All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Visiting Iniquity
Based on Exodus 20–23

God’s Law is closely linked with His name—Lord (Yahweh in Hebrew). This name embodies His nature, person, and essence. It also expresses His personal covenant relationship with His people, and especially His character of love.

Greek Thinking

The ancient Hebrews encompassed the whole law as one concept—the Divine Law was everything Yahweh spoke. However, our thinking today has been heavily influenced by the Greeks, who fragmented most things into specialized categories.

Most of the Western world bases a large number of their laws on Divine Law, and generally, these fall under two categories. The first is the apodictic or general law, given by a direct command from God reflected in the Decalogue. The second is casuistic or case law, which applies the principles of general law to specific situations dealt with in law courts (Exodus 21:1–23:33).

Hammurabi’s Code

Archaeologists have found several ancient case law codes that show similarity to biblical laws. The most famous is the Code of Hammurabi, a king from the First Babylonian Dynasty, who ruled 250 or more years before the Sinai case laws. In Hammurabi’s Code, there were different degrees of punishment for slaves, citizens, and nobility. If you were wealthy and killed someone, you would suffer no penalty. If you were a freeman and killed someone, you would pay a penalty. If you killed a slave, there was no penalty. But if you are poor and killed someone, you would be put to death. Yahweh limits this kind of law so that the punishment can never be greater than the crime, and in many cases, it is actually less!

Many of these case laws may seem extreme today, however, a close study will reveal that God works within the context of each culture, and our level of understanding of His character.

Visiting Iniquity

In the second commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:4–6) the nature of Yahweh’s love is clearly portrayed. It prohibits idolatry and graven images because Yahweh is a “jealous” God.

The term “jealous” or “zealous” is not to be misunderstood as envious, suspicious, or distrustful. It denotes that He expects complete devotion from His followers. Those who “hate” or are hostile to Him are defiantly worshipping other gods. To these He visits “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations.”

Many have concluded this to be proof of a vengeful spirit, and that Yahweh’s punishment of a father’s sin will last for the next four generations. However, Deuteronomy 24:16 states, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”

Ezekiel 18:2–24 also clearly demonstrates this, when God says that a righteous son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor a righteous father bear the guilt of his son.

So what is God referring to in “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations”?

To the ancient Hebrews, this simply refers to all living members of one household, since married sons lived with their father. It was common to have three—and sometimes even four—generations living under the same tent, so a man’s entire family would suffer from his punishment.

In contrast to this one household, Yahweh shows mercy to thousands (generations) of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Once more, Yahweh’s commandments clearly demonstrate His loving nature.

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