Committed to Taking Responsibility
Ezekiel 18:4, 20–23, 30–32
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. State the basic concepts of responsibility for Old Testament Israel as given by Ezekiel.
2. Compare and contrast Ezekiel 18:20 with Exodus 20:5; 34:7.
3. Eliminate one behavior in his or her life that profanes God’s name.
How to Say It
Corinthians. Ko-RIN-thee-unz (TH as in THIN).
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Aug. 6—One God and One Mediator (1 Timothy 2:1–6)
Tuesday, Aug. 7—God Rewards the Righteous (Psalm 18:20–24)
Wednesday, Aug. 8—God Judges Each One’s Ways (Ezekiel 33:12–20)
Thursday, Aug. 9—Those Who Sin Will Die (Ezekiel 18:1–4)
Friday, Aug. 10—The Righteous Will Live (Ezekiel 18:5–9)
Saturday, Aug. 11—Those Who Repent Will Live (Ezekiel 18:19–23)
Sunday, Aug. 12—God Judges Each of Us (Ezekiel 18:25–32)
I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
Why Teach this Lesson?
Despite God’s grace, we continue to struggle with sin (compare Romans 7:14–25). For example, many are hooked on pornography. And before saying, “I would never,” consider the plotlines and innuendos of today’s afternoon soap operas and tonight’s primetime lineup. The fantasies they inspire are no less lurid—or deceiving—than are those of airbrushed photos. Few (if any)are immune.
The starting point for repentance from this or any sin is four simple words: “It is my fault.” Until we accept personal responsibility for our sins, we are just fooling ourselves. Today’s lesson brings this truth back into focus.
A. Always an Alibi
He was a very pleasant teenager. You could count on him to assist the elderly, to carry babies or diaper bags for young parents, or to do those extra tasks for teachers in the classrooms. His desire to please others and to be recognized by them did have one negative dimension: he sometimes followed troublemakers in their devious schemes in an attempt to please. When confronted with his wrong decisions, however, he always used the same alibi to explain his latest misdeed.
With tears—perhaps genuine tears—he would tell his story, and those who were in places of authority were ready to forgive him. His tale of suffering included the facts that his father had been killed in an accident when he was young, and he often had lived with his grandparents. This generation gap was just too big, and his life had been filled with woe. His grandparents just did not understand. They wanted to go to bed early, and he wanted to stay up late. They arose early in the morning, and he wanted to sleep until noon.
One day, however, he met a counselor who responded in a different way. After listening patiently, the counselor told the young man that if he was intelligent enough to blame his grandparents, then he was intelligent enough to accept the consequences for his actions. If he was not responsible for what he did, then there were institutions in the state where such people were sent.
This congenial young man had just encountered the doctrine of individual responsibility. He was learning that each person is responsible for what he or she does. As it says in Romans 14:12: “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” It is a lesson the ancient Judeans had to learn as well.
B. Prophets in the Context of Exile
Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—each prophet had a definite place in God’s plan for the final days and exile of the nation of Judah. Daniel’s place of service was to the kings of Babylon, especially to King Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah’s primary ministry was to the people in Judah and Jerusalem before the main exile began. In that role he offered hope in affirming that the Lord would bring his people back from Babylon after 70 years were completed (Jeremiah 29:10). That period is usually determined in one of two ways: it was approximately 70 years from the time that the first captives were taken (605 b.c.) until the time of the first return (538 b.c.); it was also about 70 years from the destruction of the temple (586 b.c.) to the dedication of the new temple some 20 years after the first wave of people returned from captivity (515 b.c.; Ezra 6:15).
Those in exile were given the prophet Ezekiel as a fellow captive. The exiles had attitudes that had to be corrected, and Ezekiel was the man to do it. We are fairly certain that Ezekiel was among the 10,000 captives taken from Judah and Jerusalem in 597 b.c. (2 Kings 24:14).
C. Lesson Background
Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel was a priest (Jeremiah 1:1; Ezekiel 1:3). The first verse of Ezekiel’s book is usually interpreted to mean that Ezekiel was 30 years old when he received a special revelation of God’s glory. It was mid-summer of 593 b.c., and Ezekiel had been a captive for about 4 years. Working the year 593 b.c. back to 605 b.c. means that Ezekiel was about 18 when he saw Daniel and his friends taken away by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Eight years later, Ezekiel himself was compelled to leave his home and his native land.
