Uniform 08.16.2015: Life or Death?


Ezekiel 18:1-13, 31-32

Have you ever taken one of those quizzes meant to determine your personality through a few (often weird) questions? Your collective answers then assign you either some label or some reward. Maybe you took a personality quiz whose results showed that you are, indeed, an extrovert. Or maybe you took one whose results gave you a description that sounded nothing like yourself. Perhaps you were labeled an adventurer, a homebody, or a caretaker, regardless of whether any of those labels were true. Maybe you took a Harry Potter quiz and were sorted into Gryffindor or—shudder—into Slytherin.

I’m still not sure how such odd groupings of questions can claim to determine my entire personality. Or, even when the questions are good ones, I don’t understand how they can possibly be unbiased. Won’t I (at least subconsciously) choose the answers that put me in the best light? Sometimes there are so many questions that I feel overwhelmed by the possibilities.

In these selections from Ezekiel, God’s “quiz” has one question: Will you live, or will you die? There are only two choices. The best answer seems obvious. Who would choose to die when life is the other option? But when we dig into the text and see what kinds of decisions lead to life and which ones lead to death, it gets more complicated.

As in many Old Testament texts, there are lists of right behaviors and wrong behaviors (Ezek 18:5-9, 10-13). Some of these (giving food and clothing to the needy, being honest and fair in financial matters) apply today. Others (eating on the mountains, interacting with a menstruating woman) seem a little outdated. But the intent behind them is clear: in those days as in our time, there are certain actions and behaviors that have positive consequences, while others have negative results. Right actions lead to life. Wrong actions lead to death.

Again, it sounds simple. But we can think of plenty of people who commit wrongs daily and are still healthy, comfortable, and respected. Why aren’t they dead—or at least punished? I am pretty sure this is one of those instances when we’re supposed to view life and death in terms of our spiritual well-being. In that case, I guess the more accurate question is this: Will you live an abundant spiritual life in the Lord, or will you die to God’s plan for you?

The answer is obvious. But getting there requires one tough choice after another. It’s a good thing God is rooting for us and hasn’t already determined our personalities based on a few bad answers. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live” (Ezek 18:32). Thanks be to God!


1. What kinds of personality quizzes have you taken? Were any of them accurate in describing who you are?
2. What are the benefits in using a list of questions to help someone with his or her self-identity? What are the dangers?
3. Read Ezekiel’s lists of right behaviors (18:5-9) and wrong behaviors (vv. 10-13). How are these similar to actions we would consider right or wrong today? How are they different? What actions would you add to each list?
4. We can be grateful that God sees us as more than a checklist of behaviors. Each of us is unique and deeply loved. Even so, God’s people have a responsibility to behave in ways that honor God. How can you do this in your daily life?
5. Will you live an abundant spiritual life in the Lord, or will you die to God’s plan for you? Commit yourself to making a daily choice to live for God.

Reference Shelf

Three test cases demonstrate the principle that “it is only the person who sins that shall die.” The style is reminiscent of priestly-legal case law, wherein a hypothetical situation is proposed and a verdict is announced (cf. Ezek 14:4-8, 12). The three cases differ from case law, however, in that the three individuals are linked as father, son, and grandson. The verbal parallels are extensive, with only minor variations. Taken as a whole, the series affirms the principle of retribution but refutes its transgenerational application.

The first case is that of a “man who is righteous and does what is just and right” (18:5-9). The enumeration of this man’s righteous deeds represents an ideal that, for Ezekiel, has probably never been realized. The second generation, however, closely resembles Ezekiel’s own generation of both exiles and Judeans. The son born to the righteous man is not simply wicked, but rapacious and predatory (paris), and his actions are antithetical to those of the righteous man (18:10-13). The wicked man takes what is not his. He robs and extorts; these two verbs (gzl and sq) appear frequently as word pairs in cultic and prophetic prohibitions against the unjust economic oppression of the weak by the stronger members of the community. Elsewhere, Ezekiel condemns the “people of the land,” that is, Judean landowners, for such oppression (Ezek 22:23-29). In demanding interest for a loan, the wicked man further jeopardizes his neighbor, who may eventually be forced to sell everything he owns to pay off his debt. Having made similar accusations elsewhere, Ezekiel now summarizes his concerns in this concise list of vices.


Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005) 224-25.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.


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