One of the common themes which ties the minor and major prophets together is the threat of the judgment of God against His covenant people because of their sins. Repeatedly God used the prophets to warn the people that their current course of action would lead to divinely allowed calamity. We see in the exilic era of Judah the people began to believe that they had been unjustly punished for the sins of their ancestors. Was this accusation against God correct or did the people miss the point of the judgment they had endured. This leads us to the larger question, what is the correlation between personal responsibility and God’s judgment on his people?
A Proverb about the Judgment of God
During the exilic era and even in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem the people had adopted their own parable to explain what had happened to them. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This proverb is understood to mean “Children atone for the misdeeds of their fathers, or the sins of the fathers are visited on their innocent children.” Through this understanding the people believed that in their eyes they were innocent and did not deserve the calamity which they had experienced.
This complaint from the people did not escape the ears of God nor the prophets as both Jeremiah and Ezekiel addressed this complaint. First Jeremiah stated in 31:28-30;
“28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (ESV)
Here we have the image which “depicts a person’s involuntary reaction to an extremely unpleasant taste. Since experience cannot be transferred, the saying implies that the children’s suffering for their parents’ sin is unnatural.” God is attempting to assure the people that it is their actions which will bring the sourness into their own lives.
Years later in another country Ezekiel also faced the same complaint from the people taken in the earlier exile to Babylon, in 18:1-4 the prophet states;
“The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (ESV)
Ezekiel and Personal Responsibility
The effect of time is evident as “Jeremiah looked forward to the day when this proverb would no longer be used; but Ezekiel insists that it should cease forthwith.” On a theological level “Ezekiel was a pioneer in developing the doctrine of individual responsibility” and tried to demonstrate that the people in exile with him were there because of their own participation in their parent’s sins. The covenant people which had been compared to sheep, children and a wife had come to the theological conclusion that they could act in whatever manner they chose and not face judgment because of the presence of YHWH in the temple and the covenant of Moses.
We see then that the judgment of God fell upon Judah not because of the sins of previous generations but because the present generation continued in the sins of their fathers. While there were reprieves under Josiah and Hezekiah the overall atmosphere of the nation had remained spiritually corrupt. The people did not recognize the grace given to them but continued to act in whatever manner they pleased, for they assumed that God would only bring good things upon them as long as they maintained the rituals. This belief also created the acceptance of the prophets which would do nothing more say pleasing words to the people and assured eternal protection of Jerusalem. It is these same prophets which held influence over the priesthood which would go on to reject and assault Jeremiah.
The Judgment of God on His Stubborn Sheep
Those who witnessed the destruction accomplished by Babylon only did so because they like misguided sheep continued in the rutted path their others set out. Despite warnings from the true prophets they did amend their hearts or ways. “The Lord had expected from his people fidelity (honesty/truth), wisdom and the practice of godliness. Instead, graft, power, cheating, greed and perfidy were the order of the day.” Therefore, the judgment of God was just upon them, as they were not innocent of the crimes of their ancestors because they themselves were also committing them. The people had lost sight of living in a real covenantal relationship with God and settled for the routine religiosity they had adopted. The words of Hosea 6:6 were far from their hearts, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Even with the covenant which they had put their trust in, the people ignored Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 24:16. “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” The people also ignored the long line of potential curses in Deuteronomy 28 and the promise of destruction in exchange for covenant unfaithfulness in Deuteronomy 7. Among all of this evidence “here the belief that God had no direct concern with the individual is opposed: the fact that God will restore the innocent descendants of the original exiles affirms the doctrine of individual responsibility for sin.”
Now then what is the correlation between personal responsibility and the judgment of God on his people? It is a correlation that God will not judge a child for the actions of their parents if they do not do as their parents did. Conversely a wicked child would not be spared judgment because of the righteousness of their parents. Each generation is judged upon their own actions, and what we saw with the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem was God’s intervention against a generation which did not repent but made the deplorable actions of their ancestors look like child’s play. Even when God acted in judgment He always did so as a last resort when the people refused to repent and whenever judgment was passed a remnant was preserved and a hope was given to the few that did not share in the sins of the nation.
 Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 8 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 279–280.
 John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Eze 18:2.
 John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969), 148.
 Duane A. Garrett, “Ezekiel, Theology Of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 231.
