I don’t write about my faith a lot. I don’t know how most of the time. But especially with everything going on in the world right now, this is one that I have been coming back to over and over.
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.Exodus 34:7b
9 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 parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.Deuteronomy 5:9-10
‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’Numbers 14:18
So I have to admit here, I am not a literalist in the sense that “THIS WORD IS THE ONLY WORD” on things like “visiting the iniquity of the fathers” piece as GOD is the one inflicting punishment. Firstly, although this sentiment is repeated, it’s a little different in the different verses. Secondly, this is most likely a translation of a translation of a translation. All of these are Old Testament (Torah) and languages change over time. Words change, and I can’t help but wonder if in 3000+ years, the meaning here has shifted. Not the words, our understanding of them.
Without going further down that rabbit hole, my real thought here is how we should look at it. I really started thinking about this because of medications. I struggle to make myself take my medications and it took me a long time, and a lot of wrestling to put some pieces together. My grandmother (mother’s mother) was raised Christian Scientist. I remember her telling me when she was a little girl someone (her brother maybe?) broke his arm and her family called church members to come and pray over it.
I remember thinking how dumb that was. Why wouldn’t you take a broken arm and let a doctor put it in a cast? Take some aspirin? She wasn’t vaccinated as a child, true religious exemption. Now, when she grew up she didn’t remain a Christian Scientist. She went to the doctors. She took medications. She walked away from that belief, but it followed her.
My grandmother was resistant to taking medications her whole life. She would push through pain, avoid her asthma/COPD/emphysema meds until she needed them.
My mother, not raised at all in the Christian Scientist church also struggles with this idea of “avoiding medicine.” My mother even jokingly says “better living through chemistry.” And yet, she will suffer with a headache rather than take something, she goes for “home remedies” (honey+lemon+ginger) before wanting to take medicine (cough medicine).
I also struggle with taking medicine. I have really struggled to remember to give my son medicine when it’s not urgent. If he’s running a fever, I’m going to give Tylenol. But if he’s gassy – I totally forget about the gas medicine all the time. My husband will come in and say, “just give him…” and I feel like hitting my forehead against the wall. How did I forget again?!? I am more able to give medicine to my kids than my mother did, and very much more likely than my grandmother.
I’m not sure whether this is a “sin,” but I think it illustrates how generational behavior plays out. Take what would be more aligned with a sin – alcoholism. How it impacts not just the alcoholic, but their kids and even their kid’s kids. I’ve known a number of people who say, “my mom/dad doesn’t drink because their parent was an alcoholic and they are frankly scared of it. It means I drink very aware of the bad things that can happen” – at least 3 generations impacted by a single alcoholic.
This is where I feel these verses really still have something so vitally true to tell us. Perhaps it is less a “punishment” as “consequences” will come to multiple generations. Each generation must continue to wrestle with the sin, to seek a better and healthier relationship with the sin until there will finally be a generation who is far enough removed that they no longer struggle with it.