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facebook-logo Curses and Christians Last update: August 2001

In this article I make the point that Christians, although justifiied by their faith, may still be subject to curses put on them either by themselves or by others. For an article by John MacArthur on demons and magic, click here.

From my reading of both the Old and New Testaments, God is both absolutely Love and He is absolutely Righteous at exactly the same time, meaning that He is equitable concerning the standard (the Law) He has set. Thus, whilst He is not a God of punishment but of love, He will not violate the requirements of His own Law by waiving the punishment noted therein. In history, He has nevertheless at times made provision for changing His intended course of action. But such cases have been the exception.

Balaam’s attempt to curse the people of God

“Balaam could not curse God’s blessed people, neither can anyone else.” I have come across commentary regarding this event which is recorded in the book of Numbers, that I believe might be helpful to the reader - The commentary differs vastly from my interpretation of the turn of events. Nonetheless, I believe it gives great insight and may very well be the correct way of understanding what happened during the events of Numbers 22.

That said, this is my understanding: From Numbers 22 it is quite evident that Balaam could very easily have cursed the people of God if he wanted to. But God, through His angel and whilst knowing the adverse effects of such a curse on His people, warned Balaam not to do it else His angel would slay him. Accordingly, that does not suggest that Balaam’s curse would not have ‘stuck’ if it had been spoken. To the contrary, it is suggested that the very reason why God sent His angel to stop Balaam is because He knew that the curse would stick. Numbers 23:8 suggests that Balaam could, if he wanted to, curse Israel but knew it would not be a smart thing to do: “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?” He asks a rhetorical question as if to say, ‘will I have such little regard for my own life as to curse the people whom God has blessed? For, surely, He will slay me if I do so’.

In Numbers 24:2 we read that the “Spirit of God came upon him” (Balaam), and what followed from his mouth was this: “Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you” (v. 9). It is hard to argue against the notion that God did not permit Balaam to curse Israel unless he – Balaam - was willing to suffer the consequences (being cursed) of acting against God’s will. And so, the very notion that God actually went as far as physically stopping Balaam from pronouncing a curse over Israel by sending an angel to stand in his way should suggest that the Lord considered the curse to be a ‘real issue’ to the well being of the Israelites.

I can understand how one might think that God will never allow a curse to be cast upon His people - the people of Israel, but the above example does not provide enough evidence for this belief.

For instance, there is another example of a curse that was to be cast over Israel, and this time it is the people of Israel who, themselves, pronounce it. This goes to prove that it is wrong to assert that “Balaam could not curse God’s blessed people, neither can anyone else”.

Can God's people be cursed - Yes!

In the book of Judges, chapter 21, which follows the scenario discussed above, the tribe of Benjamin is punished and goes without women: “Then the elders of the congregation said, “What shall we do for wives for those who remain, since the women of Benjamin have been destroyed?” And they said, “There must be an inheritance for the survivors of Benjamin, that a tribe may not be destroyed from Israel. However, we cannot give them wives from our daughters, for the children of Israel have sworn an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the one who gives a wife to Benjamin.’” 

Then they said, “In fact, there is a yearly feast of the LORD in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah. Therefore they instructed the children of Benjamin, saying, “Go, lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin. Then it shall be, when their fathers or their brothers come to us to complain, that we will say to them, ‘Be kind to them for our sakes, because we did not take a wife for any of them in the war; for it is not as though you have given the women to them at this time, making yourselves guilty of your oath.’”And the children of Benjamin did so; they took enough wives for their number from those who danced, whom they caught. Then they went and returned to their inheritance, and they rebuilt the cities and dwelt in them.”

Thus, even the Israelites themselves recognised that the curse pronounced over them (by themselves, should they give their daughters in marriage to Benjamin) could and would take affect. Accordingly, they considered how they may go about to avert this curse. It follows that the Old Testament people of God took the pronouncement of a curse very seriously. Again, to say that “Balaam could not curse God’s blessed people, neither can anyone else”, is missing the mark.

What is a curse?

A curse follows words of ill effect spoken over something or someone. It is the supernatural outworking of a truism that was expressed by someone. Often it has a condition like the condition concerning the giving of wives to the tribe of Benjamin, as noted above.

