by Jacob Ninan
Much confusion, fear and doubts have been created in the minds of many Christians as a result of the teaching on generational curses. This is a subject that has emerged comparatively recently in Christendom. The proponents include many famous names. Since it has spread all around the world through TV, internet, CDs, books, etc., with lots of testimonies claiming breakthroughs and deliverances, the doctrine seems to have been accepted as Bible truth by a large number of Christians. Even though there are many teachers who disagree with this, somehow they do not seem to have succeeded in overthrowing the doctrine. This is one more attempt in that direction.
The practical implications of generational curses go somewhat like this. If any of our ancestors going back up to the fourth generation has worshipped idols, committed some gross sins, got habituated in some form of sin, or associated himself with the occult, the ‘iniquity’ (as against ‘sin’) gets passed on down the generations. This would imply that if one has a character flaw such as a hot temper, a hereditary tendency towards sicknesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, allergies, asthma, etc., insurmountable problems such as constant failures, poverty, broken relationships, etc., a series of inexplicable ‘bad luck’ experiences, etc., one would need to examine if it is due to a curse having come down from an ancestor’s iniquity. Some teachers say that if one of the ancestors was demonised (possessed or oppressed by demons), the demon can travel down the bloodline, resulting in babies being born with demons. They say that even if one is born again it does not mean that one is automatically free from such curses, and one would need to claim deliverance from such bondages by renouncing the iniquity of the ancestors, asking for forgiveness for the sins of the ancestors, claiming victory over demons and bondages in the name of Jesus, etc. There are, of course, variations in the above details among different teachers, but I believe this generally represents the teaching in practical terms.
Now one can imagine the practical confusion that can result from this type of teaching. Since we have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and 16 great great grandparents, what are the chances that one or more of these 30 people may have done something that has brought a curse on him or her? How many of us would need to get worried about this, especially since we really do not know much about these ancestors! Whenever any calamity happens to us, will we not get into a panic trying to figure out which ancestor has done what? And how can we ever be sure that it is all cleared up (after the deliverance ministry) because something or the other may have escaped our notice? Is it not a surprising thing that in spite of such serious issues the apostles or the historians like Luke have never once mentioned the need for breaking such curses?
A Quick Check
When any new teaching comes into the scene and claims to be of great practical significance, one of the questions we must ask is whether Jesus and the apostles have taught and practised it. If they have not, we must then place a big question mark on the teaching and proceed to examine it very critically. This should set off an alarm in our mind, and when we examine the Scriptures we must be extra cautious.
When we examine this teaching from that angle we see that there is no backing from the New Testament at all. It is based on a few Old Testament verses and incidents. What we also see is that these references are not very explicit, leading somewhat to speculations rather than clear truth. We would have expected that such an important aspect of practical life and Christian freedom should have been specifically taught by the apostles and all new converts, especially those coming from idolatrous backgrounds, should have been taken through the exercise of deliverance. But we see no such thing in the New Testament. This tells us that we should examine this teaching with a great amount of caution.
What Are Curses?
We see three types of ‘curses’ in the modern context. The first one refers to violent ‘curse’ or swear words which people use to express their anger. We will not address those here. The second one concerns curses God or people place on others. The third one is the curse that is supposed to come down to individuals, families, races and nations because of the sins of the ancestors.
The Power To Curse
Do we people have the power to curse and make others suffer? We know that God has power to bless and curse. It is clear in the case of those who do voodoo-like practices that they are expecting evil powers to carry out their wish. We know that at least in the case of God's people He has placed a hedge around them and Satan has to get special permission from God to be able to touch them. We can imagine that even in the case of unbelievers God has placed some restrictions on Satan without which he would have brought about utter destruction and confusion in the world. Those who curse vocally are really expressing a wish for evil to come upon someone else, and while some of them believe that their words have power to execute their wishes others expect that God or evil spirits will carry out their wish.
Certainly our words have no supernatural power to bring evil on people according to our wish, in spite of the wrong understanding many have about Prov. 18:21. This verse which is a proverb with its special literary style of expressing general truths, as well as those in Jas. 3, is basically only a warning for us to be careful about what we speak because of the repercussions that might follow, and not a statement regarding any supernatural power of the tongue. We cannot create life nor can we make someone die by speaking with our tongue. As created beings our power is limited to our natural life, and we have no power to make things happen.
We know that Satan and the demons have the power to bring evil upon people. In the case of Job they brought fire from the sky, caused large winds, and used people to attack and kill. But what we must not forget is that they had to get permission from God to touch His people (Job 1:9-12).
Without dispute, God has power to bless and to curse. He is the ultimate source of all power and He has granted some power to angels and demons and some power to us people. In the context of our discussion it is good to remember the limits of the power granted to demons and to people.
