Chapter 18:21-32 (ESV) - “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 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? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
Question to consider: Why do people call God unjust?
In yesterday’s passage, God focused on the idea that He judges people based on their own actions, whether righteous or wicked, and not the actions of their ancestors. This is not to say that peoples’ actions cannot have an impact on the lives of future generations, but that we will all have to stand before God and give an account of our lives like a steward gives an account for the possessions in his care. Of course, it is important to note that none of us will be found innocent in this judgment, but Christ has bought our lives back from this judgment if only we will receive it.
In today’s passage, God conveyed His heart for reconciliation to those who confess their sin and repent of it. As the apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) I italicized the first part because this is the part God addressed through Ezekiel. The second part about cleansing us from all unrighteousness is done through Christ’s work on the cross and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in us.
People tend to judge God harshly as if He takes pleasure in judgment, but it is His desire for everyone to leave their sin behind and have life in Him. Peter appealed to this attribute of God when he wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
In this case, people were accusing the Lord of being unjust because He forgave those who repented and punished those who refused to repent. In our sin nature, we tend to have a corrupted sense of justice. We call God unjust when His judgment does not meet with our approval. If God is offended by something we don’t think should be called a sin, then God is called harsh and judgmental. If God approves of something that offends us, we call God evil for allowing it to continue. Unlike God, we show partiality and favoritism. When we sin against someone, we expect mercy, and yet when someone sins against us, we demand judgment.
God ended this passage asking Israel (and by extension us), to repent of this, come back to Him, and live.
Dear heavenly father, we ask that You create in us a new heart and a new Spirit that turns from those things that offend You. Help us to turn from death to life and be Your instruments of mercy in the world. Amen.