The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. The text is Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 and could very well include the entirety of chapter 18 because the overall theme and focus are one. The theme is one of “Justification” or “Damnation” of the individual. At first, this may seem to be a somewhat straight-up and academic “no-brainer” to us in our theological culture, but to the Hebrew/Jew of this era it was far from it. They were accustomed to hearing and speaking in corporate or communal terms. This was not wrong—Israel/Church is one entity, one Bride, one body, etc. and when one person suffers, the whole community suffers, when one person rejoices, all rejoice. However, Ezekiel is quite clear this does NOT mean that the sons suffer for the sins of the fathers. In other words, when the father does not believe it does condemn the son to perdition, and conversely, the faith of the father does not save the son. This false theology actually came from the pagan cultures they were surrounded by.
When the father does not believe it does condemn the son to perdition, and conversely, the faith of the father does not save the son.
Of course, we must be careful not to fall into the ditch on the other side of the road and place emphasis on the individual and individualism that tends to place blame and fault for sin elsewhere. For example: If Adam and Eve had not sinned… If God had not created me this way… This becomes the trap of the pietistic and evangelical’s emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus—me and Jesus have our own thing going! Ezekiel 18 threads its way between these two extremes.
18:2 מֹשְׁלִים אֶת-הַמָּשָׁל הַזֶּה (mo-she-Lim et ham-ma-Shal haz-Zeh) The basic root is the same in the main words, משׁל (maw-shal) The noun means “proverb” and the Qal participle form of the verb indicates a repeating, recounting or repetition of using a saying or proverb.
בֹסֶר (Vo-ser) “unripe fruit; sour grapes”
וְשִׁנֵּי > (ve-shin-Nei) from: שׁן (shane) “tooth”
תִּקְהֶינָה (tik-Hei-nah) root: קהה (kaw-haw) Qal: “to become blunt; to be dull
* This proverb is also quoted in Jeremiah 31:29.
18:3 חַי-אָנִי (chai A-ni) “as I live”
The LORD God strongly condemns the use of this saying (even stronger in Jeremiah 31:29) because of it being used incorrectly in reference to His righteousness.
18:4 כָּל-הַנְּפָשׁוֹת (kol han-ne-fa-shOt) from: נפשׁ< (neh-fesh) Frequently translated as “soul” but this can lead to a misunderstanding. This is NOT “soul” as in distinction for the “body.” It is more “living soul/being.” Perhaps better as “person.” “All the persons/people”
18:25 יִתָּכֵןI (yit-ta-Chen) root: תכן (taw-kan) Niphal: “to measure up; to be correct; to be measured against a standard; to estimate; to be just”
This verb is used 3X in this verse and in this context many translate it as “just” (are not just/are unjust) but Hummel prefers “unpredictable” with the idea that God is haphazard and follows no discernable norm or standard. This seems to fit with the proverb.
18:26 עָוֶל (A-vel) 2X “perversity; injustice; unrighteousness; iniquity”
18:27 מֵרִשְׁעָתוֹ (me-rish-a-To) from: רשׁעה (rish-aw) “wickedness; offense”
This verse places strong emphasis on the actions of the individual, NOT in the sense that one can save himself (works righteousness; Pelagianism), rather in making it clear how the actions others, righteous or unrighteous, are not transferred to you as is indicated in the forbidden proverb.
18:28 פְּשָׁעָיו (pe-sha-Av) from: פשׁע, (peh-shah) “crime; transgression”
18:29 יִתָּכֵן (yit-ta-Chen) root: תכן (taw-kan) 2X Niphal: “to measure up; to be correct; to be adjusted to the standard; to be just”
18:30 אֶשְׁפֹּט, (esh-Pot) Qal: “to judge” More specifically, to judge as in rendering a verdict, not in the sense of condemnation. This rendering a verdict is not based simply on actions. As Hummel notes: “It refers to faith and good works (or unbelief and evil works)”
18:31 פְּשַׁעְתֶּם. (pe-sha-Tem) root: פשׁע (paw-shah) Qal: “to break with; to transgress”
חֲדָשָׁה (cha-Dash) “new; fresh”
18:32 אֶחְפֹּץ, (ech-Potz) root: חפץ (khaw-fates) Qal: “to delight in; to have pleasure in”
This appears to be a reiteration of verse 23. God desires that all men might be saved. The problem, the stumbling block, does not lie with God. The problem is one of man’s heart and spirit. Because of his fallen nature, man cannot obtain a new heart and spirit on his own. This is impossible, and, of all people, Ezekiel is well aware. Thus, we are left with a beautiful Gospel/grace/mercy declaration: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD God, so turn (repent) and live.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32.
Lectionary Podcast-Prof. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32.