If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things … who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor's wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. … -- Ezekiel 18:10-13
Thursday, February 12, 2015
The thing that struck me in this verse is “does not restore the pledge”. This refers back to Exodus 22:26-27 -- If ever you take your neighbor's cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
The Lord knew that it was possible in those times that a man might have nothing except his heavy outer garment, not unlike the Scotsman’s plaid of the Rob Roy style, to give as collateral for a loan. A man would always come back for his cloak, at which time he could be reminded of his promise to repay. However, it would be both pointless and too cruel to hold a man’s cloak overnight, for he would suffer and possibly become ill or even die from exposure.
Still, it seems rather extreme to include the “crime” of holding onto a coat with adultery (or rape), robbery, killing, idolatry, and the rest. Yet all the more blatant acts of wickedness arise from the same root: a sad lack of empathy, a sociopathic disregard for the good of our fellow humans. We were talking about this the other day, in that, as the song says, “If you don’t love your neighbor then you don’t love God.” We fail to recognize that our down-and-out brother has the same nature that we have, is a child of our Father, as we are, and is indwelt or maybe indwelt by the same Holy Spirit as we ourselves.
Further, the message Ezekiel was given in this chapter is a counter to a proverb that was in common use: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge. That is, the people were seeing great turmoil and tribulation in their lives. Some were suggesting that this was a result of the “sins of the fathers”. There’s no doubt that the apostasy and iniquity of previous generations had caused Judah to come under condemnation. We see the same thing today in America. Our profligate spending throughout the last several decades, our embrace of an all-powerful central government, our acceptance of the welfare state, etc., all have contributed to our current decline as a nation, but it is no excuse for individual moral laxity.
In the end, to sing yesterday’s refrain, the course of human events is not my concern. We hop on the wheel of time, the cycle of history where it finds us, and we ride it to our getting off point. We do what we can, where we can. We may not have a lot to work with. It may just be handing someone back his coat or inconveniencing ourselves to help someone get home. God doesn’t forget any of it.