The Latter Major Prophets – Ezekiel 18-19

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“‘The parents 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 everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me.  The one who sins is the one who will die.
“Suppose there is a righteous man
    who does what is just and right.
He does not eat at the mountain shrines
    or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife
    or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.
He does not oppress anyone,
    but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
    but gives his food to the hungry
    and provides clothing for the naked.
He does not lend to them at interest
    or take a profit from them.
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
    and judges fairly between two parties.
He follows my decrees
    and faithfully keeps my laws.
That man is righteous;
    he will surely live,
declares the Sovereign Lord.
“Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them):
“He eats at the mountain shrines.
He defiles his neighbor’s wife.
He oppresses the poor and needy.
He commits robbery.
He does not return what he took in pledge.
He looks to the idols.
He does detestable things.
He lends at interest and takes a profit.
Will such a man live?  He will not!  Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
“But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:
“He does not eat at the mountain shrines
    or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.
He does not oppress anyone
    or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
    but gives his food to the hungry
    and provides clothing for the naked.
He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor
    and takes no interest or profit from them.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.
He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.  But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.
“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’  Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live.  The one who sins is the one who will die.  The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.  The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.  None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them.  Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live.  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?
“But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live?  None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered.  Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’  Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust?  Is it not your ways that are unjust?  If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die.  But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life.  Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.  Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel?  Is it not your ways that are unjust?
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own 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, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.  Repent and live!

  • Ezekiel 18:1-32

“Take up a lament concerning the princes of Israel and say:
“‘What a lioness was your mother
    among the lions!
She lay down among them
    and reared her cubs.
She brought up one of her cubs,
    and he became a strong lion.
He learned to tear the prey
    and he became a man-eater.
The nations heard about him,
    and he was trapped in their pit.
They led him with hooks
    to the land of Egypt.
“‘When she saw her hope unfulfilled,
    her expectation gone,
she took another of her cubs
    and made him a strong lion.
He prowled among the lions,
    for he was now a strong lion.
He learned to tear the prey
    and he became a man-eater.
He broke down their strongholds
    and devastated their towns.
The land and all who were in it
    were terrified by his roaring.
Then the nations came against him,
    those from regions round about.
They spread their net for him,
    and he was trapped in their pit.
With hooks they pulled him into a cage
    and brought him to the king of Babylon.
They put him in prison,
    so his roar was heard no longer
    on the mountains of Israel.
“‘Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard
    planted by the water;
it was fruitful and full of branches
    because of abundant water.
Its branches were strong,
    fit for a ruler’s scepter.
It towered high
    above the thick foliage,
conspicuous for its height
    and for its many branches.
But it was uprooted in fury
    and thrown to the ground.
The east wind made it shrivel,
    it was stripped of its fruit;
its strong branches withered
    and fire consumed them.
Now it is planted in the desert,
    in a dry and thirsty land.
Fire spread from one of its main branches
    and consumed its fruit.
No strong branch is left on it
    fit for a ruler’s scepter.’
“This is a lament and is to be used as a lament.”

  • Ezekiel 19:1-14

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Ezekiel 18:1-3 ‘sour grapes’: “The main idea of this proverb was that children are impacted and affected by their parents’ choices.  This ‘proverb’ was not a wise saying, but actually a statement made to excuse one’s personal responsibility.  Basically, it meant: ‘It’s not my fault!  It’s my family’s fault!’  The blame game has been very popular ever since Adam started playing it in the garden of Eden.
“The rest of chapter 18 is a lesson from the Lord in individual accountability.  Ezekiel had to remind the people that experiencing hardship as a consequence of the sins of ancestors was not the same as judgment for one’s own sins.”

  • Elizabeth Bagwell Ficken, that you may know the Lord, an in-depth study of Ezekiel
  • For more information go to

Ezekiel 18:9 ‘He shall surely live!’: “The righteous do die physically for many reasons that do not contradict this principle, e.g., old age, martyrdom, or death in battle.  While there are exceptions to ‘surely live’ as to temporal life (cf. 21:3, 4), and sometimes the ungodly survive, unlike 18:13 (cf. 14:22,23), there can be absolutely no exceptions in God’s ultimate spiritual reckoning.  In every case, the just die to live eternally and the unjust, who never possessed spiritual life, shall perish physically and eternally (John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:11-15).  The just will live no matter what the character of his parents or children.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ezekiel 18:20 ‘a moral situation’: “God is not only infinite and almighty but perfect.  The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it.  lt is spotless, impeccable, flawless.  It is perfect as God is perfect.  So Anselm’s question, “How dost Thou spare the wicked if Thou art just?” is answered from the effect of Christ’s passion.  That holy suffering there on the cross and that resurrection from the dead cancels our sins and abrogates our sentence.
“Where and how did we get that sentence?  We got it by the application of justice to a moral situation.  No matter how nice and refined and lovely you think you are, you are a moral situation — you have been, you still are, you will be.  And when God confronted you, God’s justice confronted a moral situation and found you unequal, found inequity, found iniquity.
“Because He found iniquity there, God sentenced you to die.  Everybody has been or is under the sentence of death.  l wonder how people can be so jolly under the sentence of death.  ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ (Ezekiel 18:20).  When justice confronts a moral situation in a man, woman, young person, or anybody morally responsible, then either it justifies or condemns that person.  That’s how we got that sentence.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Radical Cross

