God’s covenant with Abraham was based on collective treatment of all who descended from him. In his promise, God said, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee” (Genesis 12:2). The Hebrew word for nation, goy (go´ – ee) represents a group of individuals who are considered as a unit (1471). In God’s eyes, the blessing of Abraham was given to all who would believe in him, not just the individual man he was speaking to at the time,
In the same way that Abraham’s blessing was transferred from generation to generation, so was the curse of sin that began with Adam in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19). In his ten commandments, God clearly stated that the punishment for sin could be transferred from father to son for as many as four generations (Exodus 20:5). A proverb that originated in Jerusalem expressed self-pity, fatalism and despair because people believed they could not escape from the curse they inherited from their fathers. The proverb stated that corporate solidarity was responsible for the captivity that was about to consume God’s people (Ezekiel 18:2).
God argued that everyone had a chance to be saved under the law. He said, “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” (Ezekiel 18:4). Perhaps, the greatest misunderstanding that resulted from God’s second commandment was the idea that a person could be punished even though he had committed no sin. In actuality, what God was saying was that he would do everything he could to break the cycle of hereditary sin, but ultimately, it was up to each person to take individual responsibility for their soul’s well-being and eternal destination.
The human soul is referred to in Hebrew as nephesh (neh´ – fesh). In simple terms, the soul is what makes us alive. It is the inner person, separate from the flesh or human body. When God said, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), he was basically saying that sin was the cause of death in every person. If there was a person that did not sin, then that person would not die. God said, “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right…he is just, he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 18:5,9). The Hebrew word translated live, chayah (khaw – yaw´) means not only to live, but also to revive. In other words, a righteous soul cannot be killed, if it were, it would come back to life, just as Jesus did after he was crucified.