Sunday School Lesson

August 9

Lesson 10

A Choice to Be Just

Devotional Reading: Jeremiah 26:8-15

Background Scripture: Ezra 7:1, 6, 21-28; Jeremiah 7:1-15

Jeremiah 7:1-15

1This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:

 2“Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.

 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.

 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”

 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,

 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,

 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.

 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

9“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

12“‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.

 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.

 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors.

 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’”

                                                               

Key Verse

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.—Jeremiah 7:3

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Identify the “deceptive words” that the people of Judah had accepted, and tell how
their confidence in those deceptive words had corrupted their behavior.

2. Compare and contrast the “deceptive words” of Jeremiah’s day with the “deceptive words” that falsely comfort and corrupt today’s society.

3. Select one specific false massage prevalent today and explain how best to refute it with God’s truth.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. A Godly Good-Luck Charm?

B. Lesson Background

I. Prophetic Message (Jeremiah 7:1, 2)

A. From Whom (v. 1)

B. For Whom (v. 2)

II. False Trust (Jeremiah 7:3-8)

A. Message of Life (vv. 3-7)

B. Message of Death (v. 8)

Dirty Socks

III. Exposed Injustice (Jeremiah 7:9-15)

A. Commandments Broken (v. 9)

B. Temple Trusted (vv. 10, 11)

Tainted Praise

C. Lesson Unlearned (vv. 12-15)

Conclusion

A. God’s Promises Stand

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

A. A Godly Good-Luck Charm?

We all know about so-called good-luck charms. The rabbit’s foot, the horseshoe, and the four-leaf clover are staples of that ilk, at least in North America. In some cultures, certain insects or animals are seen as bringing good luck.

But skepticism regarding the power of good-luck charms is well advised. If we have a friend who sees no need to fasten a seat belt because a “dream catcher” hangs from the rearview mirror for good luck, we will probably try to persuade that person to put more confidence in the seat belt.

Thoughtfulness in this regard can have a connection with how we view our relationship with God. While probably few Christians see the Christian-themed knickknacks in their houses to be godly good-luck charms, it’s easy to treat particular religious routines as such. Danger looms when we perceive our standing with God in light of reliance on such practices. Faithfulness to routine is one thing; having faith in the routine is quite another!

We easily note and critique such misplaced faith when displayed in others, don’t we? But it may not be so easy to recognize the problem when it is our own. Today’s text will help us in that regard.

B. Lesson Background

The prophet Jeremiah ministered in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BC, during the final years of the monarchy of Judah (Jeremiah 1:1-3). That was the southern part of Israel’s divided kingdom. In that day, Judah was confronted by the aggressive Babylonian Empire. The Babylonians oppressed Judah over a period of several years, treating it as a vassal kingdom (2 Kings 24). The Babylonians ultimately laid siege to Jerusalem, put it to the sword and torch, destroyed its temple, and took its people into exile (2 Kings 25).

From one perspective, these events could appear to be a simple issue of power politics: Babylon was strong; Judah was not. But from the perspective of Jeremiah, these events fulfilled warnings that God had given his people long ago. As God gave Israel the land of promise, he had warned that they must receive it as a gift, with gratitude reflected in obedience. Submitting to God’s law would mean blessing; disobedience would mean return to captivity (Deuteronomy 29:14-29).

That penalty was partially realized as Jeremiah delivered the prophecy of today’s lesson, since the territory of Israel’s 10 northern tribes had been overrun by the Assyrians about a century before Jeremiah began prophesying (2 Kings 17:5-23). But God had granted Judah a miraculous deliverance in that same era (18:13-19:37). That deliverance had become a source of misplaced confidence by Jeremiah’s day. Many believed that God would never allow his temple to fall. It was against such a perspective that Jeremiah directed the warning in our text.

I. Prophetic Message

                                                                  (Jeremiah 7:1, 2)

A. From Whom (v. 1)

1. This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:

This section begins with what is sometimes called a prophetic formula. This affirms that the forthcoming message is not that of the messenger but of God, on whose behalf the messenger speaks.

B. For Whom (v. 2)

2. “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.

God sends Jeremiah to the temple’s entrance to announce the message. The temple itself is to provide the visual context of the prophet’s words. Those who enter the temple, the Lord’s house, imagine that structure to be the guarantee of their standing with God, as will be seen. They are about to hear a message that differs sharply from that viewpoint!

