Who Pays?

The underlying sense of inadequacy is an extreme burden to carry. The hidden hope for Love and acceptance is already battered by the constant struggle to continue to trust the nature of God. The fleeting glimpses of Love, pure and complete, fade, occluded by the noisome vapors of retribution, in the howling gale of inescapable destiny. The words of God himself seem to clearly speak of certain destruction, far exceeding effective reach of mitigation.

As if my own failures are not enough to condemn me, how can I find hope in God when it appears that he promises penalty for people not yet capable of offense?

An essay seeking understanding of the words of God Most High.

The first couple of references will define our quest – understanding the relationship between the sins of the fathers/parents and the guilt/penalty for the offspring. Then we will go through most, if not all, references to this topic.

Short references are copied into the essay. Context is summarized, but the serious reader should seek to understand the large context of each reference by reading and pondering the scriptures in numerous versions. Longer references should be read in several version groupings, and have not been copied into the essay.

Exodus 20:4-7

version: Douay-Rheims

context: initial giving of the Law. The second commandment.

4Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth. 5Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: 6And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Exodus 34:5-9

version: King James

Context: God calls Moses to come before himself (God) to receive again the commandments on stone, replacing the stone tablets Moses broke in anger. God speaks these words as a preface. Not spoken as part of the second commandment, although the 2nd and 3rd commandments are related in different language.

5And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. 8And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. 9And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

Comment: Important to note that in the phrase “and that will by no means clear the guilty” the words “the guilty” are not in the Hebrew. Most versions insert these words, versions intended for serious study often highlight the words to indicate that they are an insertion. Other versions change the whole phrase to “and by no means acquitting” obviously including the guilt by choosing a word for the word “clear” that implies guilt. Certainly the context of the passage indicates that God is not taking action to “clear” something that we sinners would prefer to be cleared. The following phrase “visiting the iniquity” supplies the context for guilt of iniquity. If the word “iniquity” is taken to be a synonym for sin and transgression – violation of commandment – then the passage presents us with mercy and forgiveness of sin being presented in juxtaposition to God assigning the penalty for sin to those who may not have committed such specific sin yet (the next generation). And to further complicate it, God says that the penalty goes for 3 or 4 generations while the apparent opposite, blessing, goes to 1000 generations.

It only takes a moment of consideration to observe the unsolvable logic problem presented, with generation 2 either blessed in contradiction to their hatred of God, or penalized in contradiction to their love for God.

So we will pursue a greater understanding by careful study of the words of God and the words of humans that God ensured we have, believing that the living God is capable of guiding us to change our concepts, painfully, slowly, but effectively. With the result, acquiring ears to hear.

Lev 26:39-42

Version: New King James
Context: In Leviticus, God is giving Moses and Israel restatement and refinement of the Law. Chapter 25 is focused on commandments about the land, starting with sabbath years and the year of Jubilee, when all land reverts to ordained ownership. This is important to chapter 26 where God again emphasizes the first few commandments – no other gods, no idols, keep the sabbath. In the first commandments is where, in Exodus, the generation statement about sins is explicitly stated. Here in Lev 26, God describes the results if they keep these commands, then the results if they don’t. The results include being taken out of the land, which was the focus of the blessings.

And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; also in their fathers’ iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away. But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt—then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land.

Comment: Note that in this passage, God clearly states that they must confess the iniquity, their own and their fathers (parents). And also their unfaithfulness is required to be confessed, where they have “walked contrary to me”, with “uncircumcised hearts”. And again, the land is related to the subject.

Numbers 14:17-19

version: Literal Standard

Context: Israel refuses to enter the land, Canaan, God says he will destroy them. Moses reminds God of His words and convinces God to change His mind

17And now, please let the power of my Lord be great, as You have spoken, saying, 18YHWH [is] slow to anger and of great kindness, bearing away iniquity and transgression, and not entirely acquitting, charging iniquity of fathers on sons, on a third and on a fourth [generation]— 19please forgive the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of Your kindness, and as You have borne with this people from Egypt, even until now.”

Comment: Moses is asking God for mercy, repeating the words God spoke to him while giving the commandments. We can see that Moses understands these words as having a net effect of mercy.

Deut 5:8-10

version: A Faithful Version

Context: Moses is speaking to all of Israel after the wandering in the desert. Moses is recounting the history including the giving of the Law.

8You shall not make a graven image for yourself of any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or on the earth beneath, or in the waters beneath the earth. 9You shall not bow yourself 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 generation of those who hate Me, 10But showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Deut 7:9-10

version NIV

context: Moses recounting the history, expounding on the need to not integrate, yet destroy, the people worshiping other gods – as the Israelites move into the land.

9Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 10But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.

Comment: Moses chooses words that convey a direct association of penalty to hatred of God, the generations are mentioned only on the blessings. Again, remember that the context is Moses giving a very important refreshing of the events and commandments that have formed and transformed the culture of these people as they have wandered for many years. In this section of the very long discourse, he is refreshing the need to be a separate people.

