I was seated at the dinner table in Argentina with a group of North American evangelists and Argentine Bible students. A student asked one of the visiting evangelists if he believed in generational curses. “Yes of course I do, ‘Unto the third and fourth generation’ the Bible says.” I was saddened by his partially true answer that left the student terrified and deeply concerned that her family might be cursed of God. Unfortunately Argentines are sometime too superstitious and North American evangelists don’t always help resolve the problem.
The Bible verses that the student and the evangelist referred to are found in Exodus 34 and Numbers 14, and Deuteronomy 5. The problem is, if we read just Exodus and Numbers, we’ll totally misunderstand the meaning of these scriptures. Let’s read these verses from Exodus and Numbers as they are written in the New King James version of the Bible. As you read, you’ll see how one might come to believe in generational curses.
Exo 34:5 Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
Exo 34:6 And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,
Exo 34:7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation."
Num 14:18 'The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.'
Okay, in Exodus God is speaking, in Numbers Moses is repeating what God had said. These verses seem confusing and they are. The first part tells us God is merciful and forgives iniquity and transgression—then all the sudden the second part of the verse tells us God will by no means clear the guilty and will visit (or put upon) the very iniquity (and the results thereof) He promised to forgive. What gives? A couple of things. First we must look closely at the formatting of the text and we’ll notice that the words, “the guilty” are italicized. That simply means these two words were not in the original text and were added by the translators. The translators had to add something, because without adding something the text would read, “He by no means clears, visiting the…” and it would read like something is missing. “The guilty” is okay, but who are the guilt and what are they guilt of? We find the answer in Deuteronomy 5:9-10 where the Ten Commandments are given.
For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
Deu 5:10 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
This verse gives us a clear understand of who the guilty are; “Those who hate Me.” They are those who hate God. That makes perfect sense. God is not going to forgive those who hate Him and break the first and greatest commandment. If grandpa hated God and passed that down to his son and he to his son, they are going to reap what they have sown with their iniquities. Better than adding, “the guilty” the translators might have put, “those who hate God” and the entire verse would have been much easier to understand, and new Bible students and the superstitious would not be so worried about the so called generational curse. And there is more.
Cursed on the tree
In answering the Bible student’s question, the evangelist not only failed to go to Deuteronomy and explain what the Old Testament was really saying, he failed to point out the most crucial truth concerning curses and that is; Jesus Christ delivered us from the curse of the Old Testament law and of sin.
Gal 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written
"Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the Book of the Law, to do them."
Gal 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone having been hanged on a tree");
The cross that Jesus was crucified on was most likely not a T-shaped cross like we’ve seen in the movies and paintings. The cross itself would have been a cross-member as they used over a door way. This large, heavy piece of wood would be laid on the ground and then the victim’s hands would be nailed to it. Large washers would be place in the man’s palms and the nails driven through them so he could not rip the nails though his hands. Such washers were recently found at Roman crucifixion sights. It is believed that the crucifixion of Jesus was carried out in an old grove of olive trees. Olive trees are among the longest living trees, but they finally get so old they no longer produce. Sometimes pruning away the limbs will revive them, but if that fails they are cut down or left to stand and another grove is planted on fresher ground. These old trees will often live on with hardly a limb left on them. They made for strong (and rough) living posts that were perfect for crucifixion. Thus when the Bible says Jesus was crucified on a cross and hanged on a tree, both apply.
Jesus took the curse of the law upon Himself on that tree. The law of Moses said one who was hanged on a tree was cursed of God (Deut 21:23). Therefore becoming a curse for us, Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law.
In my family, I was the first to come to Christ. My family (the Palmers in Mississippi) was under a generational curse. Many of them died from the effects of alcohol. I’ve never seen people consume so much beer. They decided they would cut down and improve their lives, so they switched from Budweiser to Coors Light. That meant they could drink more. I’ve seen them fight, crash their cars, suffer bad health, kill and killed, and generally live in severe poverty. It was Jesus Christ who broke that curse and only those in my family who have given their lives to Christ have broken away from the awful grips of drunkenness.
Your family, in one way or another, might be the same. You could the first to be freed from the curse. Give you whole life over to Christ and ask Him to give you the Holy Spirit and the curse will be broken. You will then inherit the kingdom of God and pass it on to your children and their children.
God bless you.