In his formative years, Ezekiel must have looked forward to reaching the age of 30. That’s when he would qualify to function fully as one of the priests; the service of all priests and Levites began at that age (Numbers 4). The Lord had a ministry for Ezekiel starting at age 30, but it was not the one Ezekiel had anticipated. He was to be God’s prophet in Babylonia, not a priest in Jerusalem.
One survey indicates that many people would not like to live next door to a conservative Christian. Ezekiel’s neighbors may have thought about moving, for some of his actions were certainly strange. He spoke only when he had a message from God (Ezekiel 3:26-27). The rest of the time he was silent and unable to give expression to the rebukes of his heart.
Ezekiel’s strange actions and object-lesson sermons must have been the talk of the exilic community, and that is what God intended. Here are some examples. After Ezekiel’s initial call, he played “toy soldier” with a tile or brick (Ezekiel 4:1-2). He sketched an outline of the city of Jerusalem, and he portrayed the implements used in a siege against the city—that was not what the exiles wanted to happen to their beloved city! This was combined with his lying on one side or the other for over 14 months, and his occasional preaching against Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:7).
During most of this time, Ezekiel’s daily diet reflected the conditions of a city under siege: about eight ounces of bread from several grains (indicating the scarcity of food) and approximately two-thirds of a quart of water. These happened at the beginning of his prophetic ministry.
I. God’s Principles (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)
The lesson this week focuses on one aspect of Ezekiel’s ministry: an attitude adjustment. It is a message that he gives after he completes a series of bizarre actions and before the next dated message of 591 b.c. (Ezekiel 20:1).
In the interval he declares that Jerusalem definitely will be destroyed (Ezekiel 14:12–23). The response of the people is normal: they look for someone to blame. The proverb that the people quote shifts the blame by stating that their fathers ate sour grapes, but it was the children’s teeth that were set on edge (Ezekiel 18:2). The people in Judah, some 880 miles away, are using the same proverb to lament their own circumstances (Jeremiah 31:29-30). It is a familiar expression that provides an alibi.
Ezekiel 18:1–3 indicates that God will not accept this alibi. Today many use alibis to blame society, parents, chromosomes, or overpowering compulsions for deviant behavior. The passage under consideration therefore flies directly against any culture that desires a no-fault society in which everyone is a victim and no one is to be blamed personally for anything. God is ready to pronounce profound truths that are ancient yet almost revolutionary in their implications.
A word of caution must also be sounded. While it is true that a person reaps what is sown (Galatians 6:7), this must not lead to a type of “retribution theology” that says that every tragedy in life is a direct, cause-and-effect payback for sin. The book of Job gives a rebuttal to applying the retribution concept universally. See also Luke 13:1–5.
A. Absolute #1: God Is Sovereign (v. 4a)
4a. “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me.
What Do You Think?
How does the knowledge that God owns your very being affect how you live? What changes do you need to make?
The first absolute is that every person belongs to God. This is more than ownership; it is an expression of the sovereignty of God. He has the right and the power to work with both nations and individuals to accomplish his purposes.
A Sense of Belonging
In a sitcom dialogue in 1984, comedian Bill Cosby reflected on the exasperations of fatherhood when he told his “son” on the show, “I am your father. I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” A son who receives this type of message from a father may not feel very wanted!
Our heavenly Father can say to us, “I brought you into this world.” Psalm 139 reminds us that God was forming us even in our mother’s womb. It is only because of the creative power of God that we exist. For those who have accepted Jesus, God has become Father in another sense: in our re-creation in Jesus Christ. God is both our creator for our physical birth and redeemer for our spiritual rebirth. He will also be with us when we leave this world. Revelation 2:10 exhorts us to be faithful, even to the point of death, and then we will receive the crown of life.
It is encouraging to realize that our Father in Heaven knows us personally, that he has created us and re-created us. And it is a source of hope to know that he will make us new again when we pass from this life. We anticipate the day when he will give us that new, glorified body in Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:4-5). What can create any better sense of belonging than this? —A. E. A.
