What’s all this “Generational”Stuff?
by Dr. Paul L. Cox
You shall not bow down yourself to them or serve them [idols]; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, But showing mercy and steadfast love to athousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
We believe the issue of generational iniquity is best illustrated in the familiar story of Cain.Let’s review. Cain and his brother Abel brought a sacrifice to the Lord; Abel’s sacrifice wasfound worthy in God’s eyes, while Cain’s was not. This story marks an important distinctionbetween sin, rebellion and iniquity. When Cain became angry, sad and dejected, the Lordsaid to Cain, “Sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Inresponse to this, Cain did three things. First, and perhaps most profoundly, he departed fromthe presence of the Lord. Next, he convinced his brother to come out to the fields, where hekilled him. Lastly, when the Lord asked him where his brother was, Cain replied, “Am I mybrother’s keeper?” And after this answer, the Lord cursed Cain.We may define sin simply as separation from God, and Cain’s “departing from the presenceof the Lord” exemplifies this. In the Old Testament, the law required sin offerings for suchthings as coming in contact with a dead animal carcass or a dead body, so we can see thatsin occurs from actions as simple as taking our eyes off God and going astray; there is notnecessarily any malicious intent. Rebellion, on the other hand, occurs when we knowingly dothat which God has commanded us and charged us not to do, when we “do it anyway.”For generational issues, however, iniquity becomes our primary concern, and Cain’s answer to God exemplifies iniquity. The Lord asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” and Cain does notsay, “Lord, I have sinned greatly, for I have committed murder upon my own brother.” Hedoes not even respond rebelliously, “Listen, I know it’s against the rules, but I killed Abel, socould we just get this punishment thing over with, Lord?” Instead, he replies, “Am I mybrother’s keeper?” Cain gives an answer that distorts the truth; he chooses not to confess thetruth with contrition, nor to tell the truth, albeit without remorse (like the second exampleresponse), but his response is crafted to cover his sin and rebellion, and thus evadeconsequences altogether. Thus, we may define iniquity as a twisted response to God. TheHebrew word avown is translated here as iniquity, and this word comes from the root wordavah, which Strong’s translates as “do amiss, bow down, make crooked, pervert.” God cursesCain for his actions, and Cain replies, “My punishment is too great!” The word translated as“punishment” is actually avown; so Cain is quite literally saying, “My crookedness is toogreat,” where ‘crookedness’ may refer to either his own crooked ways, the punishment thatcomes with them, or both. Thus, it is quite literally this crookedness, this twisting of thefather’s that is visited upon the sons in the sense of the curse, the punishment, but also in thesense of the distorted response.