Ezekiel 18 – “Individual Responsibility”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
God says that people die for their own sins, not the sins of others.

II. Photo
The exiles compose a parable: “Parents eat sour grapes and their children’s teeth are blunted!”

III. Important Verses
2-3: What do you mean by quoting this proverb upon the soil of Israel, “Parents eat sour grapes and their children’s teeth are blunted”? As I live — declares the Lord GOD — this proverb shall no longer be current among you in Israel.
5-9: Thus, if a man is righteous and does what is just and right: If he has not eaten on the mountains or raised his eyes to the fetishes of the House of Israel; if he has not defiled another man’s wife or approached a menstruous woman; if he has not wronged anyone; if he has returned the debtor’s pledge to him and has taken nothing by robbery; if he has given bread to the hungry and clothed the naked; if he has not lent at advance interest or exacted accrued interest; if he has abstained from wrongdoing and executed true justice between man and man;  if he has followed My laws and kept My rules and acted honestly — he is righteous. Such a man shall live — declares the Lord GOD.
20:  The person who sins, he alone shall die. A child shall not share the burden of a parent’s guilt, nor shall a parent share the burden of a child’s guilt; the righteousness of the righteous shall be accounted to him alone, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be accounted to him alone.
32: For it is not My desire that anyone shall die — declares the Lord GOD. Repent, therefore, and live!

IV. Outline
1. Introduction
2-3. God will dispose of the “sour grapes” proverb
4-9. A man who follows God’s laws will live
10-13. If his son is wicked, the son will die
14-17. If the grandson is righteous, he will live
18-22. Only the sinner suffers for his sins
23-24. God wants the sinner to repent, but will punish the
righteous who stray
25-28. God only punishes those who deserve it
29. God’s ways are just
30-31. God will punish each person for his sins
32. God desires repentance

V. Comment
Chapter 18, which relates a theology of individual responsibility, is one of the most important chapters in the book of Ezekiel. Collins writes: “Ezekiel’s teaching on individual responsibility is often viewed as a watershed text in the Hebre Bible. Prior to Ezekiel’s time, corporate responsibility was the norm. When Achan was convicted of violating the ban on booty in Joshua 8, not only was he executed but so was his entire family, and even his animals. The case of Achan was admittedly exceptional. In the normal application of law in ancient Israel, only the wrongdoer was punished. But the covenant of God and Israel, and most of the preaching of the prophets, concerned corporate entities. The blessings and curses of the covenant applied to the people as a whole, without exceptions for individual behavior. Jeremiah suggested that individuals could save their lives during the siege of Jerusalem by deserting to the Babylonians, but he did not suggest that the Babylonian soldiers would discriminate on the basis of virtue. The novelty of Ezekiel’s teaching was that it called for such discrimination, by God if not by the Babylonians. The lives of Noah, Daniel, and Job would be spared, even if the rest of the world were destroyed. (There is in fact an ancient precedent for such exceptions in the case of Noah!) The prophet was still greatly concerned for the welfare of Israel as a whole, but he showed a new concern for individual justice in the eyes of God.” (367)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Allen, Leslie C. “Ezekiel 1-19” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 28 (Waco, Texas: Wordbook, 1994).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Hals, Ronald M. “Ezekiel” The forms of the Old Testament Literature vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989)
Photo taken from http://www.encyclowine.org/images/0/06/Autumn_Royal_grapes.jpg