Sins of the Fathers

Father & Son 

It is Father’s Day weekend here in the U.S. (a weekend where we look at our fathers and grandfathers and honor them…for some it is a painful weekend, as you can imagine). Tying in with the holiday, I thought I’d try to address a “fathers” passage in the Bible that has bothered me time and again. It is found in the second commandment of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:4-6 NIV) and says:

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, [I take ‘hate Me’ to mean those who seek something other than God as their source of security–idol worshipers. This is in keeping with the context of the passage, as what was worshiped back then were gods of the harvest, weather, fertility, health, etc. Today, I’d say money is our primary security god of choice.] 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

I’ve italicized the part that grabs my attention: what does that mean? That God makes the kids pay for their parents, grandparents and great grandparents sins? How unfair!! It reminds me of grade school when all the students in my classroom would have to put their heads down on their desks because someone did something naughty…I always hated that–just not fair. It got me thinking and praying: what is this about?

So, I started looking at real life, my life. Is it true that my mom, dad, grandparents, greatgrandparents have/had sin in their life? Of course they do/did. Do I pay for that sin? Of course I do. In fact, no only do I live with the consequences of their sin all the time, I’ve even picked up some of their sinful tendencies myself (modern day psychology calls it something we smile and nod at: “family dysfunction”, many Christian circles call it “generational sin”). Oh and then there is my sin that affects and infects my kids and the kids and grandkids they may have someday. Sin that reverberates through generations is real…we all live with it…it may change form, but we’re never without it. We’ve got too many ancestors to miss out.

Did God have a reason for saying this? I think the passage was probably just stating what was already true–a spiritual law already set in place noting that there are consequences for sin that are detrimental to many in one’s family tree and that generational sin is real. God may have just been trying to bring this realization to His people–wake them up and encourage them to look at what they were doing. It may be that He was speaking less to the children and more to the parents and older generations. If I were Him, I’d be saying it to warn them to turn from sin and to help them realize that what they were doing was adversely affecting their kids, grandkids, and greatgrandkids…help them realize that the axiom we often hear today “it’s not like it hurts anyone else” is straight from hell. No one is an island and we all influence and pollute each other…sin is like a virus and is quite contagious, especially between people who intersect regularly or to whom we look to for guidance on how to do life…

So, did you catch the next part of that passage? It says, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love Me and keep My commandments. Well, well…looks like another spiritual law: if we turn away from sin and love Him and live according to His will, He showers our family tree with His Love. His Love is a healing Love…a Love that mends broken places and calls out sinful inclinations and brings faith and goodness. To a thousand generations, no less!!!! Now I start thinking of those in my family line who love(d) and put God first, who turn(ed) from sin/idols, who pray(ed) for me (I’ve heard that one of my greatgrandmothers prayed for us greatgrandchildren before any of us were born…). I am blessed, know His love for me and experience His ongoing healing of my being in part because of their walk with Him. How beautiful!!

3-4 generations pay for sins of the fathers vs 1000 loved generations for those who love Him and keep His commandments. Obviously God’s Love wins out!

The only question is, where will we lean? What will our legacy be? Will it be of us handing our kids, grandkids and greatgrandkids a boatload of baggage that threatens to capsize their soul, or will it be of them finding wind in their sails because of our God fearing, faith-filled life? A life that ushers in God’s love to a thousand generations…

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…
(Joshua 24:15b)


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