What Do You Think?

What are some occasions when delivering God’s Word might better be done in a location other than that of a church building? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding anniversaries of historical events

Regarding a natural disaster

Other

How to Say It

Assyrians Uh-sear-e-unz.

Baal Bay-ul.

Babylon Bab-uh-lun.

Babylonians Bab-ih-low-nee-unz.

Eli Ee-lye.

Ephraim Ee-fray-im.

Judah Joo-duh.

Judeans Joo-dee-unz.

Shiloh Shy-low.

II. False Trust

                                                                 (Jeremiah 7:3-8)

A. Message of Life (vv. 3-7)

3. “‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.

The prophet’s message begins on a loud, clear note. The people of Judah live where they do by God’s permission and God’s gift. Their standing is conditional: only by submitting to him can they remain in the land he has given them (see the Lesson Background). Presently they do not submit, as evidenced by the fact that Jeremiah confrontationally says reform your ways and your actions. The people must improve their walk with God.

4. “‘Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”

Deceptive words are especially powerful and tragic when we are deceiving ourselves! So it is for Jeremiah’s audience. They have convinced themselves that the existence of God’s temple in their midst provides absolute assurance against disaster. With misunderstanding of their sinful past and misplaced trust in a physical structure, the people of Judah have become like pagans who believe that repeating certain words or creating certain objects provides magical power. The Judeans’ trust is empty; their words, trite.

What Do You Think?

What deceptions do we hear today? How do we guard ourselves against these?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the nature of sin

Regarding the nature of God’s love

Regarding the nature of the church

Other

5a. “‘If you really change your ways and your actions

In contrast with the people’s merely parroting “the temple of the Lord” over and over, Jeremiah proclaims that the people must change their lifestyles completely. Behind the two-word phrase really change in the original language is a single word meaning “make good” that is repeated to emphasize the idea.

5b. “‘... and deal with each other justly,

The kind of duplication for emphasis in verse 5a is also behind the phrase deal with each other justly that we see here. God himself is the model for just actions. He demonstrated his just judgment in rescuing the Israelites from their unjust bondage in Egypt. Such action on his part calls for obedience, thankfulness, fairness, generosity, and humility on the part of those so rescued. Such are to be the hallmarks of God’s people, not empty reliance on a physical structure.

6a. “‘... if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow

Jeremiah proceeds to describe what the people’s amended ways, especially in terms of executed justice, should entail. The Israelites’ ancestors had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:13; Exodus 12:40, 41; Acts 7:6). God’s liberation taught them (or should have taught them) that justice means fair, merciful, and respectful treatment of all (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). Society’s most vulnerable are therefore in need of the greatest protection in God’s program.

These vulnerable include the foreigner, referring to non-Israelites who settle in the promised land. Israel’s forefathers knew what it was like to be a stranger in the land (Genesis 23:4), and King David set an example of the attitude to have when he wrote, “Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. I dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were” (Psalm 39:12).

The fatherless and the widow typically have no one to support and protect them in the culture of Jeremiah’s day; they depend on the generosity of others. As God provides and protects, so must the Israelites act toward society’s most vulnerable. The prophets have to remind the Israelites periodically of their responsibilities in this regard. Particularly strong is the indictment of Ezekiel 22:29.

6b. “‘... and do not shed innocent blood in this place,

Securing justice for the vulnerable parallels renunciation of violence. Shedding of innocent blood (murder) represents the complete denial of God’s creation of humans in his image (Genesis 1:26, 27; 9:6). Such violence is driven by radically selfish desires. It represents the ultimate injustice. Jeremiah 22:17 is quite pointed in revealing the people’s tendencies in this area.

6c. “‘... and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,

The list of transgressions ends with the problem of following other gods, prohibited in the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3). Idolatry is an affront to the being and nature of God. Made to suit the desires of the worshipper, idols represent humans’ attempts to gather spiritual power for their own uses. Devotion to other gods becomes, in many cases, the justification for all kinds of crimes (example: Psalm 106:38). Ultimately, the one harmed most by idolatry is the idol worshipper because of the eternal consequences.

7. “‘... then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.

