What does it say?

Chapter 18 opens with a common proverb expressing the belief of many in Israel that children suffer judgment for their parents’ sin. The whole chapter corrects this false opinion and establishes individual responsibility before God. Ezekiel illustrates with three examples: a father doing right, his son doing evil and his grandson doing right. In each case Ezekiel describes the individual action and God’s response. The rest of the chapter deals with the common objections that Jews would present and follows with a call to individual responsibility.

Ezekiel 19 is a poetic lament for the princes of Israel. In this poem the lioness is Judah and her cubs represent the kings of Judah. The first, Jehoahaz, is taken captive to Egypt. The second is Jehoiachin and the third Zedekiah. The line of kings and the nation will be destroyed.

Chapter 20 is purely historical. Some of the elders approach Ezekiel and he gives them an amazing history lesson. They probably want to know if Zedekiah’s appeal to Egypt for defense will be successful. Instead, Ezekiel traces the history of Israel’s rebellions in Egypt, the wilderness, the Promised Land and in their own day. In each case God’s grace has been as consistent as Israel’s rebellions. The chapter ends with the prospect of future grace, restoration and blessing.

What does it mean?

Chapter 18 has great theological significance. While parents’ sins present consequences for their children, it is not the same as saying that one will be judged for the sins of his or her parents. Every human being is subject to all sorts of external consequences: family, society, political, etc. By God’s grace we can grow, overcome or thrive even in the midst of adverse circumstances. Judgment, however, is another matter. We are responsible and judged for our individual sins. Thank God that Jesus Christ died to pay the legal penalty for our sin and remove from us all shame, even the sins of parents and ancestors.

While chapter 20 traces the history of God’s dealings with Israel, it might as well be the history of the entire human race represented in this case by Israel. We are all prone to rebellion and God’s grace is just as consistently offered to us all. We choose to suffer the judgment of our sin or the grace, restoration and blessing of God.

How will I respond?

Is there something in my life that I wrongly blame on others? Do I blame my parents or others for the consequences of my own sin? If I am dealing with the consequences of family sin, how might I practically today claim God’s grace to overcome?