Ezekiel 18 opens with a discussion of a proverb, “”The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” I thought, for illustrative purposes, I’d go to HEB and buy a bunch of sour grapes, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I guess they were all sold out. Super popular, those sour grapes. Anyway, I bought some Extreme Sour Warheads. I’ll need a volunteer, Chris. I want to try an experiment to see if this proverb is true. Those of you in the class, can you tell how sour this candy is? Does it make your face pucker just thinking about how sour the candy that somebody else ate is? Well, I don’t want anybody to be left out of this face-puckering illustration, so pass the box around and everybody help yourself.
Well, I’m going to make an observation that the proverb we’re going to study today is not true.
II. Sour Grapes and Other Bad Proverbs, Ezekiel 18:1-3
In the meantime, let’s open to the book of Ezekiel, chapter 18, verses 1-3. The prophet Ezekiel says:
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
As we’ve seen, just because Chris ate an Extreme Sour Warhead, my teeth were not set on edge, my face didn’t pucker. And like the Lord says, “you will no longer quote this proverb,” it doesn’t appear in the book of Proverbs.
Let’s put our lesson today in the context of time – what’s going on, and when. The Assyrian empire was an early world superpower, and at its height ruled much of the middle east, including modern-day Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Palestine and Cyprus, together with large swaths of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Libya, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. But with the death of the Assyrian king in 627 BC, civil war erupted.
During this time, Egypt regained independence, and then seized Judah and made it a vassal state, and Jehoiakim was installed as king of Judah. But then Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (wouldn’t that be a great name for a rock band?) defeated Egypt during a crucial battle and seized Judah. Jehoiakim must have thought this was a good time to revolt and regain their freedom, but Nebuchadnezzar crushed the revolt, killed Jehoiakim, and took 10,000 Jews, including our prophet Ezekiel, to Babylon.
Egypt was still fighting the Babylonians, and they promised Judah military support in another rebellion against the Babylonians. Different factions in Judah developed – some wanted to side with the Egyptians and revolt. Others, including the prophet Jeremiah, warned against another revolt, remain in Babylonian captivity.
The occupation of Judah, first by Egypt and then by Babylonians, were the result of the rebellion of the people of Judah and God’s discipline. But the people living in Jerusalem at the time took no responsibility on their own. The blamed their problems on previous generations. They sinned, rebelled, offered gifts to false idols, worshipped pagan gods, they were rebellious and disobedient, engaged in sexual immorality, there were dogs and cats living together, and the people threw up their hands, saying, “Hey, it’s not my fault. It’s my parent’s fault, and my grandparent’s fault. *They* are the ones who sinned. They made me who I am. And it’s not fair for God to punish *me* for what they did. My parents ate sour grapes, and my teeth are set on edge. I can still taste what they ate. God isn’t fair.”
In essence, the people of Judah claimed that they were not responsible for their own sins. The sins were the result of something their parents did, so they weren’t responsible. The blamed their ancestors and perhaps God Himself, and the people of Judah are simply being punished for the sins of their fathers.
Where did they get this idea? One likely source is the beginning of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 which begins:
And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The Lord’s Words, of course, are true. In many respects, we are the product of our upbringing and our environment. Whatever life our parents chose to live and the other choices they made have an impact on us, and likewise our grandparent’s choices had an impact on our parents. But while past sins influence our lives for generations, they are not an excuse for our behavior. In other words, we are not always responsible for our circumstances, but we are always responsible for our response to those circumstances. How we react is entirely up to us.
Ezekiel tells us the Lord holds us individually responsible with several examples:
First, the case of a righteous man. Let’s call him the Righteous Grandfather. Turn to Ezekiel 18:5,
“Suppose there is a righteous [Grandfather] who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife […], 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. He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live,” declares the Sovereign Lord.
In other words, the Lord is pleased with the Righteous Grandfather because he does what is right. But let’s say Righteous Grandfather has a son. We’ll call him the Faulty Father. Righteous Grandfather was so pleasing to the Lord that the Lord will give the Faulty Father some of that good credit, won’t he?
Ezekiel says no, Faulty Father is faulty and will take the blame for his own actions. Look at Ezekiel 18:10-13 (and I’m going to use the Michael’s Abridged Translation because the Faulty Father’s rotten behavior is the exact opposite of Righteous Grandfather:
Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them): Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
No credit for his Righteous Grandfather there; no fix for Faulty Father’s fantastic first-class failures. But then Faulty Father has a Super Son who does what is right. Surely he takes some of the blame for what his Faulty Father did, right? Ezekiel 18:14-19, again Michael’s Abridged Translation,
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. He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. 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.”
So, Super Son’s sacrificial service saves his soul from supernatural servitude in Sheol. Faulty Father may have led a terrible sinful life that surely had an influence on his son, but the son alone is responsible for his actions. If he does what is right, the Lord is pleased with him.
The Prophet sums it all up in Exodus 18:20:
“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”
One would think this settles it; if you’re wicked, you’re wicked, and if you’re good, you’re good. But the stubborn people of Judah would still like to lay the blame somewhere. “It’s not our fault!” they exclaim. Well, if it isn’t their own fault, and it isn’t their parent’s fault… then it must be God’s fault. It was God who punished our parents, and I’m having to live with the punishment! God is not fair!”
God answers this charge directly; the people of Judah cannot charge God with being unfair because God, by His very nature, is fair and just. By what standard can we use to judge, if not the standard of God? The Lord again speaks through Ezekiel, verses 25-29:
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
Well, I’m having a little trouble here finding somebody to blame. The Lord says I can’t blame my parents, and I can’t blame my circumstances, and I can’t blame the Lord. Who’s left to blame? Who should they blame?
