As God revealed seven aspects of His character and nature to Moses in Exodus 34:7 (Graciousness, Compassion, Longsuffering, Loving-kindness, Truthfulness, Forgiveness, Justness) He finished revealing Himself by saying, “keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
In order to fully understand how God is revealing Himself to Moses in Exodus 34, it is important to note that there are two groups of people that God is directing Himself towards in this portion of Scripture. There are those who respond to His truth and there are those who reject it. It is to those who reject the truth of God in the Old Testament that He will “by all means not clear the guilty.”
Exodus 34:7 is an expansion of the chesed/love and emet/truth balance that is at the core of God’s character and nature. In fact, sixteen times in the Old Testament, love and truth are wrapped together in a bundle. If the people responded to God in repentance and love—He would keep chesed for thousands of generations and forgive their iniquity, transgressions and sins. God’s lovingkindness in the Old Testament was reserved for those who responded rightly to His truth. But to those that refused His truth, they also forsook His love and they by all means were not left unpunished.
In Exodus 20:5 it says, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them who hate Me.” God’s dealings with His people under the Old Covenant were entirely dependent upon their response to the truth of His Word. To those that hated God, He would visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation. To those who loved Him and kept His commands, He would show His lovingkindness towards them.
Proverbs 1:23-31 is a powerful parallel passage that continues to drive home this understanding of the character and nature of God as it says,
“Turn at my reproof; surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded, because you neglected all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear comes, when your fear comes as desolation and your destruction comes as a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. ‘Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me early, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, they would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof. Therefore they will eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.'”
This passage of Scripture is directly focused on the response of the people to God’s interactions and his dealings with them. It is clear according to the Old Testament, that God’s judgment was reserved for those who rejected His truth and therefore forsook His love. He would not leave those guilty ones unpunished, and the entirety of the Old Testament is proof of just that reality.
If this is how God dealt with humanity under the Old Covenant, according to how they responded to His truth and words, how then does He deal with His people under the New Covenant? Is there any type of judgment reserved for not only unbelievers who hate him, but also believers in Christ who forsake His commandments and stray from the path?
Let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 11, as Paul addresses the saints in regards to partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In 11:29-32 he says, “For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and unhealthy among you, and many die. If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we would not be condemned with the world.”
Paul is sharing with the believers at Corinth that if they do not partake of the Lord’s supper out of having judged their own hearts and motives rightly, then God Himself would judge them and that His judgment is His discipline for their lives.
God is portrayed under the New Covenant as one who disciplines His children, as any good father will do diligently. On multiple occasions in the New Testament, the Father Himself is the disciplinarian in His family of sons. In fact, in Hebrews 12:5-11, He instructs believers to not take His discipline lightly, and not to faint when reproved by Him, because “for whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
In this passage the writer equates the discipline of the Father as both the proof of His fatherhood and the proof of our being His sons! Mature sons acknowledge both of these realities, while sons who still live out of an orphan-heart view any idea of being disciplined as somehow being rejected by God. In both 1 Corinthians 11 and Hebrews 12, discipline is considered a type of judgment that God releases upon the lives of believers when they do not respond to Him in a way that pleases Him.
I believe God is positioning the bride of Christ in this hour to a place where they will receive His correction, discipline, rebuke and therefore His justness without interpreting it as rejection. His judgment upon our lives is a demonstration of His goodness toward us as His people. The issue is not over whether He loves us, but over whether our own orphan hearts can receive His love for us.
At times, the words of the Father bring great comfort to our hearts. In other seasons, His words sting in order to bring adjustment. We must always remember that whether the words comfort or sting, they are still coming from the same voice of our loving Father!
When the post-resurrected Jesus spoke to the believers at Laodicea, He said to them in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
The same Greek word for “judgment” in 1 Corinthians 11 is the same word here for discipline. In other words Jesus said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and judge.”