 William VanGemeren. Interpreting The Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1990), 302
 B. M. Pickering, “Jeremiah,” in A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha, vol. 1 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942), 506.
A core part of our relationship with Christ is rooted and grounded in our faith in the goodness of God. By that I mean we have a trust, love and respect for God which is built upon our knowledge that He is a good and loving God who is trying to restore a creation which has gone haywire. In the beginning we read repeatedly how God saw what He created as being good (Genesis 1:31). If God were not good and loving why would He have created a good and pleasant world in the first place?
Unfortunately, that good world which God created was infected by the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions. The world became corrupted, the nature of men and women was sent into chaos, but God did not change. God’s nature was not affected by the fall of man, His heart was not corrupted and the God who created a good universe didn’t suddenly become evil and vindictive. No, rather the good and loving God had been separated from His children because of sin. God’s goodness remained but that same goodness is misinterpreted as anger in the Old Testament because of the sin, brokenness and rebellion of the people. God wanted to be good and loving to them, so He poured our blessings upon them (Psalm 33:5) and eventually sent Christ.
We fail to understand that God’s anger or judgement is often a response to His rejected or abused goodness. This also applies to those who benefitted from covenant with God but failed to honor it. Be honest with yourself are you really that different from God in this manner, how do you respond when you try to love, bless, or help someone who just takes advantage of you, rejects your gifts or acts as if they are entitled to those things?
Why Is God Good?
This is the big question that many people struggle with, actually the biggest question people struggle with is “is God good?” We look at the chaos and problems of this world and assume that God is like an absentee father that doesn’t care how His kids are doing. This couldn’t be further from the truth God’s identity is rooted in Him being able to be the ultimate expression of good, to create good things and to show that goodness to those He has created (Exodus 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 6:25, Psalm 52:1, 100:5, Philippians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:11).
God’s default setting is not “vengeance on my enemies” but it is “I desire to bless those who lovingly follow me and listen to me faithfully.” I don’t think God wants His creation to be bombarded with pain, suffering, disease, sin, death, poverty, brokenness, disappointment or fear. I believe that we through our own actions (and/or in agreement with the enemy) bring those things upon ourselves, then we go about and blame God for them.
Just look at the life of Jesus, what did He do throughout His ministry? He taught the people and undid the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve. Jesus loved the people, healed the people, taught the people and provided atonement for their sins. God is not bi-polar, He doesn’t have an angry side known as the Father and a loving side known as the Son. Both are the same, both have the same nature, both have the same capacity for love, goodness and holiness. You can’t say Jesus is one way and God the Father is another, when you see one you see the other (John 14:9). Do you think God was upset when Jesus healed the crippled, or the blind man, do you think God regretted Jesus’s actions? No of course not because through Jesus we get an idea of how God wants to interact with humanity without the barrier of sin in place. That is what we see through Jesus, the Creator walking with the created, a glimpse of what God originally planned for us.
God is good, Jesus is good and the Holy Spirit is good, they are the Good Shepherd spoken of in John 10 and Psalms 23. Yet we ascribe all kinds of evils to God and see Him as the source of the world’s problems. I’m sure the people of Jeremiah’s day felt the same way, I’m sure they saw themselves as holy and pure but fell so far short of their covenant obligations that God had to intervene. Do you think God enjoyed sending Babylon into the Southern Kingdom? Do you think He relished the opportunity to kill the majority of His people (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11)? Of course not, but was it God’s fault or the people’s fault that tragedy fell upon them?
We need to begin to have faith that God is good and has blessed and favorable plans for not just us but the world in general. Just consider these scriptures for example:
Psalm 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.
Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.
Mark 10:18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
The Goodness of God In Action
Going through all of this I don’t even think I can come up with an adequate definition for the word good which matches up with who God is. Everything we can come up with is far inferior than what God is capable of and when we begin to realize and accept that then we can begin to understand that God is Good.
The words used in the Bible for “good” are Towb (H2896) in Hebrew and Talos (G2570) in Greek. To get a better understanding of these words just look at how they are translated into English: good, better, well, goodness, best, merry, fair, prosperity, precious, fine, wealth, beautiful, favor, honest and glad.
Doesn’t this describe the promises of God given throughout the scriptures in both the New and Old Covenants? How often do we expect God to bring these types of things into our own lives? Or are we more concerned with bringing those things into our lives through our own work and merit?
