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In Ezekiel 18:2, Ezekiel conveys a message from God to the people of Israel.

Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste’?

And then goes on to say

Ezekiel 18:4

The person who sins is the one who will die.

It seems to me, that God is the one who told them that the children will suffer the sins of their parents.

Deuteronomy 5:9

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generations

Am I misunderstanding the connection between these two verses?

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    Does this answer your question? Did God change his mind concerning visiting the sins of the fathers onto the sons in Jeremiah 31?
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 2:05
  • Thanks @Dottard for referencing this link, I didn’t find this post when I was researching for my post. I connect with the idea of “consequences” verses “responsibility” (that concept was foundational when we raised our daughters). I think it’s an important perspective, coupled with Anne’s comment about “for those that hate me” and Ray’s comment that the definition of pāqaḏ can be “visiting” (like observing). But I struggled with applying these schools of thought to Jerimiah 32:18.
    – matt
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 16:36
  • All the translations (on Bible Gateway) of Jerimiah 32:18, have God performing an action (not just observing), and that action (according to the majority of the translations) is “repaying”, ”recompensing” (which basically means repay), or “punishing”…..the children. Suffering the consequences of our parents is a result of our parents actions….which doesn’t seem the same as God doing the punishing or repaying. One of Ray’s comments got me to thinking, and I’m gonna take a stab at answering my own question. I’d love your feedback once I get it posted.
    – matt
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 16:37
  • I think that is the point - in Hebrew thinking, God is said to cause that which He does not prevent. Compare 1 Chron 20:1 with 2 Sam 24:1. Who tempted David - Satan or God?
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 19:39
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    Does this answer your question? Did Ezekiel intend to contradict Exodus 20?
    – Michael16
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 7:07

4 Answers 4

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There are several instances in the Old Testament of people misunderstanding God on this matter. The misunderstanding originated long before the Ten Commandments were set in stone, where that bit about the sins of fathers is contained. Way back in the time of Job, he is recorded as quoting the saying, that "God stores up a man's punishment for his sons.' (Job 21:19) Job knew what his supposed comforters were thinking about the rash of disasters that came on him, his family, and his wealth, maintaining in face of their implications that he had not sinned so as to "deserve" such suffering.

Later on, God had this recorded in the Ten Commandments, but it is essential to quote the entire pertinent bit, if we are not to misunderstand. Here is the relevant part:

"Thou shalt not bow down to [idols], nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments." Deuteronomy 5:9-10 A.V. Bold emphasis mine.

It's interesting that Young's literal translation has 'zealous' for 'jealous', and has square brackets round 'generation'. If the meaning is three or four sons suffering for the iniquity of their fathers who hate the Lord, that would fit in with the next bit speaking of God showing mercy to thousands. It would also follow that any son who loves the Lord and who obeys his commands would be shown mercy by God. That fits in with Ezekiel 18 saying that the soul who sins will die, not the children of fathers who hate the Lord. Of course, it must be remembered that fathers who hate and who disobey God are likely to bring their sons up to do the same. Yet where a son loves and obeys God, mercy will be shown, as Deuteronomy 5:10 states. This means there is no contradiction.

This also fits in with what the prophet Jeremiah wrote in the Old Testament, and what Daniel also said:

"You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers' sins into the laps of their children after them... You reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve." Jeremiah 32:18-19 N.I.V.

"O Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with all who live him and obey his commands." Daniel 9:4 N.I.V.

It's strange how many people can latch on like limpets to bits about punishing children, without balancing that with the related fact of God's overwhelming love and mercy. Thousands receive his love and mercy; three or four suffer dire consequences of hating and disobeying him. This also has to do with the biblical principle of reaping what we sow (Hosea 8:7). There are consequences for the children of fathers who hate and disobey God. Yet any such children who turn to God in love and obedience will receive God's love and mercy! This is the connecting fact between all such scriptures, which keeps getting missed.

