There is a hidden danger in any proverb. A proverb is a general principle—not an absolute truth—and it can be misused. “Like father, like son,” we say, but it depends on who says it and why. There is truth in it, but when someone quotes it to justify the shambles he has made of life, the proverb serves as an excuse to play the victim.

The prophet Ezekiel wanted to get the Hebrew captives in Babylon to return not only to their homes but to their God. It was a tough sell. The people responded by taking refuge in a proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2).

This saying blamed their captivity on an earlier generation. “You can’t be serious about asking us to repent,” they protested. “It’s our parents’ fault. They ate the sour grapes and we have to bear the consequences.”

So God declared through Ezekiel, “You shall no longer use this proverb in Israel” (v.3). Each person bore responsibility for his own actions. “The soul who sins shall die,” God said (v.4). But “if he has walked in My statutes and kept My judgments faithfully—he is just; he shall surely live!” (v.9).

Proverbs are wonderful tools for guidance. They were never intended to excuse our bad behavior.