The Tabernacle Scroll

Issue 96

“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” [Ezekiel 18:4]

The Israelites would quote this proverb to excuse responsibility for their actions. They used it as a means of blame shifting. It is likely that this proverb had its source in a misunderstanding of the doctrine of inherited guilt in Ex. 20:5, which states, “…for I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me….”. The generational punishment referred to in Exodus is God’s judgment in history. An example of judgment in history is God’s judgment of David’s sin with Bathsheba. The consequences of David’s sin would touch the lives of many others in his family, in spite of David’s repentance. However it was not God’s judgment in eternity.

The Israelites misunderstood Ex. 20:5 as God’s judgment in eternity. Consequently, their misunderstanding found false expression in self-pity, fatalism and despair and mocked God’s justice. Their proverb put forward the idea that the individual could not be blamed for what he did or failed to do. It became a means of justifying sin. It was an attitude of irresponsibility, which had serious implications from an eternal viewpoint. So God dealt with their misunderstanding, as I shall explain.

Now, isn’t it interesting that in today’s society this same notion of irresponsibility is very popular? The norm seems to be that the cause for a particular person’s behaviour lies outside the scope of that one’s responsibility - the government, or the parents or the teacher, or something or someone other than the person himself!

The Bible makes it clear that no person can claim to be an irresponsible victim of circumstances. “The soul who sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4]. This is a judgment in eternity. Put another way, the responsibility for sin rests with the individual who commits it. It has eternal ramifications, not just temporal or historical ones. In this chapter Ezekiel describes three men, standing for three generations, who break the three/four generation pattern of ‘inherited guilt’. The essence of his warnings is that the righteous one lives, the unrighteous one perishes. Read this chapter for yourself.

We come therefore to a vital conclusion. Defenses such as “I’m an angry person because my father was one” are not acceptable. It’s the individual’s responsibility to turn from his wicked ways. He must not allow a reason for sin to turn into an excuse to sin. He will be accountable for his own sin, which, incidentally, includes blaming someone else for his sinful attitudes! Repent and live!

Pastor Joseph Rodrigues



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