The Word of the Lord Recording:
The Word of the Lord
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2020
The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get 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, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon and a military and political leader in the region. He had already invaded Judah and carried away its citizens to live in Babylon. Among these citizens was the prophet Daniel. It was common for armies to enslave citizens of foreign nations not only to expand their control over a region but also for building projects at home. In the sixth century B.C. Jehoiakim, king of Judah, rebelled against this foreign invasion. Nebuchadnezzar did not overlook the rebellion and invaded Judah again, this time carrying about 10,000 Jews back to Babylon (I Kings 24). Among these exiles was a priest named Ezekiel and Jehoiakim, the king. While in captivity, Ezekiel would be called by God to be a prophet and would prophesy about twenty-two years during the time of Daniel and Jeremiah. However, he never forgot his initial calling as a priest and sought to preserve the proper observance of Temple worship.
Judah was conquered and carried into exile as punishment for generations of neglecting the worship of God. They had lived lives without any consideration of God. This was a violation of the first commandment – You shall have no other gods before me. When we think of gods, we imagine statues that people bow before in worship; but a god can be anything that displaces the primary love of God. The common gods that are worshiped today include: money, sex, and power. They consume our time, attention, and affection and are tempting to all, regardless of age or financial status. God had repeatedly warned the Jews that false worship was wrong and punishment would ensue. Because the punishment was not immediate the warnings were ignored. God is loving and patient but there are limits. He does not punish for punishment’s sake but uses punishment to draw His children to Himself. In this case, the punishment was exile.
The Book of Ezekiel is actually a series of self-contained oracles – much like an encyclopedia is a collection of independent and self-contained articles regarding people, places, and things. EzekieL begins this oracle with the words: The word of the Lord came to me. This was an introduction he used frequently as it was a statement of authority – not his authority, but an authority conveyed by God. He continues with a proverb about eating sour grapes. The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. Grapes can be pleasing to the eye and are enticing – until we consume one and we realize this grape is sour and then it sets our teeth on edge. Sin, like sour grapes can be pleasing to the eye, but, when consumed, we regret the decision to devour. What is alluring often becomes regrettable. This proverb was widely understood to mean the sins of one generation will lead to the sufferings of another. The Jews thought that the blame for their exile was the previous generations who had neglected to keep the sacrifices God had ordained. They could not imagine that they were also guilty of neglect. While the Old Testament does state that the “sins of the father” will visit future generations (Exodus 20:5,6 and Exodus 34:6,7), it does not absolve personal responsibility.
Ezekiel challenges their understanding of the proverb indirectly. Confronting their misunderstanding, might have resulted in defensive deafness – a condition that arises when we suddenly become emotionally defensive and refuse to listen to the admonition that is being given. Rather Ezekiel poses a series of questions designed to cause the listener think through the issue and come to his or her own conclusion concerning the legitimacy of the counsel being offered. The questions were not frivolous and directly addressed the objection Ezekiel (and God) had to the misinterpretation of the proverb.
Ezekiel begins by addressing the issue of fairness. A common complaint is that life is not fair and, to be honest, on this side of Eternity life is unfair. We come to believe life is always “more fair” for the other person than for us and we do not deserve the hard times we are experiencing. We believe we should have received the promotion and not one of our associates. Fairness, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. Years ago, an adult Sunday School class hosted a dinner with the Youth of the church. Part of the program was a Bible quiz with one of the questions being:“Who were the sons of Noah?” When one of the adults answered the question, a teen piped up and said: “That’s not fair, you knew them personally.” Though his parents were embarrassed, everyone laughed because it was a humorous misunderstanding of fairness. The Jews had a serious misunderstanding of the fairness of God. To confront this, Ezekiel asks these questions:
The way of the Lord is unfair?
Is my way unfair?
When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it ..
When the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, …
Because they have turned away from all transgressions they shall live.
O house of Israel, are my ways unfair?
Is it not your ways that are unfair?