B. Absolute #2: Sin Brings Death (vv. 4b, 20a)
4b. “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”
20a. “The soul who sins is the one who will die.
The second absolute is that sin brings death. Ezekiel declares unequivocally that sin produces a punishment, and the punishment is death. This is true whether or not the individual acknowledges God. This same assertion is repeated in the New Testament in Romans 6:23. It is sad that so many live their lives in such a way that this absolute does not seem to be a controlling factor in what they do or say. There is a payday, and that is absolute truth.
What Do You Think?
In what ways have you been guilty of circumventing or disavowing your personal sin? How have you made positive changes in this regard?
The careful student will quickly observe that there are several verses between the two parallel statements. These verses contain three scenarios that represent God’s responses to three generations. The first (Eze 18:5–9) tells of an upright man who walks in righteousness, and the sentence is pronounced that he will live. The second setting is that of a son of the righteous man, and the son’s life is full of wickedness. This time the judgment is that the son will surely die (vv. 10–13). The third illustration is of a righteous grandson who does all things well, and again it is stated that he will live. On each side of the three incidents, however, are the sobering words that death is the sentence for the sin.
C. Absolute #3: Each Is Responsible (v. 20b)
20b. 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.
What Do You Think?
Though sin guilt is not passed from parent to child, the consequences may be. What are some ways that the consequences of one’s sins may be visited upon another? Conversely, what are some ways that the consequences of one’s holy actions may be a benefit to another?
The third absolute is that each individual’s situation is his or her own. There is no generational transfer of either sin or righteousness. The consequences of just or unjust deeds may fall on others, but the guilt is nontransferable.
Those who are quoting the parable we see in Ezekiel 18:2 may be misusing Exodus 20:5 and its parallel in Deuteronomy 5:9. Those passages warn that God extends his punishment for a father’s sin to the children down to “the third and fourth generation.” But when harmonized with other Scripture, those passages simply indicate that God’s wrath on the fathers is bound to have some indirect or collateral effect on their children.
II. God’s Promises (Ezekiel 18:21–23, 30a)
Such sobering thoughts! What God desires is a response that will bring a person’s life to where it should be.
A. God’s Conditions (v. 21)
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.
The first two words of the verse show that God’s promises are conditional. Two conditions are expressed: (1) the individual must turn from the present way of living, and (2) that person must begin doing all that God has prescribed. It is not just a matter of entering into a covenant relationship with God; it is also imperative that the terms of the covenant be kept. Jesus said the same thing in the Great Commission: Jesus’ disciples are to be taught to obey everything that he has commanded (Matthew 28:20).
If a person does change from all the ways of wickedness, then the righteous should rejoice and provide encouragement. Sometimes it is tempting to want to get even, but forgiveness is to be extended instead. It is also true that the one who repents will do whatever he or she can to make restitution for wrongs.
B. God’s Commitment (v. 22)
22. “None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.
God promises to provide no reminders of sin. The person who has been forgiven probably remembers them all too well, and he or she does not need to be reminded. This is different from the individual who maintains a mental or written account of the shortcomings of someone else—in case he or she ever wants to use them in an attack. Love does not even think of such things (1 Corinthians 13:5). Such a list may be necessary when building a court case against someone, but the situation here is forgiveness, not litigation.
What Do You Think?
God neither keeps a record of a Christian’s sins nor remembers them. How do you use this fact to develop a godly nature?
C. God’s Joy (v. 23)
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?”
God does not find pleasure in giving sinners what they deserve. The implication is that he does find joy in forgiving so that the wicked may live. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should repent and turn from their evil ways (2 Peter 3:9).
D. God’s Judgment (v. 30a)
30a. “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord.
God forgives all who repent. But here is the sobering reminder that each person will be judged according to his ways. It is not wise to try to take advantage of God’s goodness. Peter warns that it is hard for the righteous to be saved (1 Peter 4:18). It has been stated that the gospel contains facts to be believed, commands to be obeyed, warnings to be heeded, and promises to be enjoyed. The words in the first part of this verse constitute a warning to be heeded.
