You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD Your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments—Exodus 20:5-6I have come across countless souls who have shared this verse with me as one that causes them much frustration in trying to view God as a God of love. I would remind you that every action, whether good or bad, has an intrinsic result, for good or for ill. What God seems to be saying here is that if the Israelites chase after other gods, that decision would not only hurt them, but also adversely affect their children. The question lies in whether these adverse results are inherent to the worship of idols or whether they are artificially imposed by God. To be honest, the scope of this devotional does not permit us to answer this question adequately. However, I would like to share a thought that may shed light on this issue. Whether or not there are inherently negative consequences to chasing after other gods is obvious to me. There are. What God seems to be saying indirectly is that although these adverse results will be passed down, He will only permit them to be passed down as far as third and in some instances fourth generations. He, in His mercy, limits the damage our ancestors have done to us as well as the damage we can do to our descendants.
What is truly amazing is what He states next: “But [I will] show[-] loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” What makes this statement jump out is captured in the following passage:
“There is in the Hebrew text of this passage no word indicating ‘generation,’ which is supplied by the translators. It is most evident, however, that it is the word required by the sense, and attention is called to it only to point out the fact that the construction is the same as in the next clause, where the word ‘generation’ is not expressed, but where it belongs as surely as in the first. Some have hastily supposed that the ‘thousands’ refers only to individuals, and so have erroneously concluded that God’s chastisements outlast His mercy. Not so. He visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him, but shows mercy unto unnumbered thousands of generations of them that love Him and keep His commandments. His wrath is soon appeased, while His mercy flows on to eternity. Other versions than the English state it very plainly.” (E.J.Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant p.310)
Therefore, the decisions we make today will impact those who come after us just as surely as we are bearing the results of the decisions made by those who have come before us. This is unfair I will agree, but the Bible never states that what free moral agents do to one other is always fair. It only states that what God does will always be fair. Nonetheless, praise God, for He will not let those unfair negative results run on endlessly. He will only permit them to run to the third or fourth generation. Notice the alternative. If we, today, allow His love for us to awaken, in our hearts, love for Him and if we follow the principles of His love in all our dealings, the inherent positive results of that kind of life will not only affect the third and fourth generations, but also set in motion blessings upon blessings to the thousand thousandth generation that come afterward. Of course, time will not last that long, but the point seems to be that the positive inherent chain of events we set in motion by submitting to God’s principles of love will continue throughout eternity, positively affecting those who enter the scene after us.
“We are not to regard God as waiting to punish the sinner for his sin. The sinner brings the punishment upon himself. His own actions start a train of circumstances that bring the sure result. Every act of transgression reacts upon the sinner . . . and the sure result is ruin and death” (Ellen White, Selected Messages Vol. 1 p. 235).
“For whoever desires to love life and see good days. . .let him turn away from evil and do good” (1 Peter 3:10-11).
This week, thank God that His mercy covers our mistakes. Beyond that, why not set in motion a chain of blessings to the countless generations that come after you by living a life of other-centered love?