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Ezekiel 18 - Sin: who’s is it?


The chapter in Ezekiel on sin captured my attention this morning, which answers the question, “Who is responsible for my sin, is it me, or my parents?” The Hebrew mind thought that a persons’ parents’ sins could be visited upon their children, but this chapter clearly tells us that each person in responsible for the sins they have committed themselves. It goes on to tell us how we are to deal with that sin, & get rid of it. That’s good news, well worth sharing!

The parts I draw your attention to are in bold. My personal observations are in italics.

Ezekiel 18:1-32 (ANIV)
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “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’?

3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 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.

5 “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. 6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of the house of Israel. He does not defile his neighbour’s wife or lie with a woman during her period. 7 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. 8 He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man. 9 He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.

10 “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things 11 (though the father has done none of them): “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbour’s wife. 12 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. 13 He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.

14 “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: 15 “He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of the house of Israel. He does not defile his neighbour’s wife. 16 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. 17 He withholds his hand from sin and takes no usury or excessive interest. He keeps my laws and follows my decrees. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practised extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

19 “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. 20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
The Hebrew mind-set seems to have believed that the sins of the Father should be visited upon the son. But Ezekiel 8:20 clearly states that God holds each person individually accountable for the sins they commit. If I sin, then I suffer for my sin. If my dad sins, he will suffer for his sin. Never will my dad’s sins be held against me, by God.
21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. 22 None of the offences he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.
This is a great passage of scripture! It offers hope for anyone who repents (turns away) from their own sins. God even says that he will not remember (use against us) any of the forgiven sins – wow!
23 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?
Clearly God does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked. He is pleased when evil people turn away from their evil ways & live. That’s more good news for us! We can be confident that God is for us, when we repent of our sins. He will not be slow in congratulating us for such a wise, & life-giving decision!

24 “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.
This is a powerful warning to us all: We can undo the good we have done in our lives, by deliberately choosing to do evil in the Lord’s eyes. We wipe out the record of righteous acts we have done, when we choose to do evil acts. Two things cause us to die: the unfaithfulness & the sins we have committed.

25 “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? 26 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. 27 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. 28 Because he considers all the offences he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. 29 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?

30 “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 offences; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
It is clear that God judges us individually, regardless of what our parents have done. God does not hold my dad or mum’s sins against me. Even when I am guilty of unfaithfulness & sin against the Lord God, he still gives me a way out: repentance. God’s advice is crystal clear: Repent! Turn away from all your offences; then sin will not be your downfall. Sin will be my downfall, if I do not repent of all my sin. But if I do turn away from it all, then I will be saved.
Verse 31 indicates that it is my job to rid myself of all the offences (against God) that I have committed. I do this by confessing my sins & asking God to remove them from me & my record. Repentance goes further than mere recognition of my wrong-doing though. It is a deliberate turning away from the thoughts, words & actions that God has pointed out to me are sinful in His view. True repentance requires my activity: deliberate turning away from ever doing the sinful thing(s) again. I need to be resolute in this. I need to be determined. I need to be convinced that I do not want to participate in these evil practices ever again. I may even need God’s strength to help me achieve that.
Notice the end of verse 31 ‘and get a new heart and a new spirit.’ True & lasting repentance seems to be a matter both of heart & spirit. Sin damages our heart (attitudes & feelings) & spirit, it flattens our responsiveness to God’s Holy Spirit & makes us rebellious towards God. When we repent, we are rid of the sin that has damaged us. But perhaps we still need to ask God to heal our damaged hearts & spirits.


Psalm 32 is an eloquent description of what it is like to be under the burden of sin & what it is like to be forgiven of that sin.

Psalms 32:1-11 (NLT)
1 Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

Interlude

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Interlude

6 Therefore, let all the godly confess their rebellion to you while there is time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.

Interlude

8 The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
10 Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the LORD.
11 So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Verse 4 indicates what it is to live under the intolerable burden of sin.
Verse 5 shows how we can rid ourselves of that sin-burden – confession to the Lord. The outcome of that confession is that ‘All my guilt is gone.‘
Verse 6 contains a sense of urgency: David’s advice is, ‘confess their rebellion to you (God) while there is time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.’ If we physically die here on earth, with our sins unconfessed, then we are doomed to drown in the floodwaters of (God’s) judgement. In order to avoid that terrible, & eternal fate, we are to confess our sins, whilst there is still time – whilst we yet have the breath of life within us.