The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. -Numbers 14:18 (NIV)
As parents who are very human, we do our best to raise our children, and have our highs and lows when raising and disciplining them. And when we make mistakes as parents, that can carry on in our children, who are learning by our example. And though we ask God for forgiveness, and are forgiven, the consequences can live on past our own generation.
The Israelites were famously disobedient after God rescued them from Egypt. They moaned and whined and complained and doubted when God used Moses and Aaron to lead them to the Promised Land. They even wished they would die in the wilderness than face the inhabitants of the Promised Land!
And after ten of the twelve spies spread a bad report of Israel’s odds in taking the Promised Land–even after God already told the nation it was theirs for the taking–they still turned their backs on God in disobedience.
At Moses’ request, God did forgive His children, but they had to reap the consequences of their disobedience: Not one of them over 20 years old would live to enter the Promised Land, except for the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb. Then, the Israelites said they were sorry and wanted to then enter the Promised Land, but it was too late. Since God was not with them, they were driven out by the native inhabitants when they attempted to enter on their own.
God is the Father to all of us, His children, just as He was to the Israelites. And He is infinite in love and forgiveness for us, and is also loving enough to give us consequences, rather than merely let us off the hook when we sin. We earnestly come to Him for forgiveness, and are forgiven, but must then face the consequences.
We can thank Him for the consequences, for through them, we can grow closer to Him in faith and obedience. We are loved by One who can work out all things for the good.