My question is partly related to the problem of theodicy. In Joshua 7 we
see Achan and all his family executed for a sin which only Achan is
responsible for. For years i’ve wrestled trying to reconcile this passage
in light of clear divine instruction in Deut 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:4,20. I
will acknowledge that Amaziah practices the rule of Deut 24:16 (796-767BC)
in 2Kings 14:5-6 where he pardons the sons of his father’s assassins. Why
is it not practised here?


This certainly is a difficult and important question. I believe there is
more than one principle involved here. One principle is personal
responsibility before God based on our own life. The the other is how God
deals with peoples, families and nations. Many have seen a contradiction
here when that is not the case. A general rule I have found is that when
we find what, at first glance, may seem like a contradition, reconciling
the apparent contradiction deepens our knowledge of God. Experience tells
me that if we try to understand how the two situations are different and
why they are treated differently, we gain deeper insight into God’s nature
and into how he deals with men. One of my favorite examples of this, even
though it is a less significant case is in Proverbs 26:4,5. Here it says
in v. 4, Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like
him yourself. In verse 5 it says, Answser a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes. These verses follow directly upon
each other! My conclusion is that if a fool is trying to use his
foolishness to engage us in a debate, we should either simply walk away,
because any answer will only add fuel to his fire, or we should give an
answer which clearly shows him the foolishness of what he has said.
Either way, to engage in a continued discussion with a fool is not wise.

Let us apply this to the question of how God deals with peoples (ie groups
of people) versus how he deals with individuals. God says in Numbers
14:18, “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and
rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes teh
children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”
What I see from this passage is that when people or groups of people rebel
against God, the punishment on them may be visited on their whole family,
even for more than one generation. For example, when Israel sinned
greviously, God punished them by sending them into exile. He used Assyria
and Babylon to discipline them. The children and even the grandchildren
of those who had sinned were effected by the punishment. Israel was
exiled for seventy years before God began to bless them as a nation again,
bringing them back to the Promised Land. The bottom line is that our sins
affect those around us. The people we love the most experience the most
damage as a result of our sins. This is an inescapable principle. This
is one of the reasons Israel (and we) needed to take their sin very
seriously. Their sin would bring down God’s wrath on those around them.
God is not unjust, but there are situations which require him to deal with
an entire people. Obviously, some of the people who suffer in such a
situation do not, as individuals, deserve the punishment, but they are
inevitable carried up in the consequences.

This leads us to how God deals with us as individuals. Ezekiel 18 does
not contradict Numbers 14. It is about God’s judgment on us as
individuals. Ezekiel 18:19-20 is about individual responsibility before
God for individual righteousness. “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. In other words, before God, on Judgement Day, we will be
accountable for our own deeds. Period. Personal judgement is based on
our own righteousness (and the grace of God of course, fortunately!), not
on that of others. Believe it or not, this does not contradict the fact
that in this life, we may suffer the consequences of the sins of others.
We may very well be caught up into God’s judgement on our own nation,
tribe, family, company or whatever. We should not mistake that for his
personal judgement on us. When God judged the Jews in the destruction of
Jerusalem in AD 70, I am sure there were at least a small number of
righteous people who were killed at the time. I believe that God will
judge them for eternity separately from how he judged Israel for rejecting

In the case of Achan, there was a lot at stake here. God needed to send a
strong and clear message. Sin will not be tolerated. The consequences of
blatant rebellion before God are great. I believe that the children and
the other family members will not be judged in eternity for the sin of
Achan. That would not be just. Nevertheless it is tragic that their
lives were ended in this way. Who is to blame? Achan, not God.
Hopefully, their deaths provide an example to us which will save many

In summary, God is just, both in how he deals with us as a nation, as a
people, as a family or even as a church. How he deals with groups is a
separate issue from judgement for eternity. The message of the Bible is
plain on this. Each of us is accountable before God for “what we have
done as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12). Having said that, the
sins of those around us and our own personal sins may have horrible
consequences on us. God will deliver judgement in this life in the form
of discipline for our sins, even to the second and the third generation.
We should take this very seriously. Our sin does not just hurt us in this
life. I am very thankful that, as it says in Numbers 14:18, “The Lord is
slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion.” Yet,
let us not take his grace in vain.

John Oakes

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