Deut 24:16

Version: NIV
Context: general commandments as restated by Moses.
Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

Comment: Comparing this commandment to the 2nd commandment with its included statement about inheritance, we now know that God could not mean that the normal penalty for significant sin – physical death – is visited on the children without cause.

2 Kings 14:5-6

Version: HCSB
Context: Joash was a King who took action to move Judah away from hating God. Amaziah becomes king of Judah after his father Joash is murdered. Amaziah does not take the common action of killing all related to the rebellion. But in the next verse he goes and kills 10,000 Edomites (recall God’s commandments about Edom) and is subsequently defeated by Israel.
5As soon as the kingdom was firmly in his grasp, Amaziah killed his servants who had murdered his father the king. 6However, he did not put the children of the murderers to death, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses where the LORD commanded, “Fathers must not be put to death because of children, and children must not be put to death because of fathers; instead, each one will be put to death for his own sin.”

Comment: The fact that Amaziah remembered some commandments from the Law shows that his father’s efforts had some effect. But, as is always the case, he did not remember all the commandments.

This passage does not have direct bearing on our quest.

Jer 32:18-19

version: Berean Study Bible

Context: Jeremiah has bought land in spite of impending societal cataclysm. He is praying, recounting God’s actions and words to Israel, adding that he, Jeremiah, has done what God asked – he bought the land.

18You show loving devotion to thousands but lay the iniquity of the fathers into the laps of their children after them, O great and mighty God whose name is the LORD of Hosts, 19the One great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are on all the ways of the sons of men, to reward each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.

Comment: Jeremiah either forgot what he said from one thought to the next, or the intended meaning of the first thought was clear in his mind as not being contradictory to the second. I cannot accept the first option. I choose to follow Jeremiah’s lead and believe that the statement “lay the iniquity” does not mean rewarding the sons with the penalty of the father’s sin. This passage confirms our need to arrive at an understanding like Jeremiah had.

Ezekiel 18

version: research included most major versions – READ IT
context: This is a prophecy, which means that Ezekiel is speaking the thoughts of God. Ezekiel is speaking in Babylon, in captivity with the Jews from Judah, as they are on the receiving end of the prophetic laws of Moses in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. See the Leviticus passage to observe that the sins of the fathers are specifically mentioned as part of the concepts presented. Here in Ezekiel, God specifically tells Ezekiel and the Jews to stop saying that the “children’s teeth are on edge” because “the fathers ate sour grapes”. You can clearly see that from the Leviticus 26 commandment/prophecy/threat that such a saying would be the normal logical conclusion to come to: the Jews (and Israelites) for generations had been turning to other gods and breaking many of the other commandments. God caused/allowed Judah to be destroyed with events matching Leviticus 26, even to eating their own children (see Lamentations and Jeremiah, written during the destruction). Every person, then and now, would hold that the saying “the children’s teeth are on edge because of the fathers grapes” is a concept proven by the events. Apparently even Ezekiel – see the first few verses.

So God does a very thorough refutation of the fallacy that comes from misunderstanding the 2nd commandment statement, with the expansion in Leviticus 26.

God gives a series of hypothetical persons:

  1. The first hypothetical person is righteous or just AND does what is according to the Law. First specified item is that the person does NOT worship other gods. The list gives other items that are included. The list includes reference to “the statutes and ordinances”, which forces the requirements to include all the Law. There may be insights in the specifically mentioned good and bad deeds, but this study is focused on the inheritance topic. Such a person is righteous and will/shall/must live, God says.
  2. The next hypothetical person is the son of the first, to illustrate the invalid understanding of the way the father’s sin affects the children. This person does worship the other gods, and does “any” of the commission of bad deeds or omission of good deeds. Note that v10 says the son does “any one” of the deeds listed for the father. Then v13 says the son has done all the deeds. Lesson summarized by Paul in his elaboration of the Law – if you break one commandment, you have broken the entire Law. This person will/shall/must die. This son of the perfect father could not inherit the blessings promised to 1000 generations, as understood commonly.
  3. Now the hypothetical grandson is presented. This person behaves and thinks perfectly (all the commandments) and this grandson will/shall/must live. God adds that the failed father of this perfect person will/shall/must die. So the father will/shall/must die, while the son will/shall/must live, again breaking the concept of inherited punishment.
  4. The next hypothetical is the failed son repenting. If he “turns” from all his sins, and keeps all the commandments, he will/shall/must live. The prior failed behavior does not affect him. Note that he is still alive after some elapsed time in a state of will/shall/must die.
  5. Finally the hypothetical perfect person is shown as turning to the deeds of the failed person, failure in any and therefore all of the Law, their prior perfect behavior does not affect them. They will/shall/must die.

