Ezekiel’s neighbors thought that God was unfair (Ezek 18:25). “It’s not our fault. We’re the victims here. Our parents and grandparents really messed up. Now we have to pay the price for what they did.” So they came up with a saying, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”—or as the Message puts it, “The parents ate green apples, the children got the stomachache” (18:2). Blame-shifting is as old as sin itself. In a troubled world, it’s easy to pin our troubles on someone. They’re the ones who do stupid things—not us, and we suffer as a result.
Adopting a victim mentality magnifies the bad to such an extent that we lose our perspective on reality. The truth is that God deals with everyone individually. Each of us is responsible before God for our life (Ezek 18:4; cf. Deut 24:16). Harry Truman’s famous desk sign sums it up well: “The buck stops here.”
According to the word given to Ezekiel, as long as you think it’s everyone’s fault but your own, you shall “die” in your sins (Ezek 18:4, 13, 20). Die? What does God mean by “the soul who sins shall die”? The Hebrew notion of “death” describes sin’s slow poisoning of our emotions, our will, our mind, and eventually our physical body. In other words, sin poisons our ability to enjoy human life as it was created to be.
Conversely, if you seek righteousness and mercy, “you shall surely live” (Ezek 18:9, 17, 19, 21). The Hebrew notion of “life” describes the flourishing effects of grace on our well-being—which is human life as God created it to be.
God takes no pleasure in people who drink the rat poison while blaming the rats (Ezek 18:23). He desires repentance, not punishment. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions,” God says through Ezekiel, “lest iniquity be your ruin … I have no pleasure in the death of anyone … so turn and live” (18:30-32). Blame-shifting only blinds us to our need of a Savior. And so Ezekiel laments (Ezek 19).
If anyone had the right to blame people for unjust suffering, it’s the Lord. Although Israel’s history seems like a never-ending cycle of rescue, blessing, and rebellion, one thing stands out in Ezekiel 20. God’s covenant relationship with his people is not a secret affair. He explains, “I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations” (Ezek 20:9, 14, 22).
If God’s name is hallowed “in the sight of the nations,” the nations will come to know him as King (Ezek 20:33). This is the backdrop of Israel’s story. God targets the nations when he repeatedly delivers his people.
Jesus could have blamed everyone for his suffering. After all, it was the sin of the entire world that he took on. Jesus doesn’t blame-shift. He restored the honor of God’s name and absorbed the toxins in our veins that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
“To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim 1:17).