OT Encounters: The Desire of God

By Jeff Pulse

The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday, October 1, 2017, is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. The Text is Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32. The text could very well include the entirety of chapter 18 because the overall theme and focus is one. This theme is one of “justification” or “damnation” of the individual. At first blush, this may seem somewhat straight up and academic to us in our theological culture, but to the Hebrew/Jew of this era, it was far from it. They were more used to hearing and speaking in corporate or communal terms. This was not wrong; Israel/Church is one entity, one Bride, etc., and when one person suffers, the whole community suffers. When one person rejoices, all rejoice. However, Ezekiel is quite clear here that this does NOT mean that the sons suffer for the sins of the fathers. In other words, when the father does not believe, this does not 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 around them.

Of course, we must also be careful not to fall into the other ditch and place emphasis on individualism which tends to place blame and fault for sin elsewhere (if Adam and Eve had not sinned…If God had not created me this way…) This becomes the trap of pietism’s and evangelicalism’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 moshlim eth hamashal hazeh: the basic root is the same in the main words “mashal.” The noun means “proverb” and the participle form of the verb seems to indicate a repetition of using a saying or proverb.

          Voser: unripe fruit; sour grapes

          Tiqheynah: root qahah—to be dull; to become blunt

This proverb is also quoted in Jeremiah 31:29.

18:3 God strongly condemns the use of this saying (even stronger in Jeremiah 31:29) because of it is being used incorrectly in reference to His righteousness.

18:4 nephesh: frequently translated as “soul,” but this can lead to a misunderstanding. This is NOT “soul” as in distinction from the body; it is more “living soul/being”; perhaps better as “person.”

18:25 yitaken (X3): Niphal from “takan”—to measure up; be correct; to be measured against a standard. In this context, many translate 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 awel (X2): perversity; injustice; unrighteousness

18:27 merishatho: offense; wickedness

This verse places strong emphasis on the actions of an individual, NOT in the sense that one can save himself (works righteousness; Pelagianism), but in making it clear that the actions of others, righteous or unrighteous, are not transferred to you as is indicated in the forbidden proverb.

18:30 eshpot: 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 pesha: noun—crime; transgression: verb—to break with; transgress.

18:32 This appears to be a reiteration of verse 23. God desires that all men might be saved. The problem, 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.”