Exodus 34:1–7; Numbers 14:26–38; Jeremiah 31:27–34 (read online ⧉)
For those of us whose American individuality is almost hardwired into us, it seems inconceivable that God would punish us for other’s sins, especially for those who sinned before we were born. In fact, in many respects, we struggle with the result of anyone else’s sins being borne by us.
If we are honest with ourselves, our personal and national (and even religious) histories carry a lot of baggage, and a lot of that has to do with actions that others took, for which we had no knowledge, or participation, or approval of. The purposeful and accidental killing of Native Americans by Europeans due to diseases (such as smallpox) is such a thing. It is unlikely any of us would condone such a thing, but the consequences remain even to this day. The clearances of Native Americans to reservations and all that went along with also remains today. Slavery, war, migration, all had and continue to have consequences.
We are not unique in this. Much of the conflict in the Middle East is because of something that happened yesterday, but of something that happened generations and even centuries ago. The same can be said in Asia, as well. This is not unique to America or the United States. What is unique, though becoming less so, is our individualistic response to it.
For the Israelites, a tribal culture, what one’s father did or grandfather did have great import for the current generation. The concept of holding the subsequent generations accountable for one’s own actions was actually quite reasonable for them. The blessing, too, made sense to them.
As harsh as the words in Exodus seem to our modern years, we see the development of it in Numbers. Yes, the children pay the price. On the other hand, those children grew up into a powerful army. This army was needed for the next step. They also developed a rhythm when it came to God. Their food came from God. Their gathering was guided by God (6 days of work; 1 day of rest). Their habits revolved around God and God’s mercies.
Did they receive the result of their parents’ misdeeds? Yes. Were the ultimate results bad? No. This wasn’t the ideal. The ideal would have been obedience and trust by their parents.
This punish/reward pattern would remain for generations until God’s declaration to Jeremiah. The whole grapes quip showed that Israel had forgotten exactly what meant and intended. Now, it became everything (which it still was, but God was about sin, not failures).
We read these verses in Jeremiah and can be immediately be lead to the concept of our individual salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s not that this is invalid, but that it is incomplete.
As Christians, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. That often includes their failures and even their sins. While the ultimate cost (death) is paid, the consequences remain. Those consequences remain for lifetimes and even lifetimes to come.
※ Prayer ※
Heavenly Father, we read you Word and often wonder if we’re missing something, for we cannot understand the entirety of who you are. We thank you for your Son. Jesus, thank you for your time on Earth, allowing us the grace to see God’s face. Holy Spirit, guide our hearts and actions, not just for the now, but also to heal the hurts of the past that are not our fault, but we, as your children, are called to heal. Amen.
※ Questions ※
1) Have you ever been held responsible for someone else’s action over which you had no influence or control? What was that like?
2) What is the difference between consequences and punishment? Which path do you see God following?
3) What if your salvation was dependent upon others? How would you behave differently?