1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, Ephesians 5

Today read 1 Samuel 5-6, Ezekiel 18, and Ephesians 5. This devotional is about Ezekiel 18.

Way back in the Ten Commandments God had said, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” (Ex 20:5). God said that to explain his command against making graven images to worship. It sure seems like God said that one generation sins but the generations that follow will pay the price for those sins by receiving God’s judgment.

The people in Ezekiel’s time seem to have interpreted God’s law that way. They believed they were being defeated and deported into exile by the Babylonians because of the sins of their parents. They even created a little proverb for their pity parties, which we read here in Ezekiel 18: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (v. 2). Translation: “This bitter defeat and exile is all mom and dad’s fault! They drank the Drano but we’re the ones throwing up!” [Note: Do not drink Drano. Or Liquid Plumber.]

God used their pitiful proverb to raise the issue of responsibility here in Ezekiel’s prophecy, chapter 18. God promised to stop their proverb from spreading in Israel (v. 3) by teaching the people that the judgment they received was due to their own sins. Starting with Adam and Eve, people who are called to account for their sins have usually looked to shift at least some of the blame to someone else.

Here the Lord spoke through Ezekiel to tell him that God’s judgment falls on those who deserve it (v. 4c). He then illustrated this truth over three generations from one family. The patriarch of this family was a righteous man (v. 5) whose righteousness manifested itself in multiple ways (vv. 6-9a). God decreed then, “That man is righteous; he will surely live” (v. 9b).

Despite his righteousness, he had a son who was a very wicked man (vv. 10-13a). About him God said, “…he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head” (v. 13b). The sinful man’s son, however, followed his grandfather’s righteous steps, not his father’s wicked ways (vv. 14). His righteous life was despite the fact that he “…sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things” (v. 14b). Verses 17c-18 say, “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.”

Verses 19-30 are a restatement and defense of the principle that God will punish each person for his own sins. The point for the Jewish people in Ezekiel’s day was stated in verses 30b-32: “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? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!”

This is why God’s word speaks so directly and forcefully to us about our sins, allowing us no exceptions, excuses or blame-shifting. It isn’t that God wants to punish us; it’s that he DOES NOT WANT to punish us.

It assaults our pride to repent and take full responsibility, but it will save us so much pain if we simply fall on God’s mercy.

If all of this is true, then what does Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me…” mean?

It means that sin often has consequences beyond the first generation. Those consequences are an indirect punishment.

Think about it this way: If one man kills another man and goes to prison for murder, he pays for his own crime. However, his children also pay. Although neither God nor the state hold the murderer’s children responsible for his crimes, they suffer the loss of their father, a bad reputation in the community, and his provision for the family. Those children are not responsible for his sins but they are paying a price for them. Exodus 20:5 is a warning, then, about the snowball effect of sin on your children; it is not a promise that God will be vindictive.

Joshua 12, Jeremiah 6

Today we’re reading Joshua 12 and Jeremiah 6.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 6:15: “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush….”

There are two kinds of shame–internal and external. That is, there are times you feel ashamed and there are times that others try to shame you. (They might even use the words “shame on you,” though it has been a long time since I’ve heard someone say that).

Anyway, external shame is about judging others. When someone tries to shame others, that person is using emotional and psychological pressure to get people to stay in line or get back in line. This kind of shame is rampant in our culture. Political correctness is external shame; so is “body shaming” someone who is considered unattractive because of weight or body shape or whatever. When it comes to morality, external shame can be appropriate. Shame on the person who takes another person’s life in murder or who kidnaps a child or who rapes or molests someone else. If these and other wicked behaviors are not considered shameful, human society is in big trouble. But there is a lot of inappropriate–even wicked–external shaming in our world; this devotional, however is not about external shame.

No, Jeremiah 6:15 is about internal shame. It is about the feelings of guilt that sinners should feel for disobedience to God’s holy commands. When Jeremiah prophesied, God’s people did not feel this sense of shame about their sins. Instead, they had “no shame at all.” Their idolatry, violence, dishonesty, greed, etc. did not make them feel bad.

Nor did they try to hide these sins from others; the praise, “they do not even know how to blush…” in verse 15 suggests that the sins God’s people were committing were known to others; those guilty of those sins were not embarrassed at all that others knew they had sinned in these ways.

Judging others and shaming them externally is often wrong; feeling shame internally, however, is a good thing. It is not valued in our world, but it is a good thing nonetheless. It is good because it shows that someone has a sensitive conscience. Someone who fears God and his word will feel shame when they sin. That shame can be the beginning of a better future because it can cause someone to repent and to cry out to God for mercy and grace. When someone is unashamed of his or her sin, however, that person can’t even see the need for God’s grace and mercy because they don’t feel the alarm bells going off to tell them that they are guilty before a holy God.

So who sins in these ways and does not feel internal shame? The answer is someone who has sinned that way so many times that they have dulled the voice of conscience. Like a callous on your hand that has become numb to friction or pain, we can weaken our conscience through repeated, unrepentant sin to the point that our sins no longer bother us.

Jesus is the only true solution to internal shame. We can numb ourselves to shame but only Jesus can take it away. He does so when we believe that he has died for our sins, standing in as our substitute to receive the wrath that we deserve from God for our wickedness.

What are you ashamed of? Will you keep burying it until you are desensitized completely to it or will you confess it and claim the forgiveness God will give you in Christ?

What aren’t you ashamed of that you should be? Will you ask God not only for forgiveness but to make your conscience sensitive to sin again?