The Bible certainly contains plenty of stories about evil people getting what they deserve. Although God is longsuffering and merciful, there are limits to His tolerance, and unrepentant wrongdoers eventually reap what they’ve sown. When God’s mercy ends, His judgment begins.
I must confess that I enjoy reading Bible stories that feature bad guys getting what they deserve. (Don’t we all love justice—when it applies to other people?) On the other hand, I’ve found myself concerned when I read biblical stories that seemingly portray God as unjust, when, for example, His judgment falls on the entire family of one wicked man. Why do children and spouses sometimes suffer for the sins of their ungodly family members? If you read the books of 1 and 2 Kings, for example, you’ll discover at least three such incidents. God’s wrath fell upon some families of evil men to the degree that, not only were their sons annihilated, but also other members of their extended families.
So how is that just? As Abraham said to Lord while he interceded for the people of Sodom: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen. 18:25).
Let’s take a closer look at three kings of Israel—Jeroboam, Baasha, and Ahab, who all suffered familial judgment, to see if there is anything we can learn.
Jeroboam was Israel’s first king after the division of the Israelite tribes following Solomon’s reign. His kingship was by God’s appointment, yet he turned Israel towards idolatry. Even after experiencing a divine miracle, he continued leading Israel to worship golden calves. His son, Abijah, consequently fell seriously ill, and Jeroboam dispatched his wife to a prophet to inquire if his son would recover. That prophet did not have good news for Jeroboam’s wife:
Go, say to Jeroboam, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you — yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back — therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat. And he who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat; for the Lord has spoken it. Now you, arise, go to your house. When your feet enter the city the child will die. All Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he alone of Jeroboam’s family will come to the grave, because in him something good was found toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. Moreover,the Lord will raise up for Himself a king over Israel who will cut off the house of Jeroboam this day and from now on'” (1 Kings 14:7-14).
Take note that although Jeroboam’s son Abijah died, his death was a divine act of mercy. He was spared the trauma he would otherwise have suffered had he lived to see the imminent deaths of his father and all his male relatives. He was taken to a place Paul said is “far better” (Phil. 1:23).
Also take note of God’s moral distinction of Jeroboam’s son. God said he was the only person of Jeroboam’s household in which “something good was found toward the Lord God of Israel.” God marked him as the only male member of Jeroboam’s family who was not deserving of judgment. This is later confirmed in the similar account recorded in 2 Chronicles, where we read that the “Levites left their pasture lands and their property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had excluded them from serving as priests to the Lord” (2 Chr. 11:14, emphasis added).
All of this is to say that this was not a case of God becoming angry with one wicked man and consequently killing his entire family. Rather, it was a case of God becoming angry with Jeroboam and all his male family members—with the exception of one son who, unlike the rest, did not suffer a violent and humiliating death, and was spared from continuing to live among a corrupt family.
It was not long after Abijah’s death that “the Lord struck” Jeroboam “and he died” (1 Chron. 13:20). Jeroboam’s son, Nadab, became king in his place, of whom it is written that “he did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father and in his sin which he made Israel sin” (1 Kings 15:26). Two years into his reign, he was assassinated by a man named Baasha, who then became Israel’s next king. But Baasha didn’t stop with eliminating Jeroboam:
As soon as he [Baasha] was king, he struck down all the household of Jeroboam. He did not leave to Jeroboam any persons alive, until he had destroyed them, according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke by His servant Ahijah the Shilonite, and because of the sins of Jeroboam which he sinned, and which he made Israel sin, because of his provocation with which he provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger (1Kings 15:29-30).
From this tragic story we learn that sin can be both individual or corporate. The former invites individual judgment, while the later invites corporate judgment upon those who are complicit. And that is why God sometimes judges entire families, groups, and even nations.
The Potential Folly of Family Loyalty
We all know that families tend to be loyal to their members, but God expects the highest allegiance. Everyone’s loyalty to Him should supersede their loyalty to their family members. If one’s entire family is heading in the wrong moral direction, that is no excuse before God for any family member to join them. In fact, God expects the minority, no matter how small, to speak up against the immoral majority.
