From the Ladies Aid Society of the Sioux Center Church we received a question about the punishment meted out to Gehazi and his seed for the former’s sin of covetousness and lying.
The problem the society faced and could not solve satisfactorily was, how it is possible, seeing that the Bible teaches that the children shall not be punished for the sins of their fathers, that not only Gehazi but also his seed is punished.
We all know the history.
Naaman, the Syrian, was cleansed of his leprosy through the instrumentality of following up the word of Elisha, the Prophet, directing him to wash seven times in Jordan. In gratitude he offers the prophet a present, which the latter refuses. Gehazi, the servant of the prophet, tempted by his covetousness, runs after Naaman, invents a story that two young men have come to Elisha and that the prophet would have Naaman give a talent of silver and two changes of garment for these sons of the prophets to Gehazi. The Syrian gives him two talents of silver and the requested garments, and Gehazi returns. Faced by Elisha and questioned concerning his absence Gehazi lies once more, but is rebuked by the prophet. And then we read in II Kings 5:27: “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed forever. And he went out from his presence, a leper white as snow.”
Now, it is certainly true that Scripture teaches that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, but that the soul that sinneth shall die.
Yet, the matter is not quite as simple as it might appear. It is also true that in the second commandment we are warned that God will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children in the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. And it is evident from experience that often the children suffer the consequences of the sins of their parents in many ways. To a certain extent this is always the case in the organic development of the human race. When a father squanders his money the children must share in the poverty and social misery that is the result. Certain diseases due to the immoral life of the parents reveal themselves in generations. It would seem then, that children often suffer the evil consequences of their parents’ misdeeds.
Now, how can this be harmonized with the principle that children are not punished for the sins of their fathers, that the former do not bear the iniquity of latter, and that only the soul that sinneth shall die?
I think that we must remember two things.
In the first place, that in as far as the sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the children, so that these are punished for them, the children themselves also partake of the sins of their fathers. We must not overlook the fact that in the second commandment we read, that God will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children in the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. Not only the punishment, also the sin pertains to the generations. We must remember here, of course, that by nature no generations are righteous and innocent. We are apt to forget this, when we discuss this problem. When the question is asked: how can God punish innocent children for the sins of their fathers, we forget that according to Scripture there are no “innocent children.” We are all lost in sin, damnable before God, and worthy of eternal death outside of the grace of God. This narrows down the question to this: how, if children are not punished for the sins of their fathers, can God inflict certain punishments upon the children for certain sins which the fathers committed? My answer would be: by letting also the sins of the fathers appear in the generations of them that hate Him. And by this punishment upon their seed the damnation of the fathers is made the heavier.
Secondly, in as far as the consequences of the sins of the fathers for the children are mere consequences and no judicial retributions, God is able to sanctify temporal misery and suffering unto the hearts of them that love Him unto eternal salvation. Suppose that ten descendants suffer with a certain misfortune or disease because of the misdeeds of their ancestors. Suppose that two of them are regenerated and redeemed by the grace of God. In that case God does not punish the sins of the fathers upon them, even though they suffer because of their sins. And He is able to cause their suffering and misery to be conducive unto their salvation and eternal glory.
Now, apply this to the case under discussion. When you read in II Kings 5:27 that also Gehazi’s seed shall be leprous, we must remember that this does not necessarily mean every individual descendant of Gehazi. In Num. 16:31 ff. we read that Korah and his household were punished for the former’s rebellion. Yet later we read of the children of Korah; Num. 26:58 and often in the Psalms. The implication is that not all the children of Korah perished in the catastrophe upon him and his house. That may have been the case with the seed of Gehazi. Not all the descendants need have been leprous to fulfill the word of Elisha. If this were the case, I would say that only they of his seed bore the punishment of leprosy that hated the Lord and were partakers with their father of his sin of covetousness and lying against the Holy Ghost. But if this were not the case, if all the seed of Gehazi were meant, I would reply to the question that either all were wicked like their ancestor, or if not, only for the wicked would the leprosy be punishment.
The sin of the fathers is not punished in the children; but both the sin and the punishment often runs in the line of generations.
I hope that I succeeded to throw some light on this question.