The Myth of the Generational Curse
I get so excited these days when I see a blog post or article that echoes the very thing that I have been working through in my mind and heart.
One of the latest things I have been chewing on is the concept of "generational curses" and whether or not they pertain to us today.
I have grown up in the church hearing about generational curses now and then. I have heard several people talk about how their family has suffered under it, and more recently, was part of a prayer team where one member went through several generations of the prayer receipient and prayed off curses from each one.
It left me a bit perplexed because the journey I have been walking this past year has opened my eyes to some pretty radical and amazing realities.
Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we do not live under a curse.
But we can choose to live cursed.
Before we unpack that, let's talk about the verses in the Old Testament that people refer to when they speak of generational curses.
Jonathan Welton recently posted a blog about this topic (which I highly recommend that you read...go ahead...read it...I'll wait right here.)
Good stuff, right?
In his post, he says this:
"The Bible mentions these so-called 'generational curses' in several places (Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9). God warns that He is 'a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.' "
The concept of cursing someone because of something their ancestor did hundreds of years before has always felt a bit harsh to me. It's the same reaction that I have now thinking about how unfair it would be for me to be cursed with something that my great-grandfather did in the 1800's.
However, the Israelites were living under a different set of rules and circumstances. I hope we can all agree that curses were not even in existence in the Garden of Eden. The original sin of Adam and Eve created a new operating system where sins had to be atoned for before you could be forgiven (un-cursed so to speak). It all got very complicated and bloody with all those animal sacrifices.
Fast-forward to the wilderness when God laid down the law in the form of the Ten Commandments for the Israelites. At this point, they had been brought out of slavery in Egypt in a miraculous way. Every physical need had been provided for over that three months. God was leading them to their own place of rest and habitation.
There had been some grumbling along the way, but so far, the Israelites were re-learning what it meant to be free people. But God in His infinite fatherly wisdom knew that their human hearts still had a lot of Egypt in there and that the most loving thing a father can do is give healthy boundaries.
So, he gave them some. Only ten commandments, which is remarkable when you think about it. And here is what he had to say about the generational curse:
Exodus 20:1-6 (HCSB translation):
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides Me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.
You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers' sin to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands."
My Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) commentary talks about how covenant documents worked in that time period. God is self-identifying as the orginator of this covenant. This is not a rule set created by man to appease a god. This is God, Himself, as creator and enforcer. There are no slave masters to answer to and no holy men to prove piety.
And I'd also like to point on the last part of the above scripture, which is what I believe is ultimately God's heart for His children -- to show "faithful love to a thousand generations of those love Me and keep My commands."
I'm not great at math, but even I know that 1,000 is way more than four.
To my mind, this is the ultimate sign of God's respect and love for His creation and His deep desire to have a relationship with humanity -- not just drones. He also demonstrated this love by never giving the Israelites a form to replicate to make idols that could potentially usurp the worship due Him.
They were truly a people with a God like no other people group. And because of this, the first two commandments talk about the importance of recognizing their unique position. And then out of this comes the consequence of what will happen if they should choose to create or worship another god.
"punishing the children for the fathers' sin to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me..."
"Hate me" is such a strong and interesting word choice here. "Hate" is a word that has all sorts of different connotations in today's world, but that's another blog post. Some suggested synonyms of this Hebrew word שָׂנֵא (pronounced Saw-nay) are also, detest, enmity, and turned against.
The word enmity is used to describe what would forever be between the serpent and the woman as a result of the fall in Genesis 3:15.
This is a word that describes not only a turning away from someone, but a profound, seething dislike or loathing. So this isn't just a simple forgetting to put God in the place He deserves, but a pointed and intentional turning from Him.
I think we could also point out that the punctuation in this passage matters. It clearly says, "fathers' sin," which refers to the specific sin of the patriarchs of Israel choosing to turn to other gods and lead their families down that path.
Now bear with me as we go on an apostrophe journey here. Note that it does not say, fathers' sins (which would be all the sins of all of the patriarchs) or even father's sins (your own dad's many sins) and lastly, father's sin (your own dad's specific sin of worshipping another god).
Rather, I believe in this context it is refering to an entire people group following the example of their patriarchs and intentionally walking into idolatry.
So I think that we can glean that this verse is not only talking about about a specific group of people (a generation of men who are entrusted with leading their families), it is also talking about a specific sin (idolatry).
I don't pretend to be a Bible scholar and I admit that my study skills are not up to par of many professionals out there. I am sure that there are other interpretations and others who think this is a model of how God punished back then. Brutal and lasting.
Even if that were true, the Good News is that Jesus came to abolish that system and that old covenant. We can see this in Hebrews 8:6-13, which directly quotes Jeremiah 31, and which my Bible entitles as "A Superior Covenant."
"For God said, Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain. But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. But finding fault with His people, He says [quoting out of Jeremiah 31]:
‘Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by their hands to lead them out of the land of Egypt. I disregarded them, says the Lord, because they did not continue in My covenant.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing, and I will never again remember their sins.'
By saying a new covenant, He has declared that the first is old. And what is old and aging is about to disappear."
Those coming days Jeremiah spoke of happened when Jesus answered the old covenant with His blood and made it null and void.
Therefore, that old covenant with its blood rituals, atonement, and heavy burden of impossible laws to keep straight and to keep was done away with and a new covenant took its place.
And in my opinion, that includes this generational curse. No longer would God punish future generations for their father or fathers' turning away from the covenant to worship other idols. Each generation gets to choose whom he or she will serve and I believe each generation gets to bear the results of that choice. I also believe that God is big enough to make himself known to each generation whether our parents pointed us to Him or not. He loves us that much.
There are others (Jonathan Welton for one) who do a great job of sorting through generational issues or sins and I do believe that we often see a similar root issue or addiction that may run down (or back up) a family line. However, are we as believers cursed to live that lifestyle or accept that mantle of brokenness?
"Therefore if the Son sets you free, you really will be free." (John 8:36)
Jesus has set us free. And His coming and death broke the old covenant that would leave us cursed because of another generations' mistake.
And so we are back to my original statement:
Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we do not live under a curse.
But we can choose to live cursed.
We can be totally free, but live a life that is caged and bound. We can also be free from generational curses, yet live as though we are cursed.
The choice is mine. And the choice is yours.
How will you choose to live?
**For more reading on the subject, this is as interesting blog post with lots of scripture to back it up. I don't really love the naming of names of people they disagree with theologically. But if you can look past that, I feel like it's pretty spiritually sound. But judge for yourself.