Generational Curses Part 5: An Exegetical Response to Category 2 and 3 Texts

In our last post, we looked at the main supporting texts for the idea of Generational Curses from category 1: texts that are argued to teach that God directly visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children.  That list covered the main and most typical biblical texts used to promote the idea of Generational Curses, so that post will be the largest and most in depth of this series.  Still, there are several secondary supporting texts that need to be dealt with.

Generational Curse theology is a false theology that needs to be replaced with proper biblical theology, and that doesn’t involve a single text or an unexplained list of texts.

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Category 2: Children indirectly suffer for the sins of their fathers: Lev. 26:39; Deut. 23:2; 1 Sam 2:27-34, 3:11-14; Lam. 5:7; Matt. 27:24-25.

Lev. 26:39 – The idea here is that apparently Israel would suffer for their fathers sins if they disobeyed the Lord.

And those of you who are left shall rot away in your enemies’ lands because of their iniquity, and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall rot away like them. – Leviticus 26:39

Let’s make some observations:

a. This is part of a longer section.  The section is Lev. 26:14-45, and it’s talking about the punishments that Israel will face if they don’t obey the Lord and keep the law.  In that context, it becomes clear that the entire section is talking about the punishments that the disobedient will face, in their lifetimes.  It would be strange if the entire thrust of the section changed, but only for a single verse, and then went back to what it was saying.  A good hermeneutical rule that would apply here is this:

When in doubt, it’s best to assume that biblical writers didn’t have tourette’s syndrome.

In other words, Biblical writers don’t tend to change topics for 3 seconds and then keep going with a previous discussion.  That’s possible, but that’s certainly not typical.

b. The surface reading of the text doesn’t say what some claim.  The first half of the verse says that those who are punished will be punished “because of their iniquity”.  The second half of the verse adds to that statement; it doesn’t contradict it.  I’d suggest that it’s not saying that those who are punished receive punishment for their sins and the sins of others, but rather that those who commit the same sins as their fathers will receive the same punishment that their fathers’ received.   The main problem here is the word “because”, which isn’t in the Hebrew but is rather inferred by translators.

Deut. 23:2 – This text is taken to teach a universal principle that children suffer for their parents sins; specifically their forbidden marriages.

No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord.Deuteronomy 23:2

Let’s make a some observations:

a. This is indeed a case of children being excluded from the religious life of Israel on the basis of who their ancestors were.  That much is true.

b. The confusion disappears when one does what needs to be done on any problematic text: read the surrounding text.  The previous verse comments on those who cannot enter the assembly of the Lord because they’re emasculated.  The following 5 verses comment on those who cannot enter the assembly of the Lord for ten generations due to who their parents were (vs.3-6) and those who cannot enter the assembly of the Lord for three generations due to who their parents were (vs.7-8).

The surrounding passages make it clear that the both the penalty and the group being penalized are specific.   The Ammonites and Moabites, including their offspring unto the tenth generation, cannot enter the assembly “because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you” (23:4).  This is a highly specific prohibition against a specific group of people for a specific reason, not a general principle of life.  This was also a historically isolated prohibition.  Unless you’re of Amonite/Moabite descent and are unfathomably old, as in “old” on the level of someone who runs around having sword fights in parking garages that result in mediocre 80’s lightning effects, this cannot possibly apply to you.

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1 Sam. 2:27-34 – This text is also taken to teach a universal principle that children suffer for their parents sins using the example of Eli and his two boys.

27 And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? 28 Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. 29 Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ 30 Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. 31 Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. 32 Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. 33 The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. 34 And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day.1 Samuel 2:27-34.

