(1) 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.
There is a story in Washington that once an outgoing President met his successor in the Oval office and presented him with three numbered envelopes. The outgoing President told the new guy to open the envelopes in order when a time of great difficulty arose. Sure enough after less than six months in office, things turned ugly, and the President opened the first envelope. Inside a card read: “Blame me.” So he did. He blamed the former administration. He said, “Those guys messed everything up so much I am having a terrible time getting things straightened out.” So He got through that and a year went by but then a second crisis erupted, and the president opened the second envelope. The card read, “Blame my party.” Again the President took this advice. He said, “Those guys in that other party block every positive solution I offer.” Again the advice worked and another year went by. Then the worst crisis of all erupted. The President was at his wit's end. He opened the third envelope. The card read: “Prepare three envelopes.”
The moral to that story is that the blame game only goes so far, that even politicians have to fess up. However, most people in our society never believe it is time for the third envelope. Whatever happened, it is not our fault.
I heard about a manager of a minor league baseball team who was so disgusted with his center fielder’s performance that he ordered him to the dugout and he assumed the position himself. The first ball that came toward him took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth. The next one was a high fly ball, which he lost in the glare of the sun and failed to catch. The third was a hard line drive that he charged with outstretched arms; unfortunately, it flew between his hands and smacked him in the chest. Furious, the manager ran to the dugout, grabbed the center fielder by the uniform, and shouted, “You idiot! You’ve got center field so messed up that even I can’t do a thing with it!”
That is human nature at work. We will go to any length to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions.
Speaking of baseball and the blame game, have you heard about the Billy Goat curse that was supposedly placed on the Cubs in 1945 when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave a World Series game at the Chicago Cubs' home ground of Wrigley Field because his pet goat was eating other fans' hot dogs? Sianis was outraged and declared, "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more," which has been interpreted to mean that there would never be another World Series game won at Wrigley Field. When Sianis and his goat were ejected from the 1945 World Series, the Cubs were up two games to one, but they lost the best-of-seven series, four games to three. Thus the curse was born and Cubs fans blamed the Billy Goat for the terrible teams they had year after year.
Everybody remembered the curse again in 2003 when the Cubs made the playoffs, even reached the National League Championship Series against the Marlins. The Cubs lost that one also. And they blamed the curse.
Or they blamed Steve Bartman. He was their new goat. Do you remember that bit of baseball trivia? It was October 14, 2003, at Wrigley Field—during a playoff game for the national league pennant between the Cubs and Marlins. It was a best of 7 series and the Cubs are leading 3-2 in games, so it is game 6. It is the eighth inning of Game 6, with Chicago ahead 3–0. A Marlins batter hit a foul ball into the edge of the stands. One of the fans, Steve Bartman, tried to catch the ball, actually touched the ball, and perhaps prevented Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou from catching the ball. If Alou had caught the ball, it would have been the second out in the inning, and the Cubs would have been just four outs away from winning the National League pennant. Instead, the Marlins scored eight runs in the inning and won the game. The Marlins also won the next game and took the series.
The "Steve Bartman incident" was seen as the turning point of the series. In the aftermath of the incident, Bartman had to be escorted from the stadium by security guards, and he became the most-hunted man in Chicago since Al Capone. TV helicopters hovered over his house, reporters chased his every step, and squad cars were on round-the-clock surveillance in his neighborhood. Cubs fans blamed him for spoiling their chance to get to the World Series.
That is the same old blame game. They need to get over it. It was not a billy goat or Steve Bartman that prevented the Cubs from moving on to the World Series. it was simply that the Cubs blew it. They were up 3 games to 1 in the series against the Marlins. They lost three games in a row. Cub players cannot blame curses or fans. They can only blame themselves.
This is what God is saying to the Israelites in Ezekiel 18. Ezekiel was a prophet of God who lived through the disastrous years of the sixth century BC. In 597 BC, Ezekiel was one of the 3,000 upper class Jews who were exiled to Babylon when the Babylonians deposed the King of Judah and replaced him with a more obedient vassal. Ten years later, 587 BC, the Babylonians returned, stormed Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and sent another wave of Jews into exile. This is the catastrophe that Jews of Ezekiel's generation were trying to make sense of . They said, “We have suffered this unbelievable tragedy. Who is to blame?” Understand that they had believed that God was with them. God was in his temple in Jerusalem; therefore, no army could take Jerusalem. But in 587, the temple was a rock pile and Jerusalem was a waste, so Someone must be blamed.
Every nation reacts to disaster in the same way. After Germany lost WWI, the German people were stunned. They had such a powerful army, and they, of course, believed that God was with them. How could they have lost the war and how could they be in such chaos after the armistice? Who is to blame? A poorly educated Austrian who had served in the German army had an answer. Adolf Hitler blamed the Jews. The crafty evil Jews stabbed the poor honest Germans in the back while they were trying to fight a war. Now there is not the slightest evidence that any of Hitler's accusations against the Jews were true. By and large, German Jews were good citizens who fought for the Kaiser during WWI. But none of this mattered. Hitler's ranting touched a nerve. Germany had lost the war. That was a fact. Who was to blame? It could not be the Germans, so Germans thought, and the Jews were different. They had this strange religion. It must be the Jews. So the blame game that Hitler played in the chaos after WWI led directly to concentration camps and death chambers.
