Punished For Father's Sins
This article is written by Hans Neser and is used with his permission.

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"If sin cannot be passed on or inherited, then what does Lamentations 5:7 'Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment' mean?"

This is a question that has caused confusion for a number of people - this confusion is easy to understand when you take single verses out its context. Let's look at the fuller context of Lamentations 5:1-9:

"Remember, O LORD, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, our homes to foreigners. We have become orphans and fatherless, our mothers like widows. We must buy the water we drink; our wood can be had only at a price. Those who pursue us are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest. We submitted to Egypt and Assyria to get enough bread. Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment. Slaves rule over us, and there is none to free us from their hands. We get our bread at the risk of our lives because of the sword in the desert."

We see here not a command or directive handed down from God but the author giving the history that lead up to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Chaldean army.

On many occasions God told the nation of Israel that if they walked in God's ways that he would prosper them and make an incredible nation out of them and that if they walked in the ways of the Pagan nations that they would be disbanded as a nation - Lamentations is a eulogy at the funeral of the nation of Israel.

Have a look at Chapter 24 of Joshua to see this promise as given by God.

In Chapter 5 we see an acknowledgement of the sins of Israel and the punishment to God's people as a whole - this is not talking about individual people but about a nation. Israel sinned and are now being punished for that sin even though it is a generation later.

We can see that this same issue was a confusion to people in these times - have a look at the message of Ezekiel in dealing with this very same issue in Ezekiel 18:1-20:

"The word of the LORD came to me: "What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: "'The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die. "Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of the house of Israel. He does not defile his neighbour's wife or lie with a woman during her period. He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. a He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD. "Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them): "He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbour's wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head. "But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things: "He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of the house of Israel. He does not defile his neighbour's wife. He does not oppress anyone or require a pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He withholds his hand from sin and takes no usury or excessive interest. He keeps my laws and follows my decrees. He will not die for his father's sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people. "Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him."

Here Ezekiel talks about the individual - the son is not punished for the sins of the father nor is the father punished for the sins of the child.

One note does need to be made here about sin and consequences - Even though we can repent of sin and be forgiven by God there are still the consequences of sin to deal with here is a rather extreme example - A person gets really angry over some issue and stabs a person to death - they are arrested and sentenced to a long term in prison - in prison they find Jesus and become a Christian - that person will be forgiven for the sin of murder at the day of judgement but they will have to finish serving the prison sentence as a consequence for their sin.

Another example might be a father that gets drunk and shakes his baby for crying to much which leads to permanent brain damage of the baby - though the father can repent and be forgiven that child will have to live the rest of its life with the consequences of the father's sin.

This is the same case in Lamentations - Every person, whether righteous or unrighteous, who lived in Israel bore the consequences of Israel not walking with God. Though this might seem unfair it is in fact completely just - the entire nations, except for a very small remnant, walked in the path of evil and God acted as he had promised. The righteous who died in the Chaldean invasion will be vindicated at Judgement day, those who survived and held to their faith throughout the captivity returned to do remarkable things - including rebuilding Jerusalem 70 years later.

We must always remember that suffering the consequences of sin is not the same as being punished for that sin - we may be punished by men and their laws but the real punishment for sin will not be until Judgement day when all will come before God to give an account of their actions in this lifetime.