The Truth About Generational Curses
When I was in my late teens, I heard a minister speak about “breaking something in our lives called ‘Generational Curses.’” He was reading from Exodus 20. His idea was that God holds the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generations accountable for the sins of their forefathers. He stated that not only do we suffer from generational sins, but we are guilty by association; and needed to repent for their sins. He instructed the church to research their family tree, find out about those who came before us (in particular, the males). We were to find out what sins they committed and fervently seek God for His forgiveness. This was the only way to break this curse from passing to our children.
There are certainly immediate problems that arise regarding this teaching. But the root of this principle is very popular in the world. Anyone who knows anyone on this earth has heard someone blame another for their own actions. “I stole from my employer because they don’t pay me enough.” Or “I left the church because the deacon was rude to me.” Some will even push the blame for the world’s sinful condition. “If the schools were better, our children would not turn out so bad.” Or “If they would just get rid of the gun law, nobody would be hurt.” Many of us go so far to accuse God of the same. “If God would have just healed my child, I wouldn’t have had to turn from Him.”
This could be no further from the truth. Ezekiel 18 is explicit in teaching that each person will have to answer for only his or her life. It begins with a common expression:
‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
Ezekiel is posing a question using a common saying in that time. For today, it might be better said: “The fathers eat sour lemons, and the children cringe their teeth.” It is a simple but loaded phrase. When I was young, I loved to grab sliced lemons from the table and slip one between my teeth, holding it. Then with my mouth, I sucked the juice from the center. The sourness was so strong that I would spit the lemon back out and my face would contract. You know the feeling. It is a rush!
That is the analogy of the expression. Except, it states that the children feel the sourness. It is they who squeeze their cheeks together and contract. The phrase points to a misconstrued idea of Genesis 20. It states that whatever you do wrong, your children are held accountable.
In this chapter of Ezekiel, he brings this idea up only to crush it with the Word of God. He tells a story to build his case. It is a story about 3 people. A grandfather, his son, and his grandson. (I’ll paraphrase). The grandfather lives an upright and righteous life in the sight of God. His son (the next generation) lives a downright awful life filled with pride and selfishness who even goes so far as to murder. His son (the grandson) lives an upright life just like the grandfather because he sees how his father acted and wanted to do otherwise. Is he accountable for his father’s sins? Is the grandfather accountable for his son’s sins?
Ezekiel says, no. “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin” (v17,18). Many times in the Bible, the term “live” of “life” means “to be blessed by God.” And, the term “die” or “death” means “to be cursed by God.” In this passage of the Bible, Ezekiel is communicating that each person is held accountable for their own actions. He sums it up by saying, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (v20). He goes further to speak for the Lord saying, “Therefore, …I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD” (v30).
This is good news. (Specially if you are like me, and have no idea about your great-grandfather). For those of you who down yourself because your child is living unrighteous, you can lift your head up and get over it. It is not your fault. Some of you have fathers that are alcoholics or abusive, it is not your fault. Some of you have grandchildren that reject the Lord, it is not your fault.
“But I was not a good parent – I abused my child.” Indeed you have done wrong and need to confess those things before the Lord. But your child is acting how he or she desires. Just as the father in this passage of Ezekiel who had a righteous father himself, but chose to live unrighteous. Moreover, we can recall Adam and Eve who are considered children of God. They were provided with a perfect atmosphere and way of living. But they chose to live as it pleased them; thus, adopting sin into humanity. Is God to blame for their actions? Certainly not!
But wait, the good news gets better. Not only are we accountable for ONLY ourselves, but we have the choice to turn from our unrighteousness and live. In verse 21-23 it reads “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.”
However, it wouldn’t be right if I did not give the whole truth. To some this news could be bad, because just as the wicked can be saved from God’s curses, so the righteous can be turned from God’s blessings. In verses 24, it reads, “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.”
Knowing that we are all accountable for ourselves, how can we reconcile Exodus 20? The passage reads that God will punish “the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate [Him]” (v5). Well, simply this: We suffer for others actions. I have some very nice family members who are parents of an unrighteous child. He lives a perverted and twisted life that often leaves him homeless or fatally sick. The parents are so often heart broken by their son’s behavior. They continually suffer from anxiety and disappointment. But they are not accountable for him.
Another related story hits home. My father has been an alcoholic for years. And because I always saw him drinking, it was easy for me to do the same, because I learn it from watching. But, I chose not to drink any alcoholic beverages. Must I confess my father’s sin to God. No, but I have to deal with his behavior. I also have to deal with any attraction I have to alcohol that I may have inherited.
And this is where we began. When I first heard the “Generational Curse” teaching, I immediately thought of my life. And analyzed Scripture once again. AND, Scripture says that we are only accountable for ourselves. But our sinful lifestyles effect others around us. The soul who sins will surely die.