Let’s make some observations:

a.  Eli’s whole household was wicked. Hophni and Phineas were wicked lads. 1 Sam. 2:12-17 talks about how Hophni and Phineas would abuse the altar of the Lord and take the best meat for themselves. 1 Sam. 2:22-25 comments about how Hophni and Phineas used to take sexual advantage of when women who served in the tent of meeting.  1 Sam 2:17 reads “the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” and 1 Sam. 2:25 reads “it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.”  Those two clowns weren’t innocent lads being punished for the sins of their father.  They were wicked men who, along with their wicked father, had made themselves enemies of God and were about to get what they had coming.

b.  Eli’s sin was letting his sons get away with their wickedness. 1 Sam. 2:29 contains God’s condemnation of Eli.  God stated clearly that “do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel.” Eli got exceedingly fat by partaking in his son’s sins (1 Sam. 4:18), and the Lord had decided to get rid of Eli’s entire family line and “raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind” (1 Sam. 2:35).

1 Sam 3:11-14 – This  passage is God telling Samuel what he plans to do to Hophni, Phineas, and the house of Eli.  The arguments above apply equally here.  Rather than teaching that Hophni and Phineas suffered for their father’s sins, God clarifies the situation when he says “I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (1 Sam. 3:13).

Lam. 5:7 – This is taken as a straightforward statement on children being punished for their parents’ sin.

“Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities.” – Lamentations 5:7

Let’s make some observations:

a.  Once again, reading the surrounding text clarifies matters. Jeremiah writes as if he were all Israel, commenting on their current state.  He writes that their inheritance is gone (v.2),  they’re orphans (v.3),  they have to buy water and wood (v.4),  they’re constantly pursued (v.5), they’ve been forced to buy food from Egypt and Assyria (v.6), they’re being ruled over by slaves (v.8), their lives are in danger while farming (v.9), they’re having a famine (v.10), their woman are raped (v.11), there is no leadership at all (v.12), they’re made slaves (v.13), all wisdom and joy is gone (v.14-15).  Then, at the end of the long list cataloguing their suffering, Jeremiah writes “The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned!” (v.16) and shows that Israel isn’t an innocent victim in this all.

b.  There’s a simple solution.  Lamentations 5:7 doesn’t mean that the children, who are living under the results of their parent’s rebellion, are innocent.  That’s clarified by Lam. 5:16.  The whole point of generational curse theology is that children are punished for a crime they didn’t commit.

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That is definitely not the case here.

Matt. 27:24-25 – This is the apparently the Jews willfully taking a generational curse upon themselves.

“So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ 25 And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ ”Matthew 27:24-24

Let’s make some observations:

a.  This text doesn’t even teach generational curse theology on the surface. Even if generational curse theology were true (and it isn’t), this text, at best, loosely alludes to it.  The fact that the Jews cried out “His blood be on us and on our children!” doesn’t mean that they could somehow willfully curse their children by killing Jesus.  Their desire to do something doesn’t mean that they were actually able to do so.

b.  The text isn’t saying that they wanted to curse their kids.  The people cried out for the blood of Jesus, and willfully wanted to bear responsibility for his death.  They wanted him dead so bad they would willingly and consciously commit murder, and that’s what they were saying.  They were telling Pilate, “even if you are innocent of this man’s blood, we don’t want to be!”

Category 3: Generational curses are broken by “calling out” to the Lord: Judg. 3:9; 1 Sam. 12:10-11.

Judg. 3:9  – This text is taken to say that people called out to the Lord and a generational curse was broken.

But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.” – Judges 3:9

Let’s make some observations:

a.  Once again, reading the surrounding text clarifies matters (this seems to be a theme). In Judges 3:9, the people were suffering for the sin they committed. Judges 3:7-8 states “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.”  So even if curses were lifted by crying out to the Lord, this text isn’t an example of a generational curse.

b.  This is a pattern in Judges.  The book of Judges has a simple pattern in it:

1) Israel rebels against the Lord and forsakes him for pagan gods (Judges 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1, 17:1-13, 19:1-24), then

2) God sends someone to oppress Israel (Judges 3:8, 3:12-14,  4:2, 6:2-6, 10:7-9, 13:1, 18:1-27; 19:25-28), then

3) Israel cries out to the Lord (Judges 3:9, 3:15, 4:3, 6:7, 10:10-18, [in 19:29-20:22, Israel essentially cries out to themselves for justice, which shows just how far gone they are as a rebellious nation]), then

4) God sends a deliverer (Judges 3:9-11, 3:15-30, 4:4-24, 6:8-8:35, 11:1-12:7, 13:2-16:31, 18:28-31, 20:23-21:25).

