Questions: Does God punish children for their parents' sins?
Question: How does the New Covenant affect the punishment of sins to the third and fourth generations as mentioned in Exodus 34:6-7, or does it? Can I expect to suffer the consequences of my sin and the sins of the generation before me or is there any hope for freedom in this life (not just the next)? And, if so, what does this freedom look like?
Exodus 34:6-7 says the following: And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
This passage is written inside of an ongoing story of a relationship between God and His creation. God longed for man to live in the world He created without the presence of sin and its consequences, but His love was so great for man that He wanted him to have the choice. Sadly man wanted to know good AND evil (Gen 3:1-7). At the thought God was holding out on him, man chose to be his own god.
Even in the days leading up to the events in Exodus 32-34, when presented with the laws God required; the people arrogantly proclaimed their intent and ability to “do everything the Lord has said” (Ex. 24:3). Yet, throughout the entire Old Testament and by the Old Covenant, God was trying to get them to understand what they could NOT do, which was save themselves. Over and over again, He tried to teach people to trust Him, demonstrate to them His mercy, and pursue them with His love. But mankind still felt the need to earn it, to do it on their own, prove themselves.
I can hear the longing and desperation in the Lord’s voice as He proclaimed to Moses, “I am, I am, the compassionate gracious God.” He wanted His people to trust His goodness. “I am slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.” He wanted them to throw themselves on His mercy, drown themselves in His love, rest in His faithfulness.
But God has to punish the guilty. He is holy beyond our understanding. He is pure beyond our ability to know purity. He cannot allow sin. He doesn’t want to allow sin, because it destroys us. Sin has its own natural consequences, and it affects generations. It affects those around us. It cannot be contained in isolation. It is deadly. It is poisonous. It is heavy in the weight of its consequences.
So God in the richness of His mercy and the vastness of His love came up with a plan to punish the guilty and deal with sin that would no longer enslave mankind, but free them. He chose His Son to become one of us; to face the temptation of sin and conquer it, to take the punishment for sin and overcome it. Jesus became the sacrifice that paid for our sin.
We still live in a world with sin. We still face the temptation of it, and deal with the consequences of it. We are still affected by the sins of generations before us. We still impact the generations after us. But now we have a new covenant through Jesus Christ. He was punished in our place; for our guilt and for our sin (Isaiah 53:4-5). Yes, God must punish the guilty. So Jesus stepped in and received that punishment for us.
So today we can do what God has always longed for His creation to do—throw ourselves upon His mercy, His goodness, and His love. Receive His forgiveness, not just for our sins, but for the sins of the generations before us. In the name of Jesus, we can break the power of sin in our lives and in our family for both past and future generations. We have the power to overcome sin, because of the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit of God living within us. We are not bound by the curses of our past or our family’s past. There is freedom from the power of sin and its curse over us, because of Jesus (Gal 3:10-14).
Thanks so much for asking questions during our services. We hope this blog encourages and empowers us all toward a greater knowledge of who God is and the life he offers us in Christ. Each week responses will be offered from different members of the teaching team at Mosaic. This response comes from Melanie Watson.