Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
PARABLE OF THE
Vindication of God's moral government as to His retributive
righteousness from the Jewish imputation of injustice, as if they were
suffering, not for their own sin, but for that of their fathers. As in
the seventeenth chapter he foretold Messiah's happy reign in Jerusalem,
so now he warns them that its blessings can be theirs only upon their
individually turning to righteousness.
2. fathers . . . eaten sour grapes, . . . children's teeth . . . set
on edge--Their unbelieving calumnies on God's justice had become so
common as to have assumed a proverbial form. The sin of Adam in eating
the forbidden fruit, visited on his posterity, seems to have suggested
the peculiar form; noticed also by Jeremiah
and explained in
"Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their
iniquities." They mean by "the children" themselves, as though
they were innocent, whereas they were far from being so. The partial
reformation effected since Manasseh's wicked reign, especially among
the exiles at Chebar, was their ground for thinking so; but the
improvement was only superficial and only fostered their self-righteous
spirit, which sought anywhere but in themselves the cause of their
calamities; just as the modern Jews attribute their present dispersion,
not to their own sins, but to those of their forefathers. It is a
universal mark of corrupt nature to lay the blame, which belongs to
ourselves, on others and to arraign the justice of God. Compare
where Adam transfers the blame of his sin to Eve, and even to God, "The
woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the
tree, and I did eat."
3. ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb--because I
will let it be seen by the whole world in the very fact that you are not
righteous, as ye fancy yourselves, but wicked, and that you suffer only
the just penalty of your guilt; while the elect righteous remnant alone
4. all souls are mine--Therefore I can deal with all, being My own
creation, as I please
As the Creator of all alike I can have no reason, but the principle of
equity, according to men's works, to make any difference, so as to
punish some, and to save others
"The soul that sinneth it shall die." The curse descending from father
to son assumes guilt shared in by the son; there is a natural tendency
in the child to follow the sin of his father, and so he shares in the
father's punishment: hence the principles of God's government, involved
and Jer 15:4,
are justified. The sons, therefore (as the Jews here), cannot complain
of being unjustly afflicted by God
for they filled up the guilt of their fathers
(Mt 23:32, 34-36).
The same God who "recompenses the iniquity of the fathers into the
bosom of their children," is immediately after set forth as "giving to
every man according to his ways"
(Jer 32:18, 19).
In the same law
which "visited the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the
third and fourth generation" (where the explanation is added, "of them
that hate me," that is, the children hating God, as well
as their fathers: the former being too likely to follow their parents,
sin going down with cumulative force from parent to child), we find
"the fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither the
children for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own
sin." The inherited guilt of sin in infants
is an awful fact, but one met by the atonement of Christ; but it
is of adults that he speaks here. Whatever penalties fall on
communities for connection with sins of their fathers,
individual adults who repent shall escape
(2Ki 23:25, 26).
This was no new thing, as some misinterpret the passage here; it had
been always God's principle to punish only the guilty, and not
also the innocent, for the sins of their fathers. God does not here
change the principle of His administration, but is merely about to
manifest it so personally to each that the Jews should no longer
throw on God and on their fathers the blame which was their own.
soul that sinneth, it shall die--and it alone
not also the innocent.
5. Here begins the illustration of God's impartiality in a series of
supposed cases. The first case is given in
the just man. The excellencies are selected in reference to the
prevailing sins of the age, from which such a one stood aloof; hence
arises the omission of some features of righteousness, which, under
different circumstances, would have been desirable to be enumerated.
Each age has its own besetting temptations, and the just man
will be distinguished by his guarding against the peculiar defilements,
inward and outward, of his age.
just . . . lawful . . . right--the duties of the second table of the
law, which flow from the fear of God. Piety is the root of all charity;
to render to each his own, as well to our neighbor, as to God.
6. not eaten upon . . . mountains--the high places,
where altars were reared. A double sin: sacrificing elsewhere than at
the temple, where only God sanctioned sacrifice
(De 12:13, 14);
and this to idols instead of to Jehovah. "Eaten" refers to the feasts
which were connected with the sacrifices (see
1Co 8:4, 10; 10:7).
lifted . . . eyes to--namely, in adoration
The superstitious are compared to harlots; their eyes go eagerly after
spiritual lusts. The righteous man not merely refrains from the
act, but from the glance of spiritual lust
idols of . . . Israel--not merely those of the Gentiles, but even those
of Israel. The fashions of his countrymen could not lead him astray.
defiled . . . neighbour's wife--Not only does he shrink from spiritual,
but also from carnal, adultery (compare
neither . . . menstruous woman--Leprosy and elephantiasis were said to
be the fruit of such a connection [JEROME].
