“Why do you quote this proverb in the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste’?” - Ezekiel 18:2
When bad things happen the usual question is Why? It is usually assumed that bad things happen because of somebody’s actions. Very often this is the case—cause and effect can be traced. But while this is true, we should not blame everything on somebody else.
That is what the people of Israel tended to do. As they sat in exile, they recited the ancient proverb, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste” (18:2). They were saying, in essence, “We are in this predicament because of what our forebears did. Where’s the justice in that?” At its root this question challenged the Lord’s justice and impeached his holiness. The Lord, through Ezekiel, had an immediate answer. He instructed his people: “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you will not say this proverb anymore in Israel” (18:3). Why not? Because, as God then explained, “All people are mine to judge. . . . And this is my rule: The person who sins will be the one who dies. . . . Righteous people will be rewarded for their own goodness, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness” (18:4, 20). No doubt this instruction came as a shock to the people of Israel, especially because the Lord had taught them, “I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations” (Exod. 20:5).
There is some comfort in being able to blame someone else for your misfortune. And because our lives are inextricably bound up in each others’, there is a sense in which the actions of one will inevitably affect the experience of another. The actions of a parent will no doubt contribute to the makeup of the child, and this makeup will include tendencies that may lead to wrong actions. But this does not absolve an individual from the consequences of his own sin. Each person is fully responsible for what he chooses to do.
We need to understand this principle clearly. In our day we see the link between our genetics, our environment, and our behavior—and we tend to blame everything on genetics and environment! Yet whatever our “nature or nurture,” the bad news is that we are individually responsible for our actions. But the good news is we can be individually forgiven! If you accept individual responsibility, you can enjoy personal forgiveness. This God offers because he is not only just, but gracious, too.
For Further Study: Ezekiel 18:1-24