Blaming the Sins of my Fathers: God’s Character and Generational Curses
Within the last half century, teachings on generational curses have become popular in order to justify some human sophistry, and gnostic heresies going under the guise of healing ministry.
In both the Old and New Testaments, there is much to defeat this idea; however, those who teach these heretical doctrines are either not very good at teaching these doctrines, or ignore a thorough exegesis of scripture. Unfortunately, today many people are not reading their Bibles; and in turn fall prey to these charlatans, whose services would then be unnecessary.
While a few proof text verses superficially allude to God’s punishment of the innocent, a closer inspection shows quite the opposite. The context shows an entirely different meaning. One should consider three contexts when reading Scripture on the topic of generational curses. All contexts have to do with God’s character and these points are covenant, compassion, and consistency.
The first context we need to examine is covenant. The first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch or the Torah, are the books of the law. They describe God’s historical context with Israel, who He called to be His covenant people. The terms of the covenant were that Israel would enjoy the blessings of God, if they in turn loved and obeyed Him. The choice was Israel’s as to whether they would love God or hate Him. Loving Him would result in their obedience, and hating Him would result in their disobedience. God gave them the Ten Commandments to remind them that they needed God’s help to keep the covenant. (Romans 2:15).
It is in the context of the Ten Commandments where we see the first incidence of “curses” (Exodus 20:5b). Notice here the contrast. God first says He is a jealous God and he will not look the other way concerning their breaking of the Covenant through idolatry. Here He says,
“5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands R44 of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Keep note on who God will punish; it is the children to the third and the fourth generations “of those who hate me.” This means that all of these people hate God. There are no innocent parties punished here. To keep the passage in context, look at the next verse. Here He contrasts his anger with His grace by saying that He would show His steadfast love to thousands. Again, he is not talking about just anyone here, but it is of those who love me and keep my commandments. The contrast is God’s goodness and faithfulness to His part of the covenant versus man’s disregard for God. Nowhere is God being unrighteous, it is man. Therefore, we cannot use Exodus 20:5, as an example of God’s punishment of innocent people. God is just letting Israel know the consequences of its own covenant breaking or covenant keeping on an individual basis.
Deuteronomy 5:9 repeats the admonition with the same idea. God’s mercy is far greater than His punishment, and God only punishes those who “hate” Him; not innocent people. In fact, just a few chapters later, God makes this clear in Deuteronomy 24:16, where He says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” God is clear here; He does not punish innocents. God gives the ability to know right from wrong to everyone (Romans 1:18-21). A child, if they chose to do right, will not continue his father’s sin, but will receive blessing. If he chooses to disobey God, and follow his father instead, he will receive the curse of his own sin and not his father’s sin. God’s presumption here is that he does know better.
Jewish scholars have even mentioned that the strongest biblical support for God’s righteous judgment is in Jeremiah 32:17-20, where God’s generational justice immediately precedes a verse on individual accountability. The context of covenant does not show innocents punished, but rather points to accountability for individual covenant breaking.
The second context is God’s compassionate character. In all cases, the focus of the passages in Genesis, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (the books of the Law), are actually showing man’s responsibility and contrasting it with God’s compassionate character. To remove this attribute of God is to do Him injustice. It smears God’s name and makes Him out to be unfair. Just like Adam, when confronted with his sin, he blames God and not himself. The fact is, it is man who is the evil-minded one, not God.
We see this idea prominently in the book of Jonah. Jonah ran away to avoid having to go to Ninevah. He was not afraid of failure or God’s wrath toward Ninevah. He did not want to see God be merciful to Israel’s enemy. He wanted to see them punished. He knew God would be merciful, not vengeful.
Other people in the Old Testament were aware of God’s compassion. Two of them were Daniel (Dan 9:2) and David (Ps, 89: 25-37). Neither of these men would believe that God would punish innocent people. They knew first-hand that God was, in everything, compassionate. They presumed on it all the time.
The third context we need to consider is God’s consistency or immutability. God does not change. This characteristic is the overarching reason why the idea of generational curses is absurd. They are inconsistent with God’s character of immutability.
God was constantly striving with man; yet, God never waivered in His faithfulness to His people. God’s Word stands from beginning (Old Testament) to the end (New Testament) as a consistent testimony of His loyalty to His people and the consistency of His character. In Ezekiel 18, God clearly states that the idea that generational curses are a wrong idea, and that his character is to be upheld not denigrated. God upholds His righteousness by declaring through Ezekiel (18:18-20)
18 As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity. 19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
In the end, God goes into detail explaining why He does not punish innocents. He ultimately gives, even these people, a chance to repent, and live. His Word is consistent, because God is immutable.
In examining Scripture on the topic of generational curses, we see that it is man’s attempt at falsifying the Gospel of God’s grace. It sets aside God’s covenant, compassion and consistency for a doctrine made by men in order that they may give themselves a self aggrandizing power. The doctrine of generational curses cheapens God’s grace, maligns His character. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that God punishes innocents. To say differently is a lie.