Ezekiel 18:23, 32 ‘Satan’s devices’: “This is one of Satan’s most mischievous devices to prevent repentance.  As in the old times of plague, they fastened up the house door and marked a red cross on it, and thus the inhabitants of that dwelling were sealed unto death.  Even so the devil writes on the man’s door the words no hope, and then the sick soul determines to die and refuses admission to the physician.  No one sins more unreservedly than he who sins in desperation, believing that God has no pardon for him.  When a man believes he has no hope in the right way, he determines to get what he can out of the wrong way; and if he cannot please God, he will, at least, please himself.  If he must go to hell, he will be as merry as he can on the road.  All this comes of a mistaken view of God.  Sin and falsehood are twin brothers.  Holiness is truth, but sin is a lie and the mother of lies.  Sin brings forth falsehood, and then falsehood nourishes sin.  Especially in this fashion falsehood does maintain sin by maligning the God of love.  He is a God ready to pardon and by no means hard to be moved to forgiveness.  Why do people stand off from confessing their wrong and finding mercy?  He is not a God who takes pleasure in the miseries of humanity.  His ear is not dull to the cry of sorrow; his heart is not slow to compassionate distress.  On the contrary he waits to be gracious.  He delights in mercy.  God is love immeasurable – love constant boundless, endless.  Part of our business as ministers of Christ is to bear witness to the loving kindness of the Lord against the falsehood with which sin dishonors his goodness.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

Ezekiel 18:24 ‘personal responsibility for sin’: “There are statements of truth in these passages that probably make you uncomfortable to say the least.  Does this passage have salvation on a man’s works?  Does this passage teach that one can lose their salvation?  No and no!  Keep in mind that we study the truths of Scripture according to the cultural times and according to the context of the whole of Scripture.
“The explanations given here were for the Jews who had made a covenant with the Lord.  The covenant clearly explained that obedience brought blessing and that disobedience brought punishment.
“The saints of the Old Testament had faith in the Lord and His promise of salvation through the Messiah.  Their faith was demonstrated by their actions. Or their works, just as today our faith should be seen by our good works.  But salvation is and was and always will be dependent on the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
“There is one other issue that I mentioned previously that probably comes to mind when reading Ezekiel 18:24.  Can a righteous man turn from the Lord and lose his salvation?  Ezekiel was not referring to what we call ‘the security of the believer,’ because he was not referring to eternal life or eternal death in this passage.  He was referring to physical death as punishment for unrighteousness.  While Ezekiel was presenting hypothetical situations, he did have real history to draw upon.  There were righteous men in the Old Testament who died when they turned away from the Lord. [1 Kings 13:21-26]
“The Lord was communicating His heart through Ezekiel.  He was directing and motivating the nation of Israel to seek Him for a new heart.  ‘Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.’  Their response, if they were listening, would have to have been – how can I get a new heart?  How can I get a new spirit?  Nicodemus is a good example of a devout Israelite who came up against the same questions.  Jesus had the answer then, and the answer is still the same today: You must be born again. (John 3:1-16)”

  • Elizabeth Bagwell Ficken, that you may know the Lord, an in-depth study of Ezekiel
  • For more information go to

Ezekiel 19 ‘introduction’: “Remember that Ezekiel was speaking to an audience in exile.  They had been deported from their homeland of Israel.  When they had last seen their beloved country, it was still ruled by an Israelite king; the homes, villages, and city walls were still standing; and the temple was their national landmark.  The lamentation now being presented to the exiles was a prophecy of the coming death and destruction of everything in the land of Israel.
“These [Ezekiel 19:1] were the leaders of the people.  We will see that two specific kings are referred to in the lamentation: the first cub of the lioness was Jehoahaz and the other cub was Jehoiachin. …
“This lamentation was not one that was full of grief for King Jehoahaz or King Jehoiachin.  Instead it was a statement of accusation against them for their rebellion against the will of God.  These kings were the leaders of the people, but their leadership was not in submission to the Lord.”

