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Are You Leaving Your Kids a Legacy of Doom?

Would God really punish my great grandchildren if I fail to worship Him the way He demands?

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.

That is God’s warning to the Israelites about idolatry. Idol worship and worshiping the true God falsely are hatred for Yahweh, the consequences of which are severe and long-lasting. It won’t just destroy our lives; it will destroy our children and even our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It’s a stunning declaration. After all, the Bible makes it clear that our sins are our own. Guilt should not be inherited.

Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “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.”

And in Ezekiel 18:20 we read, “The soul who sins shall die. 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.”

It is completely outside of God’s character to inflict judgement on children for the father’s sins, yet in the Second Commandment doesn’t He promise just that?

No, God will not punish us for decisions our parents made, but that does not mean there are no consequences for their decisions. Of course there are!

The Second Commandment promises that our priorities will impact the people around us, especially our children.

If we worship an idol of career, our children will see that. They will see us stay late at the office and miss dinner. They will see us celebrate the promotions and the raises more than we celebrate the birthdays and the milestones.

If we idolize a hobby, they’ll see that too. They won’t forget the days that we chose watching the game over being with the church. They’ll believe that the hobby is how the family is supposed to spend time together. Our unconscious actions will become their values, values that they will teach their children.

They will also remember if we choose to worship the true God falsely. Think about the Golden Calf of Exodus 32. The people go to Aaron and ask for a physical representation of God. On its own, this was wicked. By doing this, the Israelites diminished the image of God.

But let’s imagine that the generation of Israelites knew that this was just an expedient to worship Yahweh. Even though the Second Commandment called this idol worship “hatred of God” because they were not loving Yahweh the way He demanded to be loved, in their hearts this first generation still knew Him. The Golden Calf was just an instance of them wandering away from true worship. It was still sinful, but something they could easily correct if they wanted to.

What would have happened if Moses wouldn’t have eradicated this idol worship right at the start? What would happen though if instead of the Ark of the Covenant, it was the Golden Calf that went forward with them?

For that first generation, surely they would remember that the calf was not the true God, just a poor representation of the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and as a pillar of fire and cloud in the wilderness, and now with thunder and lightning on the mountain. The first generation would remember the truth, but what about their children? They would probably still have their parents to remind them that the calf was just an idol, but most of those lessons would be blurred by the reality of their daily worship of something other than the true God.

For the Israelites, when they asked Aaron to carve the Golden Calf they didn’t think they were founding a new religion. The calf was just more convenient and tangible, but by the time the grandchildren and grandchildren came along, the way the Israelites worshiped would have been so far from the way God prescribed it would be unrecognizable. Would the great grandchildren remember Yahweh at all? Probably not!

The warning of the Second Commandment teaches two important lessons then:

First, for the children, we must not just follow the pattern of our fathers. The stories of repentance in the Old Testament seem like they take place over a relatively short period of time, after all they are only a few chapters a piece in our Bibles, but in reality it took generations for Israel to turn away from and then turn back to Yahweh. The Old Testament is the story of sons realizing the sins of their fathers and determining to do better. God will not punish us for our father’s sins, but He will punish us if we repeat them. The first lesson from this warning is to break the generational pattern and turn your family back to the one true God.

The second lesson is for the parents.

Your kids are watching, and your actions matter more than your words. They will notice when you prioritize your career or your passion or your temptations over them and God. They will notice when you substitute true worship for entertainment. And the opposite is true too. God says that He will show mercy to thousands, to those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Your unconscious decisions today (good and bad) will become their values for tomorrow, values that they will pass down to their children until they become a worldview that is nearly impossible to shake.

You have a choice then. You can continue to prioritize other gods over Yahweh and in so doing you will leave a legacy of doom for your family. Or you can choose to course correct today. Worship the true God in Spirit and Truth and watch His mercy pour over to thousands for generations to come because of what you did today.


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