Jehovah speaks through the prophet Ezekiel, saying: “The soul who sins, he shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be on him” (Ezek. 18:20). This text agrees with the text of the books of the law: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16).
Dealing with the conversion of the wicked, Ezekiel speaks on the part of Jehovah, the mentor of the law, saying: “But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him: in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? says the Lord Jehovah; and not rather that he should return from his way, and live?” (Ezek. 18:21-23). What is this justice of Jehovah? Let us hypothetically say that the wicked has been the author of twenty armed robberies, ten rapes, hundreds of lies; he is a drunkard, violent and egotistical. He left twenty widows and forty orphans. In the end he turns to Jehovah. And will there not be remembrance of his crimes because he turned to Jehovah? The train of blood, of disgraces, of unhappiness, of crying, are they all erased before the eyes of Jehovah? Where is the fulfillment of the law that says, “I, Jehovah your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5)? How should we understand this unconditional forgiveness? The one who is forgiven, has his past erased, and the one who does not repent, does Jehovah visit his iniquity until the third and fourth generations? But the law was given by Jehovah to an already saved people, that is to say, to Israel. On the other hand, if conversion erases past crimes, that is an incentive to sin. The person sins freely, for he knows that, if he repents, all the evil things he has done are blotted out forever. I met a Christian who disappeared from the church when he was about eighteen years old. Ten years later I came across him and he was smoking a cigar in the company of a disreputable woman. When I saw him, I asked: what has happened to you? He answered: When I grow old I will repent and return.
Ezekiel goes on to say: “But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die” (Ezek. 18:24). What teachings can we draw from these two cases?
First, it is written in the New Testament: “As it is written, ‘There is no one righteous; no, not one’” (Rom. 3:10). Psalm 14 agrees with it, saying: “Jehovah looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any who did understand, who did seek after God. They have all gone aside. They have together become corrupt. There is none who does good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:2-3). If there is not, and there has never been one, how does Jehovah also say that there are righteous ones who live by their own righteousness?
Second, about life, we read what Paul has written: “For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; so much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Paul explains the mystery of spiritual death, established by the very Jehovah from the time of Adam in the Garden of Eden: “Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Paul explains that from Adam until Jesus all are sinners, and, therefore, all sin. And Paul says more: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). And the very Jesus spoke, when one of the disciples said: “‘Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead’” (Matt. 8:21-22). It is a fundamental doctrine of the New Testament in all the churches that every one is spiritually dead until he is converted to Jesus. Therefore Jesus said: “Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
If all men were spiritually dead in the times of Jehovah, that is, in the Old Testament, why did Jehovah say that whoever sinned against his law would die? It is obvious that this was not dealing with spiritual death, for, as we have seen, all were dead. The death spoken by Jehovah was the physical death. Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, sinned and immediately died (Lev. 10:1-2). Jehovah killed Er, son of Judah, because he was evil (Gen. 38:8-10). Jehovah closed the ears of Hophni and Phinehas for them not to listen to the counsels of their father, the priest Eli, because they were evil and Jehovah wanted to kill them (2 Sam. 2:22-25). Uzzah was killed by Jehovah for he had been faithful but had reached out toward the Ark of the Covenant that the oxen had nearly upset from the cart (2 Sam. 6:6-7). The ark of Jehovah was in the hands of the Philistines. Jehovah struck the Philistines with a plague of rats and of terrible hemorrhoids. Overcome, the Philistines sent the ark to Beth-shemesh in a cart driven by cows. The men at Beth-shemesh looked with curiosity into the ark, and Jehovah killed a thousand of them (1 Sam. 6:19).
By killing so many people as he did, Jehovah deprived them of the opportunity to pass from death to life. If he deprived some of them of the opportunity of repenting in order to be saved, that is because he did not have any intention of saving them. The thousands of thousands that Jehovah saved in Egypt by the hand of Moses, he killed in the desert. If he killed them, he stripped them of the chance of repentance, and this was because he did not have the intention of saving them (Heb. 3:17-18). The people of Israel spent their lives calling out to God: “O Jehovah, why do you make us to err from your ways, and harden our heart from your fear? Return for your servants’ sake, the tribes of your inheritance” (Is. 63:17). If Jehovah caused to go astray, he wanted to destroy them; if he hardened their hearts, it was because he did not love and wanted to kill. If he gave a law that awakens killing passions, he deceived with the intention to kill (Rom. 7:54; John 1:17).
However, God, who is a Father and is love, sent his son Jesus Christ with the only purpose of saving and never of condemning or destroying (John 3:16-17).
By Pastor Olavo Silveira Pereira