  • Elizabeth Bagwell Ficken, that you may know the Lord, an in-depth study of Ezekiel
  • For more information go to

Ezekiel 19:1-9 ‘What is your mother?’: “Judah is the ‘lioness,’ just as in verse 10 she is the ’vine.’  Her cubs symbolize kings who were descendants of David exposed to the corrupting influences of heathen kings (“young lions”).

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ezekiel 19:10-14 ‘How the Mighty Have Fallen’: “In the second part of the lament (vv. 10-14), the analogy of a lioness and her cubs is replaced by a fruitful vine with strong branches.  The entire vine, though once lofty, is uprooted, tossed to the ground, and burned.  The specific identification of the vine and its branches once again is not made.
By resorting to metaphors and avoiding personal names, Ezekiel wants his audience to focus on the lesson of the lament and not on “who’s who” in the lament.  What it teaches is clear.  The chapter may well have been titled “How the Mighty Have Fallen!”  Kings have become prisoners.  Once-powerful individuals have now been reduced to paupers.  Glory has turned into disgrace.  Riches have turned into ruin.  This is all consonant with Ezekiel’s earlier emphases.  Jerusalem, once a city of sanctity, is now in ashes (or shortly to be so), abandoned by her God.  How pitiful it is to have to look back on ‘what was,’ and not be able to resurrect it!”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 19:14 ‘a rod’: “The blame for the catastrophe that came to Judah is laid on one ruler, King Zedekiah, who was responsible for the burning of Jerusalem because of his treachery (cf. Jer. 38:20-23).  The house of David ended in shame and, for nearly 2,600 years since, Israel has had no king of David’s line.  When Messiah came, they rejected Him and preferred Caesar.  Messiah still became their Savior and will return as their King.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ezekiel 19 ‘summary’: “The two young lions in Ezekiel 19 wore the crown of the King of Israel, but hated righteousness and loved lawlessness, therefore they were anointed with captivity and mourning.  We know that Jesus Christ reigns as the King of Kings, and He reigns with a scepter of righteousness.  There will never be a song of lamentation and mourning for the end of His reign because His Kingdom will never end.
“If you have been following the wrong king, you can change your allegiance today.”

  • Elizabeth Bagwell Ficken, that you may know the Lord, an in-depth study of Ezekiel
  • For more information go to

My Thoughts

Sour grapes?  Sour grapes are when you act like you hate something to cover up for the burning desire to have that something that someone else has?

The Jews had their freedom taken away.  They had their homeland taken away.  And their sins were not any worse than their father’s sins!!  Yes, sour grapes.

I have written often that comparisons always get us in trouble.  Jesus talked of just a tiny speck of yeast can adulterate an entire batch of dough.  Regardless of how we think we are better, nicer, and more considerate than a past generation, we are still sinners, some of us saved by the Grace of God.  A comparative, especially a comparative versus our fathers, is just one more of our sins.

And that is where we find this group of exiles.  They feel that they have done nothing wrong…  Oh, wait, they have done plenty wrong, but they were taught all the naughty things to do by their parents.  Now they fail to honor their parents by heaping the blame upon them, as if that makes the people doing the blaming look innocent.  But it does not work that way.

If you can get beyond the concept of legalism in Ezekiel 18, understanding that with our covenant with Jesus Christ, He paid the penalty and washed our sins away, then everything in this chapter fits.  We have sinned but there is no stain of the sin because of the precious blood of Jesus – only if we accept Him and trust Him with our lives.  Yet, we need to strive toward that blameless life.

This chapter starts off by going through three examples.  The first example is the righteous man.  The second is the unrighteous man, basically adding a negative to each of the items describing the first man.  The third example is a repeat of the righteous man, but it refers to the son of the unrighteous man.

The key is that we are each accountable for our own sins.  And for that matter, we are each accountable for our own salvation.  As Paul says in Romans, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).  I have seen so many people from the younger generations who have 10,000 excuses and 100,000 blames ready in case anyone catches them doing something that they know is wrong.  It is always their environment, their parents, their teachers, their friends, and if they are all alone with no one to blame, they imitate Flip Wilson, “The Devil made me buy this dress.  Woooah!”  That’s close to the truth, but the Devil only made a suggestion.  We can never slide out from underneath our responsibility, because we did the deed.

