The Visions and Oracles of the Prophet Ezekiel (10)

Biblical Research Monthly, January 1947 thru September 1950 — by Dr. David L. Cooper


      1. Some Preliminary Observations
      2. The Call and Commission of Ezekiel
      3. The Beginnings of Ezekiel's Ministry
      4. The Final Collapse of Judah Under the Babylonian Siege
      5. Jehovah's Withdrawal from the City and it's Downfall
      6. The Flight and Capture of the King Symbolically Represented and Warning Against a Wrong Attitude Concerning Prophecy
      7. Prophecy and Idolatry
      8. Israel, the Burnt Vine and the Unfaithful Wife
      9. The Riddle of the Two Great Eagles and the Messianic Reign of Christ
      10. God's Reply to the Proverb, “The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”
      11. The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah
      12. Israel's Past and Future Experiences
      13. The Sword of Jehovah
      14. Sinful Jerusalem and Her Punishment
      15. The Lewdness of Oholah and Oholibah
      16. The Boiling Caldron
      17. Oracles Concerning Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia
      18. The Oracle Concerning Tyre
      19. The Oracles Concerning Egypt
      20. The Watchman on the Wall (Chapter 33)
      21. The Untrue Shepherds of Israel
      22. The Flock of Jehovah and its Shepherd
      23. The Judgment upon Edom
      24. The Curse Removed from the Land of Israel
      25. Israel's Restoration to the Land of the Fathers and Her Conversion
      26. The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
      27. The Scattered Nation of Israel Reunited under King Messiah
      28. The Overthrow of the Russian Forces that Invade Palestine (Chapter 38)
      29. The Overthrow of the Antichrist's Forces Invade Palestine (Chapter 39)
      30. The Millennial Jerusalem
      31. The Millennial Temple
      32. The Prince and the Glorified Millennial Temple
      33. The Land of Israel in the Millennium

God's Reply to the Proverb,

“The Fathers have Eaten Sour Grapes, and the Children's Teeth are Set on Edge”

The overthrow of the Jewish monarchy and the exile of the captives in Babylon indeed closed a chapter in the history of Israel in different ways. From the Exodus until that momentous event, the Lord had largely dealt with the nation as a group, rather than with the individual. At the same time it is clear that He did deal specifically with certain individuals. But the general trend of the course of Israel's history was founded upon the basis of His dealing with the group rather than with the individual. Sometimes the group with which God dealt specifically was small and on other occasions it was larger. Sometimes it embraced the entire nation; at others, it included a tribe, or one of the kingdoms into which the monarchy fell upon the death of Solomon. As proof of the proposition that God dealt with the group, read carefully Numbers 16:1-35. Here we have an account of the rebellion of Korah. The Lord dealt with the families of the rebellious sinful men. In the case of Achan, when Israel was in the Plains of Jericho, God dealt with the entire group regarding Achan's sin. Again, we see that God, on many occasions, dealt with the southern kingdom of Judah as a unit and also with the northern kingdom of Israel as a political entity. The exiles of the northern kingdom were carried into Assyrian captivity, whereas those deported from the homeland by the Babylonians were taken into Babylonian captivity. Thus the welfare of the individual was tied up indissolubly with the regime or environment in which the individual lived. While this is true generally, even now among the Gentiles, it was especially true with reference to Israel.

There was a special reason why the people of Ezekiel's day comforted themselves in their sorrows and distresses by taking refuge in the proverb which God denounced: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge” (18:2b).

In the days of Manasseh, whose reign was the longest in Israel (fifty-five years), the kingdom of Judah sank to the lowest depths of sin, idolatry, and degradation. For an account of the situation read especially II Kings, chapter 21. Then read chapter 23 concerning the great reforms of good King Josiah. Although this man endeavored to undo the terrible harm that was caused by the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, his son, the nation had gone so far that it was impossible for God to allow the nation to continue as it had. Judgment was inevitable. Hear God's decision as recorded in II Kings 23:26,27:

Notwithstanding, Jehovah turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations wherewith Manasseh had provoked him. 27 And Jehovah said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city which I have chosen, even Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

In II Kings, chapters 24 and 25, we have a record of God's overruling providentially and of His bringing the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem, who fought against it, overthrew the monarchy, and deported the flower of the nation to Babylon. Thus came to a conclusion the Hebrew monarchy.

