Generational Sin?

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative

Generational sin

Then Joshua and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the mantle, the bar of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent and all that belonged to him; and they brought them up to the valley of Achor. Joshua said, "Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day." And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. They raised over him a great heap of stones. (Josh 7:24-26)

When encountering periscopes like Achan (Josh 7), there is an impression that the sins of a father somehow get imputed upon his future generations. However in Achan's case, God mandated that all precious metals were to be set apart and go into the treasury of the Lord so that the nation of Israel would not covet them (Josh 6:17-19). When the ban was violated, God judged the offender by destroying all objects and people that belonged to him so that the nation of Israel could be consecrated and set apart from the guilt of the offender's sin (Josh 7:13-15). What is not clear is, as the head of the household, how Achan involved his family in the theft of several items under the ban. At issue was the seriousness of coveting and stealing what God commanded to be set aside for Him and the extent of which a nation must do to be holy before the Lord.

The Bible states on several occasions that each person is accountable for their own sin.

Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. (Deut 24:16; 2 Ki 14:6; Ezek 18:20)

The view of generational sin is misleading, because it obscures the fact that God places the responsibility of teaching God's word on the male head of the family.

A good example is found in Abraham's faith. Recognizing Abraham's genuine obedience, God chose him, because he would teach his household the ways of the Lord. The verb "command" is teaching with direct divine authority.

For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him. (Gen 18:19)

Moses taught with this same sense of command as well (Deut 4:1-14) and instructed fathers the importance of constantly teaching their sons the ways of the Lord (Deut 11:18-21). Fathers were to teach with a sense of authority that causes obedience and instill the importance of teaching subsequent generations (Ps 78:5-8).

As His nation of priests, God seeks those "who will do according to what is in My heart and My soul, and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always" (1 Sam 2:35). Implied is that the faithful priest would teach the next generation the ways of the Lord (Deut 4:9-10).

The famous prophet Eli failed at teaching his sons, and he was judged for his failure.

For I have told him that I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever." (1 Sam 3:13-14)

Saul was not a man after God's heart, failed at being a good shepherd of God's people, and his kingdom was taken away (1 Sam 13:13-14).

In contrast, God chose David to be the shepherd of His people (2 Sam 5:2), because he was seen as "a man after My heart, who will do all My will" (1 Sam 16:7; Acts 13:22). Subsequently, out of the House of David would come the Shepherd Jesus Christ (Matt 2:6).

It is in this light of teaching responsibility that the notion of "generational sin" can be better understood, which, for example, can be seen in God's admonition of making an idol and judging the third and fourth generations. When a father fails to teach his children the desire to love God and instead encourage their natural inclination to hate God by worshiping idols, their strongly held worldview to deny God is passed on.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Ex 20:4-6; 34:7; Num 14:18)

Series: The Doctrine on Hamartiology
Are Babies Born Without Sin?

Series: The Doctrine on Hamartiology
What is the Unpardonable Sin?

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