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KD Old Testament Lesson 43: Ezekiel 18, 34, and 37

Posted by Karl D. on December 4, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Ezekiel (#43)
Reading: Ezekiel 18, 34, 37

I know I am way behind (although I am actually teaching lesson 43 tomorrow). I will try to catch up to Jim over the next few days.

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Historical Background

2.1 Exile

Ezekiel is active from 593 BCE to at least 571 BCE.1 Ezekiel begins in the fifth year of Judah’s exile in Babylon (593 BCE). Judean exiles are taken to Babylon before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. Nebuchadnezzar brought exiles to Babylon after his capture of Jerusalem in 597 BCE. Thus during the same time that Jeremiah was prophesying in Jerusalem, Ezekiel is prophesying in a Diaspora community located in Babylon.

  • Do you think there would be important differences between Jeremiah’s audience (people in Jerusalem) and Ezekiel’s audience (exiles in Babylon)?
  • How might the differences in audience affect the message of Ezekiel relative to Jeremiah?

2.2 Zedekiah

Zedekiah tries to rebel against Babylon. Ezekiel condemns Zedekiah’s actions as rebellious. Thus even though Ezekiel is a prophet in Babylon he is still concerned with events happening in Jerusalem and appears to have some interaction with Jerusalem.

Zedekiah courted an alliance with Egypt and withheld tribute from Babylon. In response, Nebuchadnezzar campaigns in Judah (588 BCE), and the Egyptians offer token resistance. The campaign ends with the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE.

2.3 Ezekiel

The superscription of the text indicates that he was a priest (Ezekiel 1:1). Scholars view Ezekiel’s early exile as a signal of his prominence.2

3 Literary Features of the Book

3.1 Composition and Style

Ezekiel has a precise dating and a logical structure.3 On the other hand, it full of strange imagery, obscure historical references, and sudden changes in subject matter and literary style. Ezekiel is anchored in a well documented and specific historical setting but is presented using a series of esoteric visions and metaphors.4 These issues have made Ezekiel a difficult book to interpret for both scholars and ordinary readers.5 Because of the complex literary nature of the prophecies, many scholars view Ezekiel as a “writing” instead of “oral” prophet. Ezekiel’s prophecies may have been written down first instead of delivered first orally and then written down later.

3.2 Striking Metaphors

Ezekiel employs a wide range of literary styles. Maybe the most striking style is his use of vivid extended metaphors (these extended metaphors come close to allegory). Additionally, these metaphors are often very complex and difficult to interpret (see, for example, Ezekiel 16-17).

4 Sin and Repentance

4.1 Teeth are Set on Edge

Read Ezekiel 18:1-2:

1 The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying, 2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?

4.1.1 The Proverb

  • First who is Ezekiel’s talking to, addressing, or talking about in this chapter? Is it obvious from the first 2 verses alone? Given, the historical backdrop of Ezekiel’s prophecies, who is Ezekiel addressing?
  • Does it make the most sense to infer that he is addressing Jews in exile? Does it make sense that exiles would apply the proverb, “[t]he Fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” to the land of Israel?
  • What does “[t]he Fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” mean? What underlying theological idea do you think the proverb expresses?
  • Can you update the metaphor? Can you create a modern metaphor that captures the same theological idea?
  • How about something like the following?6

The parents eat too much candy,
but the children’s teeth need to be crowned

or:

The parents drink too much wine,
but their children awake with a hangover.

4.1.2 Links to Exodus

Do you think that this “common” proverb of Ezekiel and Jeremiah’s day is related to scriptural passages like Exodus 34:6-7?

6 And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

  • Does the proverb in Ezekiel express the same theological message as these verses in Exodus?
  • Are there differences in the messages? If so what do you see as the main differences and do you see these differences as major or minor?

4.1.3 Links to Jeremiah

Read Jeremiah 16:10-13:

10 And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt shew this people all these words, and they shall say unto thee, Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God? 11 Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law; 12 And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me: 13 Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not shew you favour.

  • Does the proverb in Ezekiel express the same theological message as these verses in Jeremiah?
  • Are there differences in the messages? If so, what do you see as the main differences and do you see these differences as major or minor?
  • How about the relation between these verses in Jeremiah and the verses in Exodus? How are they related? Are the messages consistent?

4.2 Response to Teeth Set on Edge

Read Ezekiel 18:3-4:

3 As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

  • What do you make of the response here? Does any part of the response surprise you? Are you surprised the the Lord tells Israel to stop using the proverb?
  • In the response the Lord mentions that all souls belong to him (or possibly, “every living person belongs to me”7 ). Why is that an important part of the answer to the people? Why, in the context of the people’s proverb, is it important for God to proclaim (or remind the audience) of his “lordship over all human life?”8 How is this concept related to the statement that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die?”

