Generational Curses

The topic of Generational Curses (GC) is one that has been debated over the years in Kenya. What I have heard and experienced in my interaction with proponents or opponent of this subject is hearty and heated discussions filled with subjective experiences that were devoid of scripture – It is what Paul calls in Colossians 2:4 fine sounding argument. In places where scripture was cited, it was done out of context to support preconceived ideas about the subject. Unfortunately, this is not only true of this topic but of many other controversial subjects as well. This issue is mostly derived from misinterpretation of the specific scriptural passages. I will sample a few here:

Exodus 20:5 (NIV)

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

Exodus 34:7 (NIV)

Maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Numbers 14:18 (NIV)

‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

Deuteronomy 5:9 (NIV)

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

Deuteronomy chapter 28 is a famous chapter in the Bible that people go to as well in defense of the teaching of Generational Curses (GC).

Before embarking on what I perceive to be the right biblical view of this subject, let me first address some issues that may lead people – especially Africans– to embraces GC.  The two big ones are culture and experience. Most people are bound to their cultures and experiences more than they would want to admit. For example, in Kenya when someone dies there are general rules – cultural norms – that begin to unfold almost automatically.

Friends gather to condole with the bereaved family for as long as it will take for the family to lay their loved one to rest. During this time the bereaved family is obligated to feed the mourners, some who would set camp at their home until after the burial. Part of condoling with the family is to raise money that will cater for all the burial expenses and any pending medical bills. I am convinced that this raising of money for funeral arrangement is not simply a matter of inability – although to most it is – it is a cultural experience.

For example, when Mutula Kilonzo, a prominent politician in Kenya died in 2013, friends and colleagues raised a whooping 13 Million Shillings for his burial. It wasn’t because his family was not able to raise this money, it was because when he died the cultural norm started to unfold automatically – people, friends, family and colleagues did what they do when someone passes away. The Kilonzo family is one of the richest in Kenya. After his death, stories circulated in the media of how he spent more than 700,000 Shillings a month to feed the wildlife he kept in his farm. You can complain that the money could have been used for better causes but the people that lined up to give would disagree with you vehemently. Why? because this is what people do when there is a death in Kenya.

Think of what would happen if you behaved contrary to these unwritten rules. (You would be doing what sociologists call ethnomethodology: deliberately disrupting social norms in order to learn about them.) For example, if your friend died, do not show up at their home during the matanga. Refuse to give towards their burial expenses because you are angry as to why they are spending so much money burying him than they did medically treating him etc. Chances are, you will elicit hostile responses from your friends, members of the community and most notably from the family of the bereaved. In some quarters your refusal to participate may make you a suspect for their death.

So, to take this as an example, when the Bible enters into peoples’ lives, cultures and experiences it comes in as an outside opinion. It enters into already established norms and as long as it does not interrupt them it is acceptable. In places where it challenges the cultural and experiential norms it is rejected or ‘modified’ to fit the norms.

This creates a temptation to make the Bible relevant to the respective cultures it comes into. This in my estimation is the biggest cause of heresy and false teaching. Those who are entrusted to stewards God’s word bend it to fit their respective cultures instead of bending their cultures to fit the Bible. This I believe is the case with this subject of Generational Curses.

Now that we know this, how should we engage this matter in a biblical way. I will suggest that we be sympathetic, understanding, sensitive and patient (2 Timothy 4:2). There are people who hold to this teaching with a strong belief that they are rightly handling the word of God. They are victims of false teachers. Others are perpetrators, they know it is wrong and they stubbornly continue to teach it because it drives their agendas. I am more interested in helping the former and exposing the latter.

Let’s examine one of the verses I mentioned above closely as a sample on how to handle this case biblically.

Exodus 20:5 (NIV)

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

This verse is in the context of the Decalogue, which is a fancy word for the 10 Commandments.  “Nothing in Exodus 20 is described as “commandment” or “law” or the like. To be sure, the words presented here by God do indeed command His people most solemnly to act in ways that are basic to His covenant, but their significance goes beyond that of routine “laws.” What the chapter contains—in particular, the Ten “Words” (dĕbārı̂m)—is more like the content of a national constitution than merely the content of one section of codified law or another.”[1]If I were to use the Kenyan legal corpus as an example, it will be the equivalent of the Kenyan Constitution – it is legally binding.

Verse 5 is the second commandment. The first commandment forbids the Israelites to have any other god apart from Yahweh. What it meant, was that even though there are many other “gods” in the visible and even in invisible universe (Psalm 82; John 10:34-36) God demands that only He be worshipped as the Sole Divine God! God’s people who have seen His mighty deeds and have experienced His mighty salvation, if they turn their backs on God to worship other God’s would be the highest level of betrayal. To do this would elicit stern and severe punishment, namely the eradication of persons responsible and those that come after them who would learn from them to worship other gods. God will not pardon the second-generation sinners because they are merely doing what they learned from their first-generation relatives.

