There are two separate cases that deal with the children’s liability for the sins of a parent. The first case is based on the Second Commandment in Exod 20:5-6 and the second case is based on the statutes for civil litigation in Deut 24:16.
Exod 20:5-6 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;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Deut 24:16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
In the case of the commandment, there are two types of people who will be affected by the sins of the fathers: those generations who hate God because of the influence of the fathers and those generations who love him in spite of the influence of the fathers. “Them that hate me” and “them that love me” are not referring to the fathers who sin, but the generations that proceed from the fathers. The impact is spiritual where both repentance and blessing as well as rebellion and judgment are equally available for the generations that follow. The commandment offers hope for a limit of the effect of our forbears’ sins to three or four generations as opposed to thousands of those who love Him. No one is judged for the sins of the fathers. Only the generations will be judged who carry forward the sins of the fathers.
Num 14:17-18 is based on Exo 20:5-6 which Moses refers only in part – “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.”
Num 14:17-18 And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
18 The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
In the case of the civil statute, the limitation is for judgment for damages done and is part of a list of judgments. The effect is based on the sin of the individual.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel correct the misapplication of the Second Commandment and emphasize the correct application of the civil statute. The phrase used in each is “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This concept is based on the idea that the iniquity of the fathers will be visited upon the childrent unto the third and fourth generation. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both correct the understanding for specific sin and its punishment based on the idea of how the children should not be punished of the violations of the fathers. They point out that the subsequent generations will not be affected if they repent of the father’s sin. By implication, if they continue on in their sin they will be judged.
Jer 31:29-31 In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.
30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.
31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Ezek 18:1-32 The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?
3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
5 But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,
6 And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour’s wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,
7 And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;
8 He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,
9 Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.
10 If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,
11 And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour’s wife,
12 Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,
13 Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.
14 Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,
15 That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour’s wife,
16 Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,
17 That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.
18 As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.
19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
25 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
26 When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.
27 Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
28 Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
29 Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?
30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.