What the Bible Says About... | Generational Curses
"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; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:5b-6)
Does this verse teach that God curses people for the sins of their ancestors? that God literally punishes children for the sins their parents commit?
Prevalent today, especially in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, is that families indeed can be cursed, with each generation suffering from similar diseases or commiting similar sins. Some even go so far as to say that Christians can place curses upon others.
I do not think this verse teaches that God literally curses generations of families as much as it teaches a principle, namely, that sin has consequences not only to ourselves but also to following generations. It ought to make us seriously ponder the path we want to take, lest innocent people should also suffer as a consequence of our choices. The consequences are not a direct curse from God, but the natural results of God's broken laws and principles.
If I jump off a tall building, defying the law of gravity, I will have to face the fact of serious injury or even death. We cannot blame God for making the law of gravity. In the moral sense, there are also laws and principles, which cause hurt and harm when they are violated. God does not necessarily "curse" people for violating them; the grievous consequences are the result of broken laws He has put into place.
Children of divorced parents are more likely to divorce when they grow up and get married. Children who grow up in homes where parents drink alcohol, take illegal drugs or smoke are more likely to participate in these activities when they become adults. Children who are abused by parents are more likely to abuse their own children. Is this the result of a curse or just the results of growing up in such an environment?
I firmly believe that when any person comes to Jesus Christ and receives forgiveness of sins, this chain is completely broken. Deuteronomy 7:9 states, "...the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy to them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations." Isaiah prophecied that "the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6). God did not lay our iniquity upon our children, but has laid it upon Christ. Jesus suffered in our place and paid the penalty for our sins, so that we do not have to. John 8:36 states, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
In the scripture in Exodus quoted at the beginning of this study, God promised to visit the iniquity of fathers on the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. Yes, this is a family curse, but it is upon those who hate God and who do not keep His commandments. But to those who love the Lord and keep His commandments, He has promised to show mercy. For the person who comes to Christ, we have this precious promise, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Curse or Consequences?
So, while we no longer are being punished for our sins, it does not mean that we do not still have to bear the consequences of our wrong doing. Recall King David, after being confronted by Nathan the prophet, acknowledged that he had sinned in murdering Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba. David was forgiven, but he and his family still had to suffer the consequences of the sin he had committed (2 Samuel 12).
In the New Testament, the apostles asked of Jesus regarding a blind man, "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" In modern terms, this would be another way of asking if this illness was the result of a generational curse: was the man born blind because of the sins of his parents? But Jesus responded, "Neither... but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." (John 9:1-3)
Today, we are under a new covenant. As Jeremiah prophesied, "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Jeremiah also stated, "In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge." (see Jeremiah 31: 29-33).
Deuteronomy 24:16 states, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (See also these scriptures: 2 Kings 14:6, 2 Chronicles 25:4).