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    The quotation of Deuteronomy 5:9 says "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations". The Hebrew word for "visiting" is pāqaḏ (פָּקַד), and the first definition of its Qal form is "to pay attention to, observe" (H6485 - pāqaḏ - Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (kjv)). This is like observing the effects on future generations of abusive or drug-addicted parents, where their children learn their behaviour, thinking it is normal. God observes this effect, he doesn't cause it. Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 17:16
  • what is the basis for your implication that Job lived long before the Ten Commandments were set in stone? Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 1:34
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    @DanFefferman Internal evidence suggests that the context of the book of Job is contemporary with Abraham's grandfather. Various 'academics' dispute this.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 8:50
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    Thanks @Anne. I clearly missed an important part of that verse….”of them that hate me”. This helps clarify that Deut 5 says that the children who continue in their parents steps will suffer (But Jerimiah 32:18 does not make that distinction). I reviewed a handful of translators and also discovered that the word “generation” is not a part of the of the original text. All though every translation on Bible Gateway uses the word generation, or implies a “generational impact”. So it appears that contextually that is what is being conveyed within this group of verses in Deut 5.
    – matt
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 16:57
  • Thanks @RayButterworth. Focusing on the translation of pāqaḏ gives a perspective that God is observing the effects the parents have on their children. I tried applying that reasoning to Jerimiah 32:18, but it seems that God clearly does the “repaying” or “punishing” (which feels like more than just “observing).
    – matt
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 17:00
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It is not only Ezekiel 18 that seems to run contrary to Deut. 5:9. Deuteronomy itself says (24:16):

Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.

Deut. 5 presents a general teaching in which God's jealousy is described in vs. 9 and immediately compared to his mercy in vs. 10 ("showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments"). On the other hand Deut. 24:16 is a specific law, clearly stated. Therefore Deut. 24 takes precedence even if the context of vs. 5:9 is not considered. Human authorities are to punish only the one who committed the crime.

In the larger context, Ezekiel wrote during the Babylonian Exile, when many Jews felt God had turned away from them and feared the worst. God gave them hope through the prophet, who echoed the earlier promise of Jeremiah 31:29-30

In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of the one who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

Conclusion: Deut. 5:9 emphasizes that the consequences of sin are serious, sometimes lasting generations. But it is immediately followed by a more powerful statement of God's mercy, which is eternal. Moreover, Dt. 24 presents clear legislation that only the one who sins should be punished. God's justice may be beyond our understanding, but Jeremiah, Ezekiel and even Deuteronomy itself make it clear that people are not to be punished for sins they did not commit.

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  • @danferrerman you present the idea that… Deut. 5 presents a general teaching, and on the other hand Deut. 24:16 is a specific law, clearly stated. I struggle with that idea, because Deut 5:22 says “The LORD spoke these commands……. He wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me. That seems to be specific and clearly stated (and written in stone)
    – matt
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 17:22
  • that is a good point... The Hebrew דָּבָר is usually translated "word" but sometimes "command." But either way, the sentence in question is an explanation - a reason or teaching as to why no other gods are to be worshiped - not a commandment. Certainly God is not commanded to visit the sins of the fathers on the sons, and human authorities are commanded NOT to so in ch. 24. Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 16:41
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My original question was specifically about Deuteronomy 5:9 and Ezekiel 18:2. Answers from Anne and Ray brought some clarity to those specific verses. Anne points out that verse 5 ends with "of them that hate me". The children who continue in their parents' steps will suffer. Ray focuses on the translation of the Hebrew word pāqaḏ, thereby giving the translation room for the idea that God observes the effects that sinful parents have on the lives of their children. These great thoughts and definitely things that you can see in today’s society (that’s what I love about studying the Bible written thousands of years ago, but so often pertinent to modern times).

But these thoughts that clarified Deuteronomy, fell short of clarifying other verses, like Jeremiah 32:18. And still left me questioning the topic of “the sins of my parents”. A comment by Ray made me decide to take a stab at answering my own question.

One of the definitions of the Hebrew word shâlam (H7999) is “restore”. Using this definition for translating Jeremiah 32:18 presents a different understanding.

If you take the NIV translation from @Anne’s answer and replace “punishment” with “restoration”, and add a set of commas (which, if I’m not mistaken, all punctuation in our English translations is added to the original manuscripts) it makes sense.

You show love to thousands (but bring the punishment) and bring restoration, for the fathers' sins, into the laps of their children after them... You reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.

And if you put that translation into the whole context of chapter 32, it makes even more sense.

Verses 1-5 talk about how God is going to hand Judah over to Babalyon (vs 3). Why is God doing this? Because of the sinful disobedient betrayal of the people of Judah (vss 23-35). Even though God had repeatedly tried to teach and discipline them (vs 33).