God’s promise is always clear: obedience is the condition for remaining in the land that God gave to the forefathers. Jeremiah repeats that promise to his temple-gate audience as a warning: the people must change their ways if they want the promise to remain in effect. What God had done when he rescued Jerusalem by striking down the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:35) he can certainly do again. But the people must repent.

B. Message of Death (v. 8)

8. “‘But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.’”

The people’s confident chant “the temple of the Lord” (v. 4) is an exercise in misplaced trust. This self-delusion will prove to be their undoing. Jeremiah stands before them to announce that this misdirected faith is a fatally dangerous sham. It is time to abandon deceptive words and admit the truth.

Dirty Socks

Athletes don’t want to break routine when they are playing well. A baseball player on a hitting streak won’t risk changing anything—not even his socks—lest his hot streak be jinxed!

Going the other way, athletes may be all too willing to change routine when things aren’t going well. Minnie Minoso took an interesting approach in this regard after going hitless in a game in which he played for the Chicago White Sox. Reportedly blaming his uniform for his troubles, he wore it into the shower. The next day he had three hits, so his teammates joined him in the shower afterward with their uniforms on! Eccentricities of routine and superstition can be found in virtually any sport. Even fans have “special” shirts or caps they wear so their team will win.

Jeremiah told his people that the superstitious trust they placed in the temple amounted to no more than deceptive words. Their self-deception told them that things were just fine, so they were unwilling to change their “dirty socks.” What self-deceptions do we indulge in yet today?—C. R. B.

III. Exposed Injustice

                                                                (Jeremiah 7:9-15)

A. Commandments Broken (v. 9)

9. “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

Drawing on offenses just mentioned, Jeremiah now poses a rhetorical question that demonstrates the people’s hypocrisy. First he lists sins that remind us of several of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:7-21). Theft, murder, adultery, falsehood, and idolatry are obvious violations. In one way or another, such transgressions all involve defrauding the vulnerable.

Another element is the indictment that the people are burning incense to Baal. The designation Baal means “master” and refers to various gods worshipped by Israel’s neighbors; note the plural Baals in Jeremiah 2:23; 9:14. Their worshippers believe that these gods control the fertility of people, livestock, and agriculture. Offering incense to Baal is a shorthand way of suggesting all acts of worship offered to these gods, which sometimes include sexual immorality and even infant sacrifice. Idolatry produces atrocities in its adherents.

The Baals are just some of the many gods worshipped in the ancient Near East. Hopeful to receive power from any possible source, idol worshippers are more than happy to add more deities to their sacred shrines. Jeremiah’s question implies that his hearers are guilty in this regard.

What Do You Think?

How can we best confront the modern idolatries that challenge our faithfulness to God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the idolatry of “me first”

Regarding the idolizing of one’s country and its ideals

Regarding the idolizing of public figures

Other

B. Temple Trusted (vv. 10, 11)

10. “‘... and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

The utter emptiness of the people’s misplaced faith becomes clearer still. Habitual evildoers and idolaters, they nevertheless return time and again to God’s temple, God’s house, to go through the motions of worship. There they offer sacrifices, pray, and sing the psalms. In so doing, the people believe that they are safe from enemies such as Babylon. In effect, the Judeans believe that God cares more about the form of worship in his temple, or even the temple structure itself, than he does about his people’s submission to him. What a miserable, blasphemous view of the holy God!

Tainted Praise

A letter to Henry Ford of April 1934 had this to say:

Dear Sir: --

While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. ... [E]ven if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 --

The (unauthenticated) letter was from Clyde Barrow, of “Bonnie and Clyde” infamy. He apparently found stolen Ford V8s quite to his liking for evading the police, thus prompting the letter of praise. The outlaws died in a police ambush several weeks after the letter was sent.

Such praise was hardly the kind of testimony that Henry Ford could use in advertising or otherwise appreciate! Likewise, the tainted praise offered in the temple by the Judeans was not the praise God could honor. Our sins might not be as gross as theirs, but we need to ask, “Does my life validate the praise I offer to God?”—C. R. B.

What Do You Think?

In what ways can the nature of our worship gatherings influence and be influenced by our individual lifestyles?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Positive influences (Acts 2:44-47; Romans 12:1; etc.)

Negative influences (1 Corinthians 11:17; James 2:1-4; etc.)

