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Ezekiel 17-19


17 | I first read through this parable thiking it referred to God and Israel.  The eagle (God) plucks a sapling (Israel) from another tree (Egypt), and it grows into a vine, but it starts to follow another eagle (idols) and detaches itself at the roots until it withers and dies.  I thought, ‘OK, straightforward parable about Israel’s faithlessness.’ 

But no!  The following verses point out that the parable is really about how Ned plucks Jehoiachin from Israel and plants Zedekiah as the replacement king.  Zedekiah then rebels against Ned and allies with Hophra (Pharoah), bringing Ned’s wrath and destruction on himself.  Again, it’s a message about accepting earthly authorities and not striving against God’s will in pursuit of your own ends.  I must admit, that caught me off guard.

18 | Chapter 18 revisits the earlier theme of individual responsibility.  God corrects the people in their error; they believed that the sins of the father are visited on the son as a matter of law and justice.  If there’s truth to that proverb, it is just as an observation about consequences for sin and the impact our actions have on those who depend on us and come after us.  God makes clear that there is no law at work here, meting out punishment on innocent children because of the sins of their father.  This still has not been wholly accepted over 500 years later, when people asked Jesus similar questions (about what sins the blind man’s parents committed that he was born blind). 

18:21-22 | God emphasizes his message of forgiveness.  If a wicked person repents of his evil ways and lives a life of righteousness, he will be forgiven and shall live.  Granted, we find out later on (SPOILER ALERT) that the only way to actually be righteous is to accept Jesus’ substitutional righteousness on our behalf.  But the idea that sins could be forgiven and even forgotten is crucial to Zeke’s point here.

8:24 | The converse, however, is also true, with interesting implications for modern theological debates:

 But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live?  None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

The implication of this passage certainly seems to be that you can lose your salvation.  It’s a debate in the current church about which many are passionate.  I have always believed that you cannot lose your salvation, and here’s how I reconcile this passage with that belief. 

I understand this verse to be talking about the ‘unsaved’ person.  Under the law, good behavior does not cover bad behavior.  You cannot build up goodwill by being righteous only to spend it all on a life of sin, expecting to even out in the end.  What matters is the state of your heart.  The sinful man who repents is in an honest place of desiring God and rejecting his evil ways.  The previously righteous man who turns to a life of sin is repudiating his former ways and embracing the path of destruction. 

What changes this formula is the act of the crucifixion.  When Jesus atones for our sins and we accept that grace, we are covered forever by His righteousness.  Choosing a life of sin after accepting Christ can illuminate whether that acceptance was really genuine, but I do not believe you can sin your way out of God’s grace.  The relevant verse is Romans 8:38-39:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don’t know if I’m explaining it clearly enough, but I ultimately think that Ezekiel 18:24 describes the perilous condition under the Law, while Romans 8:38-39 describes the security under grace.

18:25 | Israel’s cry for justice (regarding the sinful man who repents and is saved) is rich.  They rejected God, but see His justice as something that can only work in their favor against other sinners.  God instructs them that His justice allows for the reality of vv. 21-24.  We learn later on that the justice is satisfied by the death of a sinless Christ, but for the duration, God’s assurance is enough.

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