When You Want to Blame Others (Including God)

It is one of the common mistakes of all human culture that we mourn over what we perceive as “unjust suffering.” Job felt that was his case and he found out that it was not God, but his complaint, that was unjust. We have such vague and indistinct perceptions of the reality of human sin, that we are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), that we dwell under condemnation until transferred by grace out of the kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13; Psalm 51:5, 6), and that culpability is a matter of the heart, which from the point of conception is filled with falsehood and is desperately wicked and rebellious (Psalm 14 (53):2, 3; 58:3-5). We consider this condition of sinfulness as itself unjust making the blame for the condition transferable to God and rejecting the justice of his verdict that corporate sin in no sense mitigates individual guilt. We fail to see that we have joined, through the evil that is in our hearts, the evil we see around us. Our perception, consequently, is that we have had no degree of individual consent to it. Because judgment was coming as a culmination to generations of rebellion against the divinely-established worship, the perversions of unfaithful priests, false prophets, and corrupted unjust kings, the people felt that they were being punished for the sins others had committed. After all, chapter 17 described the king as despising the oath and breaking the covenant with Babylon by seeking help from Egypt, and in the same way had broken God’s oath and God’s covenant (16:16-19). When God, therefore, entered into judgment with him for his treachery, he also caused the “pick of the troops” to fall by the sword and the survivors of the invasion to be “scattered to every wind.” They pointed to the sins of others and blamed God as unjust in his execution of wrath.

I. A False Proverb – 18:1-4 – God asked what they meant by repeating an ill-conceived proverb: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Matthew Henry comments. “See how wicked the reflection is, how daring the impudence; yet see how witty it is, and how sly the comparison. Many that are impious in their jeers are ingenious in their jests.”

A. God resents the implications of the proverb that He has been unfair, even unjust, in his dealings. He swears by his own self-existence that such a proverb will be utterly discredited and shown to be the hellacious attack on his wisdom and pure, holy justice that it certainly is.

B. God’s correction of this proverb does not mean that there are no corporate connections in the moral actions of humans.

Romans 5 – God’s answer in no sense contradicts the corporate connection the entire race has with Adam (read Romans 5:12, 18). It means that Adam, constituted by God in wisdom and justice as the covenant head of all his posterity acted for each individual in the race when he sinned, and in his fall we find our sin – “so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Our text in Ezekiel should show us that our connection with Adam in no sense eliminates individual responsibility for all of our moral actions.

Matthew 23:29-36 – The same deflection of guilt was being practiced by the Jewish leadership in the days of Jesus, and he showed them the way in which they had individually participated in the sins of their fathers. “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers  . . . so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.”

C. Matthew Henry concerning the proverb surmised, “Now by this it appears that they were unhumbled under the rod, for, instead of condemning themselves and justifying God, they condemned him and justified themselves.” God does not act unjustly, and, thus, by no means clears the guilty; so, “the soul who sins shall die.”

II. A Just Life -18:5-9  – So far from acting unjustly, God holds out a standard of justice that will surely be rewarded with life.

A. Life was implied to Adam and Eve through continuance of obedience to the command given them, for disobedience was to result in death. Had disobedience not come, then life would have continued and have been confirmed and the presence of God in his holy beauty would have increased in ever advancing exponents.

B. Romans 2:6-11 – This indicates that there is still operative a covenant of works to which every one must give an account. Life still is gained on terms of complete obedience to God, an obedience uninterrupted by any motive or action that transgresses God’s commands. God will not accept a partial obedience or a mere external conformity where the heart of sincere love is absent. Perfect obedience still results in “glory and honor and peace.” This is a part of Paul’s argument as to why we are utterly dependent on imputation of righteousness by faith. Christ’s obedience constitutes the only perfect righteousness that has ever been executed by human flesh. He is the covenant head by whom his people are justified. But justification still is based on the fulfillment of the covenant of works, the covenant in which Adam failed, but in which Christ succeeded. Christ is made ours by an eternal covenant of grace, which includes Christ’s voluntary obedience to the will of the Father in executing the perfect righteousness demanded by the Law. (Hebrews 1:8, 9)

C. The list of righteous activities combine elements of the moral law and the ceremonial law, which, for an Israelite, formed a seamless robe of obedience for the preserving of a peculiar people to give birth to the Messiah. When the ceremonial law was in force as symbolic of purity and the need for cleansing, then obedience to it on the part of the Jews was an expected part of moral obedience, though it is not an element of universal, eternal moral excellence (Romans 2:25-29).

D. While perfect moral obedience would gain life for the individual, a corporate civil obedience that avoided idolatry and encouraged civil justice and ceremonial faithfulness would preserve the nation from destruction. Judah had not encouraged either of these. She was susceptible, therefore, to immediate judgment as a nation, while every individual therein would be dealt with entirely justly both as to temporal and eternal matters.

