One of the most under-taught Biblical topics in evangelical circles is that of curses and blessings. Most evangelicals (I put myself in this camp) don’t think much about curses, if they are real, or what their effects are (if any) on the average person. I suspect that many western Evangelicals point to Galatians 3 “…Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” as a text that teaches us to minimize or almost-ignore the role of curses in our lives. Perhaps we believe that curses are for the ignorant who play with voodoo dolls and so we relegate them to the unlearned in outback African cultures. Sure, we all want to be blessed, but curses? Sounds like something out of the dark ages.
Yet God introduced curses in Genesis 3 and removed them in Revelation 22. So I ask: Do you know what the Bible teaches about blessings and curses? If you’re a business owner, do you have any idea on how they impact your business and your ability to steward your business faithfully before God?
A Dispensation of Blessings and Curses
As I just mentioned, after Adam and Eve sinned, God introduced curses on the woman, the man, the serpent and the ground. And in Revelation 22, we learn that in the future, “…no longer will there be any curse”. It seems safe to say that we live in a dispensation of curses. This is why, I think, when Moses was in his last days, he spent some of his energy instructing the people of Israel on how their actions could bring upon themselves God’s blessing and His curses (Deut. 28). I believe that blessings and curses are still at work in our present age. So that you know where I’m coming from, I’ll deal with the Galatians 3 passage first:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
It is true that part of Christ’s redemption was to “become a curse for us”. His redemption – fully effective – redeemed us from the curse of an eternal death for our sins and being condemned by the Old Testament law. But the passage doesn’t say that all curses have ended for those of us who are in Christ. The curse of the law was placed on Christ, but it seems to me that it would be poor exegesis to conclude that *all* curses were placed on Christ when He was on the cross. Indeed, if this were true, it would seem to me that Revelation 22.3 would be both redundant and anti-climatic: “There will no longer be any curse.” Hence, it seems to me that curses and blessings continue until the future point when God destroys all that is and creates a new heaven and earth.
What is a Curse?
A curse, in the Hebrew way of thinking, is a “lessening” or a “diminishing” from that which one should have or achieve. It refers to both quality and station. They are insidious (as opposed to acute), persistent and they place the trajectory of the one upon whom they rest in decline until the recipient is fully ruined. Curses are incurred as a result of one’s sinful action and/or wrong beliefs. Initially, they are never a proximate cause to one’s actions – they are always a result. But the result itself becomes a hindrance or “drag” on future efforts to succeed or achieve. Curses hinder and confuse, they cause one to work harder and harder to achieve less and less. Curses are quiet, background (perhaps contextual?) operators – they have their effect, quietly working behind the scenes to destroy the individual. They will sap one’s strength, time, energy, hope and enjoyment of life. And they do so entirely “off the radar” screen. Much like the proverbial frog in the frying pan, they are not noticed by the individual upon whom they are working until it is too late. Complete destruction is their ultimate end.
This thought is captured in Deuteronomy 28.2 and 28.15: “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God” and “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” The pivotal word that is translated “overtake” is the one in question: it means to “catch up with and pass while travelling in the same direction”. Either blessings or curses can overtake us – their trajectory is dependent on our words and actions.
The core passages that I’ll refer to in this post are Deuteronomy 27 and 28, Galatians 3 and a few other short texts.
Two Types of Curses
In the Scriptures, there seem to be some curses that are global and others that are more localized. While all curses are a result of individual actions, some curses are applied to everyone while others are applied only to the individual who committed the act. For example, when Adam and Eve sinned, their actions caused God to curse the serpent, the woman in child-bearing, the man and his work and the ground that would be worked. Their sin cause a curse to be placed on all human beings who would live after them. Other curses, however, are specific to the individual. For example, in Exodus 21.17, we read that a person who curses his father or mother should be put to death.