An expression of ill effect can, but does not actually need to, include the word “curse”, as in “I curse this rabbit”. It merely needs to be an expression of ill effect on someone or something. Often, not always, a curse is seen in the same context as a ‘spell’, which is a form of witchcraft. Witchcraft or sorcery, in turn, is the use of supernatural evil forces to work out a goal in the natural realm. Many Christians, unbeknownst to them, perform witchcraft on a regular basis by what they say and/or visualise, by way of words they “affirm” or by praying for things that are outside of the will of God. Mostly this happens because believers subscribe to false doctrine preached in ‘good’ and ‘great’ (and popular) churches.

Who can speak a curse?

Anyone, including God. In fact, God is the first one to pronounce a curse. Following His curse on the serpent, God curses something that, seemingly, does not even have a life of its own, but has a bearing on life no doubt – the ground or soil: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:17, NKJV) Note that the ground, not the man/woman, is cursed. And this curse’s working out, to this day - for Christians and non-Christians alike - cannot be disputed. Thus, the curse that God pronounced on the ground affects both believers and non-believers in Christ (Christians). This is important to note; Jesus did not free us from every possible curse out there. But, He did free us from a very important curse, as we will see later.

When is a curse spoken?

The answer might be very surprising. In the Old Testament, God has His people blessed and cursed at the same time by the leaders of Israel for reasons only clearly known to God following their respective commitment to each other:

“And Moses commanded the people on the same day, saying, “These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, when you have crossed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin; and these shall stand on Mount Ebal to curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.” (27:11-13, NKJV)

It is a stunning text; God compells half the tribes of Israel to pronounce a curse on the nation and half the tribes of Israel to curse the nation of Israel! Again, clearly, the idea that 'Balaam could not curse Israel, therefore no-one can do it', is not correct.

Of course, there are many other examples of curses spoken, …. perhaps one that applies to us today and the way we might bring a curse over ourselves, “This 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.” (Jer. 17:15, NKJV). In this regard, clearly, there is no distinction made between those who belong to God and those who do not. 'Cursed is whoever trusts in flesh, ....'

Thus, we can even speak a curse over someone we love without even knowing it. Refer the case where Jacob curses the one who stole Laban’s household god’s, causing him (Jacob) to be accused of theft. Jacob went on to deny the charges and then curse the one who did it. Unbeknownst to him, his dear wife Rachel was the guilty one and thus ends up being cursed. Some years later Rachel dies at the birth of her next child (Benjamin) – the only example of death at child birth that I am aware of in the Bible.

Some might say, ‘but she died several years later – it doesn’t count as a curse’. But how is the outworking of a blessing - being the opposite of a curse - different to the outworking of a curse? Inasmuch as Abraham’s blessing took several years to work out, so can a curse take several years to work out. What is important to know is that both blessings and curses work out!

Similar to curses, blessings are deemed important to people’s well being both in the Old and New Testaments. In Genesis, Jacob wins the blessing of his father Isaac by trickery. He does so because it is vital to him and his descendants. Again when Joseph brings his sons to be blessed by Jacob, he crosses his hands and blesses the younger as opposed to the elder. Upon Joseph’s protest Jacob, in effect, says, ‘I know what I am doing’. Both Jacob and Joseph took the blessing seriously. Similarly, curses should be taken seriously.

Arguably the wisest man who ever lived (apart from Jesus, of course) – Solomon – says this about a curse: “Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse will not land on its intended victim” (Prov. 26:2, NLT). Thus, the inference is that a curse that is deserved will indeed land on its intended victim. Interestingly, Solomon was primarily writing to 'believers' - the people of God.

In Proverbs 11:26 Solomon notes a blessing in contrast to a curse: “The people will curse him who withholds grain, But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.” Thus, according to this verse, our actions, or lack thereof, determine whether or not blessings or curses come our way. Thus, in life we may expect both blessings and curses. There is nothing to suggest that believers should only expect blessings.

It is clear that in the Old Testament at least, both blessings and curses have a real effect. But, how about the New Testament?

