The transferability of sin: punishing
the innocent for the sins of the guilty
From other passages in the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament): Ten Commandments, 1 Samuel,
1 Chronicles, and Hosea.
The Ten Commandments:
There are three different versions of the Decalogue (a.k.a. the
Ten Commandments) listed in the Hebrew
Scriptures. They are at Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
||Exodus 20:3-5 states:
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not
make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that
is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in
the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them,
nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting
the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and
fourth generation of them that hate me;"
||Deuteronomy 5:7-9 differs by only one word.
describes that God will directly punish
the children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, and great-great
grandchildren of a transgressor, even though they did not participate in the
sin. They might not have even been alive when their ancestor worshiped another
God or bowed down before an image or statue. Yet, they were still to be punished for the crime of a distant ancestor.
Genocide of the tribe of Benjamin:
||Judges 19 describes how some men of the tribe of Benjamin, living in the town of Gibeah, raped
and murdered a concubine owned by a visiting Levite. The Levite later butchered
concubine, dividing her body into twelve pieces, and sent each piece to one of
the tribes of Israel.
Judges 20 describes that, as punishment for this crime, an
army from the remaining 11 tribes attacked the tribe of Benjamin, killing "all
the city with the edge of the sword." This implies that they murdered
all of the elderly, women, children, infants and newborns in the cities. Most of the men
were also killed. The
towns belonging to the tribe of Benjamin were burned to the ground.
In Judges 21, the 11 tribes realized that only a few hundred Benjamite
males survived. But their wives and children had all been murdered. The
remaining Hebrews vowed that they would not give their daughters in
marriage to the Benjamites. That meant that the surviving males could not
marry or have children; the entire tribe would eventually die out. Hebrew
men were forbidden to marry non-Hebrew women. To preserve the tribe, they
had to find a few hundred Hebrew women who could be given to the
Benjamites as wives. They observed that no soldiers from Jabesh-gilead
had taken part in the slaughter of the Benjamites. So they killed "the
inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword" including
the children." (Judges 21:10) They killed "... every male, and every
woman" who was a non-virgin, sparing only four hundred
young female virgins. (Judges 21:11) These were kidnapped, and were given to the surviving Benjamite men as wives.
This prevented the complete genocide of the tribe.
Lost in this story of bloodshed and murder in cold blood is the fact that the only persons guilty of the death
of the concubine were some men from Gibeah. When the smoke cleared, thousands of
innocent men, women and children from the tribe of Benjamin and from Jabesh-gilead were
slaughtered as punishment for the acts of a few men.
Punishing David by killing his infant child:
2 Samuel 11 describes how David arranged for one of his soldiers, Uriah the
Hittite, to be killed in a battle. David's motivation was to cover his
adulterous affair with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, during which she had become
pregnant. As soon as her period of mourning was finished, she married David.
2 Samuel 12 describes a parable that the prophet Nathan told to David; it
closely paralleled the actions of David with Bathsheba. As recorded in 2 Samuel
12:14 to 18, Nathan prophesized that:
"the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. And Nathan
departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife
bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the
child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth. And
the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the
earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them. And it came to
pass on the seventh day, that the child died."
God killed the unnamed, innocent, son of David and Bathsheba because of the
deeds of David.
Transportation of the Ark of the Covenant:
1 Chronicles 13:7-11 describes that David and his retinue were transporting the Ark
of the Covenant on a new cart. This was in violation of
God's instructions that the Ark was to be manually carried by priests (Numbers
4:5 & 6; 10:33-36; Psalms 68:1 & 132:8).). They came to the threshing floor of Chidon (according to 1 Chronicles) or of Nachon (according to
another account in
2 Samuel). One commentary on the Bible says that either the oxen who were
pulling the ark stumbled, or the ark was tilting and about to be upset because
of the incline. This situation could have been very serious because the ark
could have been seriously damaged or even destroyed by falling off the cart.
"...reacting instinctively, Uzzah put his hand on it to
keep it steady." 2 thus preventing any damage to the Ark. We know little about Uzzah or Uzza as he
is called in 1 Chronicles, except that, according to Ezra 2:43-49, he was a
Nethinim, a temple servant who performed menial work in the sanctuary. 3 God took immediate action.
He did not punish the individual(s) in leadership positions who were
responsible for ordering that the ark be improperly transported. God immediately killed
the temple servant Uzzah/Uzza because
he had touched the Ark. The guilt of the leaders had been transferred to the menial
Again, in modern times, we don't kill people for touching religions objects,
particularly if it is an instinctive action, or if it is done to save a precious object
from damage. If anyone is to be disciplined or punished, it should be the person
or persons responsible for endangering the object, not an individual who saved
Punishing children for the sins of their parents:
Hosea conveys a message from God that is critical of the ancient Hebrews. Hosea 4:1-2 says:
"... there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood."
The punishment is outlined in Hosea 4:6 which says:
"... because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children."
That is, God will intentionally punish the Israelite children for the sins of their parents.
Murdering women, children and fetuses for the sins of the men of Samarians:
The priests and othe male leaders of Samaria have abandoned the worship of Yahweh and worship idols. In Hosea 13:16 God says that he will murder -- not the perpetrators but the pregnant women, children and the fetuses that the women are carrying: Hosea 13:16 says:
"Samaria is held guilty, For she has rebelled against her God. They shall fall by the sword, Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, And their women with child ripped open."
Needless to say, with the state of medical science in those days, any woman whose abdomen was ripped open would have died of blood loss and/or infection.
The American Humanist Association quoted this passage in an advertising campaign during 2011-NOV. They were attempting to show that Agnostic and Atheist
Humanists do not need the Bible to create an honorable moral system. Rather they can base a system of ethics and morals on rational grounds. More details
- From the King James Version of the Bible.
- J.D. Douglas, Ed., "New commentary
on the whole Bible: Old Testament volume," Tyndale (1991), Page 398.
"Nethinim," Bible Encyclopedia, at:
Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-OCT-20
Latest update: 2011-NOV-29
Author: B.A. Robinson