How can we deny God being good to those of us who lovingly and honestly serve Him in friendship, holiness, humility, love and obedience? Just think about it, God answers prayer, provides atonement, speaks to us, does miracles, leads people to him, judges the nations, judges the church (Revelation 2-3), loves us, guides us, gave us the Holy Spirit, allows us to move in the power and authority of Jesus and genuinely cares for us despite our outward and inward circumstances.
Look at it this way, the land which the people of Israel were promised and lead into, was it a good land or a barren one (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)? It was described as flowing with milk and honey, it was a good land which would bless and sustain the people, but only as long as they followed the covenant. God didn’t bring them into the promised land to curse and condemn them, if that is what God intended then He could of just left them in the wilderness or in Egypt. God wanted something better for them, and for us today under the New Covenant we to have also been promised the goodness of God. Not just in the natural but also spiritually and with the greatest gift and expression of God’s goodness the cross, which brought forgiveness, atonement, justification, sanctification and adoption.
What all of this has in common is that for us to receive God’s goodness we have to be in a constant and life long process of cooperation and relationship with Him.
Job 36:11 If they obey and serve Him, They shall spend their days in prosperity, And their years in pleasures.
Psalm 107:8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
The Price of Receiving God’s Goodness
What we have seen so far is that the outpouring of God’s goodness in our own lives comes with a cost. We are to live according to God’s standards, desires, nature, love, holiness and justice. The more blessing and goodness God pours out into our lives the more will be expected of us to live a Christlike life. This is nothing new and we see a similar expectation placed upon the servants in the parables of the Talents and the Minas. They were each given a gift and at the end a reckoning was brought about to see what they did with those gifts. The faithful were blessed with more while the lazy and unproductive were reprimanded.
We see this type of story play out over and over and over and over throughout the history of Israel. God would bless, protect, restore or empower the nation/people then the people would take those blessings for granted and return to living in the ways of the Canaanites. It seems to me that we want the blessings of God but without expectation for our lives to change. We want God’s best as long as God doesn’t make us do anything. We want to live like the world yet at the same time witness the miracles found in the book of Acts. We want to do mighty deeds like Elijah or Paul but we have the heart of Balaam, the devotion of King Ahab and the character of King Saul.
Do you not think that God is watching your lives after He blesses you? We can’t assume that God is some sort of celestial courier that brings us a present then turns His back and leaves us alone until another order comes in? It is this type of thinking that brought cycles of judgment upon Israel. The judgments didn’t come because God wasn’t good, they came because the people rejected, scorned, hated, and were ungrateful of what God had done for them. He tried to love them but they continually broke His heart. God tried to lead them back to their covenant, a covenant they relied on for blessings but also casually ignored when it wouldn’t let them do what they wanted.
We want the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1-14 but also want to be exempt from the curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68. We want sprinkles and rainbows to continually be over our heads but we also want to cherry pick which of Jesus’s teachings we actually have to believe and follow. You can’t have the goodness of God active in your life if you are unprepared to live the life God called us to live by.
Even back in the days of Joshua the people of Israel tried to get away with this. They took just enough of the land to get comfortable in and they settled for a fraction of what God had promised to bless them with. Do you know what God’s reaction was, He left them as they were, they abandoned the quest to receive the promise so God left them right in the middle of enemy territory (Joshua 23:13-16) and revoked His promise of totally taking the land.
Then over the next decades the people who had enjoyed the blessings of God became indistinguishable from the Canaanites around them, the covenant became a meaningless (with the exception of the people wanting its benefits), they participated in the terrible sins of their neighbors and it wasn’t until disaster came that they turned back to God. The people saw the clear blue skies and took advantage of their relationship with God, they ignored the winds, they ignored the voice and it took a mighty storm for the people to turn back to God. But then after the storm they got comfortable and went through the cycle all over again.
The Paradox of God’s Goodness
I think we see God move through the storm because we become so lost that it is the only way we can recognize Him. It’s hard to repent when things are going well, blessings are flowing, God’s favor is upon us but there are issues deep inside that God is trying to correct (and its not always sin issues). But we ignore those issues because everything is great, we stop praying because we have nothing left to pray for, we forget how Christ lived because it doesn’t seem to matter what I do because good days are hear and are never leaving. This is the goodness of God in action, yes, but it is also God’s judgment in action, the storm is never the judgment it is the result of unfavorable judgement.