11. “‘Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

Trusting in the temple is pointless since Judah’s actions have made it into something other than God’s house. If it were his house in more than name only, then those who worship there would follow his law and pursue his justice. Instead, it is filled with people who commit all the abominations already noted. The people have turned the temple into a bandits’ hideout, a den of robbers.

But the evildoers can conceal nothing. They cannot hide. God sees everything they do.

Centuries later, Jesus draws on the imagery of this verse when he takes action in the temple (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). At least one issue then is the same as in Jeremiah’s day: the corrupt temple leadership takes advantage of the weak for their own gain. Even worse, the temple leaders of Jesus’ day plot his death so that they can hold on to their own power (John 11:48).

C. Lesson Unlearned (vv. 12-15)

12. “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.

The question Jeremiah’s audience may be thinking at this point is, Well, then, what will God do with his temple? To answer this, Jeremiah offers a real-life illustration from Israel’s history.

The tabernacle (the temple’s precursor) had been located at Shiloh, about 19 miles north of Jerusalem, for years after Israel’s conquest of the land (Joshua 18:1; Judges 18:31; 1 Samuel 1:3). In Samuel’s time, over 400 years before the days of Jeremiah, the sons of the high priest Eli turned their ministry at the tabernacle into a personal racket, extracting bribes and sexual favors from worshippers there (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25). To make matters worse, some Israelites decided to treat the tabernacle’s ark of the covenant like a magical object by taking it into battle (4:3-5). But Israel lost the battle, the ark was captured, and Eli’s wicked sons were killed (4:6-11).

Therefore God “abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among humans” (Psalm 78:60). Jeremiah’s audience need only take a trip to God’s place in Shiloh to understand what he can do to Jerusalem as well. The ark of the covenant did not serve as an object of magical protection, and neither will the temple.

What Do You Think?

What are some things in your personal past that help you refocus your faith and trust in God?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Places, events, relationships of a positive nature

Places, events, relationships of a negative nature

13. “‘While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.

The people of Judah have been warned many times. They have received the law, which specifies the consequences of disobedience. They have received the message of earlier prophets that reminded them of the same. They have seen judgment fall on their kin in northern Israel for habitual idolatry and injustice. They barely escaped a similar destruction themselves (2 Kings 19). Their disobedience (all these things) has continued literally for centuries.

It’s not that God hasn’t done his part—he has, again and again! Yet just as habitually the people ignore him and his messengers. Judah’s historical track record in this regard portends little hope of escaping God’s judgment.

14. “‘Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors.

Again Jeremiah piles up phrases to stress the enormity of Judah’s false trust in the temple. The house is God’s house, the symbol of his authority. It has been his gift to Israel for generations. It is intended as the place where Israel can stand before God and find forgiveness and instruction. This they have turned into a den of robbers.

So God must destroy the temple and those who corrupt it. As he did to Shiloh, he will now do to the house bearing his name. Allowing the temple to fall will not bring his name into disrepute, but allowing it to continue to stand as a den of robbers certainly will! The calamity to come will affirm that God is the holy, sovereign king who tolerates no hypocrisy.

15. “‘I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’”

The second history lesson is more recent: the story of the northern kingdom of Israel—here referred to as Ephraim, the name of a leading tribe. The people of Judah know that their fellow Israelites to the north had fallen to Assyria by God’s decision (2 Kings 17:1-23). God’s promise of a similar fate for Judah indicates that he sees the sins of both groups as identical. While the Judeans like to think of themselves as more favored than their erstwhile kin to the north, God thinks otherwise. And it is his viewpoint that will prevail.

Conclusion

A. God’s Promises Stand

God’s message was stern and uncompromising. Yet despite Judah’s failure, God’s promise was still in force to establish David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Today we know that we have received the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus. We also should realize that we have a clear responsibility regarding how we are to live before God. As followers of Christ, we are to promote God’s justice. We are not to be hypocrites who worship God outwardly while plotting rebellion inwardly. As the God of the temple would not be mocked, neither will the God of the cross—the same God.

B. Prayer

O God, we come to you from our hiding places to confess the sin that you already see. Show us your mercy, not the punishment that we deserve, as we show mercy to others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Know God’s desires, and do them.

Visual for Lesson 4 & 10. Point to this as you ask, “How do people today convince themselves that this statement is wrong?”