In the Hebrew, there are two core words that we translate “curse” and a third that is a variant. Each one has its’ own meaning. You can see that there are a number of words that are translated “curse” at one time or another, but the two that make up over 50% of the translations are the one’s I’m concerned with in this post:
This word means to consider another to be light, small, contemptible, insignificant. To declare cursed, to belittle, to sharpen or to shake. It is the opposite of encouragement and goodwill. It can also be the invoking of divine harm under certain conditions, with a focus on the content of the oath. There are a number of passages that use this word. Most of them describe one person cursing another. Here are three examples:
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
1 Samuel 17.43:
The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
These passages show one person cursing another – diminishing them in a mean-spirited way or binding upon the other person a curse within the content of an oath. This is not Godly behavior nor does it come from a heart that is close to God. Even as Christians in business, we are told to love our enemies and to never hate (since hate is the rood of murder (cf. Matthew 5)). When we diminish another person with our words or actions – when we cause them to considered light, small, contemptible or insignificant, we are essentially cursing them in the Qalal sense. As Christians in business, we can diminish our stewardship effectiveness by engaging in this type of cursing. I believe that if we do this enough, it rebounds on us, causing our work to become more and more difficult while we achieve less and less.
This word means cover with misfortune, to bind with a curse or to put one’s self or another under a curse. It is declarative in nature. All of the curses in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 use this word. It is the same word in Jeremiah 17.5, where he writes:
5 Thus says the LORD,
Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the LORD.
6 For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.
7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD
And whose trust is the LORD.
8 For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
Take a hard look at Jeremiah 17.5: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” How many times to we tell people to “believe in yourself and you can do anything!” What a lie. What a complete pile of rubbish. We can’t do anything we want. We just can’t. And more to the point, when a person trusts in themselves for success rather than the Lord, they bring upon themselves a curse that will cause them diminishing results for their efforts. Now, you might say – “but what about men and women who clearly were very successful and yet trusted entirely in themselves and not in God? Most CEOs don’t trust in God. Donald Trump doesn’t trust in God. Martha Stewart doesn’t trust in God. Most professional athletes don’t trust in God. Most successful politicians have little trust in God. How can they be under a curse and yet achieve such huge successes?”
That’s a great question. The answer is simple: the success you see in them is still diminished – their success could have been much greater had they trusted in the Lord. And here’s the important part – under God’s direction and control, their successes might have been entirely different and more significant to the Kingdom of God. We American Evangelicals have such a western view of the world. Financial success is not the pinnacle of success! In fact, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that it is more important to pursue and gain wisdom, understanding, discretion, knowledge, insight and righteousness (Proverbs 2). Those things are far more important to pursue and gain than financial success.
This same word is used twice in Malachi, where the prophet curses His own people because they are robbing God by not giving the entire tithe (Mal 3.9):
9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!
10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
Notice that in both Jeremiah and Malachi, the curses are attached to actions but so are the corresponding blessings. Not always, but often, passages that deal with curses also deal with blessings. If we commit certain actions, we will bring upon ourselves a curse but if we commit other actions, we will bring upon ourselves a blessing. It is important to note two things in conjunction with this:
- Actions always indicate heart attitude. I can’t discern fully what you believe and value by your words, but I can certainly discern fully what you believe and value by your actions.
- Blessings and curses are not formulas to success. Your heart matters in all of this. What you love – who you love – will come through in your actions.
In Malachi, we are cursed when we don’t tithe. God expects us to take care of his house first, then take care of our house. And if we will do this – take care of His house first – He promises to send on us a blessing which is so large that we can’t contain it! Who would have thought that tithing would positively affect profits in our businesses – yet it is true.
Here’s the irony: you can’t trust in yourself to pursue and gain something like Godly wisdom or insight or righteousness. Those things are not attained except through a relationship with Christ. In fact, trusting in yourself for success is the hallmark of a journey of that turns one away from God – which is why the last part of 17.5 says “….whose heart turns away from the Lord”. You can’t trust in yourself without also turning away from God. Only one king can be on the throne. When you put yourself on the throne, you are putting yourself under a curse.
