Tuesday, 16 July 2013

‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’

Ezekiel was born in 622BC, and at the age of 25 was amongst 3000 Jews who were exiled to Babylon. So he is writing and prophesying to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. 

The proverb, ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ (Ez 18:2) was probably used by the exiles to exonerate themselves of responsibility for their situation. 

The proverb is saying that the children suffer the consequences of their parents' actions. So they are claiming that the problems they are facing (including the exile), are not down to any fault of their own, but due to the sins of their ancestors. 

But God says “you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.” (Ezk 18:2), Jeremiah 31:29-30 also rejects this same proverb.

Why does God reject this proverb? After all we do know that there is profound truth in this proverb. One generation’s sins can manifest itself in the suffering of the next generation (see Exodus 34:7). The reality is that we are very much the product of our upbringing. 

For example, alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, lack of love, inevitably impacts the next generation. So people can and do suffer the consequences of their parents sins, and it can have a ripple down affect which touches more than one generation. 

But the reason God through his prophet rejects this proverb, is because he is calling us to take responsibility for our sins. To recognise the times when we fail God, and not blame others for our mistakes. 

Whilst we may be shaped by our past, the message of this passage is that we will not suffer for the sins of our parent’s wickedness, nor will we benefit from our parent’s righteousness (Ez 18:9, 13, 17). “It is only the person who sins that shall die" (Ezk 18:4)

Verses 5-24 go on to mention a righteous father, a wicked son, and the righteous grandson, and breaks the basic premise of the proverb. A wicked son does not benefit from his father's righteousness, nor does he jeopardize his son's chance at life.

In this passage God calls us to take responsibility for our own actions and lives, and not to blame others for our mistakes. It calls us to take stock of our lives. To bring our lives into the light of God, to examine what areas of our lives we have still to turn over to God. 

It reminds us of the seriousness of sin, that without repentance sin leads to death. As Paul in Romans 6:23 writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”But if we were to go on reading this passage a bit further we’d read: “But if a 
wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.” (Ezk 18:21)

What becomes clear is that God’s greater concern is with the preservation of life. We are able to change the course of our lives. Through recognition of our sins, and repentance we can receive God’s forgiveness. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 John 1:9

Because all life belongs to God, even the lives of the wicked, the future remains open for all of us. But ultimately God leaves it up to us whether we want to chose the way of life over the way of death. The choice is always ours, this freedom to choose is extremely important. Whilst God desperate for his people to come to him, it always has to be our choice. But God’s desire is clear, at the end of this chapter God says “For I take no pleasure in the death of 
anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezk 18:32)

So this passage contains a very powerful message of hope. God rejects this fatalistic proverb, that there is nothing we can do about our current situation, that we are the product of our ancestors. Instead we see the heart of God, who delights in life, and longs for his people to turn to him, to turn away from the sin that leads to death, and to embrace life.