Summary: Why was God punishing his people? They thought God was unfairly punishing them for their father's sins. But it was their sin that made them subject to God's righteous judgment
A favorite way that people today make excuses for their mistakes is to simply blame them on somebody else, and the blame most of the time is given to someone that is not there to defend themselves. It is our parents’ fault, our spouse’s fault, or even society’s fault. Whatever the case, it is NOT my fault.
This is not the first generation to excuse its rotten behavior and the physical suffering it produces on previous generations. It is not the first to echo the plaintive cry, “We are not responsible!” Notice what the Lord had to say when people of Ezekiel’s day made a similar complaint:
“Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘What do you mean by this proverb concerning the land of Israel saying, ‘The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore.” (EZEKIEL 18:1-3).
It had become a fashionable thing to say; a common excuse in Israel to blame the troubles of the nation on previous generations. It’s not that those generations were without fault. They were not.But the truth is the present generation shared in the responsibility for their troubles. They had drawn a clever picture of a parent eating a sour grape but the children’s teeth being set on edge as if to say they were only innocent victims and not to blame for their suffering and error. But the Lord makes it clear, they will be held accountable for their sin. No one else’s.
Throughout the first 24 chapters of Ezekiel, we see that the reason for the judgment that was coming to Jerusalem was not because of their fathers’ sins but because of their own. Within the first 24 chapters the word rebellious is used over 20 times to describe the nation of Israel that Ezekiel was preaching to.
Blaming their fathers for their predicament worked against them, because as long as they were blaming someone else for their problems they would not be seeking to make any needed corrections in their own lives. This is the essential message of the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel. They needed to wake up and accept responsibility for themselves so they could have time to repent and live.
“Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Ezekiel points out that each soul is directly responsible as an individual to God. Also, the destiny of each soul directly relates as to whether one is willing to accept his or her responsibility for conduct, to turn from sin and unto righteousness, and serve God. This text teaches contrary to the popular doctrine of Total Inherited Depravity. Each soul will die because of their sin; not Adam’s.
“If he has walked in My statutes And kept My judgments faithfully– He is just; He shall surely live!” Says the Lord God… Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear punishment for the father’s iniquity?’ When the son has practiced justice and righteousness, and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the sons iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” (EZEKIEL 18:9; 19,20).
God declares that we are all individually responsible for our own conduct. My father’s righteousness will not save me, nor will his wickedness condemn me. I do not inherit my standing with God from my ancestors. Though I may suffer some of the consequences for their sins, my standing with God is based upon my own actions.
The Lord tells the people through Ezekiel in verses 10-18 that if the just has a wicked son, the son will not live because of his father’s righteousness. If a wicked man has a son, and the son sees his father’s evil ways and does not follow in them, he will live, but his wicked father will still die.
We are neither innocent nor guilty by association. Just because our name is on a church membership roster, or we’ve been part of the same church as mom and dad all our lives does not make us right with the Lord! We each individually need to do what is needed to be right with the Lord.
Also, it is important to notice from this text that it is not enough to merely know the way of righteousness, or agree with it, but one must practice it. How fashionable it is today to suggest that obedience to God is unimportant. But the scriptures are clear that the one who fails to obey the commandments of God will not stand before God as innocent on the Day of Judgment.