In our two prior studies of this subject (307) (308), we have seen that generational sins (the sins of our forefathers) do have a definite impact upon our external circumstances. Daniel was carried off into captivity by the Babylonians through no fault of his own. His external circumstances were dictated by the divine reaction to the sins of both the current and prior generations of Judah (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). In this physical sense, we are all in "bondage" to the sinful choices of those who have gone before us, i.e. our circumstances are always the result of the choices of multiple generations that have preceded us. This is the normal outworking of God's principles of sowing and reaping. But, this "bondage" is only external; it does not necessarily produce any bondage at the level of the soul and spirit.
We have also seen that the primary texts which address the issue of God's imposition of judgment upon third and fourth generations (Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9) contain the statement "upon the third and fourth generations of those that hate Me." This is an observation that carries some significant implications. For example, it would appear to be a mistake to use Isaac's duplicity regarding Rebekah's identity (Genesis 26:7-11) as an illustration of the visitation of divine wrath upon those that hate Him just because it followed a pattern which Abraham had established in prior years (Genesis 12 & 20). To make Isaac's practice of Abraham's duplicity an illustration of the "generational sins issue" would require that we see Abraham as one of those who "hated" God. That flies in the face of everything God has said about his "friend" Abraham.
This raises a critical question: Does the generational sin issue of God's visitation of the consequences of hateful choices upon succeeding generations relate to a special action of God, or does it simply declare a fundamental principle of the way God's universe operates? In other words, is the generational sin issue simply the outworking of God's cause and effect universe, or is it a special visitation of bondage upon the offspring of those who hate God? If it is the former, there is no particular need to identify the original perpetrators as "those that hate" God since cause and effect affects everyone whether they love God or hate Him. If it is the latter, there is a deliberate distinction made between those who "hate" God and those who, though they love Him, are yet imperfect in their love and its follow-through of obedience.
According to Paul, no one escapes the law of cause and effect: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). However, according to Exodus 34:7 and Numbers 14:18, God makes a distinction in His treatment of those who love Him and those who hate Him. For those who love Him, He extends forgiveness; for those who hate Him, He imposes penalties unto the third and fourth generations. What we have here is a difference between the normal outworking of the universe (which does not allow believers to abuse the law of the harvest) and the special imposition of penalty upon the impenitent who hate God. In other words, those who hate God are subject to the normal law of cause and effect just as those who love God are, but they are also subject to the additional consequence of God's imposition of judgment above and beyond the normal consequence of choices made.
For clarity's sake perhaps we can say it this way: sin always creates a down-line harvest according to the law of sowing and reaping no matter who does it (believer or unbeliever); but the sins of the impenitent also receive additional consequences of divine reaction that are not imposed upon those who repent afterwards. So, those who "hate" God (i.e. the impenitent) receive both a down-line harvest of their sown seeds of sin and an additional imposition of divine judgment. On the other hand, those who "love" God (i.e. the penitent who are not sinless, but are repentant) only receive the down-line harvest. God forgives their sins and does not add His judgment to the normal harvest. Forgiveness by God does not lift the law of the harvest (lest God be mocked), but it does lift the consequences which God would personally impose if repentance did not follow the sin.
Therefore, I conclude that God's visitation of the sins of those who hate Him upon the succeeding generations is in addition to the normal outworking of the law of sowing and reaping.
Again, this is not the end of the matter, but it gives us some more upon which to think.