“He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” – from The Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:7)
“Let no one deceive you, for that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:3
How long is four generations? When God addressed the old and childless Abraham telling him he would have a son, He also told him the future of that one seed. That child, Isaac, would multiply into a nation and be held in captivity in a distant land. Then God would visit that nation in “the fourth generation”, which was four hundred years (Genesis 15, 17), when YHVH would judge that nation and its idolatrous gods. That was the prediction of the exodus of Israel from Egypt that would occur 430 years later. The reason given for the four hundred year hiatus was that the iniquities of the nations of Canaan had not yet come to fullness, which would culminate in the fourth generation. At that time Joshua (after an additional forty years due to Israel’s disobedience) would enter the land and bring judgment to those peoples as they continued unabated in their corruptions and sin (which are enumerated in the Torah). It was the time of the fullness of those nations.
That principle was later codified in the Ten Commandments, which says, “for I YHVH your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” In other words, iniquity un-repented-of is cumulative and increasing until the fourth generation- four hundred years- at which time divine judgment is forthcoming.
Is there an historical pattern that may be observed to each fourth generation? First, Israel itself was formed in the fourth generation: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes of Israel. We see in the Biblical history that the first temple in Jerusalem was constructed by King Solomon four generations after the Exodus, in 967BC (1 Kings 6:1). Then we see the temple and Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 486BC, at the end of a similar period from the completion of the temple. From the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian exile in 386 BC and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the foundation for the second temple under Nehemiah, it is at the end of the fourth generation that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem (see the prophecy of Daniel 9), and the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD. In his Antiquities of the Jews XII:322, Josephus says in approximately 80 AD that “the desolation of the Temple came about in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel, which had been made 408 years before.”
These events were spoken of by Israel’s prophets well before their occurrences, each admonishing the people to turn from their iniquities lest judgment befall them. In each case the prophet’s warning was ignored, and the judgment became historical reality. Ezekiel was told to lay upon his left side for three hundred ninety days, each day representing one year of the iniquity of Israel, and to prophesy the coming judgment, if repentance was not forthcoming (Ezekiel 4).
Still later, the Muslim Ottoman Empire ruled the Holy Land from 1517 to 1917- four hundred years- when it was conquered by the British, a time that Jews were returning to the ancient land after a 2000-year exile. In 1948 the nation of Israel was re-born three years after the devastating holocaust of the Jews in Europe.
Is there something that we might learn in our own days from these past events and the pattern of their having occurred? It may be said that America, the freest and most prosperous and blessed nation of the modern world, founded on Judeo-Christian values, is now nearing its fourth generation. The first colony established was Jamestown in 1608, an economic enterprise by the British Empire. But if one counts from the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth for the sake of religious liberty in 1620, a group of dedicated people who profoundly influenced the foundations of what was to become the United States of America, we approach the fourth generation, making 2020 the four hundredth year. In either case it is the fourth generation Biblically, based on the pattern of Abraham.
The great changes in America that have transpired in just the last generation are remarkable. Many things that were not only unheard-of but unimaginable in the 1950’s are fast becoming daily fare of normality in the 21st century. That includes the forced lawful recognition of same-sex marriage, casting off the age-old and essential definition of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, and thus the re-definition of family. It would also include the rampant use and legalization of drugs, abortion as a form of birth control, and widespread accessibility to the most rank forms of pornography, the breakdown of family and great increase in divorce, regular mass murders, all being a renunciation of inherited Godly values. Many are they who have spoken out of the need to return to those values. And the great power of America (though with an astronomical national debt), especially through the media and the granted freedom of expression, has greatly influenced nations around the planet in this decline.
Yeshua (Jesus) spoke of a time which would be “at the time of the fullness of the Gentiles (nations)”, when the salvation and knowledge of God would have been heard around the world, and then would return to Israel (Luke 21:24, Romans 11:25). For the first time in two millennia of dispersion, the Jewish people have not only their own nation again in the ancient Land of Israel (a phenomenon unparalleled in history), but many are coming to re-examine the Jew Yeshua, and seeing him as the promised Messiah. At the same time we are witnessing in our time a real decline in the formerly Christian world of the West, the casting off of Godly morality for an atheism of hopelessness, especially in Europe, where Islam is increasingly filling the religious vacuum. We hear daily of outrages throughout the world, threats of nuclear war, and the vicious chaos and violence of perennial unhappiness in the Muslim world, especially Iran the cradle of the Islamic Revolution since 1979, and their hatred and unceasing threats of destruction to the West. The proliferation of sophisticated weaponry has cast a pall of fear and anxiety across the world’s population.
The planet seems to be a gathering hurricane, and we here in Israel are at the eye of the storm. We all watch daily as truth and history are twisted and distorted in an effort to divide the Promised Land in two, forcing two nations onto this tiny piece of real estate, and that in the name of a peace which is in no way guaranteed to arise from such a division, judging from the daily rhetoric of the Muslim world (including our immediate neighbors the Palestinians). But we are also aware of the prophetic Biblical picture before us of a time that God would gather all nations down into the valley of Jehosaphat (which is the Hebrew for “the judgment of God”) for their iniquities, including the dividing of God’s land ( Isaiah 14:2), the historical Land of Israel (Joel 3, Zechariah 12-14, Ezekiel 36-38, etc.). It is the approaching time of the milo hagoyim– the fullness of nations.
It is in God we trust.