It is to be noted that, in the height of the reform of Josiah, God made the statement that He could not brook the situation and pass it by unpunished. But that He would remove Judah out of His sight and cast off the city of Jerusalem, because of the horrible idolatry and the sins of the nation, committed under and during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon. Jehoahaz reigned three months in Jerusalem upon the death of his father Josiah. Jehoiakim likewise reigned eleven years, and Jehoiachin, his successor, three months. When this latter king was dethroned and carried to Babylon, Mattaniah, named Zedekiah, mounted the throne. The oracle from the mouth of Ezekiel which we are studying was probably spoken around the sixth year of the reign of Zedekiah. It was abundantly evident to all that the prediction uttered by the Lord during the reign of Josiah regarding the overthrow of the monarchy was on the verge of complete fulfillment. Thus the people to whom Ezekiel spoke had some justification for saying that they were suffering for the evils of their ancestors. Truly, the fathers had eaten the sour grapes, and the children's teeth were set on edge. They were suffering, not only for their own sins, but also for the sins of their fathers. Confirmation of this position is seen also in II Chronicles 36:15,16:

And Jehovah, the God of their fathers, sent to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place: 16 but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of Jehovah arose against his people, till there was no remedy.”

The people of Israel, during the last years of the Hebrew monarchy, refused to hear the messages of the prophets whom God sent to them. They rather mocked these messengers of God, despised their words, and scoffed at the prophets, “until the wrath of Jehovah arose against his people, till there was no remedy.”

It is true that heredity is a great factor in the life of every one of us. “Blood will tell.” We inherit the evil as well as the good qualities of our parents and foreparents. From the scientific point of view, therefore, the fathers do eat sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge. Because of this fact many people try to shirk the responsibility resting upon them, consoling themselves with the thought that they could not do any better because they have inherited certain weaknesses from their foreparents.

There is no reason for anyone's lamenting the fact that he has had a bad heredity, since he can, by accepting the Lord Jesus Christ, be born again and thus get the very best heritage possible. Being linked up with God, he can become more than a conqueror through Him who loved him and gave Himself up for him, as Paul asserts in Romans, chapter 8.

The people of Israel, who had taken refuge in this proverb of the father's eating sour grapes and the children's teeth being set on edge, were interpreting life from the standpoint of fate purely. According to them they could do nothing about the situation, in which they found themselves. The prophet now says that, with the fall of the monarchy, the last chapter of her national history is closed and the new chapter is to begin. Conditions will change and God now is in a particular manner dealing with the individual, upon the basis of the merits of each case. He will not, as formerly, deal with the people as groups, to the extent to which He has before this time.

In view of the changed situation, God declared through Ezekiel that He would cause this proverb to cease from the land of Israel.

All souls belong to God. He takes note of the motives and the desires of the individual. The soul that sins is the one that dies. The Lord by His overruling providence will see to this.

I. The Security of the Individual is not involved in the Fate of the Community

I urgently request the reader to turn to the Scriptures and read Ezekiel, chapter 28, at this point, in order that he might catch the force of what I am going to say.

In Ezekiel 18:5-9 the prophet sets forth the character of the man whom he terms just, and who will be preserved by the Lord in the national crisis. The passage is so very important that I herewith give it:

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 neighbor's wife, neither hath come near to a woman in her impurity, 7 and hath not wronged any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath taken nought by robbery, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment; 8 he that hath not given forth upon interest, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true justice between man and man, 9 hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept mine ordinances, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, said the Lord Jehovah.”

Let us note that the prophet is not talking about a man who has been justified by faith in the sight of God. He is simply describing the just man, the one whom we would call a good, moral, upright man who is living up to the light that he has, and who is living according to the high principles set forth in this passage. God assured the prophet that such a man as the one whom He has described would survive the calamity of the collapse of the nation and would continue to live. We have every right to believe that every man whose character squared with this description was providentially protected by the Lord during the collapse of the Jewish nation and survived it. This does not say that he was saved eternally in glory.

Such a man as this one will be open to light and truth. This man is such a one as Cornelius, of whom we read in Acts, chapter 10. Cornelius was living up to the light that he had and was praying for more. When one walks in all the light that he has, seeking for more, the Lord always brings it to him and gives him an opportunity of stepping out more fully in the light. “The way of the just is uprightness: thou that art upright dost direct the path of the just.” (Isaiah 26:7).

The people of this type, living in the time of the Tribulation, will be preserved and will survive the ordeals of that day and will enter the Millennial Age. This is seen by a careful study of Psalm 15 and Psalm 24:1-6. It is my profound conviction that everyone who is thus living up to the light that he has as set forth in these verses will be given more light by the Lord in order that he might see the truth and the Saviour, accept Him, be regenerated, and thus be prepared for life eternal and immortal glory.