This does not mean that sin is inherited through bloodline by birth[2], but it is inherited through learned rebellious behavior against God’s will. God will not punish innocent generations for the sins of their ancestors. “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers.Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16 (ESV). See also 2 Kings 14:6.

I like Pastor James Muthee’s treatment of Deuteronomy 28 in explaining how people apply it in light of Generation Curses (Below is a excerpt from the sermon notes preached at South Coast Community Church on November 11th 2018 ):

Most of these curses are derived from Deuteronomy 28. Some of these are

Emotional instability, fear

Deuteronomy 28:28The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind,

Hereditary family sicknesses

Deuteronomy 28:21The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

Chronic wounds

Deuteronomy 28:27The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed.

Barrenness, impotence, female problems

Deuteronomy 28:18Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.

Family breakdowns, divorce

Deuteronomy 28:30 You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit.

Lack, poverty, inability to produce

Deuteronomy 28:17Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

No ambition, vision, direction

Deuteronomy 28:29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you.

Bondage and slavery

Deuteronomy 28:43-44 The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.

It is not hard to see how most Africans who are already superstitious[4] by nature would embrace such teaching. The above interpretation of Deuteronomy 28 fits into the plausibility structures of how Africans think about, talk about and believe about curses. Superstition is a comforting shoulder to lean on when we are ignorant about a subject matter and cannot conclusively explain it.

If our only frame of reference is culture and experience and we are looking to the Bible to support our presuppositions, we will end up believing this false teaching. In our minds it is not false because it makes cultural sense.

Friends, brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ you can live your life free from fear that your ancestors’ curses and misfortunes will follow you or are following you. God has a wonderful plan for your life and to accomplish it He sometimes not only allow bad things to happen to you but permits them as well. He does this for His glory. I understand that this can be a very confusing thing to wrap our heads around.

David Hume, the famous 18th-century philosopher, framed the issue as succinctly as anyone: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent or mean. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” “The problem of evil is a very simple one to state. There is evil in the world; yet the world is said to be the creation of a good and omnipotent God. How is this possible? Surely a good, omnipotent God would have made a world free of evil of any kind.”[5]This is a tension that we must learn to live, because if we don’t, we can end up talking ourselves in to believing that God does not exist. “A God who is good and all-powerful cannot allow evil to exist, but evil does exist, therefore there is no good and all-powerful God.”

Going back to the subject of Generational Curses, we have to know that the biggest curse that ever happened to any living human was the curse that Jesus Himself bore.  In the Old Testament we read, “And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God)”(Dt. 21:22-23). We have to remember that that Jesus committed no sin (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22), but somehow, He was cursed of God.

What does it mean that Jesus was cursed, Paul explains it in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 3. He says, everyone who does not keep the law of God perfectly, is “cursed” (Gal. 3:10). If this is the case then we are all cursed because no one could keep it perfectly (Rom. 3:10, 23). Therefore, we have to conclude that everyone is under the divine curse.

There is, however, another side to the picture. Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). God through Jesus because He loves us so much stepped in and took our place. Jesus bore the force of God’s curse. This was necessary to satisfy His divine justice — Rom. 3:26). So now in Christ we are set free from the curse of sin and He who the Son sets Free is Free indeed (John 8:36).

Conclusion:

God’s desire is not to curse His people but to bless His people! In Exodus 20:6 He contrasts what He would do to a rebellious generation with what he would do to an obedient one. In this verse we see God’s real wish: “…showing love [HESED] to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Do you notice the contrast here? From 3 to 4 generation to a thousand. God’s desire is to fill the earth with God worshippers and not with idol/god worshippers.

The biggest Curse that can befall a human being is not poverty, bareness, family breakdown, diseases etc. the biggest curse that can befall a human being is to reject the Life that God has given us in Jesus Christ and in turn be rejected and separated from God forever. The biggest blessing that a human being can get on this earth is not generations of wealth, kids, health, great marriages etc. (don’t get me wrong these are good things and we should desire them). The biggest blessing that a human being can be part of in this life and the life to come is to accept and be accepted by God through the sacrifice of His son Jesus on the cross. This acceptance gives us the gift of Sonship (John 1:11-12) and an eternity with God our creator and father.

Now, I know that I may not have answered all your questions specifically, but I what I hope I have done is given you a framework on which you process this really difficult topic of Generational curses.

 

[1]Douglas K. Stuart,Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 440.

[2]The only sin inherited through birth is the one that we got from Adam and Eve when they sinned in the Garden of Eden

[3]Excerpts from Pastor James’ sermon notes preached at South Coast Community Church on November 11th2018

[4]Superstition is a pejorative term for any belief or practice that is considered irrational: for example, if it arises from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science or causality, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of that which is unknown. Wikipedia

[5]Philosopher H.J. McCloskey, in his article “The Problem of Evil” (1962)

 

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