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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
The last verse of Ezekiel 17 gives occasion for a declaration of the principle upon which God's providential dispensations proceed, namely, that every individual shall be equitably dealt with - a principle that precludes the children from either presuming on the father's merits or despairing on account of the father's guilt. This chapter is an enlargement of Jeremiah 31:29, and sets forth fully the doctrine of individual responsibility.
2What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?
Concerning the land of Israel - Rather, "in the land of Israel," i. e., upon Israel's soil, the last place where such a paganish saying should be expected. The saying was general among the people both in Palestine and in exile; and expressed the excuse wherewith they ascribed their miserable condition to anyone's fault but their own - to a blind fate such as the pagan recognized, instead of the discriminating judgment of an All-holy God.
3As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
All souls are mine - Man is not simply to ascribe his existence to earthly parents, but to acknowledge as his Father Him who created man in His own image, and who gave and gives him the spirit of life. The relation of father to son is merged in the common relation of all (father and son alike) as sons to their heavenly Father.
5But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,
6And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour's wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,
Eaten, upon the mountains - At the feast of idols, in contradiction to the command of Deuteronomy 12:17.
Idols of the house of Israel - Idolatry was so popular that certain idols were counted as belonging to the people of Israel, of whom Yahweh was the true God.
7And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;
8He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,
Usury - is the profit exacted for the loan of money, "increase" that which is taken for goods; both are forbidden Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:19. The placing out of capital at interest for commercial purposes is not taken into consideration. The case is that of money lent to a brother in distress.
9Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.
Live ... die - In the writings of Ezekiel there is a development of the meaning of "life" and "death." In the holy land the sanctions of divine government were in great degree temporal; so that the promise of "life" for "obedience," the threatening of "death" for "disobedience," in the Books of Moses, were regarded simply as temporal and national. In their exile this could not continue in its full extent, and the universality of the misfortune necessarily made men look deeper into the words of God. The word "soul" denotes a "person" viewed as an "individual," possessing the "life" which God breathed into man when he became a "living soul" Genesis 2:7; i. e., it distinguishes "personality" from "nationality," and this introduces that fresh and higher idea of "life" and "death," which is not so much "life" and "death" in a future state, as "life" and "death" as equivalent to communion with or separation from God - that idea of life and death which was explained by our Lord in the Gospel of John John 8, and by Paul in Romans 8.
10If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,
11And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour's wife,
12Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,
13Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.
14Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,
15That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour's wife,
16Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,
17That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.
18As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.
19Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
Why?... - Rather, "Why doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?"
20The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
21But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
24But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
25Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
Equal - literally, "weighed out, balanced." Man's ways are arbitrary, God's ways are governed by a self-imposed law, which makes all consistent and harmonious.
26When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.
27Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
28Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
29Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?
30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
31Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.