After presenting these hypothetical illustrations, God emphatically states that the Jews are not like him. The Jews accuse God of being unfair, probably referring to their belief that the sins of the father incur death or judgment for the sons. God twice states that it is they, the Jews, who are unfair. How are they unfair? Here are possibilities

  • The Jews execute people when God says they will/shall/must live if they turn from their sin. It can be suggested that God was referring to eternal death not physical. But the passage consistently uses “blood” and “soul” when referring to the person who will/shall/must die. These are words associated with mortal existence. Also consider the instant damnation that applies when a perfect person breaks the least commandment. As this prophecy is illustrating the vacillation between the status of “must die” and the status of “must live”, and because mortal adjudication requires point-in-time assessment, it is clear that the inverse is also true: the act of turning from the sin – hating or despising the sin – must also change the state of the person.
    So the Jews may be unfair by executing judgment on those who God says will/must/shall live.
  • The Jews blame their situation – destroyed and in exile – on their fathers. Certainly from the 2nd Commandment and the Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 passages there must be some truth to that. But God’s hypothetical bring a more pressing and more applicable problem to the concepts of the one who listens honestly. These passages illustrate, once again, how it is impossible to earn blessing from God. If you live perfectly, you will/shall/must be left alive. Both in the mortal and immortal realms. If you are honest with all the commandments you realize you do not fit in this hypothetical perfect person model.
    The Jews are unfair by saying the they do not deserve the will/shall/must die judgment.

God, speaking through Ezekiel, brings the lesson to a point in the last few statements of this prophecy. God says he will judge each person without including the father’s sins. And he immediately strongly encourages them to repent of their sins. He is not, and was not in the other prophecies given to Ezekiel, praising them for being in alignment with the first hypothetical person. He then alludes to his ultimate goal, the harbinger of the Gospel: Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Not soul – spirit.

Summary of Ezekiel 18 related to understanding 2nd Commandment – the 1000 vs 4: God clearly states that the Jews have an incorrect understanding of the statement “visit the sins of the fathers on the children”. The “1000 vs 4” cannot be about visiting the true penalty of sin, which is death, on the children.

Ezekiel 20

version: reviewed in several versions – READ IT
context: Ezekiel is approached by the Jew leaders in Babylon. They wish to consult with God and by implication we can see that they granted some level authenticity to Ezekiel. Recall that they are in Babylon and have the probable mindset that the destruction of their previous life in Canaan and their exile are the result of the 2nd Commandment, Lev 26, and Deut 28 prophecies/observations/threats.

This passage has some excellent statements by God to further refine our concepts about his view of the Law, his will regarding relationship, his view of consequential inheritance.

As is always the case, we must keep in mind what God said in Ezekiel 18 and the other passages.

God starts by removing the option of consulting him. By reading on we see that God does not want to be a source for getting their questions answered, but instead wants to tell them about their history – the behavior of their fathers.

Verse 4 is of significance to our search to understand what is meant by the “1000 vs 4” statement. Most versions say “Will you judge them son of man, will you judge?” Some versions change the wording in minor ways. It is worth noting that the Brenton Septuagint Translation has it as “Shall I utterly take vengeance on them, son of man?” The phrase “son of man” refers to Ezekiel. And later to the Son of God and Man – the Christ. As in the Ezekiel 18 passage, it appears that God also has guidance for Ezekiel: God is posing a question to Ezekiel, then proceeding to explain how he has a long history of NOT utterly destroying them, even though that would be just.

The God explains a long history of his relationship with the descendants of Jacob (Israel). The theme repeated in every section is the spiritual prostitution of Israel: continuously offering their spiritual intimacy to other gods. 2nd Commandment violation. God mentions violating the other commandments as well, even adding the very important line in v25: “Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live;” (New King James) or “I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances they could not live by.” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). These two versions are mostly representative of the variations. Most of the variations between the versions change around the structure of the last phrase. I am not going into the history of the written Hebrew language and the manuscript variations. But the point is that God is either saying that he gave them commands beyond their ability to obey, or that he gave them commands that he considered less than good. And they either would not be able to keep them, earning death, or even if they did keep them they would not earn life. Sounds like Paul’s teachings in Romans. Imagine that.

Another important theme in God’s account of the relationship history is the Sabbath.

Sabbath is a concept introduced by God after starting the people of Israel on their journey to their own homeland. He carefully explains that the purpose is to rest. As with all things introduced God makes certain that people know the importance of his rules he is giving them, thereby eliminating the common excuse that “If I had known it was that important I would do better. Now that I know I will not make that mistake again. Trust me.” As we are studying from a perspective towards the end of the story, we have the benefit of seeing all the things God has said about the Sabbath, including His words while subjecting himself to human form on earth. God said that the Sabbath was made for man. Taking that perspective and reviewing the numerous references to the Sabbath, we can begin to see how that perspective can fit in with the statements God made in earlier times, such as this passage in Ezekiel. One passage to note is in Lev 25, where God is commanding that every 7th year is a Sabbath year. The recipients of the Law are to not harvest their fields but the “sabbath of the land” is to be their food. The various translators take various approaches with this difficult sentence, with many assuming that the word “produce” is implied instead or in conjunction with “Sabbath”. It appears that this means that the word Sabbath, as used by God through Moses, means more than rest, it has some level of implication of sustenance. This would be in keeping with some of the other commandments that have rarely, if ever, been obeyed. Such as the commandment to allow most people to leave the army when an outside nation is attacking. And that crimes can only be convicted in the most extreme and unlikely circumstances (2 or 3 eyewitnesses, willing to risk their own lives to testify and willing to be the first in line to kill the accused)((think about that with relation to the Eze18 statement about how the Law Keepers are not like God)). To live by such rules would require that one decide each day to trust that God will be everything you need. Sabbath.

