For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

18:1.  “The word of the Lord came unto me again, saying,”


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’ wickedness.


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 shall die.”


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, righteous.


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 woman,”


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 15:19.


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 righteousness.


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 God.”


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 need.


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 like,”


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 live.”


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 worthless.


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 unequal?”


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 ways unequal?”


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 salvation.

[Ezekiel 19]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough