It is increasingly rare these days to see anyone take responsibility for his or her failings. We’re all familiar with the “celebrity apology.” When a famous person does or says something that gets them into hot water (which seems to happen at least weekly these days), they read a carefully crafted statement before the press that says something like, “I am truly sorry to anyone who is offended or disappointed at my recent words and actions.” The statement is carefully crafted to minimize responsibility. It essentially turns the responsibility upon the people who were offended: “What I did/said wasn't really all that bad, but since some of you are so sensitive, I need to assure you that I really do care about your feelings.” We follow in the footsteps of our celebrities; we rarely tend to acknowledge, much less deal seriously with, our own sins. That's not a new tendency in humanity, by the way.
Ezekiel lived at the same time Jeremiah did. But while Jeremiah stayed behind in Jerusalem during the time when Judah was being conquered and destroyed by Babylon, Ezekiel lived with the exiles in Babylon. He was also a priest, which gave him a credibility among the people that Jeremiah didn’t have. God was using both men to do the same thing: To help His people see the changes they needed to make so that these awful times wouldn’t be in vain; so that the devastation they experienced would change them forever as a people. In Ezekiel 18:1-4, God told Ezekiel to address a saying that the Jews were fond of using. “The fathers eat sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge.” We know this was a common saying among the Jews at this time, because Jeremiah references it, too, in Jer. 31. What they were saying was, “We’re being punished today because of what our fathers did in their day.” Why would God tell Ezekiel to make the Jews stop saying this? Well think about it. First, it was a very self-serving, self-pitying saying. It essentially said, “Life is so unfair. I am bearing the consequences of someone else’s bad choices.” And second, it implied that they were stuck in these circumstances. “God hates us because of what our fathers did, so there’s no use trying to get right with Him.” In other words, it was a colossal evasion of personal responsibility.