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How God Visits Sins on the Third and Fourth Generation

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Does God visit the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation? Some texts seem to say he does and others seem to say he doesn’t. Our job is to figure out the sense in which he does and the sense in which he doesn’t. On the one hand it seems as if he does:

  • The Lord...visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7 = Deuteronomy 5:8-10)
  • “Because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them.” (Leviticus 26:39)

On the other hand it seems that he doesn’t:

  • Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)
  • [Amaziah] did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.” (2 Kings 14:6)
  • The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. (Ezekiel 18:20, cf. Jeremiah 31:30)

How do these passages fit together? This matters for the sake of God’s character, and the Bible’s coherence, and how we counsel those whose parents were wicked or just garden variety sinful.


Here are my two conclusions that helps me put them together:


1. The sins of the fathers are punished in the children through becoming the sins of the children.

  • I the Lord...visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5; cf. Numbers 14:18)

The generations to come who experience the penalty of the fathers’ sins are those who hate God. We are not told how the fathers’ sins become the children’s sins. But what we are told is that when the father’s sins are visited on the children it is because the children are really sinful. That is the form in which the fathers’ sins are visited. Therefore, all judgment is really deserved by the person who is punished.


2. Because of God’s grace, which is finally secured by Christ, the children can confess their own sins and the sins of their fathers and be forgiven and accepted by God.

  • But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers...if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob” (Leviticus 26:40-42).

The precious words of Exodus 34:6-7 are not nullified by the generational migration of sin.

  • The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.

Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/...rth-generation

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Personally, I was always surprised that people have as much trouble with these verses as they do. Life itself offers abundant illustrations.


Have you ever met the children of an alcoholic?

In the natural, the sins of the father (and usually the grandfather) have been visited upon the children. Some grow up and fall into the same distructive snare of 'drunkenness'. Others manage to avoid drunkenness and bear the scars of neglect and abuse that lead them to be adults unable to trust and form healthy relationships, or who seek out unhealthy and distructive relationships. Some have their self image crushed beneath accusations of stupid and worthless that battered them until they can think of themselves in no other terms.


Truely, the sins of the father HAVE been visited on the children ... to the third and fourth generation.


But God. We say that a lot in my church. But God.

But God can step in and deliver a child of God from alcohol or drug addiction and break that pattern instantly. His son/daughter does not need to know the curse that he knew. His children can know the blessings. They can be the first of those thousand promised generations.

(as the first generation in my family to follow Christ, this promise means a lot to me).


But God can redefine, not just a little, but radically, who we are. We are not stupid, lazy or worthless. We are Gods Masterpiece. The Elect, Chosen, Children of the King. God HIMSELF, shed his blood to purchase us. God felt that NOTHING was more valuable than we were. He paid all to redeem us. That is who we are.


So we are all born under a curse, but we are under no obligation to live and die under that curse. God is prepared to show Love and Mercy to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.


Life application always made those verses perfectly clear to me.



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From my humble and not nearly as well versed as either of you I tend to look at it this way. There are mistakes I see my mother made in raising me, not that she was not a believer, but she had baggage. I won't go into it, but it formed my perceptions, resentments. And led me away from Christ. Now I found my way back but that baggage is also present in my son's personality, and now I pray to bring him back so in fact it is visited upon the generations who follow BUT, God provides a way through Christ to stop it and come back.

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I’m not sure it’s truly understood this generation to generation/curses and blessings thing. The Lord God never deviates from the way He does things. Why does He hold the sins of the father over the sons? The sons didn’t necessarily do anything to cause what God would hold over them.


But doesn’t everyone who is the son of man (Adam) receive the life that Adam and Eve were left with (ashes to ashes dust to dust) after the Life they originally had they lost, or died from? Hence every living being that has received that life must experience the same, because that is the life one has.


Look at scripture and see that the Lord God sees the northern populous as Gog and Magog the father of those from Noah’s generation to go into those areas. Hence God not only refers to them by their patriarch but sees them through their patriarchs. He even sees us through Jesus Christ His own Son in whom He is well pleased. God looks to the Hebrews through Abraham Isaac and Jacob, by calling them the Children of Israel of which He named Jacob. So, it’s His view of a population through the fathers of such populations that God sees them. Even the availability of Grace to the whole world today, all today Jew and Gentile are sons of Noah who found Grace in God’s sight. Even when Joseph was considering what to do in Mary’s case (from Mat:1:20) “behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David,” it was a generational follow through wasn’t it? If the Lord God didn’t hold the sons to the lives of the father, then how can we be assured of our own receiving of the Life of Christ via the Holy Spirit?


Hence the life you are born into in the world that you receive is assured its return to the ground, because that is the life your fathers had. But if one is born of the Holy Spirit one is assured the Life received, because it is the Life the Father has that is in the Son and those who have received the Life of the Son. In which of course, there is no condemnation, as there is in the life received when one comes into the world via the will of the flesh.


And it’s in that same context does the Lord our God speak of such things.

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