Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2003 James Melough
18:1. “The word of the Lord came unto me again,
18:2. “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb
concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and
the children’s teeth are set on edge?”
The proverb meant that the children must suffer for the sins of their fathers,
so in using it, Israel was saying that what she was suffering as a captive in
Babylon was not because of her own sins, but for those of past generations.
In other words, she refused to admit that she was guilty of any wrongdoing,
when in fact she had outdone past generations in wickedness.
Their proverb may have been a wresting of what is written in Ex 20:5 “... for
I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon
the children ....” This verse, however, is not assigning the guilt of the
fathers to their children, but rather is stating that children often have to
suffer the results, not the penalty, of their fathers’ sins, e.g., the
children of a drunken father have to suffer the consequences of his
squandering on liquor money that should have been used to feed and clothe
them, but they do not have to suffer the moral consequences of his wrongdoing,
nor did Israel have to suffer the moral consequences of their fathers’
18:3. “As I live, saith the Lord god, ye shall
not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.”
God, however, by means of the Babylonian captivity, would teach her just how
very wicked she was, so that she would ultimately acknowledge her sin, and
cease to proclaim her self-righteousness.
18:4. “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul
of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it
In this God was declaring the truth that each man was responsible for his own
life, and would have to render an account to Him, God, for how he lived that
life. Each individual would die, not because of what his fathers had done,
but for his own sins, God’s unchangeable law being that he who sinned would
die, for “the wages of sin is death,” Ro 6:23.
18:5. “But if a man be just, and do that which
is lawful and right,”
This describes a man whom others would classify as being good, just, virtuous,
18:6. “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 menstruous
Eating upon the mountains referred to being a partaker in the feasts that
accompanied idol worship, the mountains and hills being the most common sites
of the idolatrous shrines.
To lift up one’s eyes to the idols of the house of Israel was to worship those
idols, and thus incur the sentence of death, that same sentence being incurred
by adultery; while he who lay with a menstruous woman made himself unclean, Le
18:7. “And hath not oppressed any, but hath
restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given
his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;”
“... oppress” means to be verbally or physically violent against someone. A
pledge given by a debtor was not to be retained if it was something the debtor
had need of, e.g., his coat. To spoil one by violence was to commit robbery.
These are prohibitions against sins of commission, as distinct from omission.
Giving bread to the hungry, and clothing to the naked, are acts of goodness or
18:8. “He that hath not given forth upon usury,
neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity,
hath executed true judgment between man and man,”
Giving forth upon usury was lending money at interest, while taking increase
may refer to accepting what a creditor might offer gratuitously over and above
the amount owed at the time he repaid the debt.
Withdrawing one’s hand from iniquity is not to be guilty of any criminal act;
while executing true judgment was to be impartial in settling a dispute
between two men.
18:9. “Hath walked in my statutes and hath kept
my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord
This was the positive side of righteousness. Statutes and judgments or
ordinances are virtually the same, the latter having to do more with civil
laws; and the former, with those pertaining to religion.
None of this should be construed as teaching salvation by works. It is rather
the announcement of the fact that genuine faith ought to display itself in
refraining from what is wrong; and in being active in doing good, see James
2:17-26 relative to works.
18:10. “If he beget a son that is a robber, a
shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,”
18:11. “And that doeth not any of those duties,
but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbor’s wife.”
See verse 6 relative to eating upon the mountains.
18:12. “Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath
spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes
to the idols, hath committed abomination,”
To spoil by violence was to commit armed robbery; failure to restore the
pledge was refusal to return a pledge given for a debt, after the debt had
been paid; lifting up one’s eyes to idols was to worship idols; and to commit
abomination was to engage in filthy practices.
18:13. “Hath given forth upon usury, and hath
taken increase: shall he then live?”
Usury was interest on money loaned. The Jews were forbidden to charge
interest on money lent to other Jews. “Increase” here refers to some other
undefined penalty charged for some undefined aid given to another in time of
18:14. “Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth
all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such
This section deals with the good son who does not follow in the footsteps of
an evil father.
18:15. “That hath not eaten upon the mountains,
neither lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not
defiled his neighbor’s wife,”
18:16. “Neither hath oppressed any, hath not
withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his
bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,”
18:17. “That hath taken off his hand from (has
not oppressed) the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath
executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the
iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.”
Judgments and statutes are virtually the same, the primary distinction being
that a judgment is related to a verdict or sentence resulting from a trial;
while a statute is related more to the enactment of a law.