In this Ezekiel 20 passage, God recounts the history, recalling that he gave Israel the Sabbath “to serve as a sign between me and them, so that they will know that I Am God, with the name beyond your ability to speak, the one that sets them apart – different that any natural thing (this is what Holy means).” Sabbath concept is the concept of trust, rest and sustenance.

Think of the concepts that could be formed by trusting God. Starting by trusting once a week, trusting enough to do nothing but be alive and purposeful about doing nothing. For most of us, a few minutes of doing nothing allows the terrible dominance of critical and abusive thoughts to rise to a crescendo. Enough time trusting God while doing nothing may lead to entering His peace through trust that His nature, the nature of God, is Love shown in mercy. According to one of God’s teaching tools, the Law, after seven years of practice, you are to not intentionally grow any food (the sabbath year). With seven years practice, there may be a remote possibility you could trust at that level. Without the weekly practice, it would be as likely as going to war with a handful of men, or prosecuting crime on eyewitnesses alone. Not likely to ever happen.

Failure. The theme of Ezekiel 20 is that the fathers failed. They did not worship God alone. They did not trust God. Towards the end of this Ezekiel 20 message from God, he tells the Jews in Babylon that he will lead them into the “wilderness of the people” and judge them just as he judged their fathers in the wilderness of Egypt. We remind ourselves that he delivered them into their own land, but not without many episodes of disobedience and correction.

Here in Ezekiel 20, God gives them a correction based on the promise the He (God) will lead them (the Jews) into the “wilderness of the people” To understand the correction, we need to examine the events in the desert wanderings, the “wilderness of Egypt”. Many people view the statements of God, such as “your bodies will fall in the desert” as proof that God judges sin and punishes with the true penalty for sin.

Certainly some sin carries penalty of mortal death, completely dependent on the regional governing authority. But the penalty for all sin is spiritual death, permanent separation from God, who is life. Everyone dies a mortal death: our mortal bodies die. This event is not indicative of the status of our spirit, just as our mortal life is not indicative of the status of our spirit. Many people are quite separate from God – spirit dead – while being quite alive in the soul/mortal body. Even more people (many billions) are dead to mortal existence with their spirits either with God or separate – alive or dead in the heavens.

So when the Israelites believe the democratic vote in favor of not going into Canaan, God is angry with them for once again not trusting him. The ultimate penalty for sin is spiritual death. Let us look at what God does to these Israelites, who are following conventional wisdom and democracy.

They don’t want to go into Canaan. God says “For disobeying me, I will not make you go into Canaan”. But he adds the phrase popular to show the judgment of God “Your bodies will fall in the desert”. As did the bodies of Moses and Aaron and others, who we clearly know are NOT separated from God.

Then God leads them through the desert for 40 years. This “penal sentence” is popularly viewed as evidence of God bringing harsh judgment on the disobedient. But consider:

– they wandered the desert for 40 years

– always water gushing from a rock, enough to supply a vast number of people and their animals. In the desert. Daily tangible evidence that God is with them.

– picking up excellent, nutritious food 6 days a week, bread and meat. And on Fridays, there is enough for 2 days, and it doesn’t spoil like it does the other days. Daily tangible evidence that God is with them. Weekly tangible evidence that God wants to rest with them.

– Every day they are led by a pillar of cloud – every night by a pillar of fire. Shade in the hot desert day, heat in the cold desert night. Daily tangible evidence that God is with them.

– their shoes never wore out. More tangible evidence.

– all enemies were defeated.

Is it not apparent that God is still teaching them to trust, dealing with the democratic defeat by patiently, over 40 years, giving them the most unique blessed existence in the history of earth?

Many people spend significant money to go to desert locations and do nothing but eat and wander around. They call it a vacation. If the individual Israelite could trust God each day, the desert experience would be a vacation.

What would you give to be in that situation? Every day, to have numerous unmistakable proofs that He does care for you.

So it is clear that this pronouncement of God is not a penalty for sin, but instead a true example of discipline, actions taken to rearrange the concepts in each person.

Tie this back to Ezekiel 20, where God calls this situation to the mind of Ezekiel and the Jews.

