Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Exercises in Right Division (Ezekiel 18:23)

STATEMENT ONE: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) This passage is often proffered in support of the notion that God desires the salvation of all of humanity and that the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation to all of humanity.

STATEMENT TWO:  "But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased." (Psalm 115:3) This passage teaches that the Lord God does as he pleases with the world he created.

THE PROBLEM:  If God desires the salvation of all men and God does all that he pleases to do, then how is it that some men are not saved? (Matthew 25:41) It would seem that if God finds no pleasure in the punishment of the wicked in hell, and yet some end up there, that God has therefore done that which was not pleasing to him, and thus he has not done whatsoever he hath pleased.

THE RESOLUTION:  The first question one should ask when examining Ezekiel 18:23 is - to whom were these words spoken?  Understanding that will help us identify precisely who this passage has in mind when it refers to “the wicked.” The common, jerk-knee assumption is that because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and therefore all are wicked, that when this passage refers to “the wicked” it must have reference to all of humanity. Upon closer inspection of the context of Ezekiel's remarks, however, we come to see that this passage is addressed to Israel, God's chosen people in the Old Covenant, not to all of humanity. We know this from the following statements made in Ezekiel chapter 18:

  • "concerning the land of Israel" (v2)
  • "in Israel" (v3)
  • "idols of the house of Israel" (v6)
  • "Hear now, O house of Israel" (v25)
  • "Yet saith the house of Israel" (v29)
  • "O house of Israel" (v29)
  • "I will judge you, O house of Israel." (v30)
  • "your transgressions" (v30)
  • "your transgressions" (v31)
  • "ye have transgressed" (v31)
  • "O house of Israel" (v31)

Having established beyond any uncertainty that these words were addressed to the house of Israel and NOT to all of humanity, our interpretation of the passage must be consistent with this observation if we are to rightly divide this passage. Since these statements are made regarding Israel, God's people in the old covenant, it follows that they have typical reference to spiritual Israel, God's chosen people in the New Covenant, and thus they do not have reference to all of humanity. As a result this passage is properly interpreted as an admonition to obedience issued to God's chosen people who already have eternal life in order to avoid temporal punishment, rather than a recipe issued to all of humanity for the purpose of avoiding eternal damnation. It is a stern admonition regarding the certainty and severity of God's paternal rod of chastisement which can fall upon HIS PEOPLE when they persist in disobedience. (Hebrews 12:6-8) No righteous father takes pleasure in disciplining his sons, but he does it none-the-less to teach them that sin has real consequences in this life so that they may learn the benefits and blessings of walking in obedience.


- This passage does NOT support the well-meant offer of salvation to all of humanity.
- We must be careful to understand who is addressed when we interpret scripture.
- Decontextualized soundbite theology is no basis for sound doctrine.

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