Lord reinforces his position giving numerous illustrations in verses 4-24 of righteous fathers and wicked sons, of wicked fathers and righteous sons, of those who are wicked and then  repent, and of those who are righteous and turn from it. The question  is how we are to understand this teaching in the light of the frequent references to corporate responsibility in the Old Testament. Israel was being punished as a nation but not everyone in it was an idolator. Achan stole booty from a battle in Joshua 7 and hid it in his tent. His whole family died. God visits judgments upon the houses (read descendants)  of various kings, and God even says in Exodus 20: 4-6, You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. How do these corporate judgments fit with Ezekiel 18? The answer is that temporal historical judgments follow a different rule than the final judgment. In history God deals with families, groups, and nations, but in the last day each one will be judged according to his own faith or lack of it. Wars, famines, earthquakes, floods, and pestilence are no respecter of persons. The righteous suffer with the ungodly, but it will not be so in the end. Each man will answer for himself.

II Repentance

The reason that God is saying this to His people is to call them individually to repentance. They are saying in verses 25-29 that God is not just, but He assures them that He is, Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is not just.’’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?  If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is not just.” Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? So in verses 30-32 God urges them to individual repentance, Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! What is repentance? The Westminster Larger Catechism defines it as follows: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace,a wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.” As we are told in 18:31 this requires a new heart which in turn requires regeneration nor being born anew. Although this chapter talks about people turning from sin  to God and from God to sin, this is merely a revealing of the condition of the heart. Ultimately we are free to choose our path, but we choose according to our disposition. The evil heart chooses death and the renewed heart chooses life, “Ah sweet mystery of life.”

III Relationship

In order to better understand this  mystery we must consider three things, God’s plan, God’s pleasure, and God’s purpose.

A The Plan

God has a plan, according to Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Antioch in Pisidia. The Jews rejected the offer of salvation, and Paul and Barnabas said, Since you do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles, and we read in verse 48, When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. That the Jews turned away and the Gentiles repented, was part of the plan; it was appointed. I have known several people who believed near the end of  their lives like the thief on the cross next to Jesus. They were soundly converted and moved from fear and depression to genuine joy. They did it freely and willingly and even anxiously, but they had an appointment to keep. The mystery hidden from us is why they did it. We know that God changed their hearts, but we do not know why these were saved and others were not.

B The Pleasure

Ezekiel 18:23, 31 and 32 say that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?...Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! Is God delighted in everything he has fore-ordained? Is God equally pleased with rebellion and repentance, or with sin and righteousness, or with war and peace? Of course not, but this does not mean that he didn’t ordain them for a greater purpose which we will shortly consider.. Did he ordain the fall, or did he ordain the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus? For now we must accept the mystery that we cannot understand, and take refuge in the fact that this is as clearly explained as we can possibly understand in Ephesians 1: 4-8, For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. The wisdom we should have gained in Christ is that God does what pleases Him. His will is always controlled by what pleases Him, and what pleases Him is whatsoever comes to pass.

C The Purpose

Simply put, the chief end of man is to glorify God, but many do not understand that this is also the chief end or purpose of God, namely, to glorify Himself. When God judges and punishes He is glorified and when God shows mercy and forgiveness and saves, He is also glorified. As we learned in  Ephesians 1, our salvation not only pleases Him, it is his will, and His will in whatever He does is to glorify Himself. There is no place in the Bible where this is more fully explained than in Romans 9. In Ezekiel 18 the people are claiming that God is unjust, but he says they are the ones being unjust. Paul asks the exact same question in Romans 9: 14-16, What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. Paul adds in verses 19-24, One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”  But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? Here we have this enigma. God bears the judgments with patience, and that is the same thing as saying in Ezekiel that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But also it says God chose to show His wrath in order to show His mercy. I know you cannot understand this, but God is not asking you to understand it. He is asking you to believe it and submit to it. When we do we realize that in spite of God’s fore-ordination, in the end for us poor mortals, the decision is up to us as to whether we will repent or not. This is why, as Paul preached, God commands all men everywhere to repent.