Background on curses

Who do curses affect?

In the Scriptures, there seem to be some curses that are global and others that are more localized.

All curses are the result of individual actions, but some curses are applied to everyone while others are applied only to the individual who committed the act.

When Adam and Eve sinned, their actions caused both global and individual curses.

  • The global curses: God banned all of humankind from the garden, creating separation between Himself and us. God no longer offered protection from death.
  • The individual curses: God cursed the serpent, the woman in child-bearing and marriage, the man and his work and the ground that he would work.

Other curses are only 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.

Are there different kinds of curses?

Yes, and each one has its own meaning.  You can see in the illustration[1] that there are many words that we translate as “curse,” but the two that make up over fifty percent of the translations are ללק (qalal) and אָרַר (arar).  Let’s take a closer look at them.

There are many Hebrew words for "curse."

 

ללק (qalal)

In the context of cursing, qalal means to consider another to be light, small, contemptible and/or insignificant; to declare cursed, to belittle, to sharpen or to shake.  Qalal 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 qalal.  Most of them describe one person cursing another.  Here are three examples:

  1. Genesis 12.3:

And I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.

  1. Exodus 21.17:

Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

  1. 1 Samuel 17.43:

He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.

These three 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.

As Christians in business, we are commanded to love our enemies and never to hate (cf. Matthew 5).  When we diminish another person with our words or actions—when we cause them to be considered light, small, contemptible or insignificant—we are cursing them in the qalal sense.

This has direct application to how we view our competitors and what we say about them, whether in public or private.  We as Christian business owners should never make fun of our competitors or treat them with contempt or insignificance.

אָרַר (arar)

In the context of cursing, arar means to 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 arar.

Jeremiah uses arar in Jeremiah 17.5-8:

5This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land salt where no one lives.
7But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
8They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

Take a closer look at Jeremiah 17.5

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

When we as Christian business owners place our faith in our own strength and find our hearts turning away from the Lord, we bring on ourselves a curse.

Arar is also used twice in Malachi 3.9-10, where the prophet curses his own people because they are robbing God by not giving the entire tithe:

9You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  10Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

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:

  1. Actions always indicate heart attitude. I can’t discern what you believe and value by your words, but I can certainly discern what you believe and value by your actions.
  2. Blessings and curses are not formulas to success. Your heart matters in all of this.  What you love—who you love—is evident 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.  I can’t tell you how many Christian business owners I’ve met who don’t tithe.  Honestly, they’ll give two or three percent while blaming government taxes and costs in the business.  What it often comes down to is that they enjoy their toys more than they enjoy tithing.  Having these toys is not sinful, but every dollar you spend on a boat, cabin, classic car or luxury trip is one less dollar that you can give back to the Lord.

If we will take care of God’s house first, He promises to send on us a blessing which is so large that we can’t contain it!

Trust in yourself to diminish your effectiveness

One of our culture’s dogma is that we need to “believe in ourselves.”  If, by this phrase, they mean we should have a healthy, appropriate confidence in our skills and abilities, I have no argument.

But many take it much farther than this, especially those who are politically conservative and believe self-reliance is a Christian virtue.  They literally teach that self-belief is essential to success.  They tell our young people, “Believe in yourself and you can do anything!”

What a lie.

The reality is that we cannot accomplish anything we desire if we just believe in ourselves enough.  We just can’t.  And more to the point, when we trust in ourselves rather than in the Lord for success, we bring upon ourselves a curse that will give us diminishing results for our efforts.

Now, you might say, “What about people who clearly were very successful and yet trusted entirely in themselves?  Most CEOs don’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.  Under God’s direction and control, their successes might have been entirely different and certainly would have been significant in the Kingdom of God.  The fact that Bill Gates built Microsoft and has employed hundreds of thousands of people doesn’t impress God.  I don’t know what God would have Bill do, but I do know that it would be in line with advancing God’s agenda on this earth.

You see, success in God’s eyes is about faithfulness to His call on your life and loving him with all your heart, strength and mind.  The generation of wealth is of little consequence in the Kingdom of God—unless such generation is what God has called you to do.  But even then, it’s not the generation of the wealth that is important, it’s your faithfulness to God in doing what He called you to do.

We American Evangelicals have such a western view of the world wherein financial success is considered the pinnacle of success.  But in God’s kingdom, it is different. Moreover, 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.

Can I get rid of all the curses that are on me?

No. 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 or replaced—they persist as well.  I believe even our blessings are diminished by the general curse under which all of creation groans.

The chart below is a summary of Biblical curses—all of which we brought onto ourselves, either as individuals or because we are part of humankind. Do any of them surprise you?