The questions summarize the weakness of those who thought, and those who think, God is unfair in His punishment. Ezekiel rejects this thought. Yes, their ancestors sinned and provoked God, but the listeners also sinned and this sin also provoked God. Ezekiel is saying that the listener is just as guilty of the sin which led to the exile as the previous generations. Universal unfairness – the idea that the innocent suffer for the sins of the guilty – is not the issue under consideration. This side of Eternity, life is unfair, the innocent often suffer along with the guilty. One example would be the wildfires in the West. The lives of many innocent people have been upset because of the raging fires. They did not start the fire, it was simply that their house was in the path of the fire, which was indiscriminate in its destruction. Ezekiel is not claiming that the innocent do not suffer for the sins of the guilty. What he is challenging is whataboutism – what about the other person or other idea – is he or she or that idea worse than me or mine? That is not a valid argument before God. The judgement of God is based on our own sin, not that of others. That is the point Ezekiel is trying to make.
This oracle begins with judgement and ends with hope. The hope is based on repentance – not trying to earn God’s favor with our works. Ezekiel admonishes the Jews with these words: “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” A new heart and a new spirit are gifts from God. They are priceless gifts. Gifts because of Christ’s gift of salvation – a salvation procured on the cross – the ultimate act of unfairness and injustice in the history of the world, the innocent and perfect Son of God paying the price for the sins of the world.
The Psalm in today’s reading touches on the pressures of the need for guidanceand the burden of guilt. One commentator notes the tone in the Psalm is subdued and calm rather than an outburst of joy as seen in other Psalms. Though the petitions are personal, they are also on behalf of the whole congregation.
The themes addressed in this morning’s Psalm are: Enemies, Guidance, Guilt, and Trust.
A common theme in the Psalms, the reference is to both ideological as well as personal enemies. The person must live with the help of God and not by his own wits. Life is complicated, frustrating, and confusing – all at once. Our enemies are those who oppose the work of God. That could be people who oppose the work of justice in the world and those who oppose the work of grace in our lives.
Tim and Kathy Keller offer this commentary in their devotional, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (a book I commend to your reading in private prayer for next year):
David’s enemies are opposed to his philosophy of life. His conviction was “that a man must live by the help of God and not by his wits,” a view of life his enemies despised as naive. David admits that without God, the life of integrity would be no match for the self-interested, treacherous power politics of the world (verse 3).
Few things are more complicated than guidance. There is the general will of God that all are expected to obey – to love God and to love your neighbor. Then there are the specific ways in which God guides us. Does God want me to move to Timbuktu to serve as a missionary or does He want me to remain in my job where I can be a witness for Him. It is often hard to separate our self-interest from God’s guidance. When we are searching for the guidance regarding a major decision, it is hard to accept the will of God when it conflicts with our own. In the Psalm, David pleads for the Lord to “show me your ways” (v.3) and “lead me in your truth” (v.4). David is confident that God will guide him and places his trust in Him. When God delays answering our prayers for guidance, it is easy to lose hope. Will God lead? When will He lead? How will He lead? These are questions common to all. Persistence is a key to prayer. It has been said God cares more about who you are than what you do. If you love the Lord with all heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself, then you can be assured that He will let you know where and how He wants you to serve. As we grow in our love of who God is, the more likely we will know what He wants us to do.
Satan is a deceiver and an accuser. He intentionally reminds us of our sins so we will be distracted. God’s forgiveness is complete and certain. David asks God not to remember the “sins of my youth” (v.6). He further prays that God will remember him according to God’s love for the “sake of your goodness (v.6)”. Satan wants us to think that God has abandoned us because of our sin. When we are accused, we can trust God to comfort and strengthen us and remind us of His forgiveness.
In verse eight, we read that God “guides the humble in doing right and teaches His way to the lowly.” Children trust their parents without reservation. We can trust God in the same way. We can trust Him to guide us, to forgive us, and to protect us. He is faithful – even when life is not making sense – which is most of the time.
The Word of the Lord for us this morning is that a day of judgement awaits those who choose to ignore the love of God as evidenced in the Cross of Christ. The Word of the Lord also assures us that because we are children of God, we have protection from our enemies, guidance for our pilgrimage with Him, and forgiveness from the penalty and guilt of sin. We can trust that God will not fail us in times of trouble. This is the God who asks us not to worship other gods.
Let us pray.
Father, we have read your Word and heard your Word this morning. Help us to be doers of the Word and not simply hearers. Help us to remember you do not hold us accountable for the sins of others but for our own sins. Help us also to remember you are a “very present help in times of trouble,” to look to you for your will for our lives, to remember your loving kindness in our forgiveness, and to trust you in times of darkness and confusion.