18 March 2011

Ezekiel 18:21-28

"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." (v. 21)


Ezekiel was one of the exiles taken to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar II. There he received his first call to be a prophet and the book of Ezekiel contains his oracles and visions. Today's passage is from the first half of the book and is pretty damning of the exiles, who have shown themselves to be faithless, disobedient and idolatrous.

Ezekiel doesn't hold back in his condemnation and uses vivid language and imagery to convince the people of their rebelliousness and that they are deserving of punishment. He was from a priestly family and placed great importance not only on the temple and worship but also on the 'deeds' of the people.

It was not enough to appear righteous or to have been righteous in the past; what mattered was current behaviour and practice. And if "the wicked" repented and turned from their sinful ways God was pleased to commend them and let them live. There are echoes of this message in the Gospels and particularly Matthew 7:21-27. Reverence for God and listening to God's word needs to be backed up by action otherwise you will be "like a foolish man who built his house on sand" (Matthew 7:26). Once again we are reminded of the importance of integrating belief and practice.

In the subsequent chapters of Ezekiel the prophet's message shifts from condemnation to consolation and a promised return from exile. It is not because Israel does anything to deserve it but solely because of God's grace. So, again, we see the willingness within God to respond positively and generously to those who turn back to God. Thankfully God is not a 'fair' God but a gracious God. If God's behaviour was governed by fairness how many of us would "live"? As it is, God's behaviour is governed by grace and all who turn to God are welcomed with open arms and restored to 'life'.

To Ponder

In what ways do you try to make the world a fairer place?

In what ways do you try to make the world a more gracious place?

As a discipline during Lent why not consider doing a specific 'good deed' every day?

Bible notes author

The Revd Graham Jones

Graham Jones is a Methodist presbyter serving as a member of the Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network in the Yorkshire Plus region of the Methodist Church, with particular responsibility for ministry development. Graham is committed to developing ministry in its broadest sense, enabling both lay and ordained to live out their vocations, and to share in God's mission in the most fulfilling and effective ways.