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Generational curses: Part 2 — For four generations

Passing on iniquity for four generations?

Passing on iniquity for four generations?

In my first article on Generational Curses, I looked at a verse in Exodus 20:5, where God promised to visit the iniquity of the parents on the children.

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. (Exodus 20:5 NASV)

In that article, we discussed how it was the iniquity (Hebrew awon) and not the sin (Hebrew chataah), that was passed on.

The difference between the two being that while sin refers to the act, iniquity refers to a sin addiction. In much the same way children inherit red hair and freckles from their parents, they also inherit spiritual characteristics as well.

In this article, I want to discuss the third principle noted in this verse that generational curses can pass down for up to four generations.

Ironically, in my first post, I cited a story published in The Globe and Mail that talked of the strange court case of murderer Dan S. In an unusual defense, his lawyers argued that his murderous trait was inherited from a family consumed by violence.

Ironically, in her article, The Bad Seed, Carolyn Abraham writes:

“For four generations, bad behaviour has haunted the [S.] bloodline. Like ghosts from the past, crooks robbers, abusers and rapist have appeared and reappeared among uncles, cousins, brothers and aunts in this southern American family.”

Because generational curses are active for up to four generations, they have can spread out in two basic ways:

Vertical depth

Since a generation could extend 75 years, this would give generational curses a vertical depth of three centuries. This means people reading this article are potentially dealing with curses stemming back to the 17th century.

Horizontal spread

But generational curses not only have vertical depth, they can have horizontal spread as well. As the children marry and have their own kids the effects of the curse widens out potentially affecting hundreds of people. (1)

A whole family could be conceivably caught up in the generational curse. Of course, not every person in the family would be under the curse as many would resist, but the temptation was there, always knocking.

A curious verse in Genesis 15:15, 16 unveils the final disastrous outcome of generational curses.

In the verses leading up to this passage, God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land that the ancient patriarch was passing through. But the Lord told Abraham that his heirs would not receive this inheritance for another four generations, “for the iniquity (awon) of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Why the delay?

One explanation is that as iniquity spreads out, it could conceivably affect a whole nation — which in some instances were very large extended families. In Leviticus 18:25, God specifically warned Israel that as they defiled themselves (in the context of this verse, God spoke of a wide-range of sexual sins) their iniquity would eventually be visited upon the land.

When that finally happened, the land would vomit out its inhabitants.

This process, which was building in the Amorites, would not be complete for another four generations — a generational curse, of course, could be a key ingredient behind the expansion of the iniquity.

It was just a matter of time before the curse consumed this tribal group. When that happened the Amorites were vulnerable to expulsion.

We see another example of this in the nation of Edom.

In Ezekiel 25:12, the Lord told Edom that He intended to judge the nation because it “has acted against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and avenged themselves upon them.”

What incident took place that consumed them with acts of vindictiveness?

A clue is provided in Ezekiel 35:5, where God said he would judge Edom “because you harbored an ancient hostility” (NIV) towards Judah. The Hebrew word for ancient ‘olam’ refers to a perpetual or a never-ending hatred.

This deep-rooted rage was not a result of some recent border dispute, but rather a long-standing bitterness that had gripped the heart of the Edomites for centuries.

The prophet Amos is a bit more explicit about the problem declaring that God would judge Edom (Amos 1: 11) because he pursued his brother with the sword that had become the source of Edom’s perpetual or unending fury.

So what is being described here and when did this hatred for Israel originate?

An inkling on its source is found in Genesis 36:1, where we are told that the nation of Edom was formed out of the offspring of the notorious Biblical character — Esau.

Many of us are familiar with the story of Esau and Jacob – fraternal twin sons born to Isaac and Rebekkah (Genesis 25: 21-28). Esau was the first-born of the two boys and was eligible to receive a double portion of the family’s inheritance, which meant his inheritance would be twice as large as Jacob’s allotment.

As first-born, Esau was also destined to receive a special prophetic blessing designated for the first-born male in the family. The father traditionally bestowed a blessing on all the children, but reserved the best blessing for the first-born son, which solidified his position as the leader of the family.

But Esau carelessly bargained away his first-born inheritance to his brother Jacob for a mess of pottage. Then with the help of their mother, Rebekkah, Jacob pulled off the classic double header sweep. By disguising himself as his older brother, Jacob conned his blind father into giving him the first-born blessing intended for Esau.

Esau was infuriated by this final deception (Genesis 27: 41-46) and he had every right to be angry. His brother defrauded him. His own mother betrayed him.

Then when Esau poured out his woeful story to his father Isaac, his dad helplessly stated that he could not pull back the first-born blessing once it was released over Jacob.

When we look more closely at the account we can see the raging anger that devoured Esau. Genesis 27: 41 tells us that Esau bore such a strong grudge against Jacob that he consoled himself by plotting to kill his younger brother.

At the urging of his mother, Jacob fled the family to save his life.

This anger and hostility that Esau displayed toward his brother ripped through Esau’s family like a tornado, tainting everyone in its path. No doubt stories of Jacob’s deception were told and then retold around the campfire.

Esau’s wealth was cut in half and that directly affected all his heirs.

Though Esau personally never got his vengeance, this anger and unforgiveness became the source of a generational curse that eventually consumed his heirs. This ancient and perpetual hostility was passed down and became part of the collective mindset of the nation of Edom.

The Edomites, fed by their forefather’s rage, took out their unrelenting anger on Jacob’s descendants — the nation of Israel.

This is the second in a seven-part series on Generational curses.

More in this series:


  • Abraham, Carolyn, The bad seed (Globe and Mail: Toronto, ON) Saturday, March 1, 2003

End note:

(1) One particularly evil King (Ahab), whose wife was Jezebel, had 70 sons and no doubt just as many daughters (2 Kings 10:1). Obviously, his iniquity had the potential to spread quickly through the nation.

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