Ezekiel 18:1-32

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Again YHWH’s “word” or message came to Ezekiel. In the Targum, this message is identified as a “word of prophecy from before the Lord.” (18:1)

The people in the land of Israel used the proverb (“parable” or likeness [LXX]), “Fathers have eaten the sour grapes, and the teeth of the sons are set on edge.” They were asked, “What do you mean when repeating this proverb?” The apparent meaning was that their forefathers had been guilty of wrongdoing and yet they as their sons or children had to bear the penalty for their transgressions. In the Targum, this significance is explicitly expressed. “Fathers have sinned, and sons have been punished.” The proverb was one that did not acknowledge that the “sons” themselves had sinned and merited punishment. (18:2; see the Notes section.) With a solemn expression worded in the form of an oath (“as I live”), the Lord YHWH declared that this proverb was not to be used in Israel. (18:3)

An introductory “look” served to focus the attention of the people on YHWH’s declaration. “All souls” or the persons or lives of all were his. To him belonged the “soul [life or person] of the father” and the “soul” [life or person] of the son.” The “soul” or person who sinned was the one who would die. All persons were individually responsible for their own actions and would bear the consequences for their own wrongdoing, not that of someone else. (18:4; see the Notes section.)

A “righteous man,” one who does what is just and right (literally, “judgment” or justice and “righteousness”), is the one who will live. (18:5; see the Notes section.) The just and right actions included not eating “on the mountains” or at sites on high places devoted to idolatrous worship, not lifting up the eyes to look reverently “to the idols [literally, dungy things (an expression of contempt)] of the house of Israel,” not defiling the “wife of a neighbor” or refraining from committing adultery and engaging in ceremonial prostitution, and not approaching a menstruating woman or wife to have sexual relations. (18:6)

The upright man would not oppress anyone. He would return the object he had taken as a pledge for the repayment of a loan. (Deuteronomy 24:10-13) The righteous man would not seize anything by robbery, and he would compassionately give of his bread or food to the hungry one and a garment to one who was insufficiently clothed. (18:7) Loans often were made to persons in need, and the lender was not to profit from the adversity of others. The righteous man would not lend (lend his silver [LXX]) at interest and would not make himself guilty of usury. (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36, 37) He would withhold his “hand from injustice,” never acting in an unjust manner in his dealings with others, and “true judgment [justice]” he would render “between a man and a man [his fellow],” refusing to show partiality. (18:8) The righteous man “walked” or conducted himself according to YHWH’s statutes and heeded his judgments or ordinances. He could be certain of continuing to live, for the Lord YHWH gave him the assurance that he would indeed live (literally, “to live, he will live”). (18:9)

A man may have a son who happened to become a robber or a violent man (a “pest” or corrupt person [LXX]), one who shed blood, and proved to be a “brother of one of these” evil actions. The Septuagint rendering of the expression a “brother to one of these” may be translated, “committing sins.” In the Targum, the reference is to doing one of these things to a brother. Modern translations commonly omit any mention of a “brother” (“does any of these other things” [NIV]; “does any of these things” [NAB, revised edition; NRSV]). In the context of the Hebrew text, the designation “brother” may be understood to indicate a close relationship with wrongdoing. (18:10)

Seemingly, regarding the father, the text says that “he does not do [any] of all these” things. The father did not make himself guilty of the corrupt practices in which his wayward son engaged. In the Septuagint, the son is the one identified as not walking or conducting himself according to the way of his righteous father. The lawless son ate “on the mountains” or at the sites for idolatrous worship and thus had communion with nonexistent deities. He also defiled the wife of his fellow by committing immorality with her, probably including participation in ceremonial prostitution as part of a cultic ritual. (18:11) The ruthless or evil actions of the corrupt son included oppressing the afflicted and the poor, seizing things by robbery, refusing to return the object that was pledged for the repayment of a loan, lifting up the eyes or looking reverently to idols (literally, “dungy things” [an expression of contempt]), and engaging in what was abominable or disgusting (“lawless deeds” [LXX]) from YHWH’s standpoint. (18:12) The son refused to make interest-free loans to the needy but made himself guilty of usury, charging excessive interest, and profiting from the adversity of others by taking interest. YHWH’s judgment respecting the son was that he would not continue to live because of all the abominable things he had done. The son would die (literally, “dying, he will die”). His “blood” would be upon his own head, for he merited severe punishment for his lawless actions. (18:13)