We note, for example, that Eli the priest was fully aware that his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were abusing their priestly privileges while also committing adultery “with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (1 Sam. 2:22). Eli even spoke to them about it, but he did nothing to stop their immoral behavior, favoring them as beloved sons. The Lord said to him, “Why do you…honor your sons above Me?” (1 Sam. 2:29), and He told young Samuel concerning Eli, “I am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them” (1 Sam. 3:13). It was not long before Eli and his two sons all died on the same day.
Contrasted with Eli—who did not rebuke the sins of his beloved sons—was King Asa, who disciplined his own mother for her idolatry. We read that, as soon as he was exalted as Judah’s king:
He…removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah; and Asa cut down her horrid image and burned it at the brook Kidron” (1 Kings 15:13).
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve heard professing Christians use family loyalty as an excuse for themselves, or for others, to disobey the Lord. Some go so far as to claim they are “honoring their parents” by being complicit in their parent’s wrongdoing. Yet Jesus said:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,” and “a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.” He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:34-37).
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters…he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26).
If we comply with the sins of family members, we should not be surprised when we share in their judgment.
Of course, the one who leads others into sin is more guilty then those who follow Him into sin, as was the case with Jeroboam. But all of his sons could have listened to their consciences (and apparently, one of them did, whom the Lord took to heaven).
Do you remember Basha, who assassinated Jeroboam’s son Nadab, who became Israel’s next king, and whom God used to annihilate the entire household of Jeroboam? You would think he would have learned something from his experience about the importance of obeying the Lord if he wanted God’s blessing as Israel’s king. But he didn’t. “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel sin” (1 Kings 15:33).
Consequently, Baasha and his complicit household suffered the same judgment as Jeroboam and his complicit household:
Now the word of the Lord came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying [to Baasha], “Inasmuch as I exalted you from the dust and made you leader over My people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made My people Israel sin, provoking Me to anger with their sins, behold, I will consume Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Anyone of Baasha who dies in the city the dogs will eat, and anyone of his who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat (1 Kings. 16:1-4).
Scripture doesn’t tell us precisely how Baasha died, but at his death, his son, Elah, became king in his place. He only lasted two years before he was assassinated, while he was drunk, by one of his military commanders named Zimri. Then, within a week, Zimri “killed all the household of Baasha; he did not leave a single male, neither of his relatives nor of his friends” (1 Kings 16:11), which fulfilled the word that was given through the prophet Jehu.
Again, this was not a case of God punishing family members and friends because of a family leader’s sins, but of God punishing family members, and their friends, who were complicit with the sins of the family leader:
Thus Zimri destroyed all the household of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke against Baasha through Jehu the prophet, for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols (1 Kings 16:12-13, emphasis added).
So we learn the same lesson. If your family and/or friends are compromising morally, don’t follow them, and don’t be silent. Speak up and stand against what you know is wrong. God will take notice, and you’ll escape any corporate judgment.
After he annihilated the household of Baasha, Zimri committed suicide just seven days into his kingship in order to avoid being killed by the Israelites who were upset with his assassination of Elah. They appointed a man named Omri, an Israelite military commander, to be their new king, and he “acted more wickedly than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25). He died after a twelve-year reign. His son, Ahab, then ascended to Israel’s throne. Of him, Scripture say, “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30). You might be able to predict Ahab’s fate, since he was even more evil than Jeroboam or Baasha before him…
You may recall that Ahab married a non-Israelite, Baal-worshipping woman name Jezebel. Under her influence, Ahab himself converted to Baal-worship, yet he wisely returned to the Lord after he witnessed fire fall from heaven on the day Elijah challenged to the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. And the Lord consequently helped him in various battles against Aramean invaders. But backsliders who repent can backslide again. And that is what Ahab did.
