Ezekiel 18 Fair, Good, or Just?

crop kid weighing on scale
Justice in the Balance of Righteousness / Photo by KS on Pexels.com

The word of the Lord came to me: 2 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”? 3 As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 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. 5 If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right— 6 if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, 7 does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8 does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, 9 follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God. 10 If he has a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, 11 who does any of these things (though his father does none of them), who eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, 13 takes advance or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself. 14 But if this man has a son who sees all the sins that his father has done, considers, and does not do likewise, 15 who does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, 16 does not wrong anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no advance or accrued interest, observes my ordinances, and follows my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. 18 As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, he dies for his iniquity. 19 Yet you say, “Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?” When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own. 21 But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? 24 But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. 25 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? 26 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. 27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 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? 30 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. 31 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? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. [NRSA: Ez 18:23-25]

  • Ecclesiastes 3:17 I said to myself, “God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.”
  • Hebrews 10:30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
  • Hosea 12:6 But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.
  • Proverbs 21:15 When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.
  • Proverbs 28:5 Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.
  • Matthew 5:38-39 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
  • Psalm 37:27-29 Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. 28 For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed ; the offspring of the wicked will perish. 29 The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.
  • Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
  • Isaiah 30:18-19 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! 19 People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.
  • Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
  • Psalm 106: Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.
  • Deuteronomy 16:20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.
  • Leviticus 19:15 “ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
  • Psalm 33:5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.
  • Isaiah 51:4-5 “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: Instruction will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. 5 My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.

What is Justice?

Justice bears fruit of God’s righteousness.

We experience justice when we are doing what God has determined what is right – this is known as righteousness.

If we live, aware that God has revealed how to live rightly with one another, and we follow God’s idea of what is righteous, we find God to be forgiving, gracious, and we find the wholeness of our purpose.

Typically, we general divide it up Justice into an either-or condition. In doing so, we empty it’s true power.

We do need to distinguish our understanding of civil justice and divine justice. At times they can be the same things, but not always. When civil justice does not reveal what God has determined is good and right for humanity, but we will come back to this in a moment. For now, I ask us to focus on divine Justice.

Recap: Divine Justice is living, behaving, and conducting our relationship in the way God has instructed, we call Justice. When someone has been injured by another person, the just thing to do is to show mercy, help make them whole, and do so in a spirit of love and mutual respect.

In a civil case someone might grudgingly pay a fine and give restitution to a victim but there is no expectation that God will be revealed in the process, and there is no expectation beyond the payment or the terms of the contract or sentence. The parties are likely still enemies even though the justice has been served.

For divine justice, many times, we separate the righteousness from the justice: we say things like, “She is a good woman.” “He is a good citizen”, or “They are kind.” In so doing, we can confuse the good in our goodness with the righteousness of God’s goodness.

In our civil context, the laws of one country might define what is good in that nation that is not considered good in another. And as a further extension, when individual people have different ideas of goodness, that might be good for the one person or even good for both parties, but not aligned with God’s righteousness at all.

We are called to be more than good citizens, we are called to be Godly neighbors.

In the very familiar parable of the good neighbor, it is the person who shows compassion, mercy, and self sacrifice that Jesus confirms with the disciples and crowd. So as we think about Justice, our actions, attitudes, and relationships are  to be in God’s eyes even if the world’s expectations differ.

Divine Justice is always understood through God’s Goodness and no other context. Throughout the scriptures, the examples of God working through our human experience has the goal of revealing our trust and dependance on God’s direction for us. Therefore, the big difference between those who define Justice being civil or contextual and independent of faith in God only know a slice of what is just.

Round Two. Even within Divine Justice, we typically split the meaning in a hybrid of civil, contextual AND partially divine.


  • A: There are those who are high on keeping the rules, laws and teachings of scripture, but are unkind to their neighbor and might be more unkind to their enemies. OR
  • B: There are those who are high on caring for the person who is poor, the widow, the orphan and the oppressed but don’t want to some slack on keeping the rules, statutes and laws of righteousness and settle for the world’s good mark of neighborliness.

Question: HOW Do we keep both parts together.  Righteousness and Mercy

The prophet Ezekiel gives several instructions in his conversation with God about Justice:

Learn from the witness of others… Children learn from parents by their good example or from their bad examples.

Be a good example for others… once you find God’s righteousness, be a light, a witness, a teacher, a model of mercy.

