Every generation has proverbs generally accepted by most people. Sometimes spoken or written; sometimes not. My mother’s generation lived by: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” I get to buy a few Lilly dresses now because of that proverb! It is not such a bad saying…
A proverb of today in the U.S. might be: “We haven’t sinned; we just need rehab.” Whether it’s a celebrity or public official or just a husband using the internet for dirty pictures, there’s seldom visible sorrow for the action itself that has caused such devastating consequences. Anger management or sexual addiction counseling are “in.”
Ezekiel saw the same kind of thinking going on among his exiled friends. They had lost their country, been forced to move from Jerusalem to Iraq. He kept preaching about true heart repentance–sorrow, sadness, deep grief resulting in seeking a renewed relationship with God that included right living. They kept saying, “We’re suffering because of the sins of our fathers. We haven’t done anything to deserve this.” Instead of repentance and mourning, they shirked their responsibility and blamed their parents and said God was not fair.
In Ezekiel 18,we have his sermon refuting this proverb. I hope you have the time to read it. ’As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel.'” He goes on to list the right living of the first generation (18:5-9), and the violent greed, idoltry, and sexual impurity of the second generation, then the right living of the third generation (v.14-18). Ezekiel defends personal responsibilty and the fairness of God:
“He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live!
As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, robbbed his brother by violence, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity. … The soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:17-20).
“‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord GOD, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'”
Should we be using our proverb today to excuse ourselves? Is getting rehabilatation and counseling (or traveling the world for a year or so) the only thing we need to do? What about cleaning up our act?
Train your children (or those you teach or influence in any way) to accept responsibility for their attitudes and actions. In preschool and early elementary years, I focused on getting my daughters to “honor” me. I tried not to have many “rules” but when they didn’t show respect, they “got” it! It was their fault, even if I was wrong or short-tempered. Of course, I often messed up myself, and this same principle of responsibility applied to me, but, nevertheless, my being in the wrong did not excuse them. It isn’t always the teacher’s or the parent’s fault.
For upper elementary and high school, help them to see how false the cultural proverbs can be. You need to talk WITH them a lot (not to them as much). Take them daily to the real Proverbs as a contrast to what they are hearing “out there.” Keep the focus on personal accountability and turning from wrong behavior and attitudes–in their relationship with you and with the Lord Jesus.
Of course, in delivering this sermon on accountability, Ezekiel is in no way ignoring the hope of the Promised One who would be an atonement for sin. He didn’t know all the details yet; it was 590 or so years before Jesus’ death. As an educated priest, Ezekiel was very familar with all of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah’s coming. But, this sermon’s main point is that each of us is accountable to God and that does not make God unfair. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin” (Ez. 18:30).