13–19 November 2016.
When we Christians read the Old Testament, sometimes we get the feeling that God is so frightening. Whereas Jesus spreads the good news of God’s love and amazing grace, the Old Testament seems to talk so much about God’s anger, judgement, and the way he punishes Israel. It seems like God looks through people’s lives and their histories just to find any tiny sin that he can use to condemn them. And we remember how in texts like Deuteronomy 5:6, Moses told the Israelites how if they did sin, God would punish their children, grand-children, and even great-grandchildren, to the third and fourth generation. But is that fair? What do the sins of my old, old ancestors have to do with me, and why should I be punished for their sins?
Of course the ancient Israelites also asked these questions – especially those who found themselves in Babylon not because of their own sins but those of their ancestors. If God is fair and loves justice, how could God punish innocent people like this?
That’s why Ezekiel 18 is one of the Old Testament’s most important chapters. Because here we see a wonderful change.
Whereas Moses had described God in frightening ways, here God commands the Israelites never ever to talk about him like that again, and never to suggest that he would do something so unfair as to punish children for the sins of their parents. God then gives a new promise and assurance, that each person is responsible for themselves, and he will never make someone pay for the sins of another. Best of all, God also rejects that picture of himself as a terrible and frightening God who loves to punish and destroy people. In v. 32 he directly tells the Israelites: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone!”
What wonderful news we hear in this chapter! We have a God of true love and compassion. And we are set free from all of those sins of the past. It’s so easy for us to think that we are trapped by fate, cursed to suffer because of the sins of our ancestors. But God sets us free from that. He sets us free from destiny and fear, and instead gives us the freedom to follow him today.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis