READ: Ezekiel 16-18
BACKGROUND: As always, with Ezekiel, it’s thick. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section.
THINK: Benjamin Franklin once said, “The person that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” Sometimes I worry that he was right. Especially as I look out at a 21st century American culture where excuse making is an art form and personal responsibility is seen as an antiquated thing of the past. But the idea of blaming others for the results of our own poor choices or blaming the situation we’re in for the fact that we made those choices is not new. It has been around for a long time. In Ezekiel 18, we see that the Israelite people were doing the same thing thousands of years ago.
It’s important to remember that Ezekiel was speaking to them in exile. They’d been carried away from the land of Israel and were living far from their homes. And the people laid the blame for their suffering squarely on the heads of their ancestors. In repeating the saying, “The parents eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” they were basically saying, “The reason we’re suffering is because our parents sinned. It has nothing to do with us or how we treat God. We just have to pay the penalty and suffer the consequences for their actions and there is absolutely nothing we can do. It’s all their fault.”
And the despair and fatalism of that thinking made God mad. Why? Because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Were they in exile because of the sins of their forefathers? Yes. In our lives, do we often find ourselves in situations that are not of our own making – sometimes bad situations because of the poor choices of the generations that preceded us? Yes. But God wanted to make something clear, here. No matter what the situation, we are responsible for our own choices. And those choices matter. God made it clear that he doesn’t hold the sin of the father against the son. And he also made it clear that the father’s sin doesn’t necessitate the sin of the son.
Conventional wisdom in Ezekiel’s day was that you had to carry the baggage of your family. It isn’t that different today. Ever heard someone say, “like father, like son”? But we need to own up to our choices. Life isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s rarely easy. And there is a reality of suffering and difficulty that is caused by others. But we have the opportunity – the God given freedom – to choose to follow after God and be the people he created us to be. Or we have the freedom to reject God and choose sin. But we do not have the freedom to blame that rejection and that sin on anyone else. We do not have the freedom to shirk responsibility and act like it’s somebody else’s fault.
God makes it clear in Ezekiel 18 that he judges us by our own choices. We are not born guilty of anyone else’s sins – though we are born so broken because of sin that we’ll all reject him. But he gives us incredible hope in that as well, by making it explicitly and undeniably clear that every human being on this planet is invited to turn from sin towards him – the Hebrew word shoove in verse 21 literally means turn around or return – and that he desperately desires that every person would do so and wishes that none would perish by rejecting him. Praise God for his great mercy and his incredible grace. Let’s stand up today and declare ourselves, by God’s grace, free from the chains of our past and ready to take responsibility for our own choices and our own pursuit of God.
PRAY: Thank God for the salvation he has made available. Thank him for not leaving us in our brokenness or leaving us with a fatalistic hopelessness of being condemned by the sins of others. Confess the times when you have made excuses and blamed your sin on someone else. Commit to taking responsibility and pursuing God with your whole heart.