But let us go back to the 6th century BC. Who can the Jews blame for the disaster in Jerusalem? Not themselves of course. They blamed their parents and grandparents.
They had an old saying, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” They said, it is not our fault. The mistakes of earlier generations led to our situation. Now, we must admit that what they said had an element of truth. We are influenced by the past. We did not pick our parents or place of birth. We were all born into a situation that we did not choose. So, the Jews of the exile were saying, we are the victims of our parent's sins.
The Bible would seem to support what their lament. Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Jeremiah 31:28 say the sin of fathers will be visited on the children to 3rd and 4th generations. Thus the Jews of the Exile had Bible verses that enabled them to play the blame game.
What about you? Do you play that game?
Blame your genes. We have learned a lot about genetics in the last 20 years. You might try that as an excuse. I can’t do this or that because it is not in my genes.
Or blame your family. I grew up in a dysfunctional family. That is what messed me up.
Blame the government. That is a popular excuse now. Everyone would have great jobs and all kids would be A students if it were not for that wicked government in Washington.
Blame the schools. “I didn't get no learnin'.”
Blame God. In the 1991 movie Grand Canyon, a rich lawyer tries avoid a traffic jam by detouring off the expressway. It is dark, and he gets lost in a dangerous and unfamiliar part of the city. His car breaks down, but he manages to call tow truck. When it arrives, the lawyer's expensive car is surrounded by gang members who planning to take the car by force and mug the lawyer. The tow-truck driver, named "Simon," is played by Danny Glover. Over protests of gang members, Simon proceeds to hook the car to his truck. Then Simon does something unexpected. He asks the leader of gang to let him go. "I’ve gotta ask you for favor, Let me go my way here. This truck’s my responsibility, and now that car’s hooked up to it it’s my responsibility too."
Then he goes on, "Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything supposed to be different than it is."
Things are not right. That is Simon's complaint, and though he does not say it directly, apparently he blames God. That is like a man I heard about who prayed that he would be able to stop smoking. When he continued to smoke, he said, Well, it must be God's fault.
That is the way everyone thinks--exempt me, excuse me, justify me. It cannot be my fault. Blame somebody else. Most criminals say I am not to blame for my crime. My family messed me up, school destroyed my self-esteem. I never had any friends. But enough of that whining.
Turn to verse 4. God says, “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.” This verse makes two points. This first is this: our creator God is the owner and source of everything. Everything comes from God. Everything goes back to God. Everything belongs to God. And the implication is that God can do whatever he wants. If God desired to judge the children by the sins of the parents, God could do that. But God does not want to do that, and that is the second point of the verse. “The soul who sins shall die.” God will not let us play the blame game. We are responsible for our own actions.
Consider the costs of blame. It pushes people away. Don’t you just love it when someone blames you? Isn’t that uplifting? Of course not. Blaming cripples all our relationships. Blaming others breeds arrogance. It is their fault, but I am a very good person. Blaming cripples our relationship with God. We cannot deal with God because we have this warped opinion of ourselves.
All blame is a waste of time. The only thing blaming someone does is to keep the focus off of us while we look for external reasons to explain our unhappiness and frustration. We may succeed in making another person feel guilty by blaming them, but we will not succeed in dealing with the sin that is making us unhappy.
We need to accept responsibility for our own life. It would be great if we could release ourselves from the guilt of sin by playing the blame game, but we can not. We need to face up to the fact that it is “My Fault”. I am the one who chose to sin. No one made me do it. The devil did not make me do it. The devil, or an evil force, or the dark side may have tempted me, but I made my own decision to yield to that temptation. Only when we face up to our own responsibility for our own life, can we find true forgiveness for sin.
So we need to take charge. We need to stop thinking like victims and start thinking like free men and women.
But there is a qualifer. If we are responsible, we should accept the consequences of our actions, but we should never buy into another person’s blame game. You are not accountable for their sins. Do not let them blame you for their sins.
So how do we get the wisdom to stop the blame game? I John 4:1 reads, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We need spiritual maturity to guide us in our relationships. We gain that maturity through prayer and reading the Bible and meditating on God. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” So drop the blame game and turn to God for guidance in all our relationships.
Listen to how Ezekiel 18:31 sums it up: “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” (Ezekiel 18:31) Stop committing sin and get yourself a new mind and heart. This is your responsibility. God is not going to do it for you. Your parents are not going to do it for you. Put it this way. Your life is not my fault; It is your opportunity. No one in all of human history is exactly like you. You are one of a kind, not recycled spare parts. 1 Corinthians 3:16 asks, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” Wow that is a promise. You are God's house and God dwells in you. It is time you started living up to that promise. Time to stop playing blame games.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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