A Question About the Second Commandment
August 24, 2023, 3:00 PM

Question: In the second commandment it says, “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.” It seems to imply that if your father or grandfather hates God, you will be punished for their unbelief and sins. How do we answer this?

Answer: This is a great question that has baffled people in the past and will (should the Lord tarry) continue to baffle people in the future. We need to understand this issue as one of “sowing and reaping” as opposed to one of “sins of the father.”

In Ezekiel 18:20, we read, “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 18:20 NKJV). What we see here is the principle that the son will not be punished for the sins of his father, nor will the father be punished for the sins of his son. We each will bear our own guilt before the Lord. Judgment is always based on our works (Romans 2:6-10). In Revelation 20:11-15, we see the “Great White Throne Judgment” in which the glorified Lord Jesus Christ executes final judgment on the living and the dead. We’re told on two different occasions that the dead were “judged according to their works” (vv. 12-13). We are not judged based on what our fathers or grandfathers have done. Neither are we judged based on what our sons or grandsons have done. We are judged based on what we have done.

If that’s the case, then what does Exodus 20:5 mean when it says, “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me?” Notice, first, it doesn’t say the children of the 3rd and 4th generations are judged based on the iniquity of the fathers. It says that the iniquity of the fathers will be “visited” upon the 3rd and 4th generation. The idea of “visiting” carries the notion of “reckoning, appointing.” This is what I meant by “sowing and reaping.” The seeds the fathers planted are the consequences that will be reaped even to the 3rd and 4th generation. In other words, our bad choices now will have bad effects down the generational road.

For example, it is commonly said that our reckless spending at the federal level in the United States is a tax that our great-grandchildren will be paying. This is “sowing and reaping.” Take a more practical example from Chirstian living. What do you think will happen, all things being equal, if you don’t raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Can they become Christians later in life? Sure. Salvation is of the Lord. Will they become Christians later in life? Well, you’re not doing them any favors by not raising them in the Christian faith. Now let’s consider a biblical example from the Pentateuch. The Ten Commandments were given to the generation that was brought out of slavery in Egypt. That generation was responsible for the Golden Calf incident (Exodus 32) and the rebellion in the wilderness of Paran when the 12 spies came back with the “evil report” (Numbers 13-14). Because of the iniquity of the exodus generation, their children were forced to wander for 40 years while the older generation died off.

So, when it comes to judgment, we will be judged based on our own works, not those of our ancestors or descendants. When it comes to consequences, the actions of past generations can, and often does, have serious deleterious effects on future generations. The good news is that for those who are “in Christ,” they will be judged on Christ’s merits, not their own. Furthermore, in Christ, even things the wicked things we’ve done can be redeemed by God for His glory and our good. Salvation is of the Lord and He is a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and mercy.

I hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl

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