The sins of the parent

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. (Exodus 20:4-6)

I was asked how God could lay the sins of the parents upon their children. Isn't God a loving God and children innocent of their parents' sin? God wasn't saying he would 'count' the parents' sin against the children over generations to come, but rather than the effects of their sin would be evident to the children. Taken in context, God is reminding Israel (and us) that he is a 'jealous God' - he will not allow us to bow down to any idol, image, or false god. Nothing should take the place he created for himself within our lives. If we seek other gods, there will be consequences. It is those consequences that the children of many generations may actually see, endure, and be under.

An example of this is when a parent chooses to break the law and is sent to the penitentiary for ten years. This leaves the family without the caregiver and sometimes without the main provider. The result is that the children might have a different 'family structure' than was originally intended. The remaining parent has to work, leaving the children with others or unsupervised entirely. The stigma of a parent in prison follows that child to school, making them an object of ridicule. The child may have seen rather unsavory behavior from the parent, knowing they didn't want to follow in their parent's footsteps, but feeling like they have no choice. The child is a prime target for gang involvement, illicit behavior, or criminal actions. The 'generational aspect' of the parent's sin is felt deeply by the children.

God's premise in leaving us this instruction is to show us how important our relationship can be as in pertains to setting an example. Follow him with your whole heart and your children will observe your love for him. Yield your heart to whatever god finds its way into your heart and your children will see this as an option for their own walk. Soon a generation will be moving away from God and toward whatever god they see as important to their parents. The consequences of our own compromises are felt by those around us. Perhaps this warning was meant to dissuade the Israelite parents from following the practices of the pagan culture around them, but we can see clear evidence in scripture where there were those who allowed themselves to be drawn into the culture and away from following the Lord.

Maybe this is how we became a 'religious' culture without having a relationship with Jesus. We allowed one compromise allowed by a parent to become the norm by which the children lived and then they allowed another compromise. Eventually all the cumulative compromises have led to the belief that we can call ourselves Christian and live like the world does - devoid of relationship with God. As Israel came into the land they were to inherit, they were told to drive out, eliminate and totally destroy every false god. Why? The more we allow ourselves to get close to that which could draw us away from serving God, the more we set ourselves up to be drawn away. Just sayin!


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