Are children punished for the sins of their parents? – Part I

On Sunday mornings we’ve been working our way through 2 Samuel and recently I covered chapter 21, verses 1-14. I’d say it’s one of the most difficult stories in the Old Testament, not because it’s hard to understand, but because of some of the questions that arise. Let me briefly summarize the story…

When Israel entered the Promised Land back, they were supposed to destroy all the wicked inhabitants who hadn’t repented for over four centuries. The Gibeonites were terrified of being executed, so they deceived the Israelites into thinking they weren’t really from Canaan, but from some land far away. Without consulting with God first Israel entered into a covenant with them and were unable to attack them without incurring the wrath of God. You can read the whole story in Joshua 9.

In 2 Samuel 21, Israel’s experiencing a terrible famine. David inquires of God and finds out it’s because Saul slaughtered many of the Gibeonites years earlier. To atone for Saul’s sins, the Gibeonites want to execute seven of Saul’s descendants. David provides the men, they’re executed and the famine ends.

During the week as I study, I accumulate up 5 or 6,000 words for my sermons, which I have to shave down to 4,000 to keep my sermons to 45 minutes. As a result, there are plenty of notes I end up excluding that I’d like to include. Some of the notes include further clarification, but they’re excluded because of their lack of application or technical nature. Obviously it’s very subjective determining what to remove, which is why I pray so many times throughout the week that God lets me know exactly what to say.

With that said, one of the questions I’ve received related to the descendants of Saul being executed for the sins of their father/grandfather, a seeming contradiction to God’s Word that He won’t punish children for the sins of their parents (Deut 24:16, 2 Chr 25:4). Here’s what I would have said if I could’ve gotten away with a two-hour sermon…

The Gibeonites were pagans and not bound by God’s law. For example, they also left the bodies hanging over night; actually, they left them hanging overnight for approximately four-to-six months. This completely contradicted God’s Word in Deut 21:22-23 If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God. The interesting thing is, God lifted the famine AFTER the men hung on the tree, showing He didn’t disapprove of the Gibeonites’ actions.

The point is God let the Gibeonites disobey His law because they were pagans who weren’t bound by it. This could be why they were able to put children to death for the sins of their father even though God’s law forbade it.

We’ll look at this in more detail in my next blog!

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