Then in the summary statements by God in the message of Ezekiel 20, he, God, instructs them to “Go and serve your idols”. So that they will then really turn to him as their savior. God gives them, and us, a very important key to the Kingdom of Heaven in verse 43-44 “There you will remember your ways and all your deeds that you have defiled yourselves with, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil things you have done. You will know that I am Yahweh, house of Israel, when I have dealt with you because of My name rather than according to your evil ways and corrupt acts.” This is the declaration of the Lord GOD.”

We must finally run into the end of ourselves before we will finally admit He alone is righteous.

So in Ezekiel 20 we see God recounting the continuous propensity of the fathers to fail at trusting . God is telling this saga to the children so that they will see his mercy. He visits the father’s iniquity to the laps of the sons.

Job 21:19

Version: multiple for comparison

Context: The context of this often misquoted book, Job, is one of the keys to understanding this book. This verse – 21:19 – is in the lengthy section of the book where Job and his friends, plus one arrogant young man, are debating the reason for Job’s extreme hardship. When God finally makes his own statements he invalidates all their premises. Therefore the reader must take great care when quoting from the debate. In this verse, Job is speaking. He brings up the subject of this essay, possibly simply expressing his earnest desire that if he is experiencing hardship because of his father’s sins it should only be because of his own sin, which is none or minimal depending on which section of the debate is read. That Job would reference the “father’s sins” subject is very interesting as it is likely that the story of Job predates Moses. If so, then the concept of God punishing children for the sins of the fathers existed before God addressed the issue. We can see this would be a natural conclusion to hold when considering the events with Adam and Eve, our father and mother, with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

New American Standard
You say, ‘God saves up a person’s wrongdoing for his sons.’ Let God repay him so that he may know it.

King James Bible
God layeth up his iniquity for his children: he rewardeth him, and he shall know it.

New International Version
It is said, ‘God stores up the punishment of the wicked for their children.’ Let him repay the wicked, so that they themselves will experience it!

Comment: Given the context of the book of Job, this statement from Job is expressing his desperate state of being in the middle of his quest to understand how he could be destroyed while doing extremely well at pleasing God through obedience. Of course, he must consider that surely his own actions are not bad enough to earn destruction. It must be his inheritance of punishment (in his view at the moment of speaking with his friends who are saying it is all his fault).

For the purpose of our quest, this passage shows, again, how pervasive is the belief that God’s view of justice is not aligned with any human understanding. Because we already looked at Ezekiel, we see that this common human view of God is not accurate.

Job 27:14

Version: not included

Context: see previous Job reference. In this section, Job declares that the wicked will get nothing but the things he is experiencing.

Comment: Given the context of Job, this verse brings no new light to our subject.

Isaiah 14:21

Version: Literal Standard Version

context: this is in a prophecy about Babylon.

Prepare slaughter for his sons; Because of the iniquity of their fathers, ” They do not rise, nor have possessed the land, ” Nor filled the face of the world [with] cities

Comment: The various versions place the sentence break at different locations. Some, but not many, chose to assign the “Because of the iniquity…” phrase to the “not possessed the land” phrase, as does the Literal Standard Version, quoted above. Which makes the “iniquity of the fathers” to be the cause of the land issue. Many versions assign the phrase to the “Slaughter” phrase, which then causes conflict with God’s statements to Ezekiel. Recall that ancient Hebrew generally lacked punctuation, leaving the assignment of a modifying phrase to the logic of the translator.

If the sons are slaughtered because of the sins of the fathers, this is in conflict with God’s words in Ezekiel, where he says that each die for their own sins. If this more common translation is correct, the only way to reconcile that reading of Isaiah 14:21, is to understand the sins of the fathers to be the type of sin. Something like, the sons will be slaughtered because they hate God, just as their fathers hated God. Or that the propensity to sin inherited from the fathers resulted in actions such as hating God.

If the less common sentence formation is correct, then this verse follows the land issue – their land was lost due to the former and continuing iniquity. This time whatever land the Babylonians knew to be their destiny (“the face of the world”).

Isaiah 43:27

Version: HCSB

Context: God is giving Isaiah important messages for Israel (in whole). In this section God is promising deliverance and complete forgiveness.

27 Your first father sinned, and your mediators have rebelled against Me. 28 So I defiled the officers of the sanctuary, and set Jacob apart for destruction and Israel for abuse.

Comment: In this section of Isaiah God is explaining the difficult future that is coming, but promising a return to the land. Even more, God promises forgiveness for sin. The verses above are set in a larger context that is important. He states that he alone is the savior. He gives statements that he will use again when in human form – ears to hear. Those ears to hear can be put to use here in this passage. He presents his complaints against them: they do not seek him, instead seeking other gods. They constantly sin. Then our passage:

25 It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more. 26 Take Me to court; let us argue our case together. State your case, so that you may be vindicated. 27 Your first father sinned, and your mediators have rebelled against Me. 28 So I defiled the officers of the sanctuary, and set Jacob apart for destruction and Israel for abuse. 1 And now listen, Jacob My servant, Israel whom I have chosen. 2 This is the word of the LORD your Maker who formed you from the womb; He will help you: Do not fear; Jacob is My servant; I have chosen Jeshurun. 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your descendants and My blessing on your offspring.

