What Does the Bible Say About Generational Curses?

Exodus 34:6-7

What does the Bible say about generational curses? And how can a Christian break a generational curse according to the Bible?

Here are 5 signs God is preparing you to break a generational curse.

1. If You Have Been Removed from the World’s Condemnation Because You Have Received an Individual Salvation Through the Gospel, This Means You Are Free from All Generational Curses

When talking about the literal generational curses mentioned in the Bible, we are referring to Old Testament statements about the sins of the fathers visiting their children for generations to come. In the points to come in this article, I’m going to talk about different types of generational curses that relate more to the practical implications our family history has on us. But first let’s talk about this literal and biblical type of generational curse expressly mentioned in the Old Testament.

One of the clearest passages referring to a generational curse in the Bible is found in Exodus 34:6-7, which states:

The Lord passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’”

That statement at the end seems unfair, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” This type of generational curse needs to be understood in its proper Old Testament context.

At this time in God’s redemption story, Israel was still a theocracy. God was literally the governing authority at this time. This means that God himself, through his manifest presence with Moses and the priests, was literally ruling over the people. While God still rules over all the earth today, he does not rule over us in this manifest way anymore. God isn’t visibly revealing himself in a theophany like he was then in clouds and fire during this point in history.   

To disobey God at that time when he was manifestly present would incur immediate social, political, and security issues for the Jews. When God was displeased with their sin, famines occurred, wars occurred, and children literally suffered in tangible ways because of the sins of their fathers. When Jesus returns to earth in a similar manifest way in the future, the earth will again see displays of God’s manifest wrath as described in Revelation.

I believe it is a biblical principle that the more manifest God’s presence is, the greater the immediate consequence for our unholiness. For example, when Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark, God immediately killed him (2 Samuel 6:7) because God’s perfect and holy presence was in the Ark. Or when God manifested himself on Mount Sinai, God told Moses to set up boundaries around the mountain because if anyone drew near or even touched edge of the mountain God would kill them (Exodus 19:11-12). Since God does not manifestly dwell on the earth like this anymore, such punishments are not as common.

But even in the New Testament we see this principle. For example, the Holy Spirit’s presence was very present in a special way during the times mentioned in Acts. Thus it makes sense that when Ananias and Sapphira lied, God immediately killed them (Acts 5:1-11). When Paul makes his warning about taking communion in an unworthy manner, here too we can see this principle about God’s presence incurring a more immediate judgment for sins (1 Corinthians 11:28-31).

I bring all that up because when these promises of generational curses were made in the Old Testament, they were made in the context of a theocracy where God’s manifest presence was literally ruling over the people in a very close way. So the curses talked about because of the parents’ sins referred to the community consequences of the nation’s sins and not about the individual sins of one person being paid for by the individual punishment of another.

For in Ezekiel 18:19-20, it states that each person will suffer for their own sin. This is referring to our individual relationship with God. The generational curses found in places like Exodus 20:5 and Exodus 34:6-7, however, seem to point to the community’s well-being because of corporate rebellion against God which leads to his protection being removed from that community.

Through the gospel, God’s reign and rule over our lives looks different now. We don’t have priests and prophets interceding for us anymore as a set apart nation because now God the Holy Spirit dwells within the individual Christian. Salvation is an individual act. If you repent of sin, put your faith in Jesus, and depend on God’s grace for salvation, your sins are forgiven. If your parents or grandparents don’t do that, their sins are not forgiven. And just because you are a Christian does not mean your children’s sins will be forgiven if they become adults and reject Christ.

So in summary of point 1, God is not holding parent’s sins against children in a moral sense because our salvation through Christ and our relationship with God is individually based.  As Colossians 1:13-14 states, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

2. If God Is Teaching You to Unlearn the Wicked Ways You Learned from Your Family History, This Is a Sign He’s Preparing You to Break a Generational Curse

I’m now switching gears and talking about something different than the strict biblical use of the idea of generational curses. Perhaps a better term to use now would be a “generational trend.” While corporate punishment for the sins of a nation are not held against us in a moral sense, there are still practical ways in which our family history still does negatively affect us.

In Exodus 20:4-6, we are commanded to not worship false gods, and then we are given the warning, “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, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Idolatry is so dangerous because we can learn it from others. One reason God ordered Israel to wipe out nations who were serving other gods rather than intermingling with them was because God knew that the people would learn their idolatrous ways and then be corrupted themselves through this sin. As Leviticus 18:24-30 explains:

Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”

On a moral note, God clearly allowed foreigners to join God’s people who were willing to obey God’s commands. God only destroyed those nations who were unwilling to obey him. But the main reason I point out this passage is because it’s clear that sins of others are so dangerous to us not because God will make us pay for what our families have done but more so because if we learn the sins our families are doing, we too will suffer like our families have suffered.

If you’ve grown up in a verbally abusive family, you are more likely to ruin relationships yourself through being verbally abusive because that’s how you were raised. If your grandparents drank, and your parents drank, and then you drink because that’s just what your family does, this generational trend of alcoholism will negatively impact your life. If a dad goes to prison for a crime, his children will get raised without their dad. Those children are then more likely to be raised in imbalanced ways. And then they are more likely to raise their children in an imbalanced way. So many generations can be hurt by the sins of that one man who committed a crime and went to prison.

The point is, while God isn’t going to hold the personal sins of your family against you, their sins can still hurt you if you are learning their ways and living like them. In this sense, this type of generational curse (or generational trend) will only be broken when you choose to unlearn the dysfunction that your family taught you and you choose God’s path instead. As 1 Corinthian 15:33-34 teaches us:

Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”

3. If You Are Beginning to Realize You Are Biologically Predisposed Towards Certain Sins Because of Your Genes, This Can Help You Begin to Break Generational Curses

I’m no doctor nor am I a researcher on the complexity of genes. But I think it’s pretty obvious that each of us have a biological bent towards certain vices that we inherited from our family lines.

Some people naturally struggle with anger more than others. It’s not only because of the social environment they were raised in. Some of us just run hotter in a biological sense. Some people may be born with certain pulls towards certain sexual temptations while other people may struggle with sexual temptation but of a very different kind. A lot of times these preferences are simply biological.

But no matter what your body craves, sin is sin. It doesn’t matter how we are born when it comes to morality and obeying God’s laws. Every one of us has a biological pull towards certain sins more than the pull towards other sins. The Bible says we are all born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12), which is the reason we all need to be born again and receive a new nature in Christ (John 3:7, John 3:16, Romans 5:17).

While being born with a certain weakness towards a certain sin does not excuse us from the consequences of those sins if we choose to act on those cravings, it is really helpful to know what your biological weaknesses are so you can be on guard against these things in a greater way.

If God is teaching you to accept the reality of your biological weaknesses which you inherited from your family so that you can better fight against these weaknesses through the power and practical wisdom he is providing, this is a good sign God is preparing you to break this type of generational curse (or generational trend).

4. If God Is Teaching You How to Fight the Spiritual Warfare That Is Coming Against Your Personal Weaknesses Inherited or Learned from Your Family, This Is a Good Sign He’s Preparing You to Break a Generational Curse

When a lot of people talk about generational curses, they are referring to a spiritual warfare tormenting us through generational sin and the evils done by people in our family history. I don’t see evidence of this type of spiritual curse in the Bible. I don’t believe the sins of your parents or grandparents can invite spiritual warfare into your life.

But I do believe our own sins can give the devil a foothold in our lives (Ephesians 4:26-27). And many of our sins are related to things we’ve learned from the social environments we grew up in and because of biology inherited from our family lines. So in that sense I do believe that a particular type of warfare can be employed by the enemy on a family because those in that family all struggle with a certain type of sin.

For example, Satan isn’t going to spend time attaching you with temptations around narcissism if that’s not something you struggle with. But if you struggle with narcissism because you grew up in a narcissistic environment or your genes cause you to struggle with having a narcissistic personality disorder, then of course Satan will attack you in that area more than he would attack others with this type of temptation.

But again, Satan can’t gain a foothold into your life based upon the sins of your family. Rather, if he has a foothold in your life, it’s because you gave him that foothold through your personal choices and sin. Therefore, the solution to remove spiritual warfare from your life is to confess your personal sins to God and repent.

James 4:7 states, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Once you submit to God, the devil has to flee from you. Period.

5. If God Is Convicting You that It’s Time to Limit Your Exposure with Your Unhealthy Family, This Could Be a Sign He’s Preparing You to Break a Generational Curse

I have the type of sensitive skin that burns really easily in the sun. I can be in direct sunlight for a while without getting burned, especially if it’s at the end of summer when I’ve gotten a little tanner. But if it’s right after a long Cleveland winter and I’m pasty white, I have to accept that I can’t be directly exposed to the sun without getting burned. And even if I’m tan at the end of summer, I’ll still burn really bad if I stay exposed to the sun long enough.

This is how it is with family sometimes. If you grew up in a certain type of dysfunction, this will probably make you more sensitive to that issue for the rest of your life. You can certainly build up a tolerance towards it and not instantly sin if you have to be around it for a short period of time, but an over exposure to this unhealthy environment can allow these unhealthy generational trends to regain a foothold in your life.

You may need to remove a family member from your life or at least limit your exposure to them if you want to end their negative influence so you can start a new trend of healthy behavior in your life and for generations to come.

In the end, whatever type of generational curse (or generational trend) you may be dealing with, just remember that Christ is the final solution. No spiritual warfare can overcome the power of Jesus in your life (James 4:7, 1 John 4:4). And no curse can withstand the freeing power of the gospel (Galatians 3:10-14).

Published by

Mark Ballenger

ApplyGodsWord.com is the writing ministry of Mark Ballenger. To reach Mark, send him an email anytime: markballenger@applygodsword.com

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