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Deuteronomy 24:16

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

Numbers 14:18

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’

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    Killing and punishing are distinct notions.
    – Lucian
    Aug 24, 2021 at 16:21
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4 Answers 4

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We have the same "problem" in the 10 commandments as recorded on Ex 20:

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in the heavens above, on the earth below, or in the waters beneath. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing loving devotion to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Possibly the best way to explain the distinction here (which is two-fold) is to examine the story of David following the rape of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Note the record in 2 Sam 12:

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man! ... 9 Why then have you despised the command of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You put Uriah the Hittite to the sword and took his wife as your own, for you have slain him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 This is what the LORD says: ‘I will raise up adversity against you from your own house. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to another, and he will lie with them in broad daylight. 12 You have acted in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”

13Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

“The LORD has taken away your sin,” Nathan replied. “You will not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have shown utter contempt for the word of the LORD, the son born to you will surely die.”

Note that the moment David recognized his sin and confessed (V13) Nathan immediately proclaimed him forgiven.

However (and this is the crux of the matter) David still had to endure the earthly consequences of his heinous sins which would be:

  • Four of sons would die (V6) which were - the son born to Bathsheba (V18), Amnon (2 Sam 13), Absalom (2 Sam 15-18), Adonijah (1 Kings 2:25)
  • Davids 10 concubines were raped by his own son (2 Sam 16:21, 22)
  • David's own son mounted an almost-successful rebellion (2 Sam 15-18)

Thus, while David was forgiven, his family and all Israel felt the consequences of his great sin. David might have prevented some of this if he were not so morally wounded himself. That is, some of the consequences of David's sin corrupted him so that his judgement was not as astute as it might have been.

Lastly, not that while four of David's sons died, Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah all died for their own sins, not David. That is, while they died for their own sins, it was David who's evil deeds set in train a series of events that had catastrophic consequences for himself and those around him.

Another way to explain the difference between Deut 24:16 and Num 14:18 is to say that Deut 24:16 is speaking about the punishment for sin, while Ex 20:5 and Num 14:18 is speaking about the natural consequences of evil. God forgives but only rarely removes the consequences of a persons sinfulness.

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  • Lets say that a man, John Doe, sinfully forcefully pushes someone named Joe Public against a heavy brick wall held up merely by base stands.Lets say John Doe's son and grandson are on the other side of the huge heavy brick wall.After pushing Joe Public against said wall, lets say that John Doe feels remorse/regret, and therefore repents to God. God forgives John Doe, and therefore God will Not punish John Doe. However, the natural consequences of John Doe's actions causes the heavy brick wall to fall on his son and grandson which kill them. Does this reconcile Deut 24:16 & Num 14:18? Jan 3, 2022 at 17:39
  • Here is another inferred evaluation. Deuteronomy 24:16 seems to related to a more quasi-formal disciplining/punishing associated with a "Godly" due process for some sinful incident/situation. However, Numbers 14:18, Exodus 20:5 seems to be related to demonic spiritual activities that were released because of said sinful incident/situation. Would that be correct? Jan 3, 2022 at 17:49
  • @crazyTech - I would agree with your suggestion.
    – Dottard
    Jan 3, 2022 at 20:21
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The passage in Deuteronomy is part of a set of laws for us to follow, and is therefore referring to a human court. We don't punish anyone but the sinner himself.

The passage in Numbers is referring to Heavenly judgement, which is omniscient and multi-generational.

(To anyone concerned about a parent's sins - a child will only be punished for his parents' sins if he continues in their ways.)

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  • If a parent abuses a child and the child grows up to have psychiatric problems as a result, is that an example of God punishing the child for the parent's sin?
    – moron
    Aug 28, 2021 at 3:19
  • +1 (Good) Deuteronomy 24:16 pertains to human court, while Numbers 14:18 pertains to Heavenly judgement Jan 4, 2022 at 1:05
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How do you reconcile Deuteronomy 24:16 and Numbers 14:18?

Deuteronomy 24:16

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

Numbers 14:18

The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’

Contraction? The answer is NO.

The first text states that a son will bear nothing because of their parent's sin, while the second text states that God will bring punishment for the sins of the fathers upon sons and grandsons.

When taken in context Numbers 14:18 and Exodus 34:7 it becomes clear that God mentioned punishment coming upon the fathers as well as the sons and grandsons. Here God is speaking what would result if the nation of Israel sinned against him and were taken into captivity.

On the other hand, when mentioning that a son would not be liable for the error of his father, he was speaking of personal accountability.[ Ezekiel 18:20, Deut. 24:16]

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Deuteronomy 24:16

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

Let's see the broader outline of Deut 19–⁠26:

iii. Civil Laws and Social Justice ( 19:1⁠–⁠26:19 )

  1. Cities of Refuge ( 19:1⁠–⁠14 )

  2. The Testimony of Two or Three Witnesses ( 19:15⁠–⁠21 )

  3. The Laws of Warfare ( 20:1⁠–⁠20 )

  4. Atonement for an Unsolved Murder ( 21:1⁠–⁠9 )

  5. Marrying a Captive Woman ( 21:10⁠–⁠14 )

  6. Inheritance Rights of the Firstborn ( 21:15⁠–⁠17 )

  7. A Rebellious Son ( 21:18⁠–⁠21 )

  8. Cursed is Anyone Hung on a Tree ( 21:22⁠–⁠23 )

  9. Various Laws ( 22:1⁠–⁠12 )

  10. Marriage Violations ( 22:13⁠–⁠30 )

  11. Exclusion from the Congregation ( 23:1⁠–⁠8 )

  12. Uncleanness in the Camp ( 23:9⁠–⁠14 )

  13. Miscellaneous Laws ( 23:15⁠–⁠25 )

  14. Marriage and Divorce Laws ( 24:1⁠–⁠5 )

  15. Additional Laws ( 24:6⁠–⁠22 )

  16. Fairness and Mercy ( 25:1⁠–⁠4 )

  17. Widowhood and Marriage ( 25:5⁠–⁠12 )

  18. Standard Weights and Measures ( 25:13⁠–⁠16 )

  19. Revenge on the Amalekites ( 25:17⁠–⁠19 )

  20. Offering Firstfruits and Tithes ( 26:1⁠–⁠15 )

  21. Call to Obedience ( 26:16⁠–⁠19 )

Deuteronomy 24:16 was one of the many laws belonged to the group Civil Laws and Social Justice. By the Jewish human court, parents were not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will died for their own crime.

On the other hand, Numbers 14:18 opens with:

The LORD is slow to anger,

It was not about a human court but a heavenly court/judgement.

abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’

This heavenly court judgement was balanced between forgiveness and punishment that affected the next generations. This punishment was not dealt out by a human judge.

How do you reconcile Deuteronomy 24:16 and Numbers 14:18?

diyImma had answered this succinctly: one concerned a human court; the other a heavenly court. They were two different kinds of justices.

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