God says come argue in court your case. God says he will acquit them and bless them. The sins of the fathers are part of the concept, but only to highlight the tremendous mercy of God Most High.

Remember that in the Exodus 34 passage some translations have God saying he “will by no means acquit”. Here he says he will vindicate all in court, after establishing their guilt. He will forgive. This quote reinforces the view that the Exodus 34 passage is best read as – he will by no means clear, but visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children…

Iniquity is the key.

Isaiah 57:3

Version: any

Context: God, speaking through Isaiah is giving a message to those with ears to hear. Continues into chapter 58.

Comment: in verse 3, God says that those listening are the sons of a sorceress, offspring of an adulterer and a prostitute. God gives a long list of their activities worshiping other gods. This reference does not specifically state that anything that will happen to them is the result of the sins of the fathers. But it is a powerful section showing the gospel to those with ears to hear. Of great importance is the verse stating that the accused people seek God day by day and delight to know his ways. But oppress people, apparently with what they know about God. The section, as do most prophecies, makes clear that God’s mercy is a breath away.

Psalm 21:10

Version: King James

Context: A song praising the undefeatable strength of God, written by King David, a great warrior assigned to completely destroy the peoples that hate God.

10 Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men. 11 For they intended evil against thee: they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.

Comment: Once again we have a grammar question to resolve. The use of pronouns can be imprecise. If the word “they” in verse 11 refers to the word “their” in verse 10, then David is saying that God is going to kill the offspring without providing a specific reason. But if the word “they” in verse 11 refers to the offspring identified in verse 10, then we see a consistent message from God. Those who hate God are outside the reach of his mercy.

(note: it appears in the Hebrew that the pronoun “they” in verse 11 is implied by the use of the third person plural conjugation of the verb rather than by a specific Hebrew pronoun. No reduction of the ambiguity, apparently.)

Begs a deeper look into the difficult subject of the people groups destroyed and their history. Many assumptions are required, and concept-set (mindset) always dictates the acceptability of assumptions. But this is not germane to this essay.

Psalm 51:5

Version: New King James

Context: In this song from King David, he is acknowledging his sinfulness. David wrote this after being confronted by a prophet about adultery and murder. David takes responsibility for those and more.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

Comment: one must remember that the Psalms are the statements of humans, expressing their deep cries while experiencing the pain and joy of this mortal life. God wants us to learn from them and to identify with the cry, often repeating the cry to God as we experience nearly identical lives.

In modern Christian theology, a commonly held view is the inheritance of original sin. The case for this doctrine is widely held to be strong, based on inference from reconciling scriptures. This essay is of no consequence to the subject; certainly the logic used has merit. I mention this only to illustrate that this verse, Psalms 51:5, ties to such doctrine. Clearly David had some belief that he started life on the debit side of the ledger of earned righteousness.

Could he mean that his mother was breaking some commandment at the moment of David’s conception?

Could he mean that the responsibility for the sin of our mother Eve passed through conception to all of us?

Could he mean that the world is in a state of separation from God, and he was conceived and born into this world separated from God?

Could David mean that he is so aware of his propensity to fail that he feels that he was never good?

The second option could contradict God’s statements in Ezekiel 18.

From a theology perspective, I tend to go with the third option as David specifically used the preposition “in” for both phrases.

And I feel that the fourth option is also true.

But the point of the Psalm is that David is, once again, arriving at the point of dependency on God alone. Realizing, once again, that all his efforts, from conception on, will never be enough to justify himself before God Most High, the only good being – the Holy, set apart. David comes to the place desired by God in Ezekiel 20: David does not honor himself, quite the opposite – he loathes himself.

He calls for the declaration of the Gospel, as the writer of Hebrews points out was taught in Egypt: David calls for hyssop, referencing the Passover where God declares his salvation through an abstract act of faith. And David bypasses the Law, stating that God does not want the sacrifice required by the Law, but rather wants the Ezekiel 20 heart – broken and contrite.

And then David rejoices in the Mercy of God, the only righteous, the Holy.

This passage brings light to our quest to understand the phrase “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children” by providing us with a context to apply it to our own lives. But in the eternal spiritual sense.

Psalm 58:3

Version: King James

Context: Another Psalm of David, this time rejoicing in the destruction of those that judge people with violence.

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

Comment: in Psalm 51 David stated his sin started at the beginning of his life. Here in Psalm 58 he states that the sin of the people in focus also started at the beginning of their lives. But they don’t acknowledge that they need a savior, instead they are bringing judgment on others.

So this Psalm expresses a concept very similar to Psalm 51 in regards to the subject of this essay.

