A Thought on Ezekiel 18

After some thought about the Ezekiel 18 question here in light of the context I think that it is reconcilable to Job without resorting to the “temporal” vs “eschatological” or “everyone is a sinner so…” conflict. The solution is that Israel is personified in both Ezekiel 18 and the story of Job.
In Job, God is discussing with Satan about Israel’s fate. Satan is challenging God about the faithfulness of the remnant in Israel to God. Maybe if they get lumped in judgment with the unfaithful covenant members, they will curse God and die. Or, as God is sure, they will be faithful and hold to what makes Israel Israel? Indeed, their cries and laments go up to Heaven while everyone, even their former allies (Egypt and such…) tell them to abandon their faith, repent of their “covenant identity” and presumed righteousness on account of their God being so close to them. As they try to accuse Israel of the terrible pride of having the God of Heaven and Earth dwelling among them, True Israel in Job knows that they can only find their answer in their hope in the God Who will vindicate them. In the God Who raises the dead. And God will bless them to such an extent that they forget their first Exodus from Egypt because of the glory of their restoration/vindication. I am not doubting the historicity of Job, but, as with the Gospels, there seems to be a theological interpretation in the telling of the story that is not contradictory to actual events.
In Ezekiel 18 something different seems to be happening, though following the same general narrative. In this segment Ezekiel makes what are the three main stages of Israel personified into actual generations to make his point. The first man, just like Job, was righteous and faithful. He has a son that whores himself off to idols and all manner of unrighteousness. He then, in the rebuilding/Second Temple phase, perhaps, repents of the unfaithfulness that his father committed and God will by no means hold the sin of their fathers against that generation. This is a passage about God abounding in forgiveness for the His chosen Israel, generation by generation, considered separately on the basis of His promised redemption (the immediately preceding verses of Ezekiel speak of this). The response by some to this is, according to Ezekiel, “Are you serious? You are going to remain faithful and forgive this people even though they grieved you by sinning so horrifically?” I can see Zechariah 3 playing out here with the same Satan from Job accusing Israel of uncleanness due to their being the descendants of an unfaithful generation that was sent to Babylon for exile! God rebukes Satan and declares righteous and glorifies His servant Joshua, charging him to keep the house faithfully. This blessing of “life” as opposed to the death of continued exile from the Temple and God’s Presence was still contingent on the faithfulness of the Israel that was delivered from exile (or about to be delivered). But Ezekiel 18 is about God’s promise that He is still, despite their father’s sin, going to be their God and Him their people and He will bless them greatly with life.

I don’t think the focus lies in the same place with these two passages. Israel that was faithful throughout the whole process of exile (the remnant) underwent some bad stuff like Job, but they remained faithful and hoped in God. Israel that remained faithful will prosper in and through Babylon, in exile, according to the prophet Jeremiah. Their “soul will not die”, in other words. And their restoration will be a glorious vindication of their continued hope in God that God is faithful to deliver His people. The remnant of Israel is the elect of God, and their fathers’ sins do not stop God’s love for His elect, nor does it cause Him to neglect His faithfulness to His Prodigal Son, Israel in exile. He will run to kiss them when they return and they will be welcome despite their previous sins. I think the Prodigal Son parable answers the objections raised in Ezekiel 18. These people don’t know how loving God really is and they underestimate His joy in being just gratuitous is giving grace.

Christ is, of course, the fulfillment of this whole exile problem. We all have been and are unfaithful, and but that Christ delivered us through His Exodus on the cross and vindication in resurrection, we would still be in our sins. We would still be in our spiritual exile. But as it is, He is building, indeed has built, a New Temple where righteousness dwells in the Person of the Spirit indwelling us. Truly, Christ is our righteousness, and our souls will surely not die, for they have died already in Christ and are resurrected by His liberally provided Spirit, and by this same Spirit of adoption we are His sons and daughters by faith.

To Him be the glory forever and ever! Amen!

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