God’s judgment doesn’t happen when we find ourselves in trials because those trials are often (but not always) expressions of God’s grace because He tried to get our attention during the good days and we ignored Him. The greatest tests and judgments always come on the sunniest and clearest days, because those are the days where we don’t fear the oncoming storms. Those are the days where our hearts grow dull, our ears become deaf, our eyes become consumed by what is in front of us and our relationship with God takes a back seat to the great things we have brought about with our hands.
The goodness of God is a great thing, it is good to call to God for blessings (Psalm 84:1) but we must remember that we are always supposed to seek God’s face before we reach out for His hands. Then when God does pour out His goodness on us we have to be extra vigilant to continue living the life He has commanded us to follow. We have to be pressing in even harder in prayer, we must be continually looking deep within ourselves to ensure there is no rot or rust present. Yes, God can forgive us, yes God can renew us and how much greater will that be if it happens on the clear and sunny day (Psalm 125:4) instead of the day the storms came crashing upon us.
I fear that many drift away and/or reject God in the good seasons and don’t realize it until the storms come. Often the storms come to break off the dead and dying branches from the tree, yet at the same time the heavy winds only strengthen the healthy roots.
In John 15:6 Jesus is showing us how God protects those who are a part of His family, people have the choice to join with Him or to remain on their own. Those who choose and remain with God receive life and blessing while those outside are pushed out (Jeremiah 21:10, 24:3-6, 29:32). This happens so the healthy vines are not corrupted or poisoned, which could spread to the other healthy vines (Romans 11:22). It is a hard thing to speak of but there are times when God expresses His goodness through protecting His honest, faithful and loving servants from those that follow in name only (or bear the mark of covenant/circumcision but have no change in their hearts). Hear this though do not go about as God’s judge and condemn your brothers and sisters your obligation is towards seeking out the corners of your own heart (Luke 6:42).
I fear that often we don’t see God as being good either in our own lives or in general, so many slump back into darkness and spiritual slumber and remain motionless and unproductive. God is a good and loving Creator which still watches over but it pains me to see so many people reject this idea (I’m speaking of those inside the church). We are called to be conduits of God’s goodness, love, holiness and message to the entire world and if we can’t settle the debate on whether God is good why would the world want to hear anything we have to say about it?
3 John 1:11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. (see also Amos 5:14-15, Micah 6:8)
In my time of prayer and journaling last month I was asking God about His goodness and He spoke of how we often miss out on recognizing His goodness because of our own ungratefulness (Deuteronomy 26:11). I asked point blank “God why don’t I naturally see you as being good?” His responses over a couple of days were:
“ungratefulness, life is about more than going from point A to point B, true progression happens when you value every step of the way even if your compass is telling you otherwise, to go forward sometimes you must go right (sideways) for awhile to get to the next path which will take you to your intended destination. Look around you, don’t get caught up in the leaves which all look alike but focus on the trees themselves notice their differences, their grain, their shape, study each one as you travel and you will learn more than you thought possible. Often my goodness is hidden in the details, in how one tree has deep groves in its bark while others have smooth thin bark. My goodness is found when you lean in and take a good look at the differences of the trees… You need to have faith in My goodness, just as the tree does not worry about the rain because of the stream so to must you ground yourself in the knowledge of my goodness towards you… Honor me by giving me time, honor me by taking my words seriously and honor me by concentrating on what I say long after I have said it, then you will understand my goodness… Rest and partake of my goodness, haven’t you figured that out yet, look at everything I am showing you, my goodness is your strength. You must embrace it, look at me as good and don’t see me as being far off or distant or ambivalent towards my creation.”
The next step for us to receive and witness the goodness of God in our lives is for us to first repent and cry out “God I accept your goodness and I repent for misjudging you and condemning our relationship. I repent for losing sight of our relationship and being ungrateful in the good seasons when I forgot what you have already done for me. I pray that you restore my heart and forge me into someone that resembles Christ on this Earth. I ask you to pour out your goodness, love, holiness and heart to me right now. I repent of ungratefulness, I repent of laziness and I repent for not taking our relationship seriously.”
Now after praying that prayer believe and hold on tightly to the revelation of God’s good nature and expect Him to be a living part of your life. And never forget these words:
Psalm 34:8-10 “8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! 9 Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. 10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.
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