Jer 3:25

Version: Literal Standard Version

Context: Jeremiah writes this after the northern kingdom of Israel has ceased to exist, deported into slavery and subjugation in various lands. The southern kingdom of Judah is soon to experience a similar event. Jeremiah is conveying a message from God. God recalls the history of both kingdoms, using the analogy God uses most often – sexual unfaithfulness, prostitution. God says that Israel, the northern kingdom, is more righteous that Judah, because Judah pretends to follow God. God says he is disciplining them and will discipline them. But, as is almost always true for such messages from God, he promises redemption based on acknowledging the need for forgiveness. God says some things that seem to promise a new arrangement (statements about the Ark). In the middle of verse 22, it appears that the message from God ends with a call to return to him and he will heal them. Then Jeremiah speaks a confession of the state of his people, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is where our focus verses are located.

24And the shameful thing has devoured || The labor of our fathers from our youth, || Their flock and their herd, || Their sons and their daughters. 25We have lain down in our shame, and our confusion covers us, || For we have sinned against our God YHWH, || We, and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, || Nor have we listened to the voice of our God YHWH!”

Comment: This passage brings some insight. Note that a “shameful thing” (in this version) has devoured the labor, flocks and herds, and the children of the fathers. Many versions choose to assign the shameful thing as the other gods, or “the shameful acts”. This certainly makes sense given the context of God’s analogy of sexual unfaithfulness by engaging in intimate relations with other gods.

In our quest to understand what God said in the 2nd commandment, we find more clarity is provided by Jeremiah’s confession that together with his people, they join the fathers in this. The fathers were not faithful to God Most High, and the children also.

Jer 31:29

Version: King James

Context: Jeremiah has just relayed the things he has seen and been told in a beautiful dream of restoration based on the Love of God. Then he relays what God speaks to him next, which contains our focus verses. In this brief statement from God, God states he will be just as focused on building up his people as he is or was on tearing them down. Then he says our verses:

29In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. 30But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

Comment: “every one shall die for his own sin”. This prophecy precedes the Ezekiel passage with the same message. This message from Jeremiah was given after the dismantling of the northern kingdom of Israel and during the impending disaster that will result in the dismantling of Judah. They were almost all about to die, as prophesied, complete with all the horrors of the history of man’s interaction with man. This prophecy here in Jer 31: 27-30 is about God rebuilding his people in the future, yet contains the phase “every one shall die”.

Clearly God is saying before the destruction of Jerusalem that they should not think they are dying for their father’s sins. And he is giving hope, that he will rebuild. But never will there be a time where sin does not deserve death. The Gospel, prophesied many times through the Hebrew Bible (old testament), is that God will create a way to forgive all sin.

Jer 32:18

Version: Holman Christian Standard

Context: Jerusalem is under siege that will result in massive starvation and cannibalism. No one is buying and selling land. God instructs Jeremiah to buy some land and follow all the then-current customs to ensure the transaction is legal. The transaction documents are stored to survive for a long time. Then Jeremiah prays, and his prayer contains these verses.

Nothing is too difficult for You!  18 You show faithful love to thousands but lay the fathers’ sins on their sons’ laps after them,  great and mighty God  whose name is Yahweh of Hosts, 19 the One great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are on all the ways of the sons of men in order to give to each person according to his ways and the result of his deeds. 

Comment: Jeremiah quotes the subject of this essay from the second commandment, just as Moses did twice while asking God for mercy. As as been done many times prior to this in the scriptures, Jeremiah recounts the history of the mercy of God having been given to people earning each his own destruction. Jeremiah states the overwhelming reality of his predicament, the siege ramps are against the walls, and he has bought land. Jeremiah is presenting this apparently hopeless case to God, expectantly waiting for the loving and merciful God to do something. And he uses the phrase we are seeking to understand as a basis for his request.

God answers with some amazing things. First he asks if anything is too difficult for him. Then he says he is “about to” or is doing the action of giving Jerusalem to Babylon. God lists the main offenses, all related to worship of other gods. Then God goes on to say he is “about to” or is doing the action of gathering all his peoples to this place, and giving them “one heart and one way” so that they and their children will always fear (know) him.

Note that God started this section with the statement that he is the God of all flesh – all peoples.

Lam 5:7

Version: Literal Standard

Context: The book of Lamentations was probably written during the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. In this book, Jeremiah pours out his extreme suffering and captures the extreme suffering of the residents of Jerusalem. The book has few statements of hope, the few that are present are set in the middle, standing in stark juxtaposition to acknowledgment of the destruction at the hand of God. The exact timing would be difficult to confirm, so it is important to avoid speculating as to if it was before or after Jeremiah’s prophecies about the “fathers eat sour grapes”.

Our fathers have sinned—they are not, || We have borne their iniquities.

Comment: The English Bible versions can be divided into 2 groups on this verse, either using the word iniquities or the word punishment. The Hebrew word, transliterated “avon” has received distinctly different definitions in the various versions. It is a very common word in the Law and other portions of the Hebrew Bible. In some contexts, it seems appropriate to use English words that refer to the ownership of specific violations (guilt in a penal sense). In some contexts, it seems appropriate to use English words that refer to the penalty or consequences of wrong doing (penalty in a penal sense). In some contexts both of the previous do not fit well. In most of these, a case can be built that using the idea of a propensity to violate renders a satisfactory understanding (not guilt or penalty). Applying that to this verse appears to bring understanding: “we carry the propensity to sin just as our fathers”. This especially helps given that a few verses further in Lamentations, Jeremiah acknowledges that he and his people have sinned, using the Hebrew word for sin, transliterated “khata”.