Verses 10-13 discusses the case of the son of a good man, a man of the type set forth in verses 5-9. Though the son has a good father and has the very best example of clean life set before him, he goes into sin and does that which is wrong in God's sight. Such a son will be dealt with upon the basis of his own life and conduct and will not be judged by what the father is and does. He, according to Ezekiel, shall die for his sins. Thus the proverb that the fathers have eaten the sour grapes and the children's teeth are on edge is not true, according to this revelation, and will not be true.

The prophet advances in his discussion further, in verses 14-18. In this passage he discusses the case of the grandson of the good man of whom we have studied in verses 5-9. The grandfather, as we have already seen, lived up to all the light that he had. The son, according to verses 10-15, refused the light and the good example of the good father. But now the grandson, who is the son of the man not living up to the light that he has, is influenced by his grandfather's life and is repelled by the life and conduct, of his father. This grandson lives up to the light that he has and longs for more, according to the promises of these verses. This grandson will live and survive the catastrophe and will have an opportunity to receive more light and thus prepare for eternity and immortal glory. The case of this man proves that the proverb is not true.

Notwithstanding the facts which the prophet has set forth, the people still came to him and, said, “Wherefore doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father?” God's reply through the prophet was this: “When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. 20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” This clear statement shows that the proverb was incorrect. Each one will be judged and dealt with on the basis of his own life and conduct.

II. The Fate of the Individual is not involved in His Past

In verses 21-30 Ezekiel discussed the case of the individual and showed that, though a man had lived in unrighteousness and had violated the laws of God, he could turn from all of his wickedness and sin and serve the Lord. In the event of his turning from his sins and unrighteousness and his turning to God and doing that which was pleasing in His sight, such a one would not be Judged upon the basis of his former life of sin, but would be judged and dealt with upon the basis of what he is at the time of the judging. The Word of God on this point is more forceful that I can express in my language. Hence I am quoting verses 21 and 22 which deal with this case:

But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. 22 None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.”

In verse 24 the prophet supposes another case. This time he thinks of one who has been living up to the light that he has according to the moral and ceremonial law which God had given to Israel. This man ceases to walk in the light and turns from his correct manner of living to that of sin, transgression, and degradation. God no longer deals with him as He did when he was living a morally clean life. On the other hand, the Lord will deal with him on the basis of his present life. Thus the proverb of the one's having to suffer because of the sins of the parents is untrue. Moreover, it is untrue when it is applied to two different periods in the life of the individual. Regardless of the past God deals with the individual upon the basis of his present attitude and outlook. The Lord can and does overlook the past, when a person has forsaken the evil past and has turned his face toward God. At the same time one should recognize the fact that God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. This is a law that is operative in the spiritual realm. But the basis of God's dealing with the individual is upon his present status.

Notwithstanding the plain demonstration that the prophet gave to the people concerning the principles upon which He deals with the individual, the people continued to say to the prophet that God's ways were unequal and that their ways were right and just.

In verses 25-30 the prophet showed the inconsistency and the contradictions of their position. Instead of the Lord's being unrighteous and His ways unequal, the prophet showed very dearly that Israel's ways were unequal and unrighteous.

III. God's Call to Salvation

Cast away from you all your transgressions, wherein ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:31,32)

The death of which (he prophet has been speaking in the first twenty-nine verses of this chapter is physical. Being spared death was being spared physical death in the calamity that was just ahead of the nation. Of course it would have applied to any other calamity or catastrophe that might confront the nation in the future. But in verses 31 and 32 the prophet has ceased to talk simply about physical death. He has gone into the realm of the spiritual and is discussing the conversion of the soul and spiritual life and death.

That this is true may be seen by a glance at the words of these last two verses which we have just quoted. “Cast away from you all your transgressions, wherein ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?” They were to turn from their wickedness and sin. They were urged to get them a new heart and a new spirit. They of course could not in and of themselves, or by themselves, get a new heart and a new spirit. The only way to have a new heart and a new spirit is to come to the Lord and accept His full and free salvation. Whenever one does that, the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart and places the right spirit in him. Since no person can come to God the Father except through Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, he must come to Him for this new heart and new spirit. One must be born again, said the Lord Jesus to Nicodemus. This is a spiritual birth. For “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

There, is no need nor occasion for anyone's dying a spiritual death and passing out of this life into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. The Lord Jesus Christ tasted death for every man. He pleads with all to come and accept Him and procure this new heart and this new spirit. Have you, dear friend, accepted Him? Have you experienced that regenerating and renewal in your soul that is mentioned in the Scriptures? If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things are passed away, and behold, all things are become new. Without the Saviour and this experience, life is vain.

To those who have accepted the Lord Jesus, I would urge that they press forward in the cause of God, working and toiling for Him during life's short day; for the night is coming in which no man can work.

Next: The Young Lions and the Rods of Judah