After learning about a righteous man who has a violent son (Ezekiel 18:1-13), the word of God to Ezekiel continues: The unrighteous son also has a son. (This would be the grandson of the first righteous man described earlier in this chapter.)
Let’s see how he behaves, in this “But wait, there’s more!” continuation of the prophecy:
“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 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
or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor
and takes no interest or profit from them.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.
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.
Ezekiel 18:14-18 NIV
We don’t necessarily need to revisit each of the sins (i.e., those that are not practiced by the grandson here), since they follow pretty closely with the two preceding accounts.
Note the timing, though: the grandson sees his father’s sins, and makes a change. While some children just follow the example of their parents (whether intentionally or unconsciously), those who make a positive change from a previous generation often do so because they saw their parents make bad choices, and decide to do something about it. As a result, they can make their own generation better. In fact, sometimes their parents or grandparents are brought back into the habits of living as God intended them to, as a result of the testimony of younger generations and the grace of God.
In the end, there’s no need for this grandson to be put to death, despite his father’s capital offenses against the Law of Moses. However, just as the father’s sins aren’t placed upon the grandfather, the righteousness of the grandson doesn’t cover up the sins of his father. We know that even the sacrifice by a “pretty righteous person” can’t atone for sins. Only the voluntary sacrifice of a “perfectly righteous person” (Jesus Christ) was enough to pay for the debt that our sins racked up.
Let’s skip down a few verses (although I encourage you to read the entire chapter, here).
“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live.
Ezekiel 18:21-22 NIV
Due to God’s mercy, punishment for sins is often delayed. That is, mercy is not getting punishment that we deserve, and God’s mercy is sometimes found in the delay of consequences for our sinful actions. God could have stricken us down as soon as we first sinned. If He had done so, though, I suppose that the human race probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a generation! Elsewhere in this chapter and in the Bible (see verses 23 and 32, as well as Matthew 18:14), we learn this important point: God doesn’t want people to die, even when – without His intervention and our acceptance of His gift of salvation – our decisions would otherwise consign us to that outcome.
The resulting good news is that the destiny of a wicked person is not “locked in”, if they choose to turn away from their sins and repent (see also verses 30-32). There is hope for those who are unrighteous, and as disciple-makers of Jesus, part of our role (for those of us who have turned our lives over to Jesus) is to bring that hope to people – even wicked people.
So, let’s ask ourselves: Who from this chapter are we like today?
- Are we like the grandfather, with children who have strayed? If so, keep praying for God’s mercy and grace.
- Are we like the rebellious father, having walked away from a righteous example, or seeing our children live in a way that is better aligned with God’s will than our own path? I hope not, but even people in this situation have an open offer to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins. Following Him allows our soul to be redeemed, and for the Holy Spirit to live within us, providing help to us along the way.
- Are we like the righteous son, who (perhaps inspired by his grandfather) broke the cycle of sin from his father, and lived a good life aligned with God? If so, keep up the good work.
Or, maybe we are part of a pattern, passed down from parent to child over generations. If that’s the case, I hope that your family’s pattern was righteous, and that they all follow Jesus. If so, keep up the pattern, continually seeking to improve it with each generation. If not, you can be the generation that makes a change for the better.
Regardless, though, we can’t blame others for the consequences of our own sins. If we need to break a cycle or pattern of behavior from one generation to the next, let’s at least change things for the better.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for August 21, 2022
- The Lookout, August 21, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.