The New Testament, Christians and curses

I have recently been challenge over the existence of curses for Christians. My response, of course, was that both blessings and curses are real and affect people’s lives every day. But the other party was not convinced. I was reminded that ‘Christ broke the curse on our behalf’. The respondent implied that if I believed in curses over Christians’ lives then I do not (sufficiently) believe that Christ redeemed us from those curses. He reasoned that if I didn’t believe that Christ redeemed us from every possible curse then I simply did not believe in the saving work of Christ. It was an indictment on my faith. So is the general charge against those who understand that both blessings and curses are real and relevant to the lives of Christians today.

Nevertheless, the understanding of those who make this charge, by and large, is based on the following verse: ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles’. The quote is from Galatians 3.

According to this reading, clearly, Christ released us from the curse. As such, it is reasoned that on this basis (true) Christians cannot be pursued by any curse. Moreover, it is reasoned that Abraham’s blessing rests on all Christians because of their faith.

Christ took the curse away

Yes, sure, Christ took away the curse. But what is the really important thing about this Scripture that we need to understand? Let’s look at it again: ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles’.

Firstly, the above quote from Galatians 3, actually, is only half of the actual verse and none of its full meaning. See what is actually written: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.(Gal. 3:13-14, NKJV)

From this we learn that:

Therefore, in Galatians 3:13-14 (quoted above), the Apostle Paul is referencing a passage from the book of Deuteronomy, starting in chapter 26 and ending in chapter 28. I will quote extensively from this passage to show that God, indeed, pronounced a curse on those who did not uphold the standard of the Law of Moses:

“Today you have proclaimed the LORD to be your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice. Also today the LORD has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the LORD your God, just as He has spoken.” (26:17-19, NKJV)

(Thus, God has become the God of Israel and they have become His people)

“Then Moses and the priests, the Levites, spoke to all Israel, saying, “Take heed and listen, O Israel: This day you have become the people of the LORD your God. Therefore you shall obey the voice of the LORD your God, and observe His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.”
(27:9-10, NKJV)

(The day in which the Israelites became the people of God is marked by the need to adhere to God’s commandments and statutes)

“And Moses commanded the people on the same day, saying, “These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, when you have crossed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin; and these shall stand on Mount Ebal to curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.” (27:11-13, NKJV)

(On the same day that the Israelites became the people of God, Moses – God’s appointed leader over His people – instructs half of the tribe leaders of Israel to bless Israel. The other half is instructed to curse Israel)

“And the Levites shall speak with a loud voice and say to all the men of Israel: ‘Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ 
“And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen!’ 
is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.’ 
“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”
(27:14-16, NKJV)

(On the same day, the Levites, being the priestly tribe of the nation of Israel, go on to proclaim another 10 curses over Israel. The last curse specifically deals with not observing every commandment given)

“Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them.’ “And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” (27:26, NKJV)

Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy then deals with a number of additional curses and blessings to come over the Israelites – blessings for obeying the commandments and curses for not obeying the commandments. The blessings are wonderful and few, and the curses are dreadful and plenty.

It is important to note that when the Apostle Paul in the New Testament declares that, through Christ, believers are redeemed from "the curse", he is referencing the passage above (Deuteronomy 26-28): “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us”. It is the curse referred to in Deuteronomy 27:26. You may wish to check this out in the margin of your Bible.

What he is not doing is declaring that Christ has redeemed us from every possible curse out there. Thus, it is the curse of the Law that we are redeemed of through faith in Christ so that we might be righteous before God through our faith alone - “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:15, NKJV). Therefore, the passage is talking about being righteous before God and how that is attained by New Testament believers.

To confirm this understanding see what Galatians 3 verse 13 says, “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. (Galatians 3, NLT). Therefore, it does not say that we are redeemed from a curse pronounced by Julie or me or my mother or my school teacher, my enemy, my business partner or my Pastor - whether knowingly or unknowingly. It simply says that we are redeemed from the curse of the Law. That is it.

This is an important distinction to make because it makes provision for Christians to suffer under some or other curse.

The Church under an evil spell?