Action Who Curse Reference
Original sin Serpent Cursed 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
When we curse another person Everyone God will curse us Genesis 12.3
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
Rely on the works of the law Everyone Not stated Galatians 3.10
When you curse someone else Yourself The curse comes back on you Psalm 109.17
If we do not honor God’s name Everyone Not stated Malachi 2.2
Preaching a different Gospel Everyone Not stated Galatians 1.18

 

[1] This graphic was produced using the Logos Bible Software.  To learn more about Logos, please visit www.logos.com.

What it means to be a Christian Business Owner

Recently, I had lunch with a business owner who is on his second business. He grew and sold the first business he owned and how he’s on his second business. As we talked about business, he made the comment that he’s far from perfect when it comes to integrating his faith as a business owner. “I don’t hold Bible studies for my employees”, he said. “Sometimes, I’ll tell an employee that I’ll pray for them, but beyond that, I don’t talk much about God.” You could see he felt he was missing the mark when it comes to properly integrating his faith with his ownership role.

I think he felt that in order to live out his Christian faith as a business owner, he needed to be evangelizing his employees, holding Bible studies during work hours or doing other, direct activities to bake in His faith into the business culture. He described one business here in the Minneapolis area that displays John 3.16 in big letters at the entrance of their business. I was surprised he thought this was more the standard for being a Christian Business Owner.

As I understand it, there are four purposes that God has for business:

  1. Products
  2. Passions
  3. Profits
  4. Philanthropy

In my estimation, achieving success in fulfilling these four purposes is tantamount to running a business God’s way and being successful at the Christian part of being a Christian Business Owner. These four purposes should become the core measurements of your business: if we at the Bible and Business are right in our interpretation of Scripture, then measuring how well you’re doing in these four areas would seem to make sense on a number of levels.

By contrast, what it does not mean is that you’re some type of super-business evangelist. You might fly from Minneapolis to San Diego and not win over the entire cabin to Christ at 40,000 feet. Some owners are more comfortable directly witnessing to their employees. Most are not. Sharing the four spiritual laws or running Bible studies is not the core reason most business owners are in business, yet some feel shame for not being more personally bold and direct about their faith with their employees. That feeling of shame is unwarranted. Instead of comparing yourself to other business owners who imprint John 3.16 in big letters on the side of their building, realize that God has wired you the way you are and has given us direction in the Scripture that all of us can follow and achieve, regardless of our personalities or temperaments.

It doesn’t mean that you’re holding daily Bible studies or taking your employees to church. It also doesn’t mean that your focus and attention is equally spent in each of the four areas. In fact, I would submit that you’ll not spend that much time on Philanthropy and will spend a majority of your time on Products and Profits. So even though all four purposes are equally important, this won’t translate into allotment of time for the Christian Business Owner. Finally, it doesn’t mean that you won’t face tough tradeoff choices to keep these purposes in balance – the reality is that you will face those choices. But you’ll face them with the Lord in your corner, giving you support and guidance as you listen to His voice and follow Him wholeheartedly.

Finally, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always be understood by those who look into your business from the outside. For example, you might find that your employees will grumble just a bit because their bonus checks were smaller due to your philanthropic activities. You can’t let the misunderstanding of your tradeoff choices become the basis on which you make decisions. Ask God – hear His voice – and follow His direction. Moses, Aaron, Joshua and even Jesus Christ were not always understood by those who looked in from the outside, but they followed God and fulfilled His purposes for their lives. You can do the same.

Be encouraged. Being a Christian Business Owner is about fulfilling God’s purpose for your business and doing it with holiness, humility and submission to God. It’s not about saving everyone who works for you or holding Bible studies at work.

Bill English

On Poverty

After living in Haiti for eight days, I’m more aware now than I was before of the plight of those living in poverty. You might think I’m referring to the Haitians. Well, I am. But I’m also referring to Americans, some of whom live in greater poverty than the Haitians.

Words cannot describe some of the economic poverty that I witnessed. On our first day, we prayed with a newly married couple in their 40’s who lived in something less than a shack – probably no more than 10’x8′, with tarps for walls and some tin and wood for their roof. Their floors were nothing more than dirt and their front door – if you can call it that – was nothing more than a couple of long cloths that were hung to provide some privacy. Both are unemployed and neither have any realistic expectation of ever having gainful, steady employment. They lack any transportation, other than their feet. No running water. No electricity. No air conditioning. Both have very little formal education. Yet, they believe in God and trust God for their daily bread. Literally.