The good son will live.
18:18. “As for his father, because he cruelly
oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good
among his people, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.”
The evil father will die. The fact being stressed in this section is that God
will deal with each man according to whether he has done good or evil. It
nullified Israel’s claim that they were being punished for the sins of their
fathers. They were rather receiving the just punishment due to their
multiplied sins of which they refused to repent.
18:19. “Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear
the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and
right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely
Rebellious Israel, however, would argue with God, maintaining their own
innocence, and claiming that they were being unjustly punished for the sins of
their fathers. Their false claim carried no weight with God. He reiterated
the fact that they were being punished for their own wickedness. Had they
done right in His sight they would have been blessed, not punished.
18:20. “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 sentence of death upon every man who sins becomes the condemnation of the
whole human race, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,”
Ro 3:23, for, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” Ro 3:12. He,
therefore who insists that church membership, morality, prayer, generosity,
baptism, confirmation, etc., fits him for heaven, deludes himself, and make
God a liar, for He has declared emphatically that the only means of
justification is through the new birth, “Except a man be born again, he cannot
see the kingdom of God .... Ye must be born again,” John 3:3,7.
Apostate Christendom takes exactly the same stand as did that rebellious
generation of Israel, and is therefore under the same condemnation. In spite
of their wickedness they still protest their goodness, firmly convinced that
the preservation of a loveless observance of an empty religious form is all
that God requires.
18:21. “But if the wicked will 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.”
18:22. “All his transgressions that he hath
committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he
hath done he shall live.
Again it has to be emphasized that this doesn’t teach salvation by works.
Unless the outward reformation is the result of a genuine inward
transformation based on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, it is
18:23. “Have I any pleasure at all that the
wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his
ways and live?”
God here gives the assurance that He derives no pleasure from seeing the
wicked die in their sins, His delight being in seeing them save themselves by
trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, so that they might live for ever
with Him in heaven.
18:24. “But when the righteous turneth away from
his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the
abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness
that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath
trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.”
This may not be taken to teach that a genuine believer can ever lose his
salvation. Because the old nature remains with us even after conversion, it
continually incites us to sin, but obedience to its evil impulses will be
accidental and regretted, not habitual. The man described in this verse is
one who has professed salvation, and who has undergone a temporary moral
reformation, but without ever having been born again. He is as described in 2
Pe 2:20-22, “For if they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the
knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled
therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
for it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness,
than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered
unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The
dog is turned to his own vomit gain; and the sow that was washed to her
wallowing in the mire.”
18:25. “Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not
equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways
Israel said that the Lord’s way was unfair, unjust, without principle, because
what they wanted was a flexible standard that would accommodate all their
wickedness without condemning them; but God’s standard was inflexible,
perfect, because His inherent holiness made any other impossible.
18:26. “When a righteous man turneth away from
his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his
iniquity that he hath done shall he die.”
This continues the description of the man whose righteous deeds are the result
of mere moral reformation, not of genuine conversion.
18:27. “Again, when the wicked man turneth away
from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and
right, he shall save his soul alive.”
The man described here is one who has been genuinely converted through faith
in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, his righteous deeds being the result, not
the cause, of his transformation, i.e., of his new spiritual birth.
18:28. “Because he considereth, and turneth away
from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he
shall not die.”
It continues to be emphasized that his turning away from his former wicked
lifestyle is the result, not the cause, of the spiritual change. That has
been brought about by his faith in Christ as His Savior.
18:29. “Yet with the house of Israel, The way of
the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your
They in their wicked folly still protested that God was unjust, their refusal
to acknowledge their own wickedness sealing their doom.
18:30. “Therefore I will judge you, O house of
Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn
yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”
God repeats His warning that He must judge them for their wickedness; but in
transcendent love and mercy He pleads with them to repent and save themselves
from eternal ruin.
18:31. “Cast away from you all your
transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a
new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
The Divine plea continues for them to repent and abandon all their wickedness,
so that God could pardon them, give them a new heart, and impart new
spiritual, i.e., eternal life; the dreadful alternative being that they die in
their sins, pass into hell, and thus pass for ever beyond hope of mercy, their
ultimate and eternal destination being the terrible lake of fire.
18:32. “For I have no pleasure in the death of
him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.”
This re-emphasizes what has already been stated in verse 23: God takes no
pleasure in seeing men die in their sins, therefore He urges them to “turn
yourselves,” i.e., repent, genuine repentance being a prerequisite of