Scripture Text – Ezekiel 18-21
Responsibility is one of the major themes of these four chapters. By dealing with the subject of personal and national responsibility, Ezekiel was able to answer the frequent complaints of the people that the Lord was treating them unfairly. Responsibility and accountability are needed themes in our own day. Irresponsibility is rampant and very few people are willing to take the blame for wrongs committed or mistakes made.
Individual Responsibility – Continued
Please read Ezekiel 18:1-32 for the background to this section.
You can blame yourselves (Ezekiel 18:19–24). From last lesson: The Jews own unbelief (remember, they rejected Jeremiah’s message) and disobedience (they worshiped pagan idols and defiled the temple) brought the Babylonian army to their gates as God’s tool; and Zedekiah’s breaking of the covenant with Nebuchadnezzar brought the army back to destroy Jerusalem.
However, Ezekiel was giving the Jewish nation a message of hope! If they would truly repent and turn to the Lord, He would work on their behalf as He promised (1 Kings 8:46–53; Jeremiah 29:10–14). But, if they persisted in sinning, the Lord would continue to deal with them as rebellious children. God has no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; see 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9), but He isn’t obligated to invade their minds and hearts and force them to obey Him either. This is something to remember and take to heart if you, like myself, are continually praying for the lost.
In Ezekiel 18:24, Ezekiel isn’t dealing with what theologians call “the security of the believer,” because the issue is physical life or death, as stated in God’s covenant (Deuteronomy 30:15–20; Jeremiah 21:8). The righteous man who adopted a sinful lifestyle in defiance of God’s law would suffer for that decision. It wasn’t possible for the Jews to “accumulate points” with God and then lose a few of them when they sinned. People have the idea that God measures our good works against our bad works, and deals with us according to whichever is the greater. But from Adam to the end of time, people are saved only by faith in what God revealed to them, and their faith is demonstrated in a consistently godly life.
You cannot blame the Lord (Ezekiel 18:25–32). For the third time, Ezekiel quoted the words of the complaining exiles, “The way of the Lord is not fair.” Essentially they were saying and complaining that God wasn’t “playing fair” with His people. But Ezekiel pointed out that it was the people who weren’t being fair with God! When they obeyed the Lord, they wanted Him to keep the terms of the covenant that promised blessing, but when they disobeyed, they didn’t want Him to keep the terms of the covenant that brought chastening and discipline. They wanted God to act contrary to His own Word and His own holy nature for their own selfish benefit.
“God is light” (1 John 1:5), which means He is holy and just, and “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), and His love is a holy and pure love. Nowhere does Scripture say that we’re saved from our sins by God’s love, because salvation is by the grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8–10); and grace is love that pays a price. In His great love, God gave a gracious covenant to Israel, requiring only that they worship and serve Him alone with all their hearts. When sinners repented and sought the Lord, in His grace the Lord would forgive them; but when people deliberately rebelled against Him, in His holiness, God would punish them with discipline after bearing with them in His long-suffering and patience. Simply stated, what could be fairer than that?! For that matter, if God did what was fair, He would consign the whole world into the pits of hell!
The conclusion of Ezekiel’s message was an invitation from the Lord for the people to repent (change their minds), turn away from their sins, cast away their transgressions like filthy garments, and seek a new heart and a new spirit. God promised them a new heart if only they would seek Him by faith (Ezekiel 11:19; see also 36:26). This was one of the key themes in the letter Jeremiah had sent to the captives in Babylon (see again Jeremiah 29:10–14), but the people hadn’t taken it to heart and rejected it. As stated earlier, God made it clear that He found no delight in the death of the wicked, but if the wicked found delight in their sinful ways and would not repent, there was nothing the Lord could do but obey His own covenant and punish them. Ezekiel develops this theme and idea further as we go along.
To Be Continued