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Solomon wrote, “Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools” (Proverbs 26:9). We see the truth of this in the text before us this morning (Ezekiel 18). The exiles in Babylon were utilising a certain proverb—“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”—in such an ill-fitting way that they had rendered it meaningless.

The exiles—along with the survivors in Jerusalem (Lamentations 5:7)—were effectively complaining that they, innocent as they were, were being held responsible for the sins of their ancestors. They recognised that their ancestors were guilty of the gross idolatry described in the preceding chapters, but they professed themselves to be innocent. Their complaint was that it was unjust for God to judge them for the sins of their ancestors when they were innocent of those sins.

The Lord’s reply, in short, is that they were hardly innocent. They shared the sins of previous generations. He would later make this explicit (20:30–32). In this chapter, the Lord argues that the punishment this generation was facing was just because they were facing the consequences of their own sin, not that of their ancestors. But it was not too late. There was opportunity for this generation to repent and to experience God’s favour. God would always respond with favour to repentance.

God’s willingness to forgive proves that he was acting justly. If their proverb was true—or, at least, if they were using it accurately—there would be no hope. Their ancestors had sinned and, if they were suffering the consequences for their ancestors’ sin, they could do nothing about it. The very fact that there was hope of renewal was evidence that he was acting justly.

Properly speaking, the warning of Ezekiel 18 is corporate in nature. The Lord was not suddenly breaking away from addressing the nation to address individuals in this chapter. This generation was as guilty of idolatry as preceding generations and the generation was therefore facing the consequences of its sin. The content of this chapter was given to the “house of Israel” (v. 25, 29–30). But it was a generation that was as guilty of corporate sin as preceding generations. This generation had joined preceding generations in eating sour grapes.

The question that confronts us in this chapter, therefore, is not whether judgement was personal or corporate but whether the corporate judgement was just. The resounding, unapologetic answer is, yes! God’s judgement is always just.

One of the accusations frequently levelled against the God of the Bible is that he is capricious and easily provoked to uncontrollable anger. It is argued that God is not just and that his judgement is frequently an inexcusable overreaction.

I was recently engaging with someone who made this very claim. His complaint focused on the account in 2 Kings 2:23–25. In those verses, a group of youths mocked the prophet Elisha, who pronounced a curse on them. Immediately two bears emerged from a nearby forest and mauled 42 of the young men. This individual objected that there was no justification for such an act of judgement upon young men for merely teasing a prophet.

What this individual failed to realise is that, as a prophet, Elisha represented the word of God. To reject the prophet was therefore to reject God’s word, which was a breach of covenant. God had warned his people centuries before of the consequences of covenant faithlessness. Among other warnings, he cautioned, “If you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me … I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children” (Leviticus 26:21–22). The act of judgement in 2 Kings 2 was in perfect keeping with the warnings that God had delivered centuries before. The youths received the just consequence of their covenant disregard.

We may not always understand God’s judgement but the Bible is consistently clear about one thing: God always acts justly. At the day of judgement, “every mouth” will “be stopped” as “the whole world” is “held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). One day, every accusation of injustice will fall to the ground as God is declared to be the just Judge of all humanity.

The question for us is, how do we respond to God in the present? Knowing that we will one day face God as our perfectly just Judge, will we live a life of faithfulness to him, or will we continue to feast on sour grapes and reap the consequences of our sin?

As you meditate on Ezekiel 18 this morning, thank God that he is a perfectly just Judge and ask him for the grace to walk in covenant faithfulness as you anticipate the day of final judgement that awaits all humanity.