I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6)
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping 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. (Exodus 34:6-7)
In the last post, we looked at two elements of God’s character, as He described them to Moses in His self-introduction. We learned that He is first and foremost merciful and gracious, extending mercy and grace to those who need it most. We also learned that the love He manifests toward His creation is a “steadfast love,” one which endures. As we return to His self-revelation, we will see how those characteristics are seen in His dealing with people.
There is a tension and contrast here that sometimes confuses people. First, we are told in Exodus 34:6-7 that the Lord “[keeps] steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” But then we are told the He “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.” The confusion can be minimized when we look at our other passage, which contains almost the same language. However, the statement by the Lord reads, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus. 20:5-6).
What do we learn from this? First, those who love the Lord and keep His commandments are those whose sins are forgiven and to whom the Lord shows His steadfast love. And what is the commandment? “To believe in the One that God has sent” (see John 6:28-29; John 8:39-42). On the other hand, “those that hate Me” are those who reject God’s way of salvation and choose to live their own way. (Jesus Himself said that those who are not against you are for you, implying that the reverse is true–those who have not consciously given themselves to Christ are rejecting Him.) It is those who fall under the curse that God pronounces here.
As a side note, there is a considerable amount of teaching in the Body of Christ on the subject of so-called generational curses (usually referencing those two verses above). It is clear that Scripture supports such an idea. However (and this is a big ‘however’), according to the Gospel, the believer in Christ has been released from those curses, since he is no longer under the law but is united with Christ.
So, we see that God is able, because of Christ’s sacrifice, to uphold His justice (not clearing the guilty) while at the same time forgiving iniquity and sin. Thus, all of His attributes come into play in His plan to save mankind.
One more thing we should look at briefly when discussing God’s character. The most widely used description of God in the Old Testament is “holy.” The word appears some 600 times in the Old Testament. it is important to have a right idea of what this word means. People equate it to being spotless, without fault, and morally perfect. That is certainly true. However, as applied to God, that is only a small part of its meaning. Holiness is the trait that flows through every other trait of God. Just as pure light is white and contains every other color, so God’s holiness contains all of His other characteristics. So, holiness is not so much a character “trait,” as it is the essence of who God is. As applied to mankind, then, we can only say we are holy as we embody the traits that make up holiness. And of course, our holiness is not ours–it comes from Christ.
God loves all people–and you individually–and He has provided an awesome plan for us to be able to not only be in right standing with Him but have a personal relationship with Him. Think of it: the God of the universe cares about you as a person and longs for you to know Him and walk with you in the Person of the Holy Spirit! What better thing could one want?