|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 4
Meditation Title: Punishing and Loving
Ex 20:5,6 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 fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Quite occasionally we will have a family meal. We invite my wife's mother (our only surviving parent) who is ninety one, and my daughter and her family which includes two young girls. We have taken photos of the four generations together: a great grandmother (my wife's mother), a grandmother (my wife), a mother (her daughter), and grandchildren (her daughters), which means three generations of believers (the grandchildren are too young). Paul spoke similarly of Timothy and his family: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also,” (2 Tim 1:5) but there are also families where unbelief or sin runs through the generations. The grandfather is an unbeliever and despises the Lord and his unbelief is carried through the following generations.
The thought of generations comes, somewhat surprisingly, in the midst of these early commandments. In the second commandment the Lord has warned against making idols and bowing down to them. This speaks against a culture of superstitious belief that fearfully sees power in the wind or the sky or in fertility or the sun or the moon or the river. It is a culture that seeks to appease the ‘gods' by sacrifices of children and other abominable practices, practices that still require wives to be burnt on the funeral pyre of their husbands. These are superstitious practices that are far from the rules of God that bring love, peace, order, safety and security to a community. They are things that are born out of pure superstition, of irrational fears of the unknown. These cultures also relish self-concern which often does nothing for the poor and needy. They allow the rich to become richer at the cost of the poor. These become cultural things handed down from one generation to another – and they hate the Lord. Oh yes they do! They see the Lord as a threat to their man-controlled practices and they are driven on by the enemy playing on their superstitious fears. These generations and these cultures we suddenly find in the sights of the Lord.
This is the first reference to punishment in the Law. It says that God will hold people answerable for their lives and He will punish them. What is the purpose of the Lord's punishment? Is it simply to be spiteful as some foolish atheists suggest? No, it is always with specific purpose which is either to remove the perpetrator who is acting like a cancer in society, or to bring them to their senses if He sees that they are open to that. It is a mystery why some people, like Pharaoh, simply harden their hearts and refuse the Lord, while others quickly heed, repent and change. The Lord's primary desire is change, as He said through Ezekiel: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23).
But is fear and punishment the main thrust of this warning? No, look at what follows: “showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The sin of one generation may filter down to the following generations but the focus is on God's love that wants to flow down through thousands of generations. This says that God's intent is to love people and that is love expressed. It is obvious that that cannot be seen when there are generations refusing that love. But He doesn't sit back and leave them to it; He disciplines or judges to bring change. He wants His world to be blessed, He wants His world to know and experience His love. Later in Exodus we find the same thing: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6,7) There the emphasis was put first on the positive aspects and the warning only follows as if to say, “This is the wonderful God that He is, but don't take Him for granted, don't think you can get away with sin, for He will not sit back and let sin take over; He will deal with it.”
There is one aspect of our verses today that we have not covered: that God is a jealous God. Don't see that as a negative thing in any way. One aspect of love is jealousy. Jealousy is a protective thing. It rises up in defensive protectiveness to guard and protect the object of our love, and to protect the relationship. It is right to be jealous for your marriage partner, to rise against anyone who would seek to lead away the object of our love and to destroy the covenant relationship. Parents who watch their teenage children being seduced away by drink or drugs know the defensive anger that rises up in a desire to protect their children from these things that they know can destroy them. Jealousy in this context is simply a right protective instinct and the Lord has it. He has it when He sees the enemy try to seduce His world with imitations or substitutes that can do nothing for people except act as crutches while he leads them further and further into deception and away from the Lord's goodness.
These are serious verses and wonderful verses. They warn us that God's love prompts Him to act against anyone or anything that would harm His world. His primary intent, when it comes to people, is to bring them back to their senses, to a place where they can know and experience His love, but if they will not heed, then He will, when He sees that this is the situation, remove them from the earth. In the meantime His wonderful love is there for all to receive.