At the core is the need to repent and start fresh


To repent is to not only acknowledging or own up to our sins, injustice, and self-driven motives and actions, we are promising that we will devote ourselves to the righteousness God is expecting. Looking for the do-over, mulligan

Which is better to have someone say the words “I apologize” or to have the person treat you will respect and love?

The power is not in OUR words, it is in doing what GOD expects of us. We begin by confessing and then working by God’s help and grace to keep God’s righteousness as our guide.

Repentance is when we see that we are sinful, broken, wrong, hurtful, and have not done what God expects AND tell God and those we have been unjust toward, AND we begin to stop doing what we were doing and living God’s ways, by God’s rules, to reveal God with our living in all our relationships.

How do you impose divine Justice on someone who has been unjust toward you? Typically, most things in the civil, in the world’s control are swayed by power and money. That is why we pay fines and restitutions.

But take my favorite example of collecting speeding fines on Burning Bush road. For how many years have officers been writing tickets to have people slow down on that road and yet people continue to speed on that road? The people on live on that road, who drive through those curves to get home to their families. I think it would be better to have speeders and their families out gathering trash on the roadside while cars zoom past and see what physical danger lurks around each corner firsthand. If you believed a family was standing at the road’s edge just around the corner it would be a better deterrent because it connects the danger of harm or life and property rather than just the loss of money or access to the roadway. In this case the Just thing is to connect the unjust behavior with the reality of life and death consequences. This connected command to not kill to the unjust actions that speeding on those blind curves creates.

Ezekiel is relaying a conversation with God to the people of God.

  • Don’t settle for being good, be godly
  • Do keep God’s righteousness as the guide.
  • Learn from the good and bad examples we have conducted in the past, knowing God is ready to forgive and offer new life.
  • Another confusion is the difference between Fairness and Jusitice.

Which would you prefer: Fairness or Justice?

FAIRNESS: While we are created with equal value to God, we are born uniquely ourselves, and therefore some with greater strength, some with more talents, some with compassion, and some who are weaker, stubborn, and some less aware of the needs of others.

Repeat: we are equally love by God, but are created uniquely different from one another. So what would farness look like? Everyone would need to have the same strength, same talents, some capacity to reason and learn, it’s not just fair access to wealth and power.

Justice: is not getting evening or balancing the material resources, that is the civil, contextual answer.

JUSTICE: We do live in a universe where God is Just, and seldom fair.

When politicized Justice, we risk making it about civil goodness but the power is not likely God’s, it’s some political power.

God’s message for Ezekiel is to that showing Justice is our way of showing one another hos God’s purpose, work, will, statutes, commands, and examples bring hope, light, fellowship and God’s intended relationship with one another.

We hear the word justice throw around more than usual these days.

Our test is this: Is the justice being sought something that reveals God’s righteousness, or just power for a person, a movement, or the government. If it does then it is missing God and will be imperfect and incomplete.

The world in which we live we will always experience unfairness. Justice for the weak, the forgotten, the lost is to be found, remembered, and valued in the community.  The BLM movement in its inception was to accomplish these things: a people who were feeling unheard, forgotten, and undervalued in society, collectively gathered a voice. The question of justice is to measure if GOD’s righteousness is found and witnessed. If not then its not justice.


There is not another diverse nation in the world, now or in history, that have more civil rights and protections for those oppressed anywhere, at any time. But there is not an assurance that we are in the right, if we are not reflecting God’s goodness, what is God’s will, What is God’s heart.

Justice for those who are oppressed, but it is also for the unjust to learn how to become just, to learn how to not oppress. If the widow has a home, the hungry have food, the lost have a community, the naked some clothes, but they don’t see God’s goodness transform those who oppress, overlook, overpower, neglect, or do harm.

  • Just is for the restoring of nations not simply a system of fairness.
  • Once we receive justice, there is no more oppression.
  • One someone is convinced of God’s righteousness and the consequences of God, then justice is complete.
  • God is good at forgetting the past, on purpose, that is the grace part,
  • God is hoping we will start fresh everyday, not holding the past over one another.
  • God expects us to choose right, and hopes we repent, but does hold us accountable..

God’s Justice has Grace and Accountability.

So what do we do with this passage?

Ez. 18:31-32

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? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

  • Ask for forgiveness, for sins against others AND God.
  • Know God desires to give us life and not death,
  • But if we are not finding God’s righteousness AND justice.. then we will die from our sin.
  • Hear the Good News Christ died for us,
  • Turn and live in Christ Jesus, our hope and salvation.

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