There is a contradiction between the following two verses in the Old Testament: continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their father's wickedness! (Exodus 34:7) and Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children for their fathers; but only for his own guilt shall a man be put to death (2 Chronicles 25:4). Can you explain this contradiction?
Answer: The maybe most important of the Old Testament reference for the Doctrine of God’s forgiveness and punishment is found in Deuteronomy 5:7-10. The most important part of this text forms the Ten Commandments (i.e. the Decalogue):
”You shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation but bestowing mercy, down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
The same book, Deuteronomy, comes back to this same theme in 7:9-11:
“Understand, then, that the Lord, your God, is God indeed, the faithful God who keeps his merciful covenant down to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments, but who repays with destruction the person who hates him; he does not dally with such a one, but makes him personally pay for it. You shall therefore carefully observe the commandments, the statutes and the decrees which I enjoin you today.”
Then there is also the previously incompletely cited text of Gods appearance as experienced by Moses. Exodus 34: 6-9:
"Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out, 'The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their fathers' wickedness!' Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship. Hen he said, 'If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sis, and receive us as your own.'"
Deuteronomy 7:10 shows, that God always punishes the individual and does so immediately. On the other hand, He rewards those who love Him to the thousandth generation (see above, Deuteronomy 7:9 and also Exodus 34:7).The punishment of sin from the fathers to the sons to the fourth generation does not contradict this, because it refers to the old thinking, which still exists in unchanged patriarchal societies, that four generations make up one extended family. The head of the clan and the clan, which comprises four generations, are seen as one unit, one extended family. Extended families in this sense, and the head of this extended family, form one unit in the thinking and understanding of people living in such communities, and are thus jointly answerable to God.
The above cited verse in 2 Chronicles 25:4 corresponds exactly to the chronologically possibly earlier verse in Deuteronomy 24:16. The seemingly contradicting texts both belong to the same book Deuteronomy and it was therefore not believed that they contradicted each other.
Chapter 18 of the book of the prophet Ezekiel is dedicated entirely to the question of personal responsibility, separate from the traditions already mentioned. Do read the whole chapter, but especially Ezekiel 18:4 and 18:19-23. The prophet addressed his statements in the 18th chapter of his book against a possible misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 5:9 and Exodus 24:7.