Eventually, Ahab became obsessed with possessing a vineyard near his palace in Jezreel that was owned by a man named Naboth, who was unwilling to sell it to him. Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, arranged for Naboth’s murder (as well as the murder of his sons). Complicit with her were the elders and nobles of Jezreel, all of whom ignored their consciences for the sake of remaining in good standing with the covetous king and queen. Not long after, God sent Elijah with a message to Ahab:
Thus says the Lord, “Have you murdered and also taken possession?…. In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours…. you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and because you have made Israel sin…. The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel. The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the field the birds of heaven will eat” (1 Kings 21:19-24).
All of this is starting to sound familiar.
Amazingly, Ahab again had a change of heart, and God showed him some mercy by means of delaying his inevitable judgment:
It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days (1 Kings 21:27-29).
Once again, this was not a case of God punishing Ahab’s family for Ahab’s sins. Rather, it is a case of God showing some mercy to Ahab because he humbled himself, and of God punishing Ahab’s family for their own sins.
Yet even Ahab’s repentance could not change God’s promise that the dogs would lick his blood where they licked Naboth’s blood. About three years later, the Lord arranged for Ahab to be mortally wounded in a battle against his old enemies, the Arameans, and when his bloody chariot was washed, dogs licked his blood in the same place they had licked Naboth’s blood.
Ahab’s son Ahaziah became the next king of Israel, but like Jeroboam’s son, Nadab, and Baasha’s son, Elah, his reign lasted only two years. He died from complications due to an accidental fall. Of him Scripture says, “He did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father [Ahab] and in the way of his mother [Jezebel] and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. So he served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger, according to all that his father had done” (1 Kings 22:52-53).
Ahaziah had no son, so his brother, Jehoram (or Joram), became Israel’s next king for twelve years, during which time “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 3:1).
So we see that, when divine judgment was pronounced upon Ahab and his family, it was not just Ahab who provoked God’s anger. His wife, and sons, on their own, also invited God’s wrath. Yet even they, like Ahab, received many years of mercy. Ahab’s son, Jehoram, reigned as Israel’s king for twelve years, during which time he was well aware of the many miracles that God did through Elisha, yet he never repented. His wicked mother, Jezebel, also lived through his entire reign.
Ultimately, God anointed an Israelite army captain named Jehu to fulfill His long-ago promised judgment on the descendants of Ahab, saying to him through a young prophet:
I have anointed you king over the people of the Lord, even over Israel. You shall strike the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male person both bond and free in Israel. I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her (2 Kings 9:6-10).
Before long, Jehoram (or Joram), was dead, an arrow through his heart shot by Jehu, in the very vineyard his father and mother had stolen, through murder, from Naboth. Not long after that, Jezebel was dead and her body was eaten by dogs. And not long after that, all seventy of Ahab’s sons were dead, and you can be sure they all deserved their fate, being complicit in the sins of their father. And Jehu didn’t stop until he had killed everyone related to Ahab and all the remaining prophets and priests of Baal, who were likely on Jezebel’s payroll, as well as all those who worshipped Baal. “Thus Jehu eradicated Baal out of Israel” (2 Kings 10:28).
However, as for the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin, from these Jehu did not depart, even the golden calves that were at Bethel and that were at Dan. The Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in executing what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in My heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel sin (2 Kings 10:29-31).
Incidentally, the four generations of kings who descended from Jehu were all wicked, yet God showed them all mercy.
What is the moral of all these stories? One is this: “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). We become like those with whom we associate, so be careful with whom you spend your time. Don’t compromise biblical, moral convictions just to keep family members or friends happy. Serve God.
A second moral is this: God judges not only those who lead others to do wrong, but also those who follow them, cooperate with them, or who remain silent about their misdeeds. And for that reason, God’s judgment sometimes falls on entire families as well as other groups.
Again, serve God. Although it is sometimes said that “blood is thicker than water,” for believers, Jesus’ blood matters more than any bloodline. — David