2 Kings 10.6-10 – God’s punishment of corporate guilt
Posted: 30 September 2014 in 2 Kings

Then he [Jehu] wrote a letter the second time to them, saying, If ye be mine, and if ye will hearken unto my voice, take ye the heads of the men your master’s sons, and come to me to Jezreel by to morrow this time. Now the king’s sons, being seventy persons, were with the great men of the city, which brought them up. And it came to pass, when the letter came to them, that they took the king’s sons, and slew seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent him them to Jezreel. And there came a messenger, and told him, saying, They have brought the heads of the king’s sons. And he said, Lay ye them in two heaps at the entering in of the gate until the morning. And it came to pass in the morning, that he went out, and stood, and said to all the people, Ye be righteous: behold, I conspired against my master, and slew him: but who slew all these? Know now that there shall fall unto the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, which the Lord spake concerning the house of Ahab: for the Lord hath done that which he spake by his servant Elijah.

The curse upon Ahab’s house, which Jehu here speaks of, is that spoken by Elijah, in the name of the Lord, following the murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21.1-13). It is not clear whether Jehu was consciously intending to fulfill the prophesy which God spoke through the mouth of Elijah, or whether he was simply pursuing his own political advantage. Given the utter sinfulness of mankind, it was probably the latter. Nevertheless, one thing spoken by Jehu was absolutely true, which is that not one word uttered by the Lord will ever fall to the ground – whether that word be with regard to the destruction of Ahab’s family, or with regard to the salvation of all his elect.

It may seem unjust that Ahab’s entire family should suffer for the misdeeds of Ahab and his wife. Nevertheless, if God wills it, it must, for that very reason, be just. It is not for us to contend with the Lord. The idea that the guilt arising from sin can be passed down through the generations is, of course, not entirely absent from the Bible. One of the central tenets of Christian theology we have all inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin. In a similar fashion, in Numbers 16 the whole of Korah’s family suffers as a result of his sin. In these days, when we think principally in terms of individual responsibility, corporate guilt is a difficult concept for us to accept, but since its reality is testified to by none other than God himself, it is an idea which we are obliged get our heads around.

Of course there are some passages, such as Jeremiah 31.21-30, which seem to tell against corporate responsibility:

In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.

But there is no need for the Lord to contradict himself when he wishes to inflict a collective punishment. In the specific case of Korah’s family, they would undoubtedly already have stood guilty of many previous sins, and so there was no inconsistency on God’s part when, as a result of Korah’s sin, the rest of his family suffered a punishment which was already justly theirs anyway.

But let it be repeated. Even if we cannot understand God’s ways, it is never fitting for us, his creatures, to question the Lord’s justice or righteousness.

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