The following day, I sat in church and listened to man, who lives in similar poverty, sing the following hymn with a studio-quality voice and an honest earnestness that took me by surprised:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Can you imagine someone living well below the poverty line in America singing that Jesus is their portion, that they are happy and free? Because nearly everyone in America defines poverty as a lack of stuff or services, we find it hard to imagine – let alone believe – that someone living without much materially can consider themselves happy and free. Americans believe that money and material things bring them happiness, security and comfort. But this is not the case.

I can point to more than a few rather rich people who live empty, vacuous lives. They have the homes, cars, boats, clothes, club memberships and so forth, but they are empty, void, restless, discontent and generally unhappy people.

If we believe that economic poverty is a result of a lack of knowledge, then we’ll spend time educating the poor. If we believe that poverty is a result of oppression by powerful people, then we’ll spend time working in social justice causes. If we believe that poverty is a result of personal sin, then we’ll spend time in evangelism and discipleship. And if we believe that poverty comes from a lack of stuff, then we’ll spend time in philanthropic work, trying to give the poor more stuff.

Real poverty is not a lack of stuff or knowledge or a result of some type of oppression, though all of these elements might exist in any given scenario of poverty.

Real poverty comes from broken relationships: with God, with self, with others and with creation. Hence, when properly understood, poverty results in a loss of spiritual intimacy with God, loss of proper stewardship of what we do have, poverty or disconnection from community with others and a poverty of being – developing pride or low self-esteem. In this model, a Jeffrey Skilling can be living in as much poverty as a Haitian born in the slums of Port-au-Prince.

Why do I say this? Because, when you find a person who is walking with God, who is properly connected to their community, who steward what they have and who have a good self-esteem without pride, you won’t find a person who appears to be in poverty. They might be lacking in economic means, but they’ll be willing to work for what is given to them. They won’t covet what others have and they won’t blame society for their lot in life. If Jesus Christ really came to reconcile to Himself all things (Colossians 1.15-20), then lack of reconciliation must be defined a poverty. If our faith in Christ is really worth more than silver or gold (1 Peter 1), then surely a lack of faith in Christ must mean we’re living in poverty.

 A key principle in aid is not to do anything for people that they can do for themselves.  People’s needs can be divided into one of three categories: emergency relief, rehabilitation and long-term development.  An emergency situation often exists immediately following a natural disaster, or conflict.  It is characterized by the presence of life-threatening injuries, or shortages of water, food, shelter and adequate clothing.  But this emergency situation usually is very short – only a few weeks long – and during this period the correct response is to provide the necessary medical and humanitarian assistance to save lives.  Once “the bleeding has stopped”, the recovery period starts; it is no longer appropriate to give things away unthinkingly.  Here is the illustration from the When Helping Hurts book of the 3 phases with the following graphic drawing:

When Helping Hurts advocates a participatory approach to rehabilitation and development that includes the beneficiaries/community in the design and implementation of the intervention.  This approach is illustrated with stories of how well-meaning Westerners can actually do harm to communities and people through an inadequate understanding of the unintended consequences of applying a relief response when a rehabilitation or development response is more appropriate.

Some who read this are going to be angry or upset with what is written here. I have two responses: first, read the books “When Helping Hurts”, “Toxic Charity” and other books like them. Then please take my word when I say that I’ve met Christians living in thin economic conditions who were not living in poverty because their relationships were healed. They didn’t act like most who live with very little and they didn’t define themselves as living in poverty. When Christ is at the center of one’s life, one can really get to the place of contentment, whether or not one has much in material goods. Is this not the point of Philippians 4.12-13?

Our American government defines poverty as a lack of stuff coupled with oppression that comes from the rich in our capitalistic system. So we redistribute wealth on an ever-increasing scale to fight poverty and the structural oppression. We try to hurt those who have too much by implementing policies and programs that strive to achieve some level of equality of outcomes for everyone. But positive results are elusive because we’ve define the poverty problem the wrong way in this county.

In this context, we can now understand why Phil Robertson could say:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once,” he said. “Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

I’m not arguing here at the Civil Rights legislation was unnecessary. But if they were godly people, then they were reconciled properly to God, themselves, their environment and their community. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have worked for improvements, but it is an example of how people with little can still live in the reconciliation provided by Jesus Christ. By contrast, this article suggests that having money and the pursuit of money can have deleterious effects on our relationships that Christ came to reconcile.

Look – all things being equal – having more money is preferred over less money. But all things are rarely equal and many times, those who walk with God the closest are also those who live with less than most others. Yet, they don’t live in poverty because they have learned that their faith is worth more than silver or gold.

Bill English

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