Then Ezekiel flips the scenario by discussing a wicked man who repents.  They will live.  And the righteous man who sins.  They will die.  Yet, we already know that we have all sinned already.  The wicked man repenting and living gives us hope through God’s forgiveness and mercy.  We have hope for ourselves, and we have hope for our loved ones that have drifted away from the faith.  While there is breath, there is hope in that regard.

The righteous man who sins is a stickier situation, again for each of us.  We all sin.  We are works in progress as far as sanctification goes.  There is the concept that a few denominations have that people can fall from Grace.  Other denominations consider those people to be hangers-on until they find something else to attract them.  They pretended to know Jesus, but they really did not know Him.  Because once Jesus is in our hearts, He never leaves.  Yet, there have been some really high profile falls of late.  Were these television evangelist or evangelical church leaders guilty of creating a false version of Jesus that did not stand up to biblical scrutiny?  Were they just in it for the money or as one preacher (and even that is a stretch to call him that) said from the pulpit that he might not get paid a lot, but he only had to work on Sunday (and he found ways of avoiding pastoral care through the week – one good quality, true to his word)?  Was the Truth ever within any of these fallen church leaders?  Or can they, as some from previous generations have accomplished, be redeemed?

Then, when God punishes the people corporately, the people scream that God is not just.  But is it just to kill unborn babies by the millions?  When we pass laws that do not stand up to God’s Law, we are the ones who are unjust.  And for all those government officials who say that God has no place in the proceedings of government, you will find someday soon who was the One who was just and who was unjust.

As for Ezekiel 19, Ezekiel does what Jesus did on occasion, give multiple parables regarding the same topic.  If a lioness with two lion cubs is not obvious, then a vine might be something that you can relate to.  And as the Baker Commentary speaks about above, being in parable form, it can apply to each of us or situations in the world today.

At some point in history, each nation that rejects the one true God will pay the penalty for their foolishness, regardless of whether you can relate to one story or another.

Notice that each time we try to correct for one sin, we create others.  When I moved to a NASA site in rural Mississippi, they found someone killed at a nearby historical site.  It was thought that it was a “gay bashing” that went too far.  Gay bashing should have never been done, thus starting it is going too far.  Forget going too far, but to celebrate something that is sin has gone too far in the other direction.  We must love of neighbor and our enemy.  Killing those who disagree with us is not a loving way to get your point across.  The Christian community must show God’s love while adhering to the need for repentance.  If someone is unwilling to repent, they are unwilling to come before the Lord.  Yet, they will have to do so at some point.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. Does it seem unfair to you that God would pardon those who have been wicked all their lives?  Why or why not?  How did Jesus speak to this question of ‘eleventh hour’ conversions (see Mt 20:1-16)?  How did Jesus speak to the question of inherited guilt (see Jn 9:1-41)?
“2. If your good and bad works were weighed in the balance, which way would the scales tip?  How do such weights and measures miss the point of this extended parable?  (Are sins and good deeds even quantifiable?  ls not the one who is forgiven much able to love much, as in Lk 7:36-48?)
3. How does Ezekiel 18 square with Joshua 7 or Romans 5?  That is, it Ezekiel‘s point about individual accountability is true, then how come all Israel suffered for Achan‘s sin?  And how come all humanity is guilty for Adam’s sin?
4. ls repentance hard or easy for you?  Why’?  What can you think of now for which you should repent?
1. Why do you think God inspires a lament for a few evil kings?  How might this lament be a particular illustration of the general teaching in chapter 18?
2. How would you update the political cartoon or allegorical lament of Ezekiel 19, so that it fits your situation in the year 19_?
3. What do you lament?  What does God lament?  What difference do you see between what breaks your heart and what breaks his?  What can you do to be more a person ‘after God’s own heart,’ even in your laments?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There are two sets of questions, one set for each chapter.

The first set of reflection questions require a bit of Bible study, but this stems from the shift in covenants.  The Israelites were required to follow rules in order to keep their eyes upon the Lord.  The new covenant with Jesus Christ is that there is nothing that we can do to be saved.  We are unable to follow the rules, thus we need a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Those from the Old Testament that realized that truth obtained that kind of relationship.  Yet, Ezekiel 18 could spell out a very legalistic view when it only drives home the point that these exiles are in captivity because of the exile’s sins, not their father’s sins or their grandfather’s sins.

In the second question 2, we have moved beyond the 20th Century with this Bible being published in 1989.  We could change that to “the year 20__.”

Yet, a good follow up question to all these questions is: How do you reconcile the differences in how to handle individual sin and corporate sin on a national scale (first question three and second question two)?  There have indeed been cases of collateral damage where the faithful suffer along with the unrepentant.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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