How many times have we heard that statement? “I’m only hurting myself.” I’ve heard it again and again. A friend, a family member, or a brother or sister in the Lord who has fallen into sin and believes their own lie that what they are doing hurts no one but themselves and has no effect on others. I also have to confess there was a time in my life that I believed this lie myself. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Every time we sin or someone else sins it has a ripple effect that hurts many. Any choice we make – either good or bad – affects all those around us. There are always consequences to our bad choices and it always has a way of spilling over onto others.
I used to have a very difficult time with the passage of Scripture from Exodus 34:6-7. “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 fathers to the third and fourth generation.'”
Reading this always had me crying out to the Lord, “Why…how God, would you ‘punish’ the children for the sins their parents committed?” It just didn’t seem to fit with the character of God. I thought of my children and the sins I had committed. I thought of my parents and their sins, ones I knew of and those I didn’t. Was I being punished for my parent’s sins? Were my sons being punished for my sins? If I just stopped here with this verse I might conclude that this is the case. But I would be very wrong.
2 Chronicles 25:4
“Yet he did not put their sons to death, but acted in accordance with what is written in the Law, in the Book of Moses, where the LORD commanded: ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins.'”
“The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.”
“As He [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.'”
Even the disciples were having a difficult time with the Old Testament Scripture…so I don’t feel so bad! Children don’t suffer the wrath of God for their parents’ sins, however….there are those consequences of sin that can’t be avoided and this is what I believe the Exodus 37 passage is talking about.
The character, habits, and sins of a parent can’t help but influence his or her children and grandchildren. The bad choices a parent makes greatly affects his children and the consequences of sin spill over to other generations. The children of the Israelites who were born to them while they were in exile in Babylon were suffering the consequences of their parents’ sin. The children were suffering in exile because their parents had turned their backs on the One True God and worshiped other gods. However God does NOT hold the children responsible for the sin of their parents.
This should make each of us think very carefully about the choices we make. I know I want to have a positive affect on the generations of my family to come. This isn’t a one time only choice for me to make but one I need to make daily.