The Pulpit Commentary

Ezekiel 18:23 (Ezekiel 18:23)

Divine benevolence.

No such conception of Deity can be found elsewhere as in the Holy Scriptures. Where can the sentiment of this verse be matched in other sacred literatures? Thousands of years have elapsed since these words were penned; and the world has not produced or heard language in itself more morally elevating and beautiful, more honouring to the Supreme Ruler, more consolatory and inspiring to the sinful sons of men.

I. MEN HAVE CHERISHED SUSPICION OF THE DIVINE MALEVOLENCE . No one who is acquainted with the religions which have obtained among the nations of mankind will question this. The deities of the Gentiles have reflected the moral qualities of the human race, and accordingly attributes morally reprehensible as well as attributes morally commendable have been assigned to the deities whom men have worshipped. Indeed, worship has to no small extent consisted in methods supposed efficacious to appease the wrath of the cruel and malicious powers from whose ill will humanity, it has been thought, had much to dread. And it is not to be questioned that even Jewish and Christian worship have not been free from some measure of this same error. It has been customary to refer the governmental and judicial infliction of punishment to a disposition to take pleasure in human sufferings and torture. The student of Scripture is aware that there is no authority, no justification for such a view; but the student of human nature is not surprised that such a view should have been taken.

II. GOD 'S REPUDIATION OF MALEVOLENCE IN PLAIN AUTHORITATIVE WORDS . "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God." It is indeed condescension in the Supreme Ruler thus to remove the misunderstandings and difficulties which men create for themselves by their own ignorance and sin. Again and again he represents himself as merciful and delighting in mercy, but nowhere does he give the least ground for a suspicion that he delights in, or even is indifferent to, the sufferings of the children of men. Since all his words are faithful and true, we can but rest and rejoice in such an assurance as that of the text.

III. GOD 'S PROOF IN HIS DEEDS OF THE BENEVOLENCE OF HIS NATURE . Israel, as a nation, had abundant evidence of the loving kindness and long suffering of him who chose the people as his own, trained them for his service, instructed them in his Law, bore with their frequent disobedience and rebellion, and ever addressed to them promises of compassion and of help. But all proofs of the Divine benevolence pale before that glorious exhibition of God's love and kindness which we Christians have received in him who is the unspeakable Gift of Heaven. Had the Almighty felt any pleasure in the death of the wicked, he would not have given his own Son, while we were yet sinners, to die for us. He took pleasure, not in the condemnation and death, but in the salvation of men. In Christ his love and kindness appeared; for Christ came, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.

IV. THE ENCOURAGEMENT THUS AFFORDED TO PENITENT SINNERS TO HOPE FOR ACCEPTANCE AND LIFE . The pleasure of God is that the wicked "should return from his way, and should live." Thus there is coincidence between the good pleasure of the Omnipotent upon the one hand, and the best desires and truest interests of penitent sinners on the other. He wire repents of his evil deed, who looks upwards for forgiveness, and who resolves upon. a new and better life, has not to encounter Divine displeasure or ill will; on the contrary, he is assured of a gracious reception, of immediate pardon, of kindest consideration, and of help and guidance in the carrying out of holler purpose and endeavour. The demeanour and the language of God are those of the compassionate Father, who welcomes the returning prodigal, accords him a benign reception, and proffers him all those blessings, now and hereafter, which alone can answer to the glorious and comprehensive gift of Divine love—eternal life!—T.

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Ezekiel 18:5-24 (Ezekiel 18:5-24)

God's remonstrance with man's reason.

It is an act of singular kindness that God should stoop to reason with the perverted mind of man. It had been a pleasure to instruct the uncorrupted mind; but now that the instrument is injured, it requires infinitely more patience and skill to deal with it. Yet God deigns to explain his principles of rule, and will eventually vindicate, as supremely just, every secret act. But sinful men are self-blinded.

I. WE ARE REMINDED OF MAN 'S RESPONSIBILITY . God deals with men as creatures capable of discerning between right and wrong. Man's morality is, in God's sight, everything. To be righteous is his glory. The final inquiry will be not—Is he rich or poor? learned or unlearned? but this only—Is he righteous or unrighteous? Every man is undergoing moral trial. He must give an account of himself before God.

