Note: this definition is closely linked to that for the word “punishment” as the two words are related. This page deals mostly with the concept in the Old Testament where there could be misunderstanding. In the New Testament, the word “visit” is used with the meaning “to spend time with someone” especially in the sense of “to be a blessing.”
Traditional Legal Model: In the Old Testament, the common phrase “to visit the iniquity” is understood in the sense of “to punish.”
Biblical Healing Model: The common Hebrew word used is “paqad” often meaning to visit to bless but, at times, is clearly stated as visiting to punish. When so used, however, it is punishing in the sense of allowing the natural consequences of wrong actions to occur.
Both Modern Dictionaries and Webster’s 1828 Dictionary include a wide range of meanings, both including the concept “to visit with punishment.”
The concept of “visiting” in scripture is often associated with visiting iniquity as in this verse:
“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;” (Ex 20:5)
It is often thought of in the context of punishment but is that correct? Let’s examine the Biblical meaning of “to visit.” The definition the Bible itself gives can help determine our understanding of His involvement in punishing.
Visit: Meaning in Hebrew
The words “visit,” “visited” and “visiting” in the Old Testament are from the Hebrew word “paqad” (Strong’s H6485). It is translated as:
- 119 Number
- 59 Visit -ing -ed
- 31 Punish
- 96 miscellaneous others (15+ words)
Note that, of 305 uses, only about 10% are translated as “punish.”
The meaning is given (On line Bible) as:
to attend to, muster, number, reckon, visit, punish, appoint, look after, care for
- 1a1) to pay attention to, observe
- 1a2) to attend to
- 1a3) to seek, look about for
- 1a4) to seek in vain, need, miss, lack
- 1a5) to visit
- 1a6) to visit upon, punish
- 1a7) to pass in review, muster, number
- 1a8) to appoint, assign, lay upon as a charge, deposit
Note that the concept of “punishment” is not very prominent in that list. See the glossary entry for “punishment” for more on that term which is often translated from the same Greek word “paqad.” Also, please see the page Matthew 25:46 for the meaning of words used for punishment in the New Testament.
The Meaning of “to Visit”
Let’s allow the Bible itself to explain the meaning of “to visit.”
“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting (paqad, H6485) the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;” (Ex 20:5)
Does that sound like punishment? Would it be fair to punish children, grandchildren and beyond for an ancestor’s sins? Some versions are even worse and actually use “punishment”:
“Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the LORD your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation.” (Exo 20:5, Good News Translation)
But the Bible says:
“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.” (Eze 18:20)
What does that mean? The guilt of sin is not inherited as opposed to the effects of people’s sins.
Also, the visiting to the third and fourth generation thing could be meant to be a means of blessing; good character traits meant to have an effect in future generations. Don’t we see our own temperament in our children? Science has demonstrated that, through epigenetics, cultivated character traits can be inherited. Visiting “to the third and fourth generation” could be a way of saying that the injurious effects of the iniquity of the fathers has limited inheritability but mercy and blessings are not so limited (Exo 20:6)
Visit (“paqad”) to Bless
The Hebrew word “paqad” is translated as “visited” more often than as “punish” and it is usually to visit with a blessing as in some common examples:
Abraham’s wife Sarah was blessed with a child:
“And the LORD visited (paqad) Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.” (Gen 21:1)
Israel was blessed in their return to the Promised Land:
“And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit (paqad) you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Gen 50:24)
The following verse is interesting as the KJV translates the original Hebrew word “paqad” as both “punished” and “visited:”
“Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished (paqad) the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited (paqad) his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.” (Zech 10:3)
The second use of “paqad”, translated “visited,” sounds like a blessing, the opposite of a punishment. (“Goats” is symbolic of leaders as in Isa 14:9 where the same original word is translated as “chief ones.”) It could actually have the meaning of “to pay attention to” or “observe” in both cases. Aren’t the goats part of the flock?
Here is another verse of interest:
“The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.” (Lam 4:22)
The interlinear indicates that “paqad” does not appear in the original where the KJV gives the word “punishment.” Rather, the words “taman” (H8552) and “avon” (H5771) appear together having a meaning more like “the end of thine iniquity.” It may have been assumed by the translators that the end or result of iniquity is punishment and therefore they added the word punishment, when it could as easily have been the results/natural consequences of an act of iniquity as in “you reap what you sow.”
Here is another use of “paqad” of interest:
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest (paqad) him?” (Psa 8:4)
The word “paqad” in Hebrew, when quoted in a New Testament verse, is understood as a visit:
“But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Heb 2:6)
The Greek word (episkeptomai, G1980) used there, in its eleven New Testament occurrences, is always in the context of a blessing and is never used for punishment.
An Important Principle
Many Bible commentators have recognized that God is often said to do what He merely allowed or permitted. It is often the case where God’s withdrawal of His influence or protection results in apparent punishment at the hands of others. Here is one such statement:
“By withdrawing the Divine protection the idolatrous Israelites were delivered up into the hands of their enemies, from whom the gods in whom they had trusted could not deliver them.” (Adam Clarke, Commentary on Exo 20:5, 1831)
Go here for many more examples of this.
“To visit,” as translated from the Hebrew word “paqad,” is most often a reference to allowing the natural consequences of an action to occur. “Paqad” is also frequently used in the sense of God blessing a person.
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