In my last blog post on the book of numbers we discussed the great rebellion of the Israelites against God when they refused to trust Him, and so they balked at entering the Promised Land that had been set aside and prepared for them.We examined the consequences of this rebellion (wandering for 40 years in the desert, with none of those at the age of accountability being allowed ever to enter the Promised Land except for Joshua and Caleb). But, we also talked about a foundational God-principle that scholars have called “Vertical Retribution.”
In a nutshell, the principle is that the divine punishment due to the father for a sin against God, can be postponed, and later experienced by his children or even later generations. And, the same principle also applied to mercy: that is, the mercy due to a father could be postponed and given to his descendants.
Today we’re going to continue in examining more of the important God principles that are fleshed out in this chapter.
I want to reiterate that the NT that is so invaluable to us all is only two things:
- First, it tells us who the Messiah that was prophesied in the OT turned out to be along with the high points of what He did and why He did them; and
- Second, it is a commentary on the OT that takes into account the coming of Jesus and how it brings so much of the meaning of the Torah commands and the Prophets’ oracles into better focus. That is why more than half of the phrases and sentences that form the NT are merely direct quotes from OT scripture.
But we also need to grasp that commentary (ANY commentary) by definition comes AFTER the foundational material. That is, all any preacher should do today (and most do so) is to comment on what has been previously written (specifically, Holy Scripture).
The Torah and the Prophets are the foundational material, and so are the NT comments on it (Paul especially). In Hebrew, this commentary is traditionally called Midrash. So if all one reads is the commentary but not the foundational material, we’re going to get some things right and some things wrong. It is the Torah where we’ll find all of the foundational God-principles explained in detail.
The NT fully expects its readers to have already Bible 101, which is the Torah. Without it, it is likely attempting Algebra without ever having studied basic math. One may well get something out of the Algebra classes, but the meat will go undiscovered and the reasons that underlie the Algebraic formulas will go unknown and therefore misused at times.
We won’t spend but a short period with this, but there is an important feature of this Vertical Retribution principle that I would like to make a little clearer. And, it is that generally speaking if a person who committed an offense against God was repentant, and contrite, Salach, pardon of the punishment postponed and transferred to the next generation of his family.
NOTE: the sentence pardoned IN THE FORM of having it passed forward. But the sin and the guilt of committing that crime remained permanently.
- If that next generation accepted and acknowledged that they rightfully bore the iniquities of their fathers that they received,
- Honored God’s principle of Vertical Retribution and
- They repented for it, and
- Themselves asked for Salach pardon or forgiveness of the punishment then the punishment would be moved onto the NEXT generation, and so on and so forth.
In our modern political era, we call this act of passing the problem forward “kicking the can on down the road.” That is, rather than a political leader facing a knotty problem and doing the right thing because it is politically dangerous he finds a way to put a Band-Aid over it and let’s whoever the next leader who replaces him inherit the problem.
And, of course, typically the next head is handed this can of worms, and his goal becomes to kick that same can and as many others as he is able down the road a little further to his replacement.
So, built-in to the concept of Vertical Retribution is the ability to kick the can down the road. The punishment due to the sinner postponed and passed on to the next generation, and if that next generation is contrite, and asks for Salach, pardon, it can move the punishment that was meant to bear forward, and on and on it goes theoretically.
Now, let me emphasize: this is NOT some ancient superstition. And this is a very foundational Biblical principle ordained by the Creator, woven into the entire Word, and it has everything to do with why we need a Savior.
You see God is not a man that He should change. When justice is due to God because someone has broken His commands, justice was to be extracted. It cannot be any other way, or God is simply fickle, arbitrary, and cannot be taken at His word. However the postponement of justice, and that someone who is innocent can bear the just punishment in place of the guilty party, legally allows God to do what He wants to do: show mercy to His creatures.
Point being, as thousands of families kicked the can of retribution and punishment on down the road through all the generations of humanity, the buck has to end somewhere; it all eventually has to fall on somebody. It is not an endless road. It doesn’t just keep going forward into eternity and then God just forgets about it.
But what human could bear all the retribution and guilt that had built up over the centuries, within his family, let alone for the world full of families? That can of postponed punishment that kicked down the road for so long stopped rolling when he reached the feet of Jesus.
When we read of how our Messiah paid for our iniquities, it was not just for the sins of the generation in which Jesus lived, nor was it only for future generations. It was for “the iniquities of the fathers.” But for the sins that had occurred in hundreds of previous generations.
And, it was God’s principle of Vertical Retribution that played a key role in allowing those destructive divine retributions postponed until we had a Savior to bear them for all past generations.
You see, we may have escaped the divine punishment that we rightfully should have experienced: a penalty that is not only ours by our actions but ours due to the sins of our fathers that have been passed down to us.
But, even if we were oblivious to it, that punishment indeed WAS extracted, laid upon Jesus Christ. So, in that way, God’s justice was fulfilled, as it must be. The sentence postponed for a long time, but it was eventually meted out, in full, to Jesus on that Cross.
Jesus, in many ways, transformed the dynamic of Vertical Retribution. In John 9:1, when a man asked Jesus why a certain man was born blind, he wanted to know if it was the sins of that man’s father that caused the blindness, or it was that man’s sins. What this fellow was referring to was the well-understood principle of Vertical Retribution. Jesus responded that NEITHER that blind man’s sins NOR the sins of his father were the issue; rather, he was blind so that the works of God could be manifested in him. And, Jesus proceeded to heal him.
Jesus was showing, and later said, that a man would bear only his sins; but that meant from THIS TIME FORWARD. From the advent of Jesus forward this was the case. Not because the principle of Vertical Retribution changed or canceled, but because from this time forward, when God granted pardon to a man who had sinned against Him a man who had ASKED God for forgiveness in the name of Jesus the divine punishment was postponed against that man and transferred to Jesus.
When a man, in our era, sins, Believer or non-Believer, that mans you, me, anybody is due to divine retribution. And, a non-Believer will bear that punishment himself; spiritually speaking, it will be after his physical death when he receives eternal death.
However, for the Believer, our remedy is to trust in Christ, repent and be contrite, and ask God for pardon in His name and JESUS will bear that divine retribution that was due to us. And, the God-established principle of Vertical Retribution, which we find here in Numbers, is the foundation of enabling Christ’s atonement for humanity a viable substitution for what should have been our personal eternal destruction.