Note: Lev 26:41 is an interesting verse to ponder, comparing the Hebrew (as best one can) to the various English translations.

John 9:2

Version: Holman Christian Standard

Context: Jesus, the Savior of the World, is traveling around proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.

1As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples questioned Him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ”

3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus answered. “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him. 4 We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Comment: The disciples are products of growing up in a culture dominated by the strict Law teachings of the Pharisees, who trace their heritage and focus to the Babylonian exile. The Pharisees heritage came from men who were determined to ensure that the Punishment of exile did not happen again. They intended to achieve this goal by strict adherence to the Law. Babylon was where Ezekiel gave the words of God that generational punishment for sin was not in his method. Obviously that had been lost. Jesus clarifies that the man’s blindness is not a punishment for anyone’s sin. Jesus does not correct the larger error to believe that type of thing: he has been patiently building concepts of the Kingdom of Heaven, where the concepts stand apart from everything in human experience. Clearly everyone sins and clearly the Kingdom of Heaven is the only hope. Jesus simply heals the man. This healing has tremendous and profound depth for those living in the Pharisaical culture, but that is not the topic of this essay.

The Jews of the time of this account in John believed that for someone to be born blind was a punishment for someone’s sin, either the parents or the preborn child (possibly by kicking the mother or similar). For our quest, we can learn that Jesus, who is God, explains that the blindness was not caused by anyone’s sin. And again God is dealing with the pervasive beliefs about sin and the nature of God.

Revelation 2:23

Version: Literal Standard

Context: Jesus, the Savior of the World, is dictating letters to his church, sending messages to all regional groups of his followers for all time. In this Letter to the regional group at Thyatira, he is addressing what he will do to the people in the group that are worshiping other gods. Before Jesus makes the commonly misunderstood statement here, he has said several other things. The context makes this verse make sense in a way that aligns with all the other context examined above in the essay.

I will kill her children in death

Comment: at first reading this may seem to contradict the words of Jesus/God in Ezekiel where he said he would not kill anyone for the sin of other people.But a careful and comprehensive study of these Letters renders the clarity that this statement is metaphorical language. To understand what Jesus is saying, please do a study of these Letters that keeps the context of the whole Bible and especially the Kingdom of Heaven. There are some essays here that cover these Letters. For the purpose of this essay, it is sufficient to note that this verse does not affect the meaning found in the earlier references. Jesus does not contradict himself.

The Difficult Case of David, Bathsheba, Uriah, Nathan, and the Baby Boy

This case deserves an entire essay on its own. Suffice to say here that we can examine this case using the concepts we have confirmed here. And continue to see God’s nature.

Building a Concept

And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear ; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation

A brief overview of the concepts laid out in an order to promote clarity.

– assuming the word iniquity is often best translated as “a propensity to be evil”

– recognizing that many of the related prophesies/promises/threats are focused on the homeland tribal security subject, not on individual separation from God.

– recognizing that the horrific events of this world are not the retributive punishment from God for previous people’s sins, but certainly emanate from the propensity to be evil that exists and manifests in each and every person, sometimes synergistically bringing massive destruction to human existence. In some way God is involved in this, at a minimum using this propensity to strip away the proud self-reliance which keeps people separated from him for eternity. The levels of his involvement are a topic for some other study. For this study, we see that God allows the propensity to exist and uses that propensity to bring people to a place of absolute need, as he says in Ezekiel 20. But he does not kill them for the parents sin. He forgives sin.

– respecting the wisdom of Moses and Jeremiah to quote these words of God back to God when they each request mercy from God. Each says “God, you are the one who blesses to 1000 generations and visits the propensity to sin on each successive generation. Have mercy on us now.”

– realizing that by not clearing all, but instead allowing the propensity to sin to remain God has set in motion a guaranteed progression in each generation of a family, each new generation recognizing and despising the sin of the previous generation, then eventually recognizing that they are also not clear of the propensity to sin, having committed innumerable transgressions themselves. Each generation arrives at a place where they finally repeat the unambiguous words of Jesus when describing the type of man justified (acquitted) by God: “Have mercy on me, a sinner”. In this we join with David in realizing that IN a propensity to sin we came into this world, hopelessly unable to save ourselves, in desperate and absolute and permanent need of a savior.

Thus seeing that God is fully merciful, forgiving individual sin, transgression, and the ever-present desire to sin. He is such even while not taking action to clear that desire to sin from any one born. In fact, it is the only way we can know our place in the universe: lesser beings, loved by the One Righteous Being, the Holy, God Most High. Praise be to Jesus the Christ.

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