God’s Justice and Family Sin (Ezekiel 18:20)

Ezekiel 18: 20 – The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Exodus 34:6-7 – 6The 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, 7keeping 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.”

Many people have mistakenly interpreted Old Testament passages such as Exodus 34:6-7 to mean that God unfairly punishes or chastens children for the sins of their fathers. However, in our reading in Ezekiel for this morning, there is no doubt that such an interpretation of the word of God is not valid. God makes it plain that, if anyone is punished by him, they are punished for their own sin. People do not suffer the judgment of God for the sins of others. People who suffer God’s wrath do so because of their own sin.

Regarding the Exodus passage, we simply need to understand that the visitation of a father’s sin on his children for the third or even fourth generation is a visitation of sin on the household of one person. People lived together in a particular family household for that many generations. The sin of any patriarch in those times, then, would most certainly have an impact on the family around him. Those sins will hurt the family. Those sins may even lead family members astray, as they approve or participate in the very same sins of the father. But there is no indication that God is bringing punishment upon the children of a sinner because of the sinner’s sin.

The Ezekiel passage also strikes a mortally wounding blow to the notion of generational evil spirits. God makes it plain that the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon themselves. He in no way indicates that the wickedness of the wicked opens the children up to some sort of hidden spiritual stronghold that has to be discovered and repudiated by subsequent generations. If your father was a sinner, God’s solution is for you to be righteous. If your father taught you sin, God’s solution is for you to repent of that sin, not to seek a spiritual deliverance from your father’s demons.

Today, find it a joy that God deals with you based on your own relationship with him. Rejoice that the sins of your father and your forefathers are not visited upon you in such a way that you are punished by God because of their actions. Rejoice that God will allow you the option of following him or turning to evil. Rejoice that God will allow you to repent of sin, even sin you were taught by your father, and that you can find life and forgiveness in Christ. Do not fear some deep and dark secret in your family’s past. Do not seek to find some spirit force that has clung to your family for generations. If you want freedom from sin, find it in the grace of God, in the Holy Spirit of God, in the word of God, in repentance from sin, and in the life-changing blood of Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord, I acknowledge today that I stand or fall based on my own relationship with you. I can neither be made right with you because of my father’s actions nor can I be separated from you based on my father’s actions. You will justly judge me based on my own relationship with you. I pray that you will help me to be freed of any evil habits I learned as a child. I pray that you will help me to carry on any good habits I learned from my father and others. However, I know that I am responsible for how I respond to all I have ever seen or heard my family do. In all things, let me be your child because of the grace purchased for me in Jesus Christ. Let me love and serve you. Forgive me my own sins, and help me not to walk in them any longer. And keep me from ever making any excuses for my behaviors based on anything being “passed down” to me. I am your child, O Lord, and I ask that you lead me as a faithful Father.