Sour Grapes

Ezekiel 18

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2017

Ezekiel 18 is one of the most important chapters in the whole book.  There are some powerful verses in this chapter.  This week will serve as an introduction to the chapter.  It is a chapter that is very relevant today. That is a message that we desperately need to hear today.

It is a chapter than emphasizes human responsibility. Ezekiel is the prophet of personal responsibility.   We live in a day in which personal responsibility is often discouraged. This chapter has a message of hope in it.  Much of Ezekiel is depressing.  It is all negative, doom and gloom.

This chapter is different.  It is a chapter that in many ways sounds like the gospel. One thing that stands out to me, as I study this chapter,  are the many ways this chapter pictures the gospel message.  Some of the same language in this chapter is used.

The Gospel in Ezekiel 18

1. The consequence of sin is death

Ezekiel says, “the soul that sinneth, it will die.”  The punishment for sin is DEATH.  Ezekiel was not dealing with universal sin but he did say that the penalty is death.  That sounds a little like Romans 6:23 (“the wages of sin is death”).  Sin pays wages.  Wages are the payment you receive for working.  When you sin, the payment you receive is death, so repent before payday.

2. The way to life is through repentance

God tells sinners in this chapter to repent (shewv).  He commands them to REPENT and turn away from all their sins (18:30). He tells them to CAST AWAY from them all the transgressions that they have committed (18:31).

This is actually a great message of hope.  When the wicked genuinely repent, God forgives them.  God does not say that there is no hope for you or that your sins are too great. He says that no matter what you have done in the past, there is hope if you repent.

The NT says the same thing.  God tells people in Ezekiel 18 to “turn and live” (18:32).  The NT talks about “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).  No sin is too great.  Repentance is a command for sinners in the NT.

Paul says in Acts 17:30 that God “now commands all people everywhere to repent” (NIV).  Any message of salvation that does not include repentance in some form is not the biblical gospel. This message of repentance has been lost in much of the contemporary church.  Many churches no longer preach it.

3. There is emotional appeal in the chapter

God tells Israel to “turn and live” (18:32).  He asks, “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (18:31).  It is evangelistic.  There is an altar call. God still appeals to sinners today to “turn and live.”  He appeals to sinners to come to Christ.  In fact, the Bible ends with an altar call.  It ends with an invitation to lost sinners.

It ends with three invitations. Three times at the end of the Bible, we see the word “come.” Revelation 22:17 says, The Spirit and the bride say, “COME!” And let the one who hears say, “COME!” Let the one who is thirsty COME; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

4. A new heart and spirit is needed

In order to get saved, you have to become a new creation. You have to get a new heart and a new spirit.  This sounds very much like the NT.  In order to be completely right with God, they need a new heart and a new spirit (18:31).

They are told to “get a new heart and a new spirit” (NIV) or “make themselves a new heart and a new spirit” (ESV, KJV) but they cannot do that on their own.  God says in Ezekiel 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (ESV).

5. God’s compassion for sinners is revealed

We see the heart of God in this chapter.  God says in the last verse of the chapter, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD” (18:32 ESV).  We see God’s compassion, mercy and grace in this chapter TO SINNERS.  He is not vindictive.  God is not sadistic.  He does not delight in torturing people.  He does not love to see people suffer.  The one who wants people to die is Satan, not God.

The NT says exactly the same thing.  I Timothy 2:3-4 says, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (NIV).  God is pro-life.  He wants people to live.  He wants people to be saved. God wants all people to be saved but that does not mean that they will be saved.

An Ancient Criticism

This chapter also answers a criticism of God that people had in Ezekiel’s day.  It is the same criticism that people have of God today. People accuse God of being unfair in this chapter.

“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? (18:25 ESV)

Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? (18:29 ESV)

Two times in this chapter, Israelites accuse God of being unjust and two times God says that it is the other way around.  God compared His justice with their injustice.  As Paul says, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4)

One of the most common objections to Christianity is that God is not fair.  We hear it all of the time.  We may have even thought it ourselves, as we look at our own life.  Bad things happen to good people, almost every day.  It happened this last week with this church shooting.  Innocent children were slaughtered.

Atheists ask, where is God?  They argue that evil in the world either proves that God does not exist or, if He does exist, He must be took weak to stop the evil or too unloving to care that it takes place today.  How do we answer these objections.  There is a simple answer.

I will share an answer i received from my philosophy professor Ron Nash from a class I took over thirty years ago at Western Kentucky University.  Dr. Nash taught at a secular huniversity.  He had a PhD in Philosophy and was a solid evangelical.

Dr. Nash pointed out that there are several different kinds of evil (natural evil, like hurricanes and moral evil, like murder).  Natural evil exists because of natural laws.  God created the world with natural laws.

He created gravity.  If you are on top of a tall building and fall over, you will most likely die because of gravity.  God does not suspend the law of gravity to protect people on tall buildings.

Moral evil exits because God created people with free will.  He created us with free will because He is a good God but free will means that we have the capability to do bad things to other people.  Free will leads to incredibly good deeds among people.  it also leads to incredibly bad deeds.

An Ancient Proverb

The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.  (18:1-3 ESV)

These first few verses of the chapter take us inside the mind of the exiles.  Ezekiel is in exile in Babylon, along with King Jehoiachin and many others.  These verses tell us what they were thinking and what they were thinking is what many of us would be thinking.  They thought that God was not fair.  They had lost their home.  They lost their country.  They lost their friends.  They lost their temple.  They lost their freedom.

They expressed how they were thinking in a proverb. We have seen other proverbs in Ezekiel.  There were two other proverbs we looked at in Ezekiel 12.  This one is called the sour grapes proverb.  Ezekiel was in Babylon and this proverb was spoken in Babylon (Ezekiel 18:2).  Jeremiah said that the same proverb was spoken back in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 31:29).

This proverb was popular in that day but was completely false. False thinking is at the core of our secular culture today.  People are totally wrong on the Bible.  They are totally wrong on God.  They are totally wrong on Jesus, and they are totally wrong on sin.  They call evil good and good evil.  This false proverb was accepted by God’s people in the OT and it was false. False thinking sometimes filters into the church.

This was a proverb about bad grapes.  We have a saying about sour grapes.  When we call something “sour grapes,” we pretend to not want something that we cannot have.  This proverb was different.  This saying said, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (18:2).

That is a strange proverb.  What does it mean? The fathers ate the sour grapes.  Their teeth should be set on edge.  Instead, their innocent children’s teeth were set on edge.  If we paraphrased it today, it would be something like, “The parents ate too much cotton candy, and their children got rotten teeth” or “The parents ate all of the candy bars and their children got cavities.”  It would be like saying, “The parents got drunk but their children got the hangover.”

That is what the proverb says, what does it mean?  It means that “our fathers sinned and we are suffering.”  In their mind, they were not responsible for the fall of Jerusalem or the exile.  Their parents are.  God was judging them but we are not responsible.  It is because of what their fathers did.  In essence, they said, “It is not our fault.”  Next time, we will look at God’s answer to this proverb and the principles we can learn from it.

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