August 16

Lesson 11

 A Call for Repentance

Devotional Reading: Hosea 14

Background Scripture: Ezekiel 18; Proverbs 21:2-15

Ezekiel 18:1-13, 30-32

1 The word of the Lord came to me:

 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.

 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

5 “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right.

 

6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.

 

7 He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked.

 

8 He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties.

 

9 He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.

10 “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things

11 (though the father has done none of them): “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbor’s wife.

12 He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge.

He looks to the idols. He does detestable things.

13 He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.”

30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?

 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

Key Verses

Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?—Ezekiel 18:30, 31

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Describe how God refuted the Israelites’ belief that they suffered unjustly for the sins of earlier generations.

2. Explain the importance of personal responsibility and culpability in the context of the new covenant of grace.

3. Identify an area of blame-shifting in his or her life and make a plan for change.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Pass the Blame

B. Lesson Background

I. Self-Delusion Exposed (Ezekiel 18:1-4)

A. Proverb Used (vv. 1, 2)

B. Proverb Forbidden (vv. 3, 4)

Sour Grapes

II. Who Will Live? (Ezekiel 18:5-9)

A. Example Introduced (v. 5)

B. Behavior Described (vv. 6-8)

C. Innocence Affirmed (v. 9)

III. Who Will Die? (Ezekiel 18:10-13)

A. Counterexample Introduced (vv. 10, 11a)

B. Behavior Contrasted (vv. 11b-13a)

C. Guilt Affirmed (v. 13b)

IV. Choice Offered (Ezekiel 18:30-32)

A. God’s Promise (v. 30a)

B. God’s Call (vv. 30b, 31)

A New Heart and a New Spirit

C. God’s Desires (v. 32)

Conclusion

A. The Community and the Individual

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

A. Pass the Blame

I was sitting on a bench in a mall the first time I saw the saying printed on a T-shirt worn by a young man. It simply read, “Blame my parents.”

That witticism is both appealing and appalling at the same time. It has a certain appeal because there is some truth in it: the young man is who he is in large part because of the inherited characteristics (heredity) and upbringing (environment) of and by his parents. It is also appealing when one considers the psychological comfort that results when people use it to relieve themselves of responsibility for who they are and what they have done.

On the other hand, the slogan is appalling because it expresses attitudes of fatalism and irresponsibility by implying that the young man is completely controlled by genetics (nature) and/or upbringing (nurture). Having had no control over either, the slogan proposes that he isn’t responsible for who he is and what he does. What a miserable condition all people would be in if this were true!

The young man’s T-shirt expresses a popular view today that our bad behavior is not our fault. It is the fault of others. Although the people of Ezekiel’s day did not know about genes and probably did not engage in the “nature vs. nurture” debate, they too found comfort by passing the blame back to their ancestors. They did so in the form of a proverb condemned in today’s lesson.

B. Lesson Background

Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, prophesied during and after the final chaotic years of the kingdom of Judah. King Jehoiakim, whose reign in Judah ended in 597 BC, was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin. He reigned only three months before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and took him, along with thousands of the most prominent and skilled people of Judah, to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14). This group of deportees included the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1-3).

The Babylonians placed Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, on the throne in Jerusalem to implement the will of the Babylonian government (2 Kings 24:17). Zedekiah eventually conspired with other nations to revolt, but this did not succeed. The Babylonians put down the rebellion and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC.

While Jeremiah was preaching in Jerusalem before its destruction, Ezekiel lived with a community of fellow exiles in Babylon. He ministered to a people who had been torn from the land that God had promised them, away from the temple where he promised his presence to be, away from all that was familiar. As they pondered and grieved their situation, what lessons would they learn?

I. Self-Delusion Exposed

                                                                    (Ezekiel 18:1-4)

A. Proverb Used (vv. 1, 2)

1, 2. The word of the Lord came to me:

“What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

As the exiles wallow in the misery of their situation, now in its sixth or seventh year (Ezekiel 8:1; 20:1), they naturally try to come to grips with the reason for it. In so doing, they land on a proverb that becomes popular. A proverb is a short, pithy statement used to express a general truth in a memorable way. The proverb that seems best to explain the situation is the one we see here. The prophet Jeremiah is also confronted with this proverb in his situation back in Judea (Jeremiah 31:29, 30).