III. The wicked son of a righteous man and the righteous son of a wicked man – 10-18 – In further illustration of God’s perfect righteousness and his meticulously just dealing with all, God set forth the picture of a son, having a righteous father, who, nevertheless, commits sin in every area where his father was righteous. That son shall suffer for his own sin. He will neither cut off the reward of his father’s righteousness nor will he receive any personal reward for his father’s righteousness, but only the retribution due to him for his own deeds. “His blood shall be upon himself.” So the son of a wicked man who reverses in his own actions all the wickedness done by his father will be treated in accord with his own actions and will hold no accountability for the previous evil done by his father.  Even though we have a covenant head in whom all of us acted in the first moral test of the human race, none can plead that the action of his head was not in fact his own action. Since that time, we act distributively as individuals, so that sons are not included as actors in the sins of their fathers, nor are they counted as righteous through the righteous acts of their fathers. We have another covenant head, Jesus, through whom we are accounted as righteous.

IV. Fervent to justify themselves in their attitude, the complainers point to God’s own word in the Ten Commandments as an indication that they are suffering, not for their sins, but for the sins of the fathers. God reiterates that each soul has direct moral responsibility to God – 19-20

A. In fact, a part of the promise of the execution of his wrath as included in the Ten Commandments said, “I the Lord you God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” Exodus 20:5 Deuteronomy 5:9) Our text in Ezekiel says, “When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live.”

B. God’s proposition here contradicts in no way the threat in the Ten Commandments. They were saying that the visitation occurred without any fault of the generations following. The fact is, however, the sins of the parents established a sinful example that was only too eagerly embraced by their children, who personally were among those that hated God Even as our captivity to the god of this world (Ephesians 2:2) does not diminish our personal responsibility for sin, neither does the sinful example and instruction of a parent exempt a child from following the way of righteousness written in his heart by creation and revealed in words for the people of Israel.

C. The Commandment also includes the promise, “But showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” As in our text, the one that is “careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live.”

D. Every moral judgment of God is set forth with absolute equity; righteous judgment to the righteous and punishment for wickedness to those that have pursued wickedness.  There is no finger-pointing in this matter of responsibility for sin. God’s judgment will be perfectly just; none will suffer for any evil for which he is not responsible.

VI. Cases or repentance and apostasy – 21-24

A. The final judgment of all people will be based on the true loyalties of their hearts as indicated by their direction of life at death. The profligate idolater might repent and pursue the law as his delight and joy. This repentance indicates a change of heart and will bring a person into a justified state. This is what God sets forth as his revealed will for all of his moral creatures. He does not delight in their evil and their rebellion but finds joy in their repentance and their desire for the rule of his statutes. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (23) That God reserves the operations of his grace for Himself to give to any according to his eternal purpose does not change the immediate responsibility of every person to repent. Paul himself served as an example of how one that is consummately evil can be arrested by God, repent of sin, and in harmony with the power and purpose of God for him, make the direction of his life heavenward (Philippians 3:12-16)

B. The person that lives well for a time but changes and pursues the life of unrighteousness, then he will die, for he has shown that the final direction of his heart is in antagonism to God and his law. The early church experienced this phenomenon. “They went out from us, by they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” (1 John2:19).

C.  Thus in the New Testament, Jesus told the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee to illustrate this very thing, that the unrighteous one that knows his unrighteousness and repents of it will find justification. (Luke 18:9-14)

D. Peter, as well as John, observed many that seemed to know and love the truth, but fell from it to pursue unrighteousness. “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter

VII. Verses 25 -29 – God is perfectly righteous in his judgments. He reiterates the justice of his receiving the penitent and condemning the apostate. His way is not unjust, but for Israel to call him into question for both his justice and his lovingkindness, this is unjust.

VIII. A Call to Repentance

A. Verse 30 a – God issues another statement of his intent to judge each person in accordance with perfect justice.

B. Verse 30b – A gracious word to those involved in sin that is consistent with what he has established in verses 21-23. If those that are presently wicked and thus susceptible to the sentence of death, will repent then iniquity will not be their ruin.

C. Verse 31 – The casting away of iniquity calls for the making of a new heart. They should do this and God calls on them to have a heart for his glory and to love his law. Presently they love transgressions and find the law to be oppressive and counter to their desire. They are pursuing death by their own will and God sets before them the awful truth of the intensity of their resistance to the law –“Why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

D. Again, because of his holy nature, and the marring of his image by the unholy conduct of his creatures, God declares his desire for their rectitude and consequent life. “Turn, and live.” Unholiness, disobedience, transgression, idolatry, all are an abomination to God and he finds no pleasure in sin or in its consequences, considered in and of themselves.

E. The refusal of sinners to respond to these clear and forceful presentations by God show the need for the effecting of the new heart: 11:19 “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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