Essentially what we see is that curses can only be carried out by God or demons, and that in the case of demons they have to be permitted by God. When people curse others, God decides whether to execute that or not. We see in the Old Testament certain people cursing others. Those who acted in a prophetic way (speaking on behalf of God), like Noah or Joshua had those curses come true. But people like Shimei who cursed David expressed their evil wishes, but nothing came of them! Let us also remember that God will not allow a curse to fall upon an innocent person, whether he is a child of God or not (Prov. 26:2). He also protects His people from curses (Num.23:23). When He does allow some calamity to come upon us, as in the case of Job, it is only because He thinks it is good for us—for our testing, training or purification.
When God blesses or curses
There are many examples of God blessing and also cursing individuals, families or nations. This is not only His sovereign right as the Lawgiver and the Judge, but He also does everything in a righteous and just manner (even where we may not be able to understand things with our limited knowledge). His curses are a part of His judgment on wicked people. He also has the power to withdraw curses when someone repents. God's original curses because of Adam and Eve's sin still continues, and people and the whole earth are suffering from their results. This is why life on earth is tough, things go wrong, there are calamities, etc.
When Someone Curses Us
We must remember that as His children we are a blessed people, having been redeemed from the curse of the Law (the punishment that comes upon those who disobey the Law, as given in Deut. 28) because Jesus has taken that curse on Himself and suffered on our behalf (Gal. 3:13,14). As the spiritual Israel of God, whom God has blessed, no one can curse us (Num. 23:8,23). Christ has justified us and will not allow anyone to condemn us (Rom. 8:33,34). If anyone curses us in his anger when we ourselves are innocent, it will, of course, not find a place in us (Prov. 26:2). If we have done something that makes us deserve that curse, what we need to do is to confess our sins to God and claim forgiveness and cleansing (1Jn. 1:9). The best way to ‘break’ the curse is to bless the one who cursed us (Luke 6:28)! We do not have to live in fear of the curse at all.
When Our Ancestors Have Sinned
The key verse for the false teaching on generational curses is Exodus 20:5,6. “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Let us humbly acknowledge at this point that it is very difficult to understand exactly what ‘visit’ and ‘iniquity’ mean in this context in spite of gymnastics some try with Hebrew word meanings. Bible scholars are not able to agree among themselves. What we can understand is that there is a strong warning against hating God and disobeying God’s commandments, especially the one against worshipping other gods. We find it difficult to be dogmatic about the literal interpretation of ‘the third and fourth generations.’ This appears to be an indicative expression and not meant to be taken precisely, as we see very clearly the wide contrast between God’s judgment reaching down on the third and fourth generation and the blessing on thousands of generations of those who love God and keep His commandments. This same contrast is also seen in Exodus 34:6,7 where God’s clear intention is to portray His nature to Moses. “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
This latter verse makes the interesting point that it is the guilty who will be punished. So whatever the generations below suffer as a result of the ancestral sin, they are not being punished for it. They are obviously suffering the natural consequences. It also seems to imply that a part of the punishment for sin is the knowledge that their following generations are going to have to suffer as a result of it. When parents sin in terms of neglect or abuse the children suffer the consequences. Children also copy the sinful behaviour of their parents (this explains, for example, how things like a hot tempered behaviour seems to pass down to the generations). Their psychological and spiritual development is also impaired.
Old Testament Examples
The curses that God placed in Eden have affected all human beings down the generations. The other significant ones are the curses placed by God on Cain, by Noah on Canaan, by God on David’s family when he sinned, by God on Israel when Saul killed the Gibeonites, and by God on Israel when David counted Israel. (In at least some of these cases it is clear that the curses affected more than just three or four generations, questioning the validity of a literal interpretation of those words.) The example which many teachers use about Abraham telling a lie and then Isaac following in a similar fashion and Jacob also turning out to be a liar can be easily explained in terms of ‘learned behaviour’ where children pick up behavioural patterns by observing their parents.
Arguments Against Generational Curses
God has made a clear declaration on this subject. Referring to the Jewish proverb that said that children were being made to suffer for the sins of their parents, God said through Ezekiel that it should not be used in Israel any more (Ezek.18:1-3). God is announcing, in effect, that this assumption that the people have been making till then that the children were being punished for their parents' sins is wrong! This single statement, explained at length through Ezek.18, is enough to disprove the false teaching on generational curses. As mentioned earlier, if there was truth in this teaching, then it would have been important enough to deserve a mention in the New Testament epistles telling us how to deal with generational curses.
Of course it is only natural that children will suffer the natural consequences of the sinful lives of their ancestors. But bearing their sins is an entirely different matter. God has made it clear once for all in Ezek.18 by pointing out the righteous son of a wicked father (when someone is born again, after having been born to a wicked father), is going to be accepted for his righteousness and not punished for the wickedness of the father. God will also chastise (discipline) us as a loving Father when we disobey Him because He wants us to learn and change (Heb.12:9,10), but not for the sins of our ancestors!
What we need as children of God is to know our Father better, and to understand what all He has done and prepared for us. We need to understand the rights and privileges He has given us, and become bold and confident before His presence. We are not to live in fear and confusion, and we are not to allow ourselves to be tossed around by every wind of doctrine.
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