There are many instances in life where guilt and consequences appear to be related, but at the same time aren’t.
Often times, especially for “simpler” crimes, we see only the person convicted, not the victims. And when we see the victims, we see the victim of the crime itself and not the “invisible” victims. The invisible victims? There are many. Often there are far more invisible victims than visible ones. This is not (in any way) intended to diminish the actual victims and their pains…not at all. It is to widen our understanding of consequences.
When God appears to threaten families (whole lineages) with the sins of a forebear, it can seem to be too much. Of course, if one notices the blessings are for 1000 generations and the “curse” for only 4, there does seem to be an odd imbalance. How does it work when 1 generation is faithful, and the next is faithless? Is it an equation of 1000-4=996? Then the next generation is faithful, and it is again 1000? Perhaps.
On the other hand, there might be another thing going on here. We have to recall that family is everything in the ancient world. The thought of blessing the 1000 generations after you would have been a strong motivator to do right. Watching your children, grandchildren, and (if you live long) your great-grandchildren suffer the consequences of your wrongs would be a strong deterrent.
This is why understanding who the invisible victims of crime are is so important. The children of the criminal are often deeply affected (for life). The children of victims are deeply affected. The extended families of both perpetrator and victim suffer. It may be in small ways, but the smallest thing can turn a heart to good or bad.
The consequences of the sins are carried on. There is a reason why (especially) negative traits (e.g., alcoholism, abuse) are passed down in families. The offender (e.g., the alcoholic or abuser) may have repented, but the damage has been done and usually gets passed down. That is reality.
That there has to be a clarification of this tells us that there had been some sort of abuse. Whether it was “just” the saying, or if there was something that was far deeper, pervasive, and evil (or sinful) is up for interpretation. That God saw it as necessary to clarify would seem to indicate a strong spiritual problem that needed to be addressed.
With these 2 passages, we see guilt and consequences. People may incur guilt with God and others. They can repent, seek forgiveness, and receive it. The consequences, however, remain. The guilt is ours. The consequences are not. When we sin, it may seem it affects only us, but we may never fully understand the consequences our sins have for others.
1) What does it mean to be guilty? Toward whom are you guilty?
2) Have you seen or experienced the consequences of another person’s sins? How did you feel about those consequences? How did you feel about the person as a result of those consequences?
3) There is a trap when we focus on these two passages, and that is ignoring collective sin. What are collective sins that you can think of? What do you think the consequences were/are?