III. Take Responsibility, Ezekiel 18:29-32
The Lord God tells them to man-up. Take responsibility, there is no one else to blame. Ezekiel 18:29-32, the challenge from the proverb:
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”
Get a new heart and a new spirit. Rid yourselves of all offenses. Repent and live.
God doesn’t pleasure in the death of anyone, including the wicked. God would have all come to repentance, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. God’s message, through Ezekiel, is clear. The people of Judah may object, yes, but they cannot claim they do not understand the message. Repent and live.
Our world is like that today. John 3:16-21 says,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.
It’s been the same message from the beginning. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, hiding in shame due to their original sin. God said, the garden is yours, just don’t eat the fruit of this one tree. And of course they ate it, and then the finger-pointing begins. Adam blaming Eve *and* God simultaneously, “This woman, who you made, gave me the fruit.” And Eve says, “Me? Wasn’t my fault. The serpent tricked me.” And if there was anything about this story that disturbs me is that the serpent doesn’t blame anyone.
And the people of Israel in the time of Moses: God had just finished amazing them by leading them out of Egypt. There were ten plagues and there were pillars of fire and then, while Moses is up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the people make a golden calf to worship. Their excuse? “We don’t know what happened to Moses! We need to make a god to worship!” So Aaron, Moses’ second in command, collects all the gold, melts it in the fire, and makes a golden calf. And the worst excuse I’ve ever heard throughout history is in Exodus 32, Moses asks Aaron, “Why did you do that?” And Aaron answers, “The people gave me the gold and I threw it in the fire, and out came this calf!”
And today? Here’s a story from Ewing, NJ. Florence Schreiber Powers, age 44, was on trial for shoplifting two watches, and called her psychiatrist to testify that Florence Powers was under stress at the time of the incident and was unaware of her actions from “one minute to the next” for the following 19 reasons: a recent auto accident, a traffic ticket, a new-car purchase, overwork, husband’s kidney stones, husband’s asthma (and breathing machine that occupies their bedroom), menopausal hot flashes, an “ungodly” itch, a bad rash, fear of breast cancer, fear of dental surgery, son’s need for an asthma breathing machine, mother’s and aunt’s illnesses, need to organize her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, need to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 20 relatives, purchase of 200 gifts for Christmas and Chanukah, attempt to sell her house without a realtor, lawsuit against wallpaper cleaners, purchase of furniture that had to be returned, and a toilet in her house that was constantly running. She was convicted anyway.
It’s still the same message. God takes no pleasure in death, rid yourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. But in order to do that, we have to recognize the source of our disobedience. Our disobedience doesn’t come from our parents or our location or our circumstance or our friends or our children or our spouse or a cheeseburger or Nordstrom’s or an Apple iPhone or the government or our boss. Regardless of our circumstances, our disobedience comes from within us.
IV. Deliver Us from Evil
Many times we want to do the right thing, but sometimes the right thing is too hard. Or the wrong thing is too easy. I think Paul said it best in Romans 7:14-24:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Thanks be to God who delivers us through Christ Jesus. We are afraid to take ownership of our sin and say, “The blame rests on me. I did it.” Because we want to value ourselves more highly than we should or we fear the punishment of being bad. Especially if we have to face the almighty power and glory of God and say, “Look what a mess I did.”
But that’s exactly what God would have us do. Say to God, “Look what a mess I did. Look what a mess I am.” And it’s still the same message today as it was in Ezekiel’s time, God takes no pleasure in death, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live. We accept the grace and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit, we get a new heart of forgiveness and humility, we repent of our sins, and we live forever in Him.
We do not have to be afraid of the punishment God would have as a sacrifice for our sin. I want to make sure you fully understand this point; there is no punishment, but often times there is God’s discipline. There is a huge difference. Punishment looks backward in anger and wrath and demands a price for the offense. Discipline looks forward in mercy and kindness in order to make our paths straight. If we eat too much, our weight is our punishment, going to the gym is discipline. If we shop too much, credit card debt is our punishment, a budget for future spending is discipline. God does not punish his children, but he may discipline them.
Our sins still demand God’s justice and His wrath and His punishment, but the Good News, the gospel, is that Christ has already born the stripes for our transgressions, He has paid the price, He has willingly accepted our punishment. We’re still in Romans 7, right where we left off, but let’s continue into Romans 8:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Why can we be brave and confess? Because there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We are not going to surprise God with how bad we are. God already knows. But God so loved the world, including you and me, *especially* you and me, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Our sin has already been paid for. God wants us to confess it to Him and instead of punishment, we receive cleansing. We receive peace. We receive grace, God’s favor on the undeserving. While we are wretched sinners, God doesn’t see us as wretched sinners. If we read further down in Romans 8, verse 14,
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
We cry, “Abba, Father.” We can confess freely our sins to God because we have already been forgiven. One of the great mysteries of God’s creation is that if only just admit our sins to God and confess our unworthiness and say, “I did it, it’s my fault, and I’m sorry,” God separates us from those sins as far as the east is from the west, and instead of wretched sinners, we become children of the Living God. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
Ezekiel’s message to the people of Judah from the Lord hasn’t changed in 2600 years. Stop blaming others, accept responsibility for our thoughts, our behaviors, and our sins. God takes no pleasure in death. Rid ourselves of all offenses, get a new heart and a new spirit, repent and live.
God promises to forgive us all trespasses and make us heirs in the kingdom of God. Amazing grace. To God be the glory.