A son may see all the sins his father has committed. Although he “sees,” he does not engage in like corrupt practices. According to the Septuagint, the son “fears” or has a wholesome fear of God and so does nothing like the deeds in which his father engaged. (18:14) The son did not eat “on the mountains” or at the elevated sites for idolatrous worship and thereby share in communion with nonexistent deities. His “eyes” were not lifted up to “idols [literally, “dungy things” (an expression of contempt); did not set his eyes to the thoughts (LXX)] of the house of Israel,” abstaining from looking reverently to idols. He also did not defile the wife of his fellow, maintaining moral purity and shunning participation in ceremonial prostitution. (18:15) The son did not oppress anyone, seize pledges for loans, and resort to robbery. Instead, he responded with compassion for the needy, giving from his bread or food and providing a garment to those who were insufficiently clothed. (18:16) If the reference is to the withholding of his hand from the “poor” or afflicted one, this could be understood to mean that he did not use his hand or power in an oppressive or unjust manner. The Septuagint indicates that he turned his hand away from injustice. He did not make himself guilty of usury or charge excessive interest and did not take interest from debtors, refusing to derive benefit from their unfortunate circumstances that had forced them to borrow funds. The son was faithful in adhering to YHWH’s judgments or ordinances and in walking or conducting himself according to his statutes. In view of his upright conduct, YHWH promised that the son would continue to live (literally, “living, he will live”) and would not die for the iniquity of his father. (18:17)

The righteous son’s father would die for his own iniquity, and attention is focused on this aspect with the word “look.” His father would most certainly die, for he committed extortion or oppression and robbery of his “brother,” a fellow Israelite. Among “his” own people (“my people” [LXX], God’s people), he did not do what was good. (18:18)

To the declaration of YHWH through Ezekiel, the people would respond, “Why does the son not bear [anything] for the iniquity of the father?” This was because the son practiced “judgment” or justice and “righteousness” (“righteousness and mercy” [LXX]) and observed all of YHWH’s statutes. Therefore, YHWH promised that he would indeed continue to live (literally, “living, he will live”). (18:19) The “soul” that is sinning is the person who will die. A “son will not bear [anything] for the iniquity of the father, and the father will not bear [anything] for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous one will be upon him” or have a bearing on the outcome for him, and the “wickedness [lawlessness (LXX)] of the wicked one [lawless one (LXX)] will be upon him” or have a bearing on the outcome for him. All will be held accountable for their own actions. (18:20)

If a wicked or corrupt (lawless [LXX]) man turned away from his sins (lawless deeds [LXX]) and then observed all of YHWH’s statutes and practiced “judgment” or justice and “righteousness” (“righteousness and mercy” [LXX]), he would “live” (literally, “living, he will live”). He would not die. (18:21) His record of former transgressions would not be “remembered” or reckoned against him. For “his righteousness,” the uprightness according to which he conducted himself after his turning away from lawlessness, he would continue to live. (18:22; see the Notes section.) By means of a question, the Lord YHWH declared that he had no delight in the death of someone wicked but desired that the individual turn back from “his ways” (“his wicked way” [LXX]) and continue to live. (18:23; compare 1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9.)