Some organizations encourage parents to adopt a tough love policy in dealing with their children. The idea behind this is to take strong steps to counter aberrant behavior. There can be a need for this in marital relationships as well.
Dr. James Dobson says that one of the major culprits of relationship problems is disrespect of one person toward another. Whether it is a child’s attitude toward a parent or one spouse toward the other, disrespect must be dealt with in a firm way. It can’t be allowed to continue. It is not enjoyable or easy to practice tough love in this regard. But failure to do so will only make things worse—the cycle of bad behavior and disrespect will spiral downward, out of control.
God practices tough love with his children. The discipline he exerts (Hebrews 12:6–11) is not pleasurable at the time for either the giver or the receiver. But God knows it is a necessary part of the transformation of his children. Parents may say to their children when disciplining them, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” Children never quite understand that until they become the ones who have to discipline their own children.
We do well to remember this when God has to discipline us. He finds no pleasure in it. It even pains him to do so, but in the end it is for the best. It is tough redemptive love. —A. E. A.
III. God’s Pleadings (Ezekiel 18:30b–32)
God expects action and response. He is clear about what those should involve.
A. Decide About Sin (v. 30b)
30b. “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.
The apostle Peter makes a similar statement on the occasion of his healing the lame man in the temple. His message after the healing includes the challenge that his audience repent and turn to God so that their sins could be wiped out. Only then would times of refreshing come over them (Acts 3:19).
What Do You Think?
Repentance leads to a restored relationship with God. What other benefits of repentance have you noticed in your life?
It is important to notice that God permits freedom of choice. That is one of the main thrusts of this lesson—that each person is to take responsibility for his or her own eternal destiny. That has ever been God’s message. In the Garden of Eden it was by freewill choice that the first man and woman ate of the forbidden fruit. After Israel conquered Canaan, it was Joshua’s challenge to the nation to “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). The person who hears the conditions of the gospel (John 3:16; Acts 2:38; etc.) and does not respond cannot blame others. Each person must decide about sin.
Visual for Lesson 11
Point to this visual as you challenge your students to name a time when God granted them a new start after they repented.
B. Discard Sin (v. 31a)
31a. “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed.
The discarding of sinful deeds must follow repentance from sin. No one can claim repentance of stealing a car if he or she continues to drive it without the rightful owner’s consent!
C. Desire a New Heart (v. 31b)
31b. “And get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?
The sins to be discarded may include attitudes and language that are not pleasing to God. Such things are sometimes considered “little” sins, but the command to discard includes any sinful practice. Sin in any form is not acceptable.
The way to rid oneself of sin is to develop a new heart that will look on life with a new perspective. The writer of Hebrews affirms that without holiness no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14; compare Matthew 5:8). Therefore everything one does will be centered on the fact that God is holy. Having a new perspective means changing the way that a person thinks about life, and this is the new heart that God demands. It also involves the mind, for Jesus stated that the first commandment is to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).
D. Delight in Life (v. 32)
32. “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
Again we see that God has no pleasure in the death of any person (see v. 23). This is confirmed by what is called the Golden Text of the Bible, John 3:16. The verse states that God so loved that he gave his Son. The purposes are that mankind may believe and no one would have to perish. God desires that everyone choose to live for him.
The contrast in this verse is vivid: life or death. The challenge of the verse is the heart of the lesson: being committed to taking responsibility for one’s spiritual destiny. It is a personal choice, and it cannot be delegated.
Today’s lesson encourages everyone to accept responsibility for personal actions. Each should acknowledge that there are basic principles that God has set forth concerning the consequences of sin. We should be prepared, however, for a certain reaction from those confronted with their wrong deeds: anger.
This kind of anger often is directed toward the person who is trying to provide the correction. If a person is told that homosexuality is sin, one response is to point fingers at the messenger. Members of a congregation may be reminded that the ministries of the church need greater financial support; a person in the church who reacts with anger probably is guilty of inadequate giving. Yet anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20). That principle is true for nations, churches, or individuals.
Sin—it produces many consequences in our lives. Yet God is willing to forgive. But before a person may be right with God he or she must repent and turn to God.
Thought to Remember
“Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
Almighty God, I resolve today to have the correct responses as your Word convicts me of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing