“You shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” (Exodus 20:5)
In this verse there arises a question: is it just for God visit the “iniquity of the fathers upon the children”? Is it right for the children to suffer God’s indignation because their ancestors sinned? We know that our God is righteous and just and, so, what does He mean to convey to us through this statement? There are other scriptures, in fact, that would that dispute the idea that God punishes the children for their father’s sins. Through Moses and the prophets, God made it clear that each person is responsible for their own actions.
“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)
“Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:19-20)
So then how do we reconcile these verses with what is stated in Exodus? I think it is clear that innocent children are not punished because of guilty fathers, not by God any way. There is, however, a moral interdependence between parents and children meaning that a father’s bad example often corrupts those who come after him. When sins are repeated over time, they are eventually legitimized by culture as a lifestyle and, consequently, a new set of values is established to accommodate the bad behavior.
Consider then that God is saying He has established a limit as to how far He will allow this bad behavior to continue unchallenged — specifically to the 3rd and 4th generation. If so, it is inferred that in the 3rd or 4th generation He will take measures to bring the evil tendencies to an end. If that is the message stated here, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the 3rd and 4th generation is an act of mercy and consideration for the 5th and ensuing generations. In other words, if God didn’t intervene, countless generations would continue in their family’s wickedness. So we must consider that His words are not a threat as much as they are words intended to bring hope to those who otherwise would have been lost in the sea of perpetuated evil.
I, for one, am glad that He decided to break the chain of bad behavior that exists in my family background and allowing me to be part of His Kingdom. I am very thankful that He saw fit to allow me the opportunity to learn of another way of living life — one that truly leads to life and propagates hope rather than despair. That is in fact the point, today. Our God is the God of the living; He is the personification of love and, as such, He promises hope for the future. Because of Him, the not-so-good tendencies we have inherited from our family — generational curses, if you will, — can come to an end. Instead of punishment and consequence, He offers correction, restoration and the hope for an abundant life in this world.
Blessings and Shalom,