Is a Generational Curse Still a Viable Concept, in light of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 18?
Can Christians inherit generational curses? Some would say no. As evidence, 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 Jer. 31:29, in the context of mention of the coming Messiah. Some claim that this indicates that when Jesus came, He did away with this proverb as far as Christians are concerned, because all past sins(including generational sins) would be cancelled at the time of conversion.
This is a misinterpretation of these passages, based on the assumption that Jeremiah and Ezekiel were talking about generational curses. It may surprise the reader that they were not! Nor were they declaring a biblical proverb obsolete. Rather, they were confronting a commonly held false definition of generational curses, based on an invalid proverb that expressed a notion which had always been unbiblical–that we are personally guilty for our fathers’ sins. (Note that this proverb is found nowhere in the book of Proverbs!)
In the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, many people 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. They used this misinterpretation as a pretense to accuse God: The way of the Lord is not just (Ezekiel18:25a 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 that children were to blame for their fathers’ sins. This was indeed and 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 was not the first time Ezekiel refuted an un-biblical proverb; read Ezekiel 21:21-23!)
In Jer. 31:30 (NIV), Jeremiah concurred: Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes–his own teeth will be set on edge. For in the mind of Moses (who introduced the very concept of generational sin), a generational curse did not 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 (including Christian women!)–Genesis 3:16. And all men now have greater difficulty tilling the earth (including Christian men!)–Genesis 3:18-19. A generational curse also meant that we inherit a propensity toward the same sins our ancestors have committed, just as we have all inherited a sinful propensity from our common ancestor, Adam.But, as Moses stated and Jeremiah and Ezekiel later affirmed, we are by no means personally guilty for Adam’s sin. We are guilty only for our own choices to give in to, and act upon, the propensities we have inherited from him.
Jeremiah 31 implies that the proverb in question would no longer be spoken when the messiah comes. Therefore, as was said previously, some interpret Jeremiah as predicting that Jesus’ death would automatically cancel generational curses for born-again Christians. But they ignore the fact that Ezekiel says that this false proverb would no longer be quoted even in his own day (Ezekiel18:3)! Yet Malachi, who wrote centuries after Jeremiah and 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 descendents (Mal. 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 in the time of the Messiah. Rather, what would come to an end was the quoting of a very un-biblical 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 causes us to inherit generational curses? Corporateness. They comedown to us because we are corporate with our ancestors. If we inherited them because of our own personal guilt, they would, of course, 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.