4.3 Three Examples

Ezekiel next presents three different examples: a righteous man (5-9), a wicked son (1-13), and a righteous grandson (14-18).

  • Why would Ezekiel use these three examples?
  • Does the progression here make sense? How does it help address the popular proverb? How do these examples reinforce the point made in verses 3-4?

4.3.1 A Righteous Man

Read Ezekiel 18:5-9:

But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,

6 And hath not eaten upon the mountains,
neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel,

neither hath defiled his neighbour’s wife,
neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,

7 And hath not oppressed any,
but hath restored to the debtor his pledge,

hath spoiled none by violence,
hath given his bread to the hungry,
and hath covered the naked with a garment;

8 He that hath not given forth upon usury,
neither hath taken any increase,

that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity,
hath executed true judgment between man and man,

9 Hath walked in my statutes,
and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly;

he is just,
he shall surely live, saith the Lord God.

  • What do you think is meant by “just” or “right” in this context?
  • Is Israel’s covenant in the background of all the things listed in these verses? How is the covenant related to what it means to be just or righteous in this context?
  • The man seems to be meant as an example of righteousness but many of the virtues highlighted in these verses probably seem unimportant to modern readers. Should we largely ignore these aspects of the text? Should we just view the man as righteous and maybe overlay a modern understanding of what it means to be righteous or just?
  • Which attributes or behaviors mentioned do you think that a righteous person (or maybe a person seeking to behave in accordance with his/her covenants) should still exhibit even in our modern world?
  • Can some of the “antiquated” behaviors be modified or updated to a modern context?
  • The attributes or virtues of the righteous and just man are paired together in a kind of parallelism. Are you surprised by some of the virtue pairs?
  • What is meant by “he shall surely live” in verse 9? Could reading this as related to “eternal life” be problematic in this context (given verses 1-4)? Why or why not?

4.3.2 A Wicked Son

Read Ezekiel 18:10-13:

10 If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things, 11 And that doeth not any of those duties,

but even hath eaten upon the mountains,
and defiled his neighbour’s wife,

12 Hath oppressed the poor and needy,
hath spoiled by violence,

hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols,
hath committed abomination,

13 Hath given forth upon usury,
and hath taken increase:

shall he then live?
he shall not live:

he hath done all these abominations;
he shall surely die;
his blood shall be upon him.

  • What do you think of these things mentioned here in these verses? What virtues/vices are missing relative to the righteous man? Is their absence important?
  • The phrase “eateth upon the mountains” is mentioned for both the righteous man and his wicked son. In both cases, it is the first virtue/vice mentioned. What could this be about? Does the context or literary structure of these pericopes give us any hints as to its meaning?
  • Ezekiel paints a striking contrast between the two men. Do you think the contrast strikes at the heart of the difference between a righteous and wicked person? What do you see as the central difference between the two men?
  • Daniel Block, in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament, suggests that the contrast reveals the following fundamental difference:9

This statement highlights the fundamental difference between righteous and wicked persons: their attitudes toward life, human life in particular. Whereas the former does everything to preserve life, even that of the poor, to the latter others’ lives are expendable if they interfere with that person’s own selfish pursuits.

  • Do you agree with Block? Do you think this is a fair summary of what we can learn from this contrast presented by Ezekiel? Why or why not?

4.3.3 Righteous Grandson

Read 18:14-8:

14 Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not asuch like,

15 That hath not eaten upon the mountains,
neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel,

hath not defiled his neighbour’s wife,
16 Neither hath oppressed any,

hath not withholden the pledge,
neither hath spoiled by violence,

but hath given his bread to the hungry,
and hath covered the naked with a garment,

17 That hath taken off his hand from the poor,
that hath not received usury nor increase,

hath executed my judgments,
hath walked in my statutes;

he shall not die for the iniquity of his father,
he shall surely live.

18 As for his father, because he acruelly oppressed,
spoiled his brother by violence,

and did that which is not good among his people,
lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.

  • Why extend the example to the third generation? How does it add to Ezekiel argument?
  • Does extending the example to the third generation underscore an important theological point that may have been missed if it were only a two generation example?

Footnotes:

1 Wilson, Robert R., 2000, “Ezekiel” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 583.

2 Galambush, J., 2001, “Ezekiel” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 535.

3 Wilson, Robert R., 2000, “Ezekiel” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary,Harper & Row, 586.

4 Galambush, J., 2001, “Ezekiel” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 533-534.

5 Wilson, Robert R., 2000, “Ezekiel” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 583.

6 Pretty sure I didn’t come up with these modern updates myself but I can remember where I got them.

7 Block, Daniel I., 1997, The Book of Ezekiel 1-24, Eerdmans, 562.

8 Block, Daniel I., 1997, The Book of Ezekiel 1-24, Eerdmans, 562.

9 Block, Daniel I., 1997, The Book of Ezekiel 1-24, Eerdmans, 576.

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