Read Exodus 34
Focus on verse 6-7
I grew up on a farm. I watched my father plant fields of wheat and barley year after year. Without fail when it came time to harvest, the crop we harvested was primarily the crop we had planted (at times with a bit of wild oats and/or rag-weed thrown in as a bonus).
In today’s reading we find an amazing description of God declaring who He is to Moses as He passes by – allowing Moses to see his back.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (v. 6-7)
As the Lord passes by Moses He proclaims some of His attributes to Moses…. Merciful, gracious, slow to anger (patient), abounding in steadfastness love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, BUT who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the fourth generation.
In this passage we can clearly see the balance of God’s love and justice. It is His justice that we sometimes don’t like to acknowledge, because to us it makes Him seem unloving, however, this idea of “visiting the iniquity of fathers upon their children” is not God punishing children for the sins of their fathers. It is rather, the consequences of the father’s choices to sin affecting the lives of their children. We see evidence of this all around us – how the sins of fathers become a curse upon their children. The good news is that there is an avenue of escape because He is merciful, gracious, and faithful.
This escape route is only accessible, however, through a relationship with Jesus Christ, and it does not guarantee an immediate removal of the natural consequences of sin. Consider a most obvious example; a murderer can be forgiven by the family and friends of his or her victim and by God when he or she repents and asks for forgiveness from those harmed by his choice, as well as from God, however, this does not bring the person that was murdered back to life, so the consequence of the sin remains. The same is true of many other forms of sin. Interestingly, we find it often takes about three or four generations of walking with Jesus for the “iniquity of the fathers” to no longer be affecting the descendants who follow.
This principle can also also work in a more positive fashion as we see those who have godly parents and grandparents tending to reap the blessing of a godly heritage. In this sense it is a “reap what you sow” principle, the only difference being that God, by his grace, gives us an option to not reap the eternal consequences of our sin when we place our faith in the redemptive work of Christ.