“Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, Who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; ….” Psalm 112:1,2a
God’s intention and design for humanity as seen in the scripture above and others is that fathers will walk with Him, fear Him and greatly delight in His commandments, and that as a result - all of his children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren will be blessed in every way – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, mentally, physically, materially and financially. Children who have this kind of heritage have a huge advantage over children who do not have this heritage. (Note: Tis possible to have this kind of heritage and still rebel, but not likely).
Sadly the overall story in the O.T. period leading into the years when Jesus walked the earth is mostly the opposite. That is most of the fathers of those years did not walk with God, fear Him in every way, and greatly delight in His commandments. And the result of that disobedience was tragic in every way spreading to multiple generations.
A few days ago I was reflecting on the opening verses of John chapter nine when Jesus, passing by the temple, saw the man who had been blind from birth. Vs.2 says, “And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” vs. 3 - Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Now please note that these disciples were fairly familiar with many of the O.T. scriptures. And it was from that knowledge that they knew that it was possible that a son or a daughter might be suffering some of the consequences of their parents’ disobedience. Jesus did not say in John 9 that that could never be. He just said in this case – it was neither because of his sins or his parents’ sins.
So my question is: What would have led them to think that this man’s blindness might have resulted from the sins of one or both of his parents?
Well I’m going to be talking about this for a while in our series on Fathering. And one of the reasons I am going to give so much attention to this pattern or reality in scripture and in life is because one of the ways we fathers are motivated to obey and fear the Lord and greatly delight in His commandments is by knowing the full consequences of our disobedience on us and on our children and grandchildren if we don’t. It would be nice if we would just see what God asks of us in scripture and the rewards for doing so, and then immediately and fully obey Him. But that is not how life works. God knows that and thus has filled the scriptures with examples or warnings of sin patterns being passed on to generations and then the consequences of such.
Another reason I’m writing about this is because Jesus Christ wants to turn around the negative and destructive trajectory many families have been plagued with for generations. And that starts with someone in that family being willing (out of a love for Christ and a passion for holiness and for His glory) to identify these sin patterns for what they are and stand against them in their own life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and then intercede for the revelation and breaking of them in the rest of their clans/extended families. My hope and prayer is that some of my readers will fulfill this role or purpose.
In this post, I want to start walking our readers through the Old Testament beginning with Genesis 9:25. Have you ever noticed in this passage that even though Ham sinned against his father (and against His God) that when Noah prophesied regarding the punishment of this sin, the punishment was directed not towards Ham but towards his son Canaan? “So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.”
Why did Noah skip Ham and go straight to Canaan? Did Ham escape punishment for this dishonoring of his father? No he did not. But the consequences didn’t just stop with Ham. The consequences also spread to his son.
In Exodus chapter 20 we are introduced to the Ten Commandments. In vs. 2-4 Idolatry is prohibited, but without any reasons for the negative commandment. In vs. 5,6 we read this, “You shall not worship them (idols or false gods) or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
We were created to worship our Creator. He is actually jealous in a righteous way for our worship and devotion. He therefore does not take lightly when we choose not to do that and instead worship His creation (or our creation). The consequences of practicing idolatry are very serious. This is why the apostle John at the end of his first epistle exhorts his readers and us to “….guard yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21) Demons lurk behind all idolatry hoping to keep us from ever learning to worship the one true God, and thereby assuring that our families and the next generations in our families will never discover and walk in their divine destiny, and will instead reap the consequences of our sins and the sins of our fathers.
But what does it mean when God says He will “visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children”? Well let’s take a look at that for a moment.
The NASB lexicon informs us that the Hebrew word for “visiting” is po.ked. It means: to attend to, to visit, to muster, to appoint = a prim. root.
Other Translations of this verse:
NIV – “…punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth…”
ESV – “….visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children….”
Amplified = “visiting”
Message = “…I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me.”
Exodus 20:5 in the Babylonian Targum = Aramaic translation of the Hebrew text - “For I, YHWH your Elohim, am a jealous God, visiting the guilt of wicked fathers upon their rebellious children . . . if the children continue to sin like their fathers.”
Commentaries: “This is a typical Semitic phrase denoting continuity, not to be understood in an arithmetical sense.” R. Alan Cole
“Anything that detracted from this essential relationship of the covenant, the commitment of love, led to the jealousy of God …And such false forms of worshipping the Lord inevitably had consequences for future generations (punishing the iniquity…) for it meant that children and grandchildren would not being instructed properly concerning the covenant relationship which was essential to their life and well-being. Thus, in the covenant community, no man was an island; his acts had repercussions for others and the breach of this commandment could affect his posterity for more than one generation.” P.C. Craigie
Comment: Obviously the thought of God visiting or punishing multiple generations for the sins of their fathers is not a happy thought (especially for those of us who have children or grandchildren). I would point out that there is emphasis in this passage (and the three others similar to it that we will look at later) on God’s lovingkindness and mercy being extended to all of those who love Him. And the “visiting”, however we interpret it is for those who “hate” Him (starting with the “fathers”).
But then that begs the question what does it mean to hate God since He defines loving Him as keeping or obeying His commandments, which Jesus also states repeatedly in Jn. 14:15,21,23. One thing I’ve found over the years is very few people would ever see themselves as “hating” God. But we are going to see that many actually do hate Him if we use God’s measuring stick rather than the world’s or the “Christian” culture we grew up in. In fact is it not accurate to say that we either hate God or we love Him? Is there a middle ground? Did not Jesus Himself say, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other….”? Matthew 6:24
Jesus’s brother, the apostle James severely warns those he was writing to about fuzzy thinking along these lines, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4 Writing to believers it appears, James uses strong words, “hostility” and “enemy”.
One thing to beware of is as the Psalmist tells us - there are those who pretend to love God but actually hate Him, “Those who hate the Lord would pretend obedience to Him, And their time of punishment would be forever.” Psalm 81:15
As you study the scriptures and seek after God and strive to love and follow Jesus you may discover very few if any of the people in your extended family/clan truly love our Triune God. It may be that most in fact hate Him. Some may pretend to love Him. Please do not allow the enemy of our souls to discourage you with this realization. There is nothing impossible with Him. He created the family and He specializes in restoring it to its original purpose. And it may very well be that He has chosen you to bring about that restoration. If that is the case, do not focus on them. Focus on yourself. Jesus’s way of transformation is always focusing on the beam in our own eyes rather than the splinter in the eyes of others. Only then can we see clearly to be used by Him in their lives.
May the Holy Spirit give you an ever greater love for Jesus, clinging to Him for your every breath. And may He give you great faith for your family.
In our next post, we will look at another passage in Exodus and then proceed on through some other books of the O.T.
P.S. I recently wrote a couple of articles on idolatry, noting as I go along in life and ministry that we believers are far more guilty of it than we would like to believe. If you want to learn more, and be freed from all idolatry, you might check out these two posts below.