Chastity is to be observed
even towards one's own wife
(Le 18:19; 20:18).
7. restored . . . pledge--that which the poor debtor absolutely needed;
as his raiment, which the creditor was bound to restore before sunset
(Ex 22:26, 27),
and his millstone, which was needed for preparing his food
(De 24:6, 10-13).
bread to . . . hungry . . . covered . . . naked--
Mt 25:35, 36).
After duties of justice come those of benevolence. It is not enough to
refrain from doing a wrong to our neighbor, we must also do him good.
The bread owned by a man, though "his," is given to him, not to keep to
himself, but to impart to the needy.
8. usury--literally, "biting." The law forbade the Jew to take
interest from brethren but permitted him to do so from a foreigner
De 23:19, 20;
The letter of the law was restricted to the Jewish polity, and is not
binding now; and indeed the principle of taking interest was even then
sanctioned, by its being allowed in the case of a foreigner. The
spirit of the law still binds us, that we are not to take
advantage of our neighbor's necessities to enrich ourselves, but be
satisfied with moderate, or even no, interest, in the case of the
increase--in the case of other kinds of wealth; as "usury" refers
withdrawn . . . hand, &c.--Where he has the opportunity and might find
a plausible plea for promoting his own gain at the cost of a wrong to
his neighbor, he keeps back his hand from what selfishness prompts.
9. truly--with integrity.
surely live--literally, "live in life." Prosper in this life, but still
more in the life to come
(Pr 3:1, 2;
10-13. The second case is that of an impious son of a pious father.
His pious parentage, so far from excusing, aggravates his guilt.
robber--or literally, "a breaker," namely, through all constraints of
doeth the like to any one--The Hebrew and the parallel
require us to translate rather, "doeth to his brother any of
these things," namely, the things which follow in
11. those duties--which his father did
(Eze 18:5, 9).
12. oppressed the poor--an aggravation to his oppressions, that
they were practised against the poor; whereas in
the expression is simply "oppressed any."
abomination--singular number referring to the particular one mentioned
at the end of
13. shall he . . . live?--because of the merits of his father;
answering, by contrast, to "die for the iniquity of his father"
his blood shall be upon him--The cause of his bloody death shall
rest with himself; God is not to blame, but is vindicated as just in
14-18. The third case: a son who walks not in the steps of an
unrighteous father, but in the ways of God; for example, Josiah, the
pious son of guilty Amon; Hezekiah, of Ahaz
(2Ki 16:1-20; 18:1-37; 21:1-22:20).
seeth . . . and considereth--The same Hebrew stands for both
verbs, "seeth . . . yea, seeth." The repetition implies the attentive
observation needed, in order that the son may not be led astray by his
father's bad example; as sons generally are blind to parents sins, and
even imitate them as if they were virtues.
17. taken off his hand from the poor--that is, abstained from
oppressing the poor, when he had the opportunity of doing so with
impunity.The different sense of the phrase in
in reference to relieving the poor, seems to have suggested the
reading followed by FAIRBAIRN, but not sanctioned
by the Hebrew, "hath not turned his hand from," &c. But
uses the phrase in a somewhat similar sense to English Version
here, abstained from hurting.
19. Here the Jews object to the prophet's word and in their objection
seem to seek a continuance of that very thing which they had originally
made a matter of complaint. Therefore translate, "Wherefore doth not the
son bear the iniquity of his father?" It now would seem a consolation to
them to think the son might suffer for his father's misdeeds; for it
would soothe their self-love to regard themselves as innocent sufferers
for the guilt of others and would justify them in their present course
of life, which they did not choose to abandon for a better. In reply,
Ezekiel reiterates the truth of each being dealt with according to his
own merits [FAIRBAIRN].
But GROTIUS supports English Version, wherein
the Jews contradict the prophet, "Why (sayest thou so) doth not the son
(often, as in our case, though innocent) bear (that is, suffer for) the
iniquity of their father?" Ezekiel replies, It is not as you say, but as
I in the name of God say: "When the son hath done," &c.
English Version is simpler than that of
20. son shall not bear . . . iniquity of . . . father--
righteousness . . . wickedness--that is, the reward for
righteousness . . . the punishment of wickedness. "Righteousness" is
not used as if any were absolutely righteous; but, of such as have
it imputed to them for Christ's sake, though not under the Old
Testament themselves understanding the ground on which they were
regarded as righteous, but sincerely seeking after it in the way of
God's appointment, so far as they then understood this way.