One other thought in this section: when you put yourself under a curse, you are adding to the other curses God placed on creation after Adam and Eve sinned. It’s not as if those curses are abated – they persist as well. I would submit that even our blessings are diminished by the general curse under which all of creation groans. So, what follows here is a matrix/summary of Biblical curses – all of which we brought onto ourselves, either as individuals or because we are part of mankind:
|Original sin||Serpent||Curses more intensely than all the other animals; Crawl on his belly all the days of his life||Genesis 3.14|
|Original sin||Satan||Emnity between his seed and the woman’s seed; his head would be “bruised” by the woman’s seed||Genesis 3.15|
|Original sin||Woman||Significant increase in pain in childbearing; she will desire a close relationship with her husband but he will rule harshly over her||Genesis 3.16|
|Original sin||Man||Work will require far more effort to produce a minimal sustenance; death will come to all mankind||Genesis 3.17-19|
|Anger, murder, wrath and animal abuse||Simeon and Levi||Dispersed and scattered from their family||Genesis 49.7|
|Making an idol to worship||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.15|
|Dishonor your father or mother||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.16|
|Stealing land from your neighbor||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.17|
|Misleading vulnerable people||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.18|
|Distorting justice for vulnerable people||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.19|
|Familial Incest||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.20 & 22-23|
|Bestiality||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.21|
|Take advantage of others without their knowledge||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27. 24|
|Participating in bribery||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.25|
|Disobedience to God||Everyone||Not stated||Deut. 27.26|
|Trusting in yourself||Everyone||Not stated||Jeremiah 17.5|
|Not stewarding well that which God has given to you||Everyone||Not stated||Jeremiah 48.10|
|Not delivering justice when it is your duty to do so||Everyone||Not stated||Jeremiah 48.10|
|Not fulfilling your vows||Everyone||Not stated||Malachi 1.14|
|Not honoring the Name of the Lord||Everyone||Not stated||Malachi 2.14|
|Not giving God the full tithe||Everyone||Not stated||Malachi 3.9|
Curses and blessings, in Deuteronomy 28, are applied in different parts of our lives. The following is the blessings portion from Deuteronomy 28. 2-14:
All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God:
3 “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
4 “Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.
5 “Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
6 “Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
7 “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.
8 “The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
9 “The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways.
10 “So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will be afraid of you.
11 “The Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.
12 “The Lord will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.
13 “The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully,
14 and do not turn aside from any of the words which I command you today, to the right or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
The core meaning is that the blessings (or curses if you were to read the latter parts of Deuteronomy 28) will be pervasive and persistent. There is breadth and depth to them. They infuse every aspect of our lives and impact all that we do. And this is all because of our obedience to God’s commands.
I wrote this post because I believe that Christian business owners have a unique stewardship responsibility before the Lord. Our effectiveness in fulfilling that responsibility is directly dependent on our personal holiness and our faithfulness to obeying Christ and His commands. This isn’t a legalistic thing. Instead, it is a heart thing. If our hearts are right with the Lord, we’ll want to tithe and esteem even our enemies. But if we live in sin – even if it’s only in our private lives – that will bring curses on us and our businesses, making it much more difficult to fulfill God’s purposes for why He called us into business in the first place.
God doesn’t expect the unsaved to lead holy lives. They can’t help it, really, because they are not regenerated by the Holy Spirit. But He does expect this from us because we have new nature as a result of the Spirit’s work in our lives. If your business is struggling, I’ll suggest that you get on your knees before the Lord and ask Him if your actions have brought on yourself and your business curses that are diminishing your profitability and effectiveness. Read through the Bible, noting the actions that bring about blessings or curses and then let the Bible shine a strong light into your life so that you can rid yourself of sin through confession and repentance. Take time to “clean out” your life and to have the Spirit “fill” in the vacuum after the cleaning. Stay faithful to God and you will find, in time, that your efforts to produce will be enhanced and strengthened. You’ll find that your business will become more profitable – not because of a prosperity gospel – but because you’re transitioning from living under curses to living under blessings.
Bill English, CEO