What does the Bible teach about generational curses? Can we really inherit the consequences for the sins of our fathers? If so, does Yahweh provide us a way to rescind these and make us the conduit of blessings to our family?
It is Yahweh Who confirms a blessing and a curse, for when Balaam tried to curse Israel, Yahweh turned it into a blessing, Yahweh your Elohim turned the curse into a blessing for you, because Yahweh your Elohim loves you, Deuteronomy 23:5.
The attention will now be focused on two generations whose experiences are recorded meticulously for our benefit – those who came out of Egypt under Moses, and their children led by Joshua. This will highlight Yahweh’s justice, mercy and faithfulness (Mic. 6:8, Psa. 18:25-26).
The Parents – Who Came Out of Egypt
After witnessing Yahweh’s 10 judgment-plagues and being protected from the last seven, Israel left Egypt with elation and a “high hand” (Exod. 14:8). Yahweh however led them into what appeared to be a trap, on the beach Nuweiba in Saudi Arabia. Around them, lay rugged mountains; behind them, a narrow passageway from which they came; before them, the Sea of Reeds (Gulf of Aqaba) and to complete the picture, a raging Egyptian military with the paralyzing commotion of galloping steeds.
Meanwhile, the Israelites in trepidation for themselves, frail relatives, little ones and animals, murmured to Moses, “Let us surrender and return as slaves – for why should we die like this?” Yahweh caused the people to fear Him and His servant Moses, by splitting the sea and causing His people to walk on dry ground. It was a watery grave – a type of baptism (1 Cor. 10:1-2) – for they knew that the instant the waters were released, no human would survive.
They further experienced the healing of bitter waters, grain from heaven and quail to satisfy their lust. Yet now at Rephidim, we find the Israelites grumbling for water. Moses was told to strike the rock, and water gushed out as a stream for the entire congregation. This place was then called Massah and Meribah, which means to ‘test’ and ‘contend’ (Exod. 17:7).
At that very location, the Amalekites (children of Esau – Gen. 36:12) came to war with the Israelites. They fought shrewdly, attacking from behind the weak and feeble of Israel (Deut. 25:17-19). When Moses’ hands were raised up with supplications, Yahweh brought victory and when his hands were relaxed, Israel was weakened. Through Yahweh’s mercy and Joshua’s faith, Israel discomfited their violent Edomite brothers.
Proceed forward now, to what was probably the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in which Yahweh verbally delivered His 10 commandments and the people heard the voice of the Almighty out of the midst of the fire. Early the next morning the marriage covenant was ratified when the people proclaimed, “all that Yahweh has spoken we will do and obey” (Exod. 24:7).
However, while Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and nights receiving the instructions of the tabernacle and the tablets of the covenant, the foreigners in the camp were revolting. Aaron,aware of Moses’ imminent return, sought to delay their vile intentions by requesting that the people give him the gold so that he could make the idol. And they said, “This is your mighty one, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt,” Exodus 32:4. (Notice the use of the second person, which distinguishes the seditious blasphemers from among Israel.) That day, the tribe of Levi was sanctified because they purged out the idolaters from the camp, and Yahweh relented from His wrath after sending a plague – a pandemic – among the people (Exod. 32:35).
Early in the second year, Yahweh commanded a census to be taken. Prior to the golden calf trespass, the entire nation was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6) through their firstborn sons. In fact, we find that they were already performing priestly duties (see Exod. 13:2, 19:22, 24:5) and that the Levites were to replace the firstborns of Israel after they had disqualified themselves through idolatry (Num. 3:11-13, 45, 8:11-19). It is incredible to see Yahweh’s oversight, for when the congregation of Israel numbered 603,550 males (Num. 2:32) and their firstborns tallied 22,273 (Num. 3:43), the Levite males who were to replace the firstborns were precisely 22,000 – a marginal discrepancy of 273 persons! This shortage was accounted for by 273 Israelite firstborns (selected through lot) having to pay the redemption price of 5 shekels per person. Thus, the entire “kingdom of priests” was fully transferred to the tribe of Levi.
The Children – Who Found Grace in the Wilderness
The children of that generation followed closely after the pattern of their parents. For they, too, experienced the mighty hand of Yahweh and still succumbed to idolatry, so that it was said of the remnant, “a people escaped from the sword found favour in the wilderness” (Jer. 31:2).
In the first month of the 40th year, again we observe the people complaining about water. It was the exact same rock from which Yahweh had previously brought them water (Num. 20:13). “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed, and the Rock was Messiah” (1 Cor. 10:4). The rock was not “following” them, but at the beginning of their wandering it gave them water and at the end of their wandering it again provided water, hence the language of “following” them. In reality, it was the Messiah acting on behalf of the Father, Who provided for them.
Shortly thereafter, Israel was distressed with war from two neighbouring kingdoms – Sihon of the Amorites and Og the giant of Bashan (Num. 21, Deut. 3:11). These battles figured so prominently in Israel’s history, they were recalled with praise in various psalms centuries later.
Balak, king of Moab, was cognizant of what Sihon did to his predecessor, how he had overtaken and subjugated the Moabites (Num. 21:26). Yet now, this powerful Sihon was defeated by an inexperienced nation who was formerly slaves! These conquests over Sihon and Og caused Balak to fear greatly, so he requested Balaam (a Midianite prophet) to come and curse Israel. In his greed for financial rewards, Balaam tried to pronounce a curse upon this people (2 Pet. 2:15, Jude 11), but each time was prohibited from doing so by Yahweh. In a final attempt to get reward, he brought Midianite women to seduce the Israelites into harlotry through the worship of the Baal (lord) of Peor (Num. 31:16; Rev. 2:14). Just as in the golden calf instance (Exod. 32:38), Yahweh’s wrath was appeased through the initiatives of Moses and Phinehas (Num. 25:9).