21-24. Two last cases, showing the equity of God: (1) The penitent
sinner is dealt with according to his new obedience, not according to
his former sins. (2) The righteous man who turns from righteousness to
sin shall be punished for the latter, and his former righteousness will
be of no avail to him.
he shall surely live--Despair drives men into hardened recklessness;
God therefore allures men to repentance by holding out hope
|To threats the stubborn sinner oft is hard,
Wrapt in his crimes, against the storm prepared,
But when the milder beams of mercy play,
He melts, and throws the cumbrous cloak away.
Hitherto the cases had been of a change from bad to good, or vice versa,
in one generation compared with another. Here it is such a change in one
and the same individual. This, as practically affecting the persons here
addressed, is properly put last. So far from God laying on men the
penalty of others' sins, He will not even punish them for their own, if
they turn from sin to righteousness; but if they turn from righteousness
to sin, they must expect in justice that their former goodness will not
atone for subsequent sin
(Heb 10:38, 39;
The exile in Babylon gave a season for repentance of those sins which
would have brought death on the perpetrator in Judea while the law
could be enforced; so it prepared the way for the Gospel [GROTIUS].
22. in his righteousness . . . he shah live--in it, not for it,
as if that atoned for his former sins; but "in his righteousness" he
shall live, as the evidence of his being already in favor with God
through the merit of Messiah, who was to come. The Gospel clears up for
us many such passages
which were dimly understood at the time, while men, however, had light
enough for salvation.
If men perish, it is because they will not come to the Lord for
salvation; not that the Lord is not willing to save them
They trample on not merely justice, but mercy; what farther hope can
there be for them, when even mercy is against them?
24. righteous--one apparently such; as in
"I came not to call the righteous," &c., that is, those who fancy
themselves righteous. Those alone are true saints who by the grace of
Joh 10:28, 29).
turneth away from . . . righteousness--an utter apostasy; not like
the exceptional offenses of the godly through infirmity or heedlessness,
which they afterwards mourn over and repent of.
not be mentioned--not be taken into account so as to save them.
his trespass--utter apostasy.
25. Their plea for saying, "The way of the Lord is not equal," was
that God treated different classes in a different way. But it was really
their way that was unequal, since living in sin they expected to be
dealt with as if they were righteous. God's way was invariably to deal
with different men according to their deserts.
26-28. The two last instances repeated in inverse order. God's emphatic
statement of His principle of government needs no further proof than the
simple statement of it.
in them--in the actual sins, which are the manifestations of the
principle of "iniquity," mentioned just before.
27. he shall save his soul--that is, he shall have it saved upon his
28. considereth--the first step to repentance; for the ungodly do not
consider either God or themselves
Ps 119:59, 60;
Lu 15:17, 18).
29. Though God's justice is so plainly manifested, sinners still object
to it because they do not wish to see it
Mt 11:18, 19).
30-32. As God is to judge them "according to their ways"
their only hope is to "repent"; and this is a sure hope, for God takes
no delight in judging them in wrath, but graciously desires their
salvation on repentance.
I will judge you--Though ye cavil, it is a sufficient answer that I,
your Judge, declare it so, and will judge you according to My will; and
then your cavils must end.
In the Hebrew there is a play of like sounds, "Turn ye
turn yourselves, &c.--the outward fruits of repentance. Not
as the Margin, "turn others"; for the parallel clause
is, "cast away from you all your transgressions."
Perhaps, however, the omission of the object after the verb in the
Hebrew implies that both are included: Turn alike
yourselves and all whom you can influence.
from all . . . transgressions--not as if believers are perfect; but
they sincerely aim at perfection, so as to be habitually and
wilfully on terms with no sin
your ruin--literally, "your snare," entangling you in ruin.
31. Cast away from you--for the cause of your evil rests with
yourselves; your sole way of escape is to be reconciled to God
(Eph 4:22, 23).
make you a new heart--This shows, not what men can do, but what
they ought to do: what God requires of us. God alone can make us a
(Eze 11:19; 36:26, 27).
The command to do what men cannot themselves do is designed to drive
them (instead of laying the blame, as the Jews did, elsewhere rather
than on themselves) to feel their own helplessness, and to seek God's
(Ps 51:11, 12).
Thus the outward exhortation is, as it were, the organ or instrument
which God uses for conferring grace. So we may say with AUGUSTINE, "Give what thou requirest, and (then) require
what thou wilt." Our strength (which is weakness in itself) shall
suffice for whatever He exacts, if only He gives the supply [CALVIN].
spirit--the understanding: as the "heart" means
the will and affections. The root must be changed before the fruit can
why will ye die--bring on your own selves your ruin. God's decrees
are secret to us; it is enough for us that He invites all, and will
reject none that seek Him.
God is "slow to anger"; punishment is "His strange work"