How often do we want to blame what happens to us on someone else? It isn’t our fault that this happened! Growing up in the United States this was called “passing the buck”; we wanted to blame someone – or something – for our predicament. It surely couldn’t be us!
This seems to have been going on since God created humans. Even Adam in the garden blamed Eve, who in turn blamed the serpent when they sinned. But it isn’t a matter of assigning blame; it is about what we do and changing our lives. The Israelites at the time of Ezekiel had the same problem.
“The Lord’s message came to me: ‘What do you mean by quoting this proverb concerning the land of Israel: “The fathers eat sour grapes, And the children’s teeth become numb?”’” (Ezekiel 18:1-2 NET)
In other words, the problems they were facing in being in exile wasn’t their fault – it was what their ancestors had done. They were the ones who had sinned and as a result the people ended up in exile – or so they reasoned. God through Ezekiel dealt with this type of reasoning decisively.
First there was a man who is righteous: he lived a good life, refrained from doing what was wrong, and obeyed God. This man was righteous and as a result would live; God wouldn’t punish him.
But he had a son. The son was not a good man but did everything he could that was wrong including worshipping idols. “Because he has done all these abominable deeds he will certainly die. He will bear the responsibility for his own death” (Ezekiel 18:13). Just because his father was a good, righteous man that did not mean that the son would be accepted by God no matter what he did. Because of the way he lived – what he did – he would be responsible for his rejection by God.
This man in turn had a son. He observed his father’s life and decided that he did not want to live this way. Perhaps he also observed his grandfather’s life and was impressed by what he saw. He decided to live a righteous life, doing what was right, and following God. He would not be held accountable for his father’s sins. Because he lived a faithful life he would surely live.
Notice as well that the wicked father would not be spared because he had a righteous son. “As for his father, because he practices extortion, robs his brother, and does what is not good among his people, he will die for his iniquity” (Ezekiel 18:18).
What is the point in all of this? We are each responsible before God for what we do. We can’t “pass the buck”. God put it this way:
“The person who sins is the one who will die. A son will not suffer for his father’s iniquity, and a father will not suffer for his son’s iniquity; the righteous person will be judged according to his righteousness and the wicked person according to his wickedness.” (Ezekiel 18:20).
But there is hope for the wicked person. If he were to change his life, turn away from the sin he was involved in, become obedient to God, then he could change the outcome: “he will surely live; he will not die” (Ezekiel 18:21).
Of course the opposite is true as well. If the righteous man turns to sin, he will be held accountable for the sins he is now involved in. It is about what we do, how we live our lives.
“Therefore, I will judge each person according to his conduct, O house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and turn from all your wickedness; then it will not be an obstacle leading to iniquity. Throw away all your sins you have committed and fashion yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why should you die, O house of Israel? For I take no delight in the death of anyone,” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:30-32)
Readings for next week: Ezekiel 16-21