But consider Moses’ frustration –at the edge of entering into the promised land (Deut. 34:6), just a few months away from the expiration of 40 years, and still the children were doing worse than their fathers. How? Because though they witnessed Yahweh’s miracles and judgments, they yet continued doing evil.
The book of Deuteronomy summarizes Moses’ final address to those who were alive and clinging to Yahweh Elohim (Deut. 4:4) in his last month (Deut. 1:3), of the 40th year in their wilderness sojourn. It was these who had taken the judgment of their fathers’ sins to heart, who chose to be faithful, and who were allowed to enter the promised land. They were privileged, to cross the Jordan river (like the former generation that walked through the Sea of Reeds), with the ark of the covenant in the middle of the river and their eyes undoubtedly looking to the ark, with fear and gratitude for the tender mercies of Yahweh (Josh. 3:17).
How the Almighty Judges
The following seemingly contradictory verses present us with a predicament:
“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” Deuteronomy 24:16.
“I Yahweh your Elohim, a jealous Elohim, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation” Exodus 20:5.
“By no means clearing the guilty, [but] visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” Exodus 34:7.
When thinking upon the history of Israel as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, we observe that the first generation were of a reprobate, perverse spirit and therefore, perished in the wilderness for their own sins. They witnessed first-hand Yahweh’s miracles in a way that even the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob never had (Exod. 6:2-8). But their disobedience and unbelief (Heb. 3:18-19) meant that they (like Moses), were prohibited from entering the promised inheritance. Those in the second generation were able to enter. However, the apostate who continued in the sins of the former generation, died as they, yet being less than 60 years of age. They which regarded the experiences of the other, were exempted from the curse of Yahweh’s judgment.
It becomes evident from Scripture, that the third and fourth generation will receive the curses if they continue in the sins of their fathers. But to those who turn to righteousness, mercy is shown for thousands of generations (Exod. 20:6, 34:7). The priest and prophet Ezekiel corroborated this, saying,
“But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Sovereign Yahweh, “[and] not that he should turn from his ways and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, [and] does according to all the abominations that the wicked [man] does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die,” Ezekiel 18:21-24.
The punishment to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren is not because Yahweh delights in this, for He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men, Lamentations 3:33. Rather, punishment is to be a visual deterrent against imitating bad examples. This is probably why not more than the fourth generation is mentioned as inheriting curses, because beyond that, it is unlikely that the youngest generation will be able to see and learn from them – specifically, avoiding their bad example.
However, consider the blessing for those who walk in righteousness – to thousands of generations! In Luke 3, the Messiah’s genealogy, from Adam, covers about 4,000 years of history. Imagine now, doubling that list (to account for shorter lifespans compared to the first 2000 years of human history) and putting your name at the top and seeing it trace to Adam. The number of generations is nowhere near 1000, but for Yahweh the time spanned is but a moment (Psa. 90:4). The blessings the Creator desires for us is unfathomable. No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man what Elohim has prepared for those who love Him, 1 Corinthians 2:9.
His Hand is Stretched Out Still
Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezra all confessed both their sins and the sins of their fathers (Jer. 3:25, 14:20; Dan. 9:8, 16; Ezra. 9:7). Thus, the example for us is abundantly clear. We get a glimpse into the sorrow that the Creator has over His creation, I have held out My hands all day long to a stubborn people, who walk in a way [that is] not good, after their own thoughts, Isaiah 65:2. Now, Yahweh is extending His hand and waiting for us to repent, that He might show mercy (Isa. 30:18). But there is a time when the opportunity will expire for those who walk contrarily, to find and entreat Him for mercy (Isa. 55:6). Elohim will render to each one according to his works, everlasting life to those who by persistence in good works seek for glory, respect and incorruptibility, but wrath and displeasure to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness, Romans 2:6-8.
When we confess our sins and that of our fathers, and most importantly turn to doing righteousness, then Yahweh will extend His mercy. It is not because He owes us His mercy – for His mercies are a gift and not a wage – but because of His love. However, forgiveness does not indemnify us against the penalties due in arrears for sins already committed (2 Sam 12:13-14; 1 Chron. 21:10-17; Gal 6:7).
It is appropriate to meditate on the words of Jeremiah: “Let him sit alone and keep silent, because He has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust – there may yet be hope … For Yahweh will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies … Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to Yahweh; let us lift our hearts and hands to the Almighty in heaven” (Lam. 3:28-29, 31-32, 39-41).
While we hear His voice, we should not harden our hearts (Psa. 95:7-8). To speak a word “in season” (2 Tim. 4:2), nor should we dismiss this COVID pandemic as happenstance and serenade ourselves with careless ease. Some have hardened their neck against the Sovereign’s discipline – come to the attention of all flesh – the attitude of their heart, saying, “We will squash this disease,” and “If we get it, we get it and move on.”
But, no, now is the time to humble the knee and critically examine and judge ourselves, our families and the sins of our communities; and “sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done” (Ezek. 9:4). Humble yourselves then under the mighty hand of Elohim, so that He exalts you in due time, casting all your worry upon Him for He is concerned about you, 1 Peter 5:6-7. We can be the vehicle of blessings to others if we heed the discipline of our Heavenly Father.
-Brother Rohan John (Australia)
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