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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Not everything Biblical is Christian. Part 3 - descendant punishment

This is part 3 of the series Not everything Biblical is Christian. See part 1 and part 2 to catch up.

Dear John (that is my younger self)

Some Bible verses threw you for a loop when you read the Bible with equal authority front to back. You weren't able to resolve tensions like this one, so you shelved it in your brain, hoping that one day, before the afterlife, the back office would come up with something.

Your older self may have something, but let's look at one those Bible difficulties. It's in the 10 commandments. They show up twice in the Bible, in Exodus 20, shortly after the escape from Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5, forty years later, before the people enter the promised land.

The second commandment, forbidding graven images (idols), comes with a threat and a promise, a stick and a carrot.

Exodus 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God promises to punish grand children and great grand children for the sins of their ancestors, but bless the descendants to a thousand generations those who love him and obey these commandments. He says it again in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 5:8 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

To be honest, that is a raw deal for a kid, whose great grandpa did not care for God or his commandments. It's how punishment works in North Korea. I have heard this softened by Bible teachers who point out that family dysfunction does seem to perpetuate. For example, alcoholism runs in families, so does domestic violence. But that defense of this part of the commandment disregards the active, not passive, intentionality of God.

Why is God and North Korean tyranny alike? But then they are not. In fact, God changed his mind on this whole thing. He does that a few times in the Bible, this is one of those examples. It's a little longer to provide more context. It seems that God is not changing his mind, but blaming his people for this idea that children should expect punishment for their parents' sins.

Ezekiel 18:18 As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, he dies for his iniquity. 19 Yet you say, "Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?" When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own. 21 But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? 24 But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. 25 Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Someone's way is unfair back in the 2nd commandment, and Ezekiel has God saying it's not him and he thinks that descendant punishment stuff is stupid. He also is saying the righteous don't accumulate sin credits to cash in later on. It's not a game or a quid pro quo transaction.

Finally, in the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus this way, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8

It's a difficult collection of verses Johnboy. If Jesus is the same across the ages, and if he and God the Father are united as the triune God, why did he say one thing to Moses and a very different thing to Ezekiel? Why did he, through 'Zeke, give his people grief (telling them they totally got it wrong) for believing the thing they learned from the ten rules he gave them through Mo'?

I have an idea. I think the brain cells in the back room have something worth your younger brain's consideration. It is based on the example of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 where he pulls an Ezekiel. I will discuss it in the next post, part 4, as this one got too long.

Bonus material.
Has anyone else noticed the reason for keeping the Sabbath also changed between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5? Did God forget? Did he change his mind again?


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