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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. (NRSV)

Although the prophetic unpacking of an ancient Israelite proverb might seem like a strange place to mine for modern inspiration, a bit of context helps these verses shine in a whole new light. Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry took place during one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history: the fall of Jerusalem and subsequent mass deportations to Babylon of 586 BCE. Most Israelites (logically) assumed that this would be the end of Israel’s existence, and many saw this moment as a punishment set upon them by God for their sins and the sins of their ancestors.

Ezekiel, however, relays a different message from God: contrary to earlier teachings from the Pentateuch (Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, among others), God does not hold the previous generations’ misdeeds against the present day. Instead, as verses 25 to 32 make clear, each of us are instead responsible for our own deeds and ways. This may not sound comforting, but in a context in which people were concerned that their predecessors had done irreparable harm to their relationship with God, these words can be understood as God assuring the people that relationship will continue—albeit with a clear demand that we ourselves take personal responsibility for the way we live our lives.

The uncomfortable urgency of our responsibility makes this passage affecting, even today. God will not hold previous generations’ behavior against us, but God will ask us to take account for our own. As with many of the prophetic writings in the Bible, this passage is both unsettling and inspiring—and so we are left to sit with its message.

Almighty God, judge of all our ways, I humbly ask that you might reshape and remake me in all of the places where I am disobedient to you and your Word. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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