None of the oppression and suffering in Judges happens because of the sin of someone else; the people of Israel suffer due to their own rebellion.  People do indeed suffer at the hands of the Lord; he brings oppression, discipline, trouble, etc.  Calling out to him in faith and repenting of one’s sin is the only way to be reconciled to the Lord and change his posture towards you.

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So yes, calling out does change your situation, but calling out to the Lord doesn’t remove a generational curse since people don’t suffer for the sins of another.

1 Sam. 12:10-11 – This is taken in the same way as the previous text.

And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11 And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.1 Samuel 12:10-11

Let’s make some observations:

a.  This is just the prophet Samuel recounting the events of the book of Judges. See the entire previous discussion.

b.  Again, context, Context, CONTEXT.  The two preceding verses rule out the possibility of a generational curse. 1 Sam. 12:8-9 read “When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place.  But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.

I’ll anticipate an objection: vs. 8-10 are talking about “your fathers”, and vs. 11 switches to “you”.  Some folks might suggest that this is evidence of generational curse language, but it’s worth noticing that it’s basically impossible for the “you” to mean “you who hear my voice right now” as opposed to “you, the nation of Israel”.  The obvious reason would be that Gideon judged Israel 40 years (Judges 8:28), Abimelech ruled 3 years (9:22), Tola judged Israel 23 years (10:2), Jair judged Israel 22 years (10:3), Israel was oppressed 18 years before Jephthah arose to save them (10:8) and judge Israel 6 years afterwards (12:7), Ibzan judged Israel 7 years (12:9), Elon judged Israel 10 years (12:11), Abdon judged Israel 8 years (12:14), the Philistines oppressed Israel 40 years (13:1) and Sampson judged Israel 20 years (16:31), and that was before Samuel was even born.  Clearly, the people who Samuel was addressing in 1 Sam. 12:10-11 weren’t 250+ years old.  That means that when Samuel said “And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies” (12:11), he wasn’t saying that the people who heard his voice at that moment were the same people who were delivered by Gideon and Barak…and himself.  That’s clearly not the case.

And…that closes off this post!  It might be a bit much, but I’m going to try to knock out all the remaining proof-texts for Generational Curse theology in my next post.  Let’s lay this horrible heresy to rest.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “calling out to the Lord” Unger

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6 thoughts on “Generational Curses Part 5: An Exegetical Response to Category 2 and 3 Texts

  1. I have been crucified with Christ – Gal 2:20
    My old man has been crucified with Christ Romans 6:6
    My life is hid with Christ in God Col 3:3
    My history is Christ because all my past was washed away by his blood, I am justified – not guilty so I cannot be held responsible by what grandad did. I’m a new creation all things have passed away and all things are new. Generational teaching puts Christians under bondage not liberty. I may have some idiosyncrasies because of my natural family line, but spiritually I am an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ, I live on this side of the cross, the new covenant….I could write more…

    • Dear Jim, I do personally not understand this “generational curse teaching” at all because of Eze 18,4: This one simple verse has one clear message by God Himself that everybody (esp. Christians) can understand. In my view, this sort of teaching today has much in common with heathen shamanism, where this or that demon is worshipped because of spiritual bondage of a whole family or tribe/clan. The root of all this is deep paganism, so is my opinion.

  2. Thanks Lyndon for this study. I have been confused about the whole generational curse thing and you have really helped shed some light on the subject.

    Also, I love the Highlander reference. “there can be only one…”

  3. Pingback: Generational Curses Part 6: The Finale | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely…

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