As much as we might wish otherwise, we cannot escape responsibility for our sins. Denials and blame-shifting do no good because God knows our every thought, attitude, and action. Our responsibility is to accept responsibility, turn away from sin, and turn to the Lord.
Playing the Blame Game
Soon after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, the game began—the blame game, that is. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed Satan. And the human race has been playing this game ever since. And we’re pretty good at it; we can blame our past, our parents, our neighborhood, our education, our leaders.
Pastors can play the game too. When the congregation is sleeping, it cannot be his fault. Someone once said, “If the congregation is sleeping, wake up the pastor.”
As we arrive at Ezekiel 18, the exiles are more interested in passing the blame than learning from history. Through a series of prophecies given to Ezekiel, God has something to say about this; and the exiles cannot miss the point because each prophecy is introduced by the words “the word of the Lord came to me.”
The first prophecy is nothing less than a call to stop playing the blame game and start taking personal responsibility. Ezekiel records God’s question here in verse 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’?”
They are accusing God of punishing them for their fathers’ sins. “Our fathers ate sour grapes, and our teeth are set on edge because of it. Our condition is their fault.” Children can certainly suffer from the effects of their parents’ sins, but God does not punish innocent people because of the sins of their ancestors.
This point is reiterated throughout chapter 18 by way of illustrations. For example, if a righteous man follows God and his son rejects God, the son will be judged for his sins. Likewise, the son of an ungodly father who follows the Lord will not be held accountable for his father’s sinful actions. Verse 20 spells it out:
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.
Each person is personally responsible before God. And that is true to this very day. I have talked to people who think they are going to heaven because their grandfather was a preacher, or their grandmother was a godly woman.
My friend, God does not have any grandchildren. You cannot earn credit because of your grandparents or some other godly member of your family. By the same token, you are not going to be penalized because of the sins of ungodly family members either.
God is perfectly just. And Ezekiel is telling the people here that if they are suffering judgment from God, it is because of their own sins—nobody else’s (verse 30).
In chapter 19, this principle of divine justice for the Jewish leadership is the focus. The Lord delivers a rather sad poem of a lion and its two cubs. Verse 4 tells us that one little cub “was caught in their pit [trap], and they brought him with hooks to the land of Egypt.” Well, this cub represents King Jehoahaz, who was captured and taken to Egypt.
The second cub, we are told, was captured when “they spread their net over him . . . they put him in a cage and brought him to the king of Babylon” (verses 8-9). This cub represents King Jehoiachin. He was the grandson of the godly King Josiah. But that godly heritage did not save him from suffering for his defiance of God; he was taken as a captive to the land of Babylon.
The final portion of this poem in chapter 19 pictures the current king of Judah, King Zedekiah. He is pictured as a branch on a vine that has been uprooted and transplanted “in a dry and thirsty land” (verse 13). This is a reference to his future captivity in Babylon.
Maybe you can testify from your own experience that when you are in rebellion against God, you are in a dry and thirsty land.
Ezekiel 20 carries the theme of responsibility to the national level. Ezekiel delivers a prophecy that could be entitled, “The History of Israel 101.” This is a history lesson that takes us all the way back to their captivity under Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. Although they were the descendants of godly Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and were divinely protected in Egypt through Joseph, the people of Israel turned away from the Lord.
Still, the Lord eventually delivered them from Egyptian slavery. Look at what the Lord says in verses 10-11:
“So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules.”
In other words, God gave them His law.
However, they rebelled against God in the wilderness and turned to idols, and an entire generation died there in the wilderness. Yet God was gracious to the nation. He says here in verse 17, “Nevertheless, my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make a full end of them in the wilderness.”
The Lord then urged the next generation of Israelites to follow His law, but they too disobeyed Him, and God judged them too. But here is the point: they were judged, not for the sins of their fathers, but for their own rebellion. And then again, in His grace and for His own name’s sake, He did not destroy the nation completely.
These same sins of disobedience and idolatry followed Israel into the promised land. Now the current generation is following the same pattern. But here is the good news: any generation—any individual—can break this cycle by choosing to follow the Lord. No son has to rebel against God just because his father did. You may, in fact, be one of those people who have chosen to follow the Lord, even though your grandparents and parents rejected Him.
God, through Ezekiel, pictures a coming day when the entire nation will break the cycle and follow their Messiah. We read in verses 41-42, “I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. And you shall know that I am the Lord.” This is a glimpse into Israel’s future glory when Christ returns and reigns on earth.
Ezekiel has prophesied here concerning the responsibility of the people, the leadership, and the nation as a whole. There is no need to play the blame game; they are all responsible for their defiance against the Lord.
Chapter 20 gives us a rather quick series of prophecies that deliver the sad results of rebellion. First is the picture of a coming forest fire—verse 47:
“I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree. The blazing flame shall not be quenched.”
Of course, Jerusalem will eventually be burned to the ground by the armies of the empire of Babylon.
Then in chapter 21, there is the picture in verse 11 of a sword that is “sharpened and polished [and] to be given into the hand of the slayer.” This slaying warrior is the king of Babylon.
Beloved, God always deals with sin and sinners in a just manner that reflects His holy character, whether the sin involves individuals, leaders, or nations. The worst thing you can do is play the blame game and find excuses for your sin.
The best thing you can do is admit your sin and throw yourself on the mercy of God. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Get out of that dry and thirsty land of disobedience and move into the green pastures where the Lord is your faithful Shepherd.