II. IDOLATRY IS A ROOT OF VARIOUS IMMORALITY . It is not merely a creed, nor yet only a form of worship. It indicates a state of heart, a departure from the soul's anchorage. The living God is the Source of human purity, human greatness, and to wander from him is to drift into darkness and vice and ruin. Wherever idolatry has prevailed, there has prevailed also unchastity, licentiousness, violence, and cruelty.

III. PARENTAL INFLUENCE IS POTENT , YET NOT FATAL . A father's opinions and beliefs will, in the first instance, he conveyed to his child; yet soon the child wilt gather opinions and teaching from other sources, and often modifies or reverses the beliefs of its parent. The evil example of a parent moulds, more or less, the character of a child. As a parent is the channel of natural life to the child, so too he may become the channel of moral and spiritual life. As a fact, the results of parental influence are conspicuously seen. Yet a son is not doomed to copy the character of his parent, nor fated to imitate his vices. He has the power to consider, to ponder, to choose, to resist. Strong influence is not fate.

IV. REPENTANCE , AT ANY STAGE OF HUMAN PROBATION , IS POSSIBLE . It is recognized, throughout the Bible, that a man may turn from evil ways. If, at any point short of death, a man is disposed to turn from a vicious course, all the resources of God's skill and power are on his side. There is no hindrance to a man's reformation and restoration save his own unwillingness, Incessantly, God is inviting such repentance.

V. REPENTANCE LEADS TO COMPLETE AND PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS . Repentance is not merely a negation; it is a positive good. It is the first link in a golden chain that shall bind the soul in sweet allegiance to God. It is the first drop in a precious shower of blessing. It is the foundationstone of a new character. It is the seed of a magnificent harvest. From true repentance every virtue, every excellence, every noble quality, shall spring. Give it time, and it shall bear upon its branches all the figurers and fruits of goodness. It is the first ray of heaven struggling to find entrance into man's heart.

VI. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS INCIPIENT LIFE . "In his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live." Only that man who is righteous truly lives. The life of a man must include the life of conscience—the life of the soul. To eat, drink, sleep, is the life of an animal, not the life of an immortal. The first activities of conscience are the movements and signs of life. Therefore penitence is nascent life. Reformation is life. Reconciliation with God is life—the budding of the heavenly life. The limb of grace on earth is the dawn of an eternal day. Such righteousness brings peace, rest, joy, into the heart—heaven begun below. These are the first fruits of the coming harvest. "The just shall live by his faith."—D.

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Ezekiel 18:21-29 (Ezekiel 18:21-29)

Moral transformations and their consequences.

"But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes," etc. In this paragraph the vindication of the moral government of God is advanced another stage. Already it has been shown that the son does not die for his father's sins, or live for his father's righteousness. Only the soul that sinneth shall die; only the soul that is righteous shall live. Now the prophet proceeds to show that "so far from the sins of his fathers excluding from salvation, not even his own do this, if they be penitently forsaken." Or, as Matthew Henry expresses it, "The former showed that God will reward or punish according to the change made in the family or succession, for the better or for the worse; here he shows that he will reward or punish according to the change made in the person himself, whether for the better or the worse."

I. A DESIRABLE MORAL TRANSFORMATION .

1 . Its nature. Several stages of it which are here specified will make this clear.

2 . Its consequences.

3 . Its great encouragement. "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God: and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?" God delights in the conversion, not in the condemnation, of the sinner; in the inspiration of life, not in the infliction of death. "The God of the Old Testament," says Havernich, "has a heart: himself the essence of all blessedness, and mirroring himself in the blessedness of the creature, he has a heart forevery being who has fallen away from him, and who is exposed to death. The fundamental feature of his character is holy love: he delighteth in the return of the sinner from death to life." "He delighteth in mercy." This is the great encouragement for the sinner to turn in penitence unto him.

II. A DEPLORABLE MORAL TRANSFORMATION .

1 . Its nature. "When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth." Here is the transformation of a righteous man into a wicked man; of a doer of righteousness into a worker of iniquity. The prophet does not set forth an occasional or temporary aberration from the right and the true; but the habitual and persistent practice of wickedness. Moreover, in the case supposed, the sinner "doeth according to all the abominations" of the wicked, and continues therein to the end of his earthly existence: he "committeth iniquity, and dieth therein" (verse 26). That such a turning from righteousness to wickedness is possible is evident from the moral constitution of man. He is free to obey or to disobey God; to do that which is right or to commit iniquity.

2 . Its consequences.

