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One of the hallmarks of American culture is individualism. As with all “isms,” individualism carries with it a mixed load of baggage. Among the pieces of useful luggage are individual responsibility, personal merit, and unrooted freedom. Its millstones include selfishness, pride, and generational blindness. I wonder how many reading this could name their great-great grandparents. I know I would have to look it up. Many of us live our lives oblivious to the influences we inherited from our ancestors or those that we have transmitted or may bequeath to our descendants. Heredity is not restricted to the physical realm. It is also a spiritual reality hardwired into the race of man by our Creator.

Exodus 34:5-7
5 And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.
6 And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

YHWH descended in the Shekinah glory cloud and proclaimed “the name of the Lord.” Proclaiming the Name goes well beyond the cordial exchange of identities we involve ourselves in at social functions. God revealed the essence of His being to Moses. He is “merciful, gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth.” He keeps mercy “for thousands.” In context, these thousands are not individuals but generations. The Hebrew word translated “mercy” in Exodus 34:7 is checed. The word is too rich in meaning for a single English word to do it justice. Its definition in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words is worth quoting at length.

“In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation.

The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But checed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law.”[1]

In revealing Himself, God leads with love and His covenant commitment to remain in relationship with those in His care. As in all healthy relationships, rules and boundaries apply. But our heavenly Father has frontloaded His relationship to us with divine endurance, patience, and forgiveness. Let us look at Exodus 34:7 again, this time from the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) version.

Exodus 34:7
showing grace to the thousandth generation, forgiving offenses, crimes and sins; yet not exonerating the guilty, but causing the negative effects of the parents’ offenses to be experienced by their children and grandchildren, and even by the third and fourth generations. CJB

His checed pours down through to the thousandth generation—an idiom used to indicate endless generations—without negating the need for justice or the negative impacts of the offenses of our ancestors. Grace and justice, cornerstones of redemption, are generationally required because sin’s corruption cascades through the chromosomes of progeny upon progeny and forms the essence of iniquity, which is fallen man’s propensity to sin and transgress against the holiness of God.

God’s “causing the negative effects of the parents’ offenses to be experienced by their children” and subsequent generations may seem contrary to mercy, grace, and love but it is actually an outcome of it as it flows through the same means He designed to carry His likeness. His original intent can be seen in the council communication of the Godhead, His blessing bestowed on man, and His stated desire in marriage.

Genesis 1:26-27
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

“Let us make man in our image” is a familial declaration. It finds its reflection in the Godhead’s subsequent blessing and command to man to “be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). In their fruitfulness and multiplication, mankind was to impose God’s garden order over all the earth and its creatures. It was His intent from the beginning that the union of man and woman engender a holy race of subregents to rule His world.

Matthew 19:4-6
4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Divorce is a family trauma visited on children because of the hardness of heart in fallen man (Matt. 19:7-8). God’s original intent and desire was for children to grow up in a committed and biologically intact family to retain the clearest transmission of His generational plan—children in His image predisposed to loving-kindness and abundant in grace and truth.

Malachi 2:13-15
13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.
14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. ESV

“Godly offspring” in verse 15 above is in the Hebrew zera’ ‘elohiym, God-seed. The union was made a reality through the breath of God to achieve the result that the CJB translates as “spiritual blood-relatives” and “seed from God” (Mal. 2:15 CJB). God has not abandoned His desire or plan because of man’s fall. He opted instead to dive into the generational stream and redeem His creation.

[1] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, s.v. “loving-kindness.”