The verse is directed to parents, not just fathers. It applies to moms as well as dads. It means that the sins you commit today can directly impact your children, your grand-children, and even your great-grandchildren. It is a terrible truth to consider. When you truly ponder its meaning, the enormity of this truth becomes unbearable. You stagger beneath the implications and are crushed by its weight. And I have to tell you, if it were not for Jesus Christ in my life, a full understanding of this verse alone would lead me to complete and total despair. In fact, it is so difficult to accept the truth of this verse that many would prefer to set it aside altogether.
Some people, when confronted with this truth choose to reject God rather than accept Scripture. It also goes back to the problem of idolatry we discussed last week, recreating God according to our imagination rather than worshiping him for who he is.
Sins of the Father - Bible Verses and Meaning of Parental Sin
I will be the first to admit: this is not a pleasant teaching of Scripture. We would wish it were not true. Even if this were the only place in Scripture where this truth was taught, it is still the Word of God and cannot be set aside. But it is not the only place. It is perhaps the most familiar because of its placement within the Ten Commandments, but it is not the only place. Both the Old and the New Testaments teach this same truth in several passages. Not only that, but our own experience, and in fact the experience of the entire human race bears witness to the truth.
God punishes the children for the sins of the fathers, even to the third and the fourth generation. This morning we will take a closer look at it together. Let me say it again. This is not an easy truth to digest. Sin is hereditary. Sin gets passed down from one generation to the next. That is a weight most of us would rather not bear. But we will not overcome this burden by ignoring or denying it. We must face the terrible truth of generational sin in order to deal with it, so that we may indeed break the cycle of sin for ourselves and for our children who follow.
The first truth the Bible teaches us about generational sin is that there is no escape. We must all face the consequences of generational sin. Sin always has consequences. Many of us are familiar with the law of the harvest.
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A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. There is no escape from that law. If you sow carrots, you get carrots. If you sow strawberries, you get strawberries. If you sow good things in your life, you reap good things. If you sow sin in your life, you reap the consequences of that sin.
Sins of the Father
Now that makes sense to most of us. We understand that if we make wrong choices, we reap the results of our choices. If I cut myself, I bleed. If I jump off a cliff, I break my legs. If I lie to my wife, then I lose her confidence and trust. If I reject God, then I lose God. The law of the harvest says that you will reap what you sow. The law of the generational harvest says that others will also reap what you sow, especially your children and grandchildren, your family and immediate descendants.
It does not set well with our rugged American independence. My actions, my choices always affect others, either for good or for ill. The law of the generational harvest works itself out in three different ways in the human race. First, there is the general problem of human sin, what the Bible calls the sinful nature of man. Second, there is cultural sin, that is, sin which displays itself in whole cultures. And thirdly, there is family sin, generational sin that is specific to families and their children. First, there is human sin in general. The law of the generational harvest began with Adam and Eve, the first parents of the human race.
God created Adam and Eve in his own image, placed them in the garden, and gave them dominion over all the earth. He gave them everything they needed: food, protection, companionship, and sweet fellowship with God.
Our whole planet is still reeling from their choice. The most precious, sweetest-looking innocent baby has a sinful nature just waiting to break out. Sin is a congenital disease which within a few years of birth presents itself in every human being born on the planet. Adam and Eve sinned, and they passed that sin on to their children, grand-children, great-grand-children, and beyond. There is no escape from the human condition of sin. Secondly, there is cultural sin. Whole cultures often display an inclination toward particular sins as those sins are passed on from one generation to another.
For example, I have read about tribes which honor lying and falsehood. The people in the tribe admire those who lie the most and consider them the cleverest. Then there are cultures which twist the Biblical concept of male leadership into sinful forms of male dominance, where women are treated as less than men or even as property.
Other cultures struggle with deep-seated racial prejudices. Our own culture here in America struggles especially with the sins of materialism, sexual immorality and divorce. As we saw last week, the sin of idolatry is a specific example of cultural sin where false worship is passed down within a people from one generation to the next. Cultural sin, patterns of sin that affect entire cultures, is another evidence of the law of the generational harvest at work.
Thirdly, and this is where we focus today, there is family sin , sin that is passed down from parents to children and then to their children. We see many examples of this in the Bible. Abraham passed down the sin of lying to Isaac, who passed it on to his deceiving son Jacob.
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He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, because he walked in the ways of his father and mother and in the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. We see this law at work also within our own families and in society around us. Prejudice gets passed down from father to son. Alcoholism runs in families. Children of divorced parents are more prone to divorce when they grow up. Once again, as parents who are all too familiar with our own sins and failures, this law of the generational harvest rightly terrifies us when we ponder the implications for our children and grandchildren. Notice that Exodus tells us it is God who punishes the children for the sin of the fathers.
That is one of the reasons why there is no escape. God himself is behind the law of the generational harvest. God cannot be mocked. If you sow good things in your life, you and your family will reap the benefit.