The Iniquity of the Fathers Will Be Visited Upon the Sons...

The Bible states in several passages that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation. These are puzzling verses, and causes us to ask, "does God punish the children because of the sins of their parents?" There are actually two sides to this issue. First, does God punish innocent children because their father has sinned? Are the children held accountable for the sins of their parents? Secondly, if we as parents sin, are there consequences that may have to be borne by our children? This short paper will look at many of the passages dealing with this subject, and will hopefully illuminate the answers.

There are several verses that seem to indicate that God does punish children for the sins of their fathers. For example:

At first glance, it may appear that God dooms certain families because of a father who sins, "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation." Upon closer examination, however, we note several things. First, Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9 both add the words "of those who hate me." Jeremiah 32 indicates, "to give every one according to his ways...". These words indicate that the visiting of iniquity upon the sons is not without cause, that is, that the sons also hate God, they are far from their own innocence. Jeremiah 32 shows us that God still judges us based on our own ways, not according to what someone else has done, "19 ...Your eyes are open on all the ways of the sons of men, to give every one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings."

Rather, I think these passages indicate a generality, or trend. In these instances in the Bible, a wicked nation would generally be wicked for a long time, with the sons following in their father’s footsteps, all rejecting God and His ways. Note Isaiah:

If the father sins, then God may well allow the sons to follow in their father’s footsteps. We also often see this in current experience when we look at statistics of families who have an alcoholic or abusive father. The "risk factor" of the sons growing up with the same problem are much higher. Also, think of a family in which the parents do not know or worship God. The likelihood that their children will become followers of Jesus are much less. Yet, the good news is that any individual can change the trend, as we will see.

Note that all of the passages above also speak of the mercy of God, who saves thousands who love Him. While Christianity is certainly a community religion, salvation always comes down to the individual.

There are many passages that indicate that each man is responsible for himself. That if he will walk uprightly before the Lord, God will show mercy:

The passages above, especially Ezekial 18, clearly indicate that the sons are responsible for their own relation with God. Verse 20 states, "...The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father...The righteousness of the righteous shall be on him...". A so-called "generational curse" can be broken by anyone who will trust in Christ Jesus.

Does this mean we don’t have to worry about the effect of our sin on our children? Certainly not. Sin has consequences. If a person shoots someone and that person dies, God will forgive the repentant sinner, but that person may still have to face the death penalty here on earth, and the person he shot will not be brought back to life. If in my greed I gamble all my money away, again God will forgive the repentant sinmer, but my family will certainly suffer. The Israelites were enslaved to the Egyptians, and while the current generation certainly had their own sins, they were brought there because of the sins of their fathers:

Because of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba, God took his first-born son. David’s sin had a direct result on his child. However, God did not negatively judge David’s son. God revealed to David that his son would be in Heaven. Thus, although the child bore consequences, he was not condemned based on his father’s sin. Again, we see that our salvation is based on our relationship with Christ, not on anyone else's.

God will work in the life of the believer to do what is necessary to bring that believer closer to Him, or to ensure that God's plan is carried out. In some cases it may involve affliction or injury, as in David's case above. Another example would be the affliction experienced by Joni Erickson Tada. Once an aspiring diver, she suffered a broken neck and is bound to a wheelchair, but has been able to reach many for the work of Christ.

Our focus is clear. First, we must be sure of our salvation, that we believe in the One True God as revealed to us in Holy Scripture. Jesus states that many will come to Him in the last days, saying "Lord, Lord,", but that He will reply He does not know them. How can this be?

First, remember that simply having head knowledge and "believing" in Christ is not enough. Even the demons believe who He is, but they are certainly not saved.(James 2:19) To believe in God is to believe in Him on His terms, not your own. Many say a salvation prayer not because they want to dedicate their lives to the most Holy God, but because they want a better life on their own terms, or because they are showing off to someone. The God they want to believe in is the one who will give them what they want, not the God who has revealed Himself in His Word.

All men are sinners. Romans Chapter 3: "23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." There is a cost to this sin: Romans Chapter 6 "23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." However, none of us look for this gift: Romans Chapter 3: "10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one."

God provided a plan. John Chapter 3: "16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Christ’s death on the Cross paid the price for your salvation. It is not something you do, but is a gift from God. Ephesians Chapter 2: "8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast."

So, how do you receive this gift? Romans Chapter 10: "9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." So, it is not just a confession or a single prayer, but confession that Jesus is Lord along with a saving faith in Him.

The proof of your salvation is in the long term. There are many who seem to believe, but when hardship comes they abandon the faith. Matt 24:13 states, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." First John gives us more assurances, "1 John 3:24 And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in him, and he in Him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." We know that we are truly saved when we persevere in the faith, and by the assurance of the Holy Spirit, who resides in the true believer.

Which brings us to peace with God, and back to our orignal subject:

So what does this mean for us? Could my child’s illness, for example, be a result of unconfessed sin in my life?

Romans Chapter 5 shows us that rain falls on both the just and unjust: "45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."

In conclusion, we find that in a sense, we are all under a generational curse. Ever since our first father Adam sinned, we have all been under the penalty of death. Through Christ Jesus, however, we have the way to eternal life. As individuals we are responsible to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. In doing this we also make a daily conscience decision to bow down before Him as our King. We take our place as a servant to the Highest King who is also our brother and friend. Then, He will lead us to places that will cause us to grow and to see Him as He really is, an everlasting and loving God who will never, ever let us down.

God is sovereign and just. The Bible says His ways are not our ways. See Isaiah 55: 8-9, Psalm 119:27-28, Psalm 119 : 67,68. Therefore, we must know and trust that God ways are the best ways. By reading, praying and meditating on the Scriptures we can get a better understanding of God’s way. No one here on earth could tell a person" why" anything happens or doesn’t happen. That is for God to determine. He could afflict a person for sin or for glory, we can only guess (so in my opinion it’s better just to be silent on the matter). After all, remember what happened to Job’s friend who told him the afflictions were brought on by his sins. God would not even accept their prayers until Job make a sacrifice and pleaded to God on their behalf. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3: 5-6

To God be the glory forever and ever.


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