The Targum, an ancient Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew, gives the meaning of the proverb: “The fathers sin, the children suffer.” Therefore, The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge expresses the belief that those in exile (the children) are unjustly bearing the punishment for the sins of earlier generations (the parents). Claiming that their problem is inherited, the exiles deny responsibility or guilt on their part.

What Do You Think?

What are some excuses you have heard used to shift blame? How should we react when we hear these?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding coworkers

Regarding fellow church members

Regarding family members

Other

How to Say It

Aramaic Air-uh-may-ik.

Aesop Ee-sop.

Babylon Bab-uh-lun.

Babylonians Bab-ih-low-nee-unz.

Ezekiel Ee-zeek-ee-ul or Ee-zeek-yul.

Jehoiachin Jeh-hoy-uh-kin.

Jehoiakim Jeh-hoy-uh-kim.

Judah Joo-duh.

Judea Joo-dee-uh.

ZedekiahZed-uh-kye-uh.

B. Proverb Forbidden (vv. 3, 4)

3. “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.

The proverb being used has some truth to it in that the sins of one generation can have a serious and lasting effect on the next. We may think of how children suffer today when a breadwinning parent is sent to jail for a crime. Ezekiel himself points out that the exile is the result of covenant unfaithfulness by many generations of Israelites (Ezekiel 16). The Ten Commandments witness to the concept of intergenerational consequences for sin (Exodus 20:5). However, the fact that the sins of one generation have consequences for another is not the same as saying that God punishes an innocent group for the sins of a guilty group.

Israelite history offers instances of children dying as a consequence of the sins of their parents (see Numbers 16:23-33; Joshua 7:24, 25; 2 Samuel 11:1-12:19; 21:1-9). Although there are times when the all-knowing and sovereign God deems this to be fitting, it is rare and certainly not the norm. The problem in today’s text is that the exiles specifically apply their proverb to disavow any culpability for their situation. In so doing, they can claim that God is unjust in his dealings with them (Ezekiel 18:25-29; 33:17-20). God corrects their faulty thinking in the examples below.

What Do You Think?

What faulty thinking is most in need of correction today? What will be your part in providing that correction?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Within the church

In the wider culture

Other

4. “For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

Everyone belongs to God since he is the sovereign Creator. Therefore he has the right to declare the one who sins is the one who will die. Each person is responsible to God for his or her own sin, and he will deal with each person individually. In giving the Israelites his law, God commanded that “parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16). This principle applies to how God deals with the exiles. His judgments are fair and true.

Sour Grapes

Aesop was the legendary Greek slave who may have lived between 620 and 560 BC. Fables attributed to him live on to this day. One such is “The Fox and the Grapes.” It tells of a fox that wants grapes he sees growing on a vine high above him. Unable to reach them, he eventually walks away saying, “The grapes were probably sour anyway.”

We still speak of “sour grapes” when a person expresses disdain for something he or she would like to have but cannot possess. For example, one might envy another’s expensive sports car but feign lack of desire by saying, “It only holds two people and probably gets terrible gas mileage besides.”

The “sour grapes” of which Ezekiel spoke, however, had a different context: a context of blame-shifting to avoid accountability for sin. We may try to comfort ourselves with either the fox’s or the Israelites’ sour-grapes reasoning, but both are self-delusional. What modern examples of Israelite sour-grapes thinking have you seen?—C. R. B.

II. Who Will Live?

                                                                   (Ezekiel 18:5-9)

A. Example Introduced (v. 5)

 

5. “Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right.

 

The first example the Lord sets forth to illustrate his decree is that of a man who is just. Such a man’s desire is to do what is just and right in the sight of God and humanity. Specifics follow.

B. Behavior Described (vv. 6-8)

 

6a. “He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel.

The first and arguably most important characteristic of a just or righteous man is that he worships the one and only true God according to the way that God says is proper. To eat at the mountain shrines is to participate in sacrifices and religious feasts in places other than the location ordained by the Lord (Deuteronomy 12:13, 14). To look to the idols of Israel is to worship and seek help from false gods or to make an image of the true God for worship (5:7, 8). The righteous man is careful first and foremost to remain religiously pure.

6b. “He does not defile his neighbor’s wife or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.

