Because Judah was carried away captive to Babylon, the children of Israel were saying of the LORD that His ways were not fair. They were carried away captive for the sins of their fathers’ generation, of which Manasseh was a part (2 Kin 24:3), and so they had a saying among themselves, that the fathers have eaten sour grapes, so the children’s teeth were set on edge. This was the occasion of the word of the LORD which came to Ezekiel, by which the LORD explains the fairness of His judgment.
“The soul who sins shall die.” Eze 18:4
One of the spiritual laws of the universe, this is mankind’s dilemma. This is why Paul writes to the church at Rome, that all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) — therefore all live under a sentence of death (Rom 6:23).
“He is just; he shall surely live!” Eze 18:9
This is the spiritual law which is the sister of the previous one: the soul who sins shall die, but the soul which is just, shall live. When every soul has sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God, how does that soul then overcome his death sentence, to be made just, so that he can live?
“Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live.” Eze 18:21
In order to make His point more clear, the LORD explains His definition of just: all of the LORD’s statutes together define what is right in His eyes. What is lawful, or commanded in Torah, is the standard by which the LORD defines righteousness, right behavior. We have seen over and over now, the New Testament confirming, that the LORD judges righteousness and sin by our actions, our behavior, and not by what we believe with our minds (that does not translate into right behavior) or by what group we belong to. The Jews could not escape judgment just by saying, “I am of the chosen people!” when they had not lived by the standards of righteousness defined in Torah, no more than a Christian can escape judgment just by saying, “I belong to ____ denomination!” when they have not lived by the standards of righteousness defined in Torah. The LORD is establishing the doctrine, begun in Genesis, and continued without deviation through the Old Testament, that the fruit of our lives will bear witness to the state our hearts.
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!” Eze 18:30-32
So in order to escape the death sentence, the LORD encourages Judah and Israel to repent — to turn from wickedness, to get a new heart and a new spirit, and live. This is now the second time in Ezekiel that the LORD reveals to Judah and Israel, that true righteousness resulting in life requires a new heart and a new spirit! The problem that Judah and Israel have been having, is that they know the commandments of God, but they are written on tablets of stone outside the man. They need more than just outward observance, they need a new heart and a new spirit resulting in true righteousness from that new heart and new spirit — and this is something they are, during Ezekiel’s ministry, realizing for the first time.
God established Israel as a nation, in order to provide for the birth of the Messiah, the Promised Seed, for the world; but at the same time, He is using her history in order to preach the gospel of grace by faith to the world! Through Israel’s national life, He is establishing the truth that man has a problem of rebellion, sin, and unrighteousness which will result in his death, and in order to cure that rebellion, sin, and unrighteousness, man needs more than the knowledge of good and evil. Israel was given the knowledge of good and evil in the Torah, but was unable to keep it, therefore even Israel was laboring under a death sentence. This truth prompted Paul to exclaim:
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Rom 7:24-25