Q: The other day I was reading an article where the writer was quoting Exodus 34:6-7, “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Does this mean that I and my children will be punished for my parents’ sin?” This is very confusing to me because I never imagined God would punish me for another’s sin.
A: I can see how this particular text would confuse you. It is important to first note who the Lord is speaking to: the guilty. Sins of the parents are often passed down to the children and can even accelerate in the following generations. A mother of one of my friends wisely pointed out to my friend, who had four children, “Whatever you do in moderation, your children will do in excess.” This is because children are greatly influenced by their parents and can adopt the same selfish attitudes, idolatrous worship, and pagan practices of their parents. Clearly, if there is any inconsistency with a parent in religion or morality, children seem to swing like a pendulum into the opposite extreme as to their attitudes and conduct. When it comes to Israel, God often brought judgment down in either the third and fourth generations to bring correction or needed change as in the case of the High Priest Eli’s house (4th generation when the last descendant was removed from the priesthood during Solomon’s time due to grave sin), Solomon’s son Rehoboam (3rd generation from David after David’s inconsistencies in the case of his sons and Solomon’s idolatry), and Jehu’s dynasty which ceased from the throne the fourth generation due to blatant sin, while for the pagan societies some had to come to full bloom before being judged as in the case of the Amorites in the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:16; 1 Samuel 3:30-36 refer to 1 Samuel 22:10-23; 1 Kings 2:26; 1 Kings 12:12-24; 2 Kings 12:30-31).
It is also important to point out that Moses in Exodus 34:8-9 was an intercessor between the people and God, and asked the Lord to pardon them for their iniquity and sin and to take them as His inheritance. We likewise have an intercessor between God and us, the Man, Christ Jesus who represents us to God in our sin, standing as our advocate and seeking forgiveness for us, and God to us to so we can receive that forgiveness by faith (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1). The Apostle John stated, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us form all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
This brings us to a very important principle. It tells us in Deuteronomy 23:3 that a Moabite could not enter into the congregation of the Lord to their tenth generation, and the Lord went on to say forever. The reason I bring this up is because David’s grandmother, Ruth was a Moabite. If you consider this instruction, David, who planned the temple could not have gone to the tabernacle to worship, and Solomon who built the temple could not have entered into the congregation because of their Moabite roots. However, Ruth found a kinsman redeemer in Boaz that took full responsibility for her and made her, and her descendants, part of his household and his inheritance. Today Ruth is part of the lineage of our kinsman Redeemer, Jesus Christ, reminding us that we are part of the family and inheritance of God because of what Jesus did on the cross for us (Matthew 1:5). In Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Finally we come to Ezekiel 18:19-21, which says, “Yet say ye, Why? Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and had done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it 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 upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. but if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”
It is clear in these Scriptures that we are not responsible for our parents’ sins, and that we are responsible for our own godless attitudes and actions. Keep in mind that we were not responsible for Adam’s sin, but because of it we all inherited a sin nature. However, being the just God that He is, we are told in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It is not our fault we are in a fallen condition, but it is our responsibility to recognize the lost creature we are, and by faith receive the gift of eternal life that can only be found in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
I can tell you from my own experiences of being in a family that was in a cult, that I was greatly influenced by them. I assumed they were correct and presumed that all was well as far as my eternal destiny. It was clear I was in a cycle of sin, death, and spiritual destruction. However, the Lord penetrated the darkness of my soul with the glorious light of His Son. His Spirit convicted me of my sin and how lost I was, and in the midst of it, I heard Jesus’ invitation to come to Him, to partake of His Living Water and live forever. I believed and was translated from the kingdom of darkness into the glorious light of His kingdom. It was then that the destructive cycle was broken not only for me but for some of my family members who also came out of the darkness of seduction, idolatry, and paganism to embrace the kingdom of light. Clearly, I was one of Jesus’ lost sheep and He found me.
The truth is Jesus finds and saves one soul at a time. Upon salvation He separates that soul from the old claims of sin and death on their life to make them into a new creation where the old has passed away and everything becomes new (2 Corinthians 5:17).