Verse 36 starts a message from God (which validates the words of Jeremiah’s prayer from 16-25) and this entire message is about “restoration”. Restoration for “them and their children after them” (vs 39)

I know this may be a stretch, so I would love some feedback. Because the feedback I’ve received so far has added a lot to my Bible study.

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  • I suspect many Bible translators are influenced by their view of a vengeful God. Suffering is often seen as punishment, even when it isn't. (E.g. I tell my child not to touch the hot stove. If he does, will the burn be from me, punishing him?) I wrote a small item about this a couple of decades ago: If God is all-loving, why does he punish us so severely for sinning?. Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 18:15
  • While I agree with your 3rd last paragraph, changing Hebrew words in Jer.32:18 is not the way to arrive at your conclusion. Yes, other parts in Jeremiah's prophecy show that eventual restoration will come, but not until after 70 years of punishment. In 32:18 Jeremiah is agreeing with God that his punishment is righteous while not clashing with the Deut.5:9 statement. "The Holy Scriptures Hebrew & English" p.889 gives a literal rendition of the Hebrew text in Jer.32:18 - and while the word 'recompense' fits in with the Hebrew, 'restoration' does not:
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 15:12
  • “Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them… to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” A dictionary definition of ‘recompense’ is, ‘Requite, reward or punish’ so that if it was God rewarding good, that word would fit, but in verse 18 it is iniquity that God is dealing with, which only fits in with the sense of punishment, not restoring the people who had continually defied God. That could not come until a new generation was in place.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 15:12
  • @Ray comparing your link with Jer 32, Jane represents the Israelites and father represents God. The father did everything he could to prevent the broken arm, but the child had free will. The broken arm was a consequence of the child not following the father’s rules and warnings (Jer 32:33)…not a punishment from the father. But, in Jeremiah, God moves it to a stage of punishment. (31) a provocation of mine anger and of my fury (23) thou (God) hast caused all this evil to come upon them (28) I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans (31) _I should remove it from before my face
    – matt
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 15:15
  • In verse 18 God is also the one doing “it”. The majority of translations define “it” as the fathers iniquity. And what is God doing with that iniquity?…_laying it in the bosom of their children._ My answer is proposing that “it” could be defined as “restoration” (according to H7999). And God is placing restoration into the bosom of the fathers children (despite the fathers). Followed by verse 18, where God’s eyes are on all the ways of these children to give everyone according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
    – matt
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 15:15
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There are numerous issues and the Q raises much broader points such as inherit sin. For example, some would argue because of Adam’s sin we were all condemned. The same logic as the son bearing the sins of the father.

“Therefore, as by the offense of one [Adam] all men were taken to condemnation; so also by the Justice of one [Jesus] many shall be made just.” (Romans 5:18–19)

“For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead [on judgement day] has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” (Corinthians, 5:21-22)

[At best there appears to be some contradiction when taking other passages into account]

“The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” [Ezekiel 18:20]

Deuteronomy 24:16 - 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.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

[even Cain is not bearing the sin of Adam – its do right not wrong]

Matthew 4:17, as we are told about Jesus: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

2 Kings 14:6 However, he did not kill the children of the assassins, for he obeyed the command of the LORD as written by Moses in the Book of the Law: “Parents must not be put to death for the sins of their children, nor children for the sins of their parents. Those deserving to die must be put to death for their own crimes.”

[It’s all about ‘repent’ and if done with sincerity, your sins will be forgiven.]

Ecclesiastes 9:2-4 - 2 Everyone will die someday. Death comes to godly and sinful people alike. It comes to good and bad people alike. It comes to “clean” and “unclean” people alike. Those who offer sacrifices and those who don’t offer them also die. A good person dies, and so does a sinner. Those who make promises die. So do those who are afraid to make them. 3 Here’s what is so bad about everything that happens on this earth. Death catches up with all of us. Also, the hearts of people are full of evil. They live in foolish pleasure. After that, they join those who have already died. 4 Anyone who is still living has hope. Even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

Conclusion: Clearly God being just could not make Somone guilty of another’s action. It is more likely hyperbolic language used in some passages, otherwise some contradiction with passages.

More details see: Do we inherit the sin of Adam - https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/62982/33268

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