Do we need to repent for the iniquities of our forefathers?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Do we have to repent for generational curses?

There are many people today who will say no to repenting for the curses of our forefathers, or that it is not necessary.  They will cite as their evidence from the bible Ezekiel 18:19-20;

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (ESV)

However, one of the biggest problems with just acknowledging this part of the scripture and not looking into the full context of the chapter is that it is a very poor example of avoiding repentance for the generational curses that we do have in our lives.

In Leviticus 26:40-42, we find out that there is a command from the law of God, (notice that phrase as it is not the law of Moses), to repent for the iniquity (which in the Hebrew is Generational Curses) of not only ourselves, but that of our forefathers that came before us.

“But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” (ESV)

And when we do repent according to this law of God, it is the only place in the bible where God is referred to as the God of Jacob, God of Isaac, the God of Abraham.  In the context of this phraseology, it is about going from a current generation back to the origin of original covenant (in this case Abraham).

Now the chapter that we have in our introduction is God talking through the prophet in response to a Jewish proverb that in its day said, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

This proverb of man was in response to the people complaining that God was not being fair.  The people were upset because they were blaming their difficulties on those who came before them.  And as you study the whole chapter and the surrounding chapters, you will discover that God the Father is saying to the people that they should not make excuses for their own iniquities in any way.   But instead, they need to repent and things would change.

As you read about the “sour grapes” proverb, you realize that the people at that time were saying to God that they had done everything according to the law, and that God was still punishing them as a nation because of those who had come before them and did not follow the plans, laws, and balances of justice that God had intended for them to participate in.

I think it is important to realize that this is a familiar outlook held not only in the time of Ezekiel by the Jewish religious leaders, but even in the days of Jesus Christ upon this earth.

Matthew 23:29-32 tells us:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.” (ESV)

As you look at the Sanhedrin (the Pharisees and Sadducees together), just like their counterparts from the days of Ezekiel, they too were very spiritual on the outside.  They condemned their previous mentors, and those who came before them.  But they too were in truth no better in following the real intent of God’s heart for the commands that were given to Israel.

And just a quick note; in truth these religious leaders also killed the prophets just as their forefathers had done.  They were given John the Baptist, who called out to them, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

So yes, they too were guilty of murdering the oracles of God.

Now back to Ezekiel. 

The underlying subject in the proverb of “sour grapes” is that it is unfair for the child to be punished for something that someone else did.  But through the prophet, God returns the conversation to the lap of Israel saying that, “from no on, you will no longer be able to use this saying.”

First of all, notice that God Himself says to the people, “All souls are mine” (verse 4).

As you study the word soul, realize that in the Hebrew it means “Destiny”.  In truth, there is no such thing as a human being having a ‘soul’ where there is a part of you that holds your emotions.  This is actually unscriptural to declare.

Man is in truth, body – soul (which is actually destiny) – spirit.  Your emotions are actually in your spirit man and to declare otherwise is to show that the individual is merely repeating what they have heard in the past without studying the subject matter themselves.

Notice that when David says in Psalm 30:3, O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.”

Here David is actually saying, “O lord, you have rescued my ‘destiny’.”

Psalm 116:8, For you have delivered my soul (destiny) from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;”

Now in Ezekiel, God is actually being satirical with the people when He starts talking in verses 5-9 about a certain righteous man who has obeyed the laws and the ceremonial details of the laws.

Then, in verses 10-13, God uses the prophet to describe that this righteous man has a son who does not follow in his father’s footsteps.  Instead the son is a robber, a murderer, an adulterer, and it is because of this behavior and lifestyle that God says the son shall die.

Then to take the case even further, the Lord then says that the wicked son has a son (grandchild to the first man).

This son/grandson does not follow in the wickedness of the father.  Instead, he repents of his father’s sins, which have now become iniquities.

In the Hebrew language, when it says that the son does not follow in the ways of the father, it actually uses the word “nahum – which means to lament or grieve”. 

God says that this son will live and that he will not be punished for the sins of the forefathers. 

This is why the prophet says that God will not punish the son for the iniquity of the evil father.  So please notice here that the son/grandson repenting is the key.

Also, realize that the people have in their own will, tried to manipulate God with His own Law.  God says in verse 19 that the house of Israel is speaking out, “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’

They may have perhaps been referring to Exodus 34:7, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

It is very possible that the people were completely missing God’s point.  This is why God answers them back in verse 19, by saying – When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live.”

God’s point was in fact to convict the complaining people of their sin. 

He is actually stating, “so you as a people would prefer that I consider your own individual merits?  Okay.  It is going to be to your own condemnation and not to your justification.”

But then He goes on further to explain that God permits repentance.  He says,  “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

Notice the parallel with the very first encounter in the beginning of the chapter.  In the first situation, the son has a wicked father.  However, the son made a choice to live according to the righteousness of the Lord.  So he lives.

In the second situation, that person is himself evil, but he eventually repents and God has the pleasure of letting that man live.

What this clearly shows is that if God will turn aside judgment from those who have done evil and they repent, then it does not matter if their father sinned.  That is the key to this whole chapter.

It is about repenting as it says in Leviticus 26:40-42.  And when this happens, God’s judgment is not going to happen to that generation of the family.

Then God completes His thought of accepting this repentance by saying, in verse 23 of Ezekiel 18,  “ Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

He is telling the people that He is not against repentance and the great part of this is that God has intended that even a sinner can have life.  But it must come through repentance.

I think it is interesting that in this whole chapter, three times the people have said, “God’s ways are not just.”  And yet, in each of these, God says His ways are.

Towards the end of the chapter, God declares that the missing part of the whole understanding is for the people to repent. 

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:30-32

Notice the important phrase, “Make yourself a new heart and a new spirit.”  I like this because it really is saying that the decision is up to the individual and then to the nation.  And in this, there is a realization that it cannot be done on a strength that is humanly possible.

Finally, I would like to point out again the theme of this chapter in its whole context.  It can be summed up in verse 30;

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.” (ESV)

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