III. THE EQUITY OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS WITH MEN IN EACH OF THESE MORAL TRANSFORMATIONS . (Verses 25, 29.)

1 . Men sometimes challenge the rectitude of God ' s dealings with them. "Ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal … Saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal." The righteousness of the Divine way is thus denied, or at least questioned, sometimes even by the godly. Thus did Job ( Job 10:2 , Job 10:3 ). Thus also did Asaph ( Psalms 73:11-14 ). If sore affliction or protracted trial befall us, we are prone to doubt and challenge the kindness, perhaps even the justice, of God's treatment of us. Yet "wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?"

2 . Those who thus challenge the rectitude of God ' s dealings are generally unrighteous themselves. " Hear now, O house of Israel … Are not your ways unequal?" The wickedness of the house of Israel had long been exceedingly great, and was still so; yet they were forward to charge God with unfairness in his dealings with them. The greatest sinners are the readiest to daringly call in question the holiness of the character and the righteousness of the doings of God. The more excellent a man is the greater will be his confidence in the holiness of the Divine will and ways, the more hearty his acquiescence in that will, and the more devoted his love to its great Author.

3 . If God should, deign to reply to such a challenge, he will most amply vindicate the character of his dealings with men. He does so in this chapter. When the evolution of his purposes in relation to our race is more complete, it will be unmistakably clear that in the salvation of the penitent sinner and in the condemnation of the persistently wicked he has acted in complete harmony with the infinite perfections of his being. "His work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment: a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he;" "Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the foundation of his throne;" "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and gracious in all his works;" "Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages."—W.J.

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Ezekiel 18:23 (Ezekiel 18:23)

Have I any pleasure, etc.? Ezekiel's anticipations of the gospel of Christ take a yet wider range, and we come at last to what had been throughout the suppressed premise of the argument. To him, as afterwards to St. Paul ( 1 Timothy 2:4 ) and St. Peter ( 2 Peter 3:9 ), the mind of God was presented as being at once absolutely righteous and absolutely loving. The death of the wicked, the loss, i.e; of true life, for a time, or even forever, might be the necessary consequence of laws that were righteous in themselves, and were working out the well being of the universe; but that death was not to be thought of as the result of a Divine decree, or contemplated by the Divine mind with any satisfaction. If it were not given to Ezekiel to see, as clearly as Isaiah seems to have seen it, how the Divine philanthropy was to manifest itself, he at least gauged that philanthropy itself, and found it fathomless.

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Ezekiel 18:23 (Ezekiel 18:23)

How God views the death of the wicked.

I. HE HAS NO PLEASURE IN IT .

1 . It might appear that he had.

2 . But on the other hand, it is certain that the fate of the sinner is no pleasure to God.

II. STILL GOD PERMITS IT .

1 . God has given freedom to his children. It can scarcely be said that God kills a wicked man. The sinner is his own executioner; his sin is its own sword of vengeance. Sin itself slays. The sinner is practically a suicide. God has no pleasure in the ruin which the foolish man brings on his own head. But there would be no moral nature left for him, and therefore no possibility of goodness, if God did not leave him the use of that freedom which he abuses in slaying his own soul.

2 . God is just, though justice may be painful. It may be said that we cannot throw the whole burden of his death on the sinner, because God has made him and has made the laws which connect death with sin. No doubt, therefore, there is a certain Divine retribution in the punishment of sin. But then God is just, and does not regard his own pleasure. It is only an epicurean deity who would refuse to punish sin because he took no pleasure in the death of the sinner.

3 . There can be no escape for the impenitent. If it were merely a question of God's pleasure, we might appeal from that to his mercy. But he already denies himself to permit the punishment. It is therefore the more sure.

III. GOD PREFERS THE LIFE OF HIS CHILDREN . If he has no pleasure in their death, he will welcome any avenue of escape. Nay, he will provide all possible means of deliverance. Hence the gospel of Christ.

1 . There is a possibility of escape through amendment. It can come no other way, or justice would be outraged; for it is better that the soul should die than that it should continue forever in sin. The life of sin is a curse to the sinner and a blight on God's world. But a return to the better way is open to all of us through Christ ( 2 Corinthians 5:20 ).

2 . This escape gives life. God loves life, or he would not have created a world teeming with living beings. He loves to gives us a new life in Christ ( 1 John 5:12 ). Let no one despair. God does not desire our death; God wills our life.

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