 

The just man also is careful to stay morally pure. The law prohibits both adultery (Exodus 20:14) and intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period (Leviticus 15:19-33). The Bible does not explain the latter except to say that a violator “has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it” (Leviticus 20:18). Some suggest that this may speak to the special role of blood in atoning for sins, respecting certain rights of women, or to maintain ceremonial purity. Whatever the reason, the righteous man observes this statute.

 

7, 8. “He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. “He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong

and judges fairly between two parties.

The righteous man also exhibits godly love toward others. It is important to note that all the positive and negative actions addressed here are covered in the Law of Moses. Regarding oppression of a fellow Israelite or a resident non-Israelite, see Exodus 21:2; 22:21. On restoring what a debtor had pledged for security, see Exodus 22:26, 27. Robbery is addressed in Exodus 20:15. Meeting the needs of the hungry and the naked is dealt with in Deuteronomy 15:7-11. Lending to those in need without trying to profit by charging interest is covered in Deuteronomy 23:19, 20.

What Do You Think?

What helps you decide how best to assist those in need when you are overwhelmed with opportunities to do so?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding needs within your church family

Regarding needs within your extended family

Regarding needs in your larger community

Other

The righteous man never lies about or wrongs a neighbor for any reason, in careful obedience to Deuteronomy 5:20, 21. Rather, he keeps his distance from evil and all forms of judicial corruption (16:19). In short, such a man puts God’s law above any opportunity to gain at the expense of another.

C. Innocence Affirmed (v. 9)

 

9. “He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous;

he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Here we have a sparkling example of the parallelism that is a hallmark of Hebrew poetry: follows is another way of saying faithfully keeps. Likewise, God’s decrees are the same as his laws. Comprehensively, the righteous man does not follow the selfish, sinful ways of others; he is instead committed to doing what is right and just. God therefore declares he will surely live. God will not judge or punish him for the sins of others.

III. Who Will Die?

                                                              (Ezekiel 18:10-13)

A. Counterexample Introduced (vv. 10, 11a)

10, 11a. “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them):

In a counterexample, the hypothetical righteous man has a wicked son who does not embrace his father’s values and lifestyle. Indeed, the wicked son is the exact opposite of his father. In committing robbery and murder, the son acts in ways his father would never countenance. While the father no doubt has taught and modeled the ways of the Lord to his son, the son has the freedom to choose what type of man he will be. He will also be solely responsible to the Lord for the path he chooses.

B. Behavior Contrasted (vv. 11b-13a)

11b-13a. “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbor’s wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at interest and takes a profit. Will such a man live?

It’s almost like the son is thinking, Whatever dad does, I’m going to do the opposite! The son does not worship the one true God in the way that God prescribes. He takes (or creates) every possible opportunity to exploit others. As he looks to the idols, he attributes to them the abilities to provide blessings that can come only from the one true God. In so doing, the son follows the example of other nations rather than the law that God has given to the Israelites.

A person who does not love God and is not loyal to him will not love other people or be loyal to them either. The reason is that love for one’s neighbor grows out of a love for God. The wicked son uses people to fulfill his own lust and greed. He has no concern for the needs of others. He has no moral reservations about committing adultery, oppressing the most vulnerable, practicing violence, etc., when there is personal gain to be had in doing so.

What Do You Think?

How and where should Ezekiel’s observations on lending be applied today?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding Christians in the banking profession

Regarding personal loans

Regarding helping the poor in particular

Exodus 22:25; Luke 19:23

Other

C. Guilt Affirmed (v. 13b)

13b. “He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.”

The wicked son who walks contrary to the righteous requirements of God is the one to die. He will die for his own sins despite the fact that his father is righteous. Verses 14-20 (not in today’s text) establish that if this wicked man has a righteous son who does not commit the abominations of his father but follows the righteous path of his grandfather, then that righteous man will live. These examples demonstrate the fallacy of the proverb that the exiles are using. God replaces that proverb with the truth that “the one who sins is the one who will die” (v. 4, above).