Paul used interesting language as he drilled home his point in Galatians 3:1 about the attempts of members of that church to adhere to the Law of Moses in order to attain righteousness: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth”.

Other Bible versions translate the opening verse as follows:

Other versions state it more mildly:

Whilst some versions use more mild language, the vast majority of translations use the words “bewitch” or “evil spell”. The Greek word for “bewitch” is Baskaino and is translated, to bring evil on one by feigning praise or an evil eye, to charm, to bewitch. Thus, Paul is absolutely including the possibility, and indeed the likelihood, that the Christians of Galatia are being subject to an evil spell. It must therefore be possible that Christians in general can be subject to curses. This understanding is consistent with what we have seen thus far.

From the above, it may be argued that Paul is not referring to an actual evil spell but is simply expressing himself in an 'overly strong way in order to drive home a poin't. Thus, it is suggested that he uses hyperbole in order to make a point – a technique that is also used by Jesus at times. On the other hand, Paul may not have used hyperbole at all. It is not a technique he uses very often. Thus, Paul may very well have meant exactly what he saidwho has bewitched you - which is what he does in all the passages prior to this verse and all the passages following. His letter to the Galatians is a very sober, practical way in which the Gospel is communicated. There is no reason to believe that what he says in chapter 3 verse 1 is any different.

Moreover, we know Paul as a straight-shooting, no nonsense person who has the absolute good of others firmly at heart. To illustrate this point he explains how he openly challenged the Apostle Peter (refer Galatians 2) for being a “hypocrite”. And that is exactly what he calls him to his face. This he did because it was true, and, because he cared for the well being of Peter. Paul (always) tells it as it is.

Thus, in this verse, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you”, there is no reason to believe that the Apostle Paul did not actually mean that the Galatian church had not been bewitched or cursed or an evil spell put over them.

Witchcraft prevalent in the Church?

Two chapters on from Galatians 3, in Galatians 5 the topic of witchcraft or sorcery, which includes spells and curses, comes up again. Again Paul tells it like it is – no over emphasis, no hyperbole. This time he strongly forbids Christians to be involved with all kinds of “works of the flesh”.

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21, NKJV).

Of course, Paul (Galatians 5:19-21) noted these “works of the flesh” so that they may be recognised and rooted out as and when it appeared. He dis so in the best interest of the Galatian church as well as Christianity in general. Thus, he was expectant of these dangers to appear. Moreover, in this passage Paul included the distinct possibility that Christians could not only be the victims of evil spells but indeed the perpetrators of them.

What this means is that a mere endorsement, or perceived endorsement of these things suggests great danger to perhaps well-meaning, ignorant Christians. What is your take on Harry Potter, for instance? 'Innocent entertainment'? Think again. Harry Potter, though he is portrayed as 'on the side of good' (or perhaps because he is portrayed as 'on the side of good') makes use of sorcery/witchcraft: promoting or endorsing Harry Potter is endorsing/promoting what he does. The Bible says that those who do that are in great danger, particularly, I suppose, because the ignorant who have received the endorsement/promotion are led away from God's truth that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21, NKJV). Your and my responsibility as Christians are to lead people to the fact that those who practice witchcraft or sorcery will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and not to inadvertently proclaim a message that says 'there's nothing wrong with it - God doesn't care about stuff like that'.

Some like to dismiss the kind of quotations that Paul made as mere ‘colourful language’. But, that is not the Paul of the New Testament. Instead, I suggest that people who believe that, perhaps, want to believe what they want to believe and not what is written.

The grace of God redeemed us of everything ‘all in one go’

From Scripture it is said that through God’s love for mankind Christ achieved eternal life for all. The inference is that He also achieved a life free from curses and spells and every form of witchcraft – thus, that all such things as curses belongs to the Old Testament purely on the basis that Christ came into the world. Now, of course He came to redeem us from every form of spiritual oppression. But there is more to it than that.

He also came to redeem us from sickness and disease. Yet these things do not simply 'fall off' people as soon as they come to Christ. Injuries persist. Sickness and disease continues. Although there have been examples of people who have been set free immediately, for the most part, the victory of Christ on the cross needs to be consciously and deliberately applied to an area of need. Years ago I prayed with