The second commandment

Published 6:41 am Friday, May 25, 2018

In Exodus 20:4-6 it is written, “You shall not make for yourself an idol…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those that reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love and keep my commandments.”

For many people, parts of the second commandment are very troublesome. The idea that God would punish children for the sins of their parents certainly strains the powerful image of a loving and forgiving Father that Jesus preaches in the New Testament. 

But we could also look at this as a description of the way things are because God has created the world so that it is hard for children to break out of family patterns of sin without the power of God to help them. 

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Have you ever noticed how easily we repeat the family sins and successes that are passed on to us?

Let me illustrate what I am talking about by comparing the families of Max Jukes and Jonathan Edwards, who both lived in the 1700s. Max Jukes lived in New York. He did not believe in Christ or in Christian training. He refused to take his children to church, even when they asked to go. He has had 1,026 descendants; 300 were sent to prison for an average term of 13 years, 190 were public prostitutes, 680 were admitted alcoholics. A clear pattern has emerged from Max Jukes family tree.

Jonathan Edwards lived in the same state, at the same time as Jukes. He loved the Lord and was one of the great revival preachers of the First Great Awakening. He practiced what he preached as he made sure his children were in church every Sunday, as he served the Lord to the best of his ability. He has had 929 descendants. Of these, 430 were ministers, 86 became university professors, 13 became university presidents, several were authors of 75 books, five were elected to the United States Congress, and two were elected to the Senate. One was Vice President of his nation. His family has contributed immeasurably to the life of our country.

Every time I read this I pause and wonder how important decisions I make affect my family and those around me for years to come. Choosing to follow Jesus Christ does not guarantee my family will be trouble-free, but to center my life on God’s tremendous love will certainly bring God’s power into my life in a way that surely will help. In fact, history shows that families centered on God enjoy so many more blessings, lack of strife, and contribute to the lives of others with such regularity that it must be more than coincidence.

There are many idols we are tempted to worship in place of God. The lure of money, the power of money, the things we can buy, and financial security are all very tempting idols. We are easily tempted by a perceived need to relax or do chores on Sundays as more important than worshipping God. 

Even good things like our families, jobs, and recreation become substitutes for God, and we allow our blessings to become a curse as we turn them into idols.

Do you believe it is important to worship God together as a couple or family? What are some of the unintended consequences for a family that ignores or only gives lip service to serving and worshipping God? 

Do you think that the comparison of Jonathan Edwards and Max Jukes is evidence of the blessings and curses that can fall on a family due to choices they made, or is it just a coincidence? 

Why not take a look at your own family tree from a spiritual perspective and see if you find similar results? Is it possible for a member of the family to break the cycle of family sin by giving their lives to Jesus Christ, and dedicating themselves to serving Him?

As I read about the descendants of Max Jukes and Jonathan Edwards, I don’t think it is necessary for God to punish our children for our sins; apparently the legacy we leave behind can affect our families for generations to come. 

Let us keep this in mind that we may choose to worship God and God alone. 

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see