IV. Choice Offered

                                                                (Ezekiel 18:30-32)

A. God’s Promise (v. 30a)

30a. “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Each Israelite decides how he or she lives, and God judges each based on that choice. Although every person is responsible for his or her own guilt before the Lord, individual decisions do indeed affect the community as a whole. God says he will judge you Israelites [plural], each of you [singular]. The plural you Israelites shows that the covenant God has with Israel is corporate; it includes all Israel as a whole. The singular each of you shows that the overall moral tone of the community is formed on the collective choices of individuals.

B. God’s Call (vv. 30b, 31)

30b, 31. “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?

After correcting the Israelites’ thinking concerning their situation, God calls them to return to him. The Israelites are to look not at the conduct of their ancestors but to their own. The people are to rid themselves of any and all personal sin. To repent is to avoid the judgment of death that sin brings. God is gracious and forgives all who turn to him in repentance and faith. The result of that turn will be a new heart and a new spirit that loves the Lord and lives according to his Word. When that happens, the people of Israel as a whole will experience new life.

Again, God asks a rhetorical question: Why will you die? The sentence of death is not inevitable since God extends an offer of forgiveness through repentance. Each individual has the freedom to choose life or death. If people did not have free will, then they would not be responsible. People are capable of knowing right from wrong, and God deals with them on that basis. The blame for one’s sin and judgment cannot be shifted to God, Satan, nature, nurture, parents, or circumstances.

A New Heart and a New Spirit

As a member of the New York Colombo crime syndicate, Michael Franzese created fraudulent schemes that brought him millions of dollars. His biggest illegal profits came from a scam that stole $1 billion in gasoline excise taxes in the 1980s.

Franzese eventually got involved in the movie business. On a movie set in 1984, he met dancer Cammy Garcia. He was attracted to her because she seemed “different” from others he met in the industry. Cammy didn’t know what kind of business Michael was in, but she started talking to him about God. Love blossomed, and Michael and Cammy were married in 1985.

But that was also the year the law caught up with Michael, and he spent 43 months in prison. Although having accepted Jesus as Savior just before the marriage, it took some time for Michael to realize his need for radical life-change. It was during a second incarceration, of 29 months for violating parole, that he says he “ate, drank, and slept the Bible.” Since release from prison in 1994, Michael has become a Christian motivational speaker.

Repentance does indeed bring a new heart and a new spirit. With it comes a new life that builds and heals, and Michael Franzese’s story demonstrates that God still has the power to do exactly that! And so it is for all of us.—C. R. B.

What Do You Think?

What is the most startling example of lifestyle change you know of that resulted from having received “a new heart and a new spirit”?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

A public figure

A colleague at work or school

A personal friend

Other

C. God’s Desires (v. 32)

32. “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

God wants everyone to live. He desires to deliver people from their unfaithfulness and the death that it brings. He never enjoys condemning the wicked (also Ezekiel 33:11). Even so, he is righteous in dispensing judgment. He will bring judgment if necessary, but will not take pleasure in it.

Therefore, God issues an invitation to repent and live, as he has done so many times before. He demonstrates love by his willingness to set people free from their sinful past and the punishment they deserve. He demonstrates his holiness and justice by not allowing them to continue in sin forever. God is still patient today, not wishing any to perish but to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Conclusion

A. The Community and the Individual

Ezekiel teaches us how a person is to respond to the condition of a community. It is true that each generation influences the next, but none controls what its successor does. A generation is not predetermined for blessings or judgments by actions of the previous one. The individual and the generation of which he or she is part of have freedom to choose how to live: either walking the path of God or the path of rebellion. Those who keep God’s Word will live; those who rebel will die. Each will bear his or her own iniquity. Even if a person lives in a grossly immoral society, that is not to be an excuse for sin. Rather, living in such a society is all the more reason to do what is just, right, and true.

Ezekiel also teaches us that individuals form the overall tone of communities. The choices of individuals determine the spiritual and moral condition of the whole. God desires that each individual turn to him and thus help build strong and righteous communities. The choices each person makes today will have more impact on determining the condition of the community than either heredity or environment.

B. Prayer

Lord, forgive us for passing off the guilt for our sins! Help us take responsibility for our own actions as a foundation for building holy communities. We praise you for the eternal life that we have in Jesus Christ, who bore the penalty for sins that were not his. In his name, amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Each person is responsible before God.

Visual for Lesson 11. Point to this visual as you introduce the discussion question associated with verse 31.


Standard Lesson Commentary 2014-2015 (NIV).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless