IS A GENERATIONAL CURSE STILL
A VIABLE CONCEPT IN LIGHT OF
JEREMIAH 31 and EZEKIEL 18?
By Mark Sandford
Can Christians inherit generational curses? Some would say no; when we receive Jesus the cross automatically eliminates them. As proof, they cite Ezekiel 18:2-3 (NIV): “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?’ ‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.’" Similar wording is found in Jeremiah 31:29 in the context of the coming Messiah. So some say this means that when Jesus died on the cross, He did away with this proverb for born again Christians, because the cross automatically cancels all past sins, including generational sins.
It may surprise you that Ezekiel and Jeremiah were actually confronting an invalid, unbiblical proverb that doesn't speak of generational curses at all! Rather, they spoke of a false definition of generational curses commonly held at that time (note that this proverb is found nowhere in the book of Proverbs). In their time it was popularly believed that when fathers “ate sour grapes” (indulged in sin), it was just as if their children ate those same “grapes” (indulged in the same sin), and thus, were personally guilty for their fathers’ sins. People used this false proverb as a pretense to accuse God: “The way of the Lord is not just” (Ezekiel 18:25a, NIV). God’s answer was, “Hear, O house of Israel: is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?” (vs. 25b) It was the people, not God, who believed this proverb that blamed children for their fathers’ sins. This was indeed an unjust belief!
Ezekiel refuted this proverb by quoting Moses: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4, NIV; taken from Dt. 24:16 (NIV): “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (emphasis added). This wasn't the first time Ezekiel refuted an unbiblical proverb (read Ezekiel 21:21-23)!
Jeremiah agreed with Ezekiel (Jeremiah 31:30), for in the mind of Moses (who introduced the very concept of generational sin), a generational curse didn't mean we are personally guilty for our ancestors’ sins. Rather, it meant that we inherit the consequences of their sins. For instance, Moses wrote that because of Adam and Eve’s sin, all women now have increased pain in childbearing (Genesis 3:16), and all men now find it harder to make a living (Genesis 3:18-19). It also meant that we have all inherited a sinful propensity from our common ancestor, Adam. Obviously, these generational curses still apply to born again Christians. Although we are by no means personally guilty for Adam’s sin, we still have an inherited propensity toward sin, and we still bear the same consequences regarding childbirth and making a living as did Adam and Eve.
Jeremiah 31 states that the proverb in question would no longer be spoken when the messiah comes. That's why some interpret Jeremiah as predicting that Jesus’ death would automatically cancel generational curses for born again Christians. But they ignore not only what has just been said, but also the fact that Ezekiel says that this false proverb would no longer be quoted even in his own day (Ezekiel 18:3)! Yet Malachi, who wrote centuries after Ezekiel, said that the concept of a generational curse was, in fact, still in force in his day (“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants” (Malachi 2:3, NIV)). Obviously, generational curses — as Moses defined them — were not what Ezekiel and Jeremiah declared would come to an end, either in their own lifetime or even in the time of the Messiah. Rather, what would come to an end was the quoting of a very unbiblical proverb that should never have been spoken in the first place!
Since it has never been true that we personally share our ancestors’ guilt, what is it that makes us inherit generational curses? Corporateness. They come down to us because we are corporate with our ancestors. If we inherited generational curses because of our own personal guilt, they would have been automatically cancelled by the cross at the moment of our conversion. But while Jesus' death automatically removes guilt for our own sins, it does not remove corporateness. That is why we ask God to remove generational curses — so that we will no longer suffer the negative repercussions of that corporateness, and instead enjoy only the rich goodness of generational blessings.
© Mark Sandford 2018