When a “righteous man turns from his righteousness” or stops doing what is right and engages in unjust practices corresponding to “all the abominable things [lawless deeds (LXX) that the wicked [lawless (LXX) man has done, will he live?” The answer is that his righteous deeds would not be “remembered” or given any consideration. He would die “for the unfaithfulness” of which he made himself guilty and “for his sin [sins (LXX)]” that he committed. (18:24)

It appears that the people thought that a previous record of doing what is right should have merit and that the person who engaged in wicked practices should be punished even if he had stopped his lawless course. Therefore, in anticipation of their response, they are quoted as saying. “The way of the Lord is not equitable [literally, measured (that is, measured according to what is standard)].” The reply of YHWH called upon the “house” or people of Israel to “hear” or to listen to his words, “Is not my way equitable? Are not your ways not equitable?” YHWH’s manner of dealing was just or right. The flaw was with the people. Their ways, including their reasoning, were wrong. (18:25; see the Notes section.)

“When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness” (or from doing what is right) and commits “injustice [transgression (LXX)], he shall die for them” (apparently the unjust deeds). The Septuagint says, “and he dies.” “For the injustice [transgression (LXX)] he committed, he will die.” (18:26) “When the wicked [lawless (LXX]) man turns away from his wickedness [lawlessness (LXX)] that he has carried out and practices judgment [or justice] and righteousness, he will keep his soul [or himself] alive.” (18:27) In view of his seeing (considering or recognizing) and turning away “from all his transgressions [impieties (LXX)] that he had committed,” he would live (literally, “living, he will live”); he would not die. (18:28)

In response to the words of YHWH, the “house [or people] of Israel” would say, “The way of the Lord is not equitable [literally, measured (that is, measured according to what is standard)].” His answer came in the form of rhetorical questions. “Are my ways not equitable, O house of Israel? Are not your ways not equitable?” The people needed to adjust their thinking, for their view was wrong. (18:29)

The Lord YHWH declared his purpose to the “house [or people] of Israel.” He purposed to judge each man or person “according to his ways” or the manner in which he conducted himself. Nevertheless, YHWH gave the people an opportunity to change. His appeal to them was for them to turn back “from all [their] transgressions [impieties (LXX)],” letting nothing be a “stumbling block” that could lead them to sin. According to the Septuagint, the impieties should not be to them a punishment for injustice. (18:30)

The people were admonished to cast away all of their transgressions (“impieties” [LXX]) that they had committed (“against me” [against God], LXX) and make for themselves a “new heart” (an inner self fully devoted to YHWH) and a “new spirit” (a motivating power that would impel them to live uprightly). This was essential for them to continue to live. Therefore, the rhetorical question directed to the people was, “Why should you die, O house of Israel?” (18:31) The Lord YHWH did not have delight in the death of anyone. Therefore, he admonished the people to “turn” (from their wrongdoing) “and live.” (18:32; see the Notes section.)


In the Septuagint, the words of verse 2 refer to Ezekiel as “son of man” or a mortal in the service of the eternal God. The Masoretic Text does not include this expression at the beginning of the verse. In the Septuagint, the “parable” is mentioned as being “among the sons of Israel,” but the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P967) says, “in Israel, on the land.”

The introductory “look” is missing in verse 4 of the Septuagint.

In verse 5, the oldest extant Greek text (P967) does not include “judgment” or justice, but other manuscripts of the Septuagint do.

Rahlfs’ printed Greek text (in verse 22) includes the words that may be rendered “all his transgressions, which he committed.” The oldest extant Greek text (P967), however, omits “which he committed.” It then continues with two words meaning “not” and which words may be translated “by no means.” The transgressions will by no means be remembered.

In verse 25, Rahlfs’ printed Greek text includes the words, “Hear now, all the house of Israel.” The oldest extant Greek text (P967) does not contain these words and those that follow (“does my way not lead straight?”) According to the interpretation in the Targum of verses 25 and 29, the contention of the people was that the “good ways of the Lord” had not been declared to them. His answer in the form of a rhetorical question was that these ways had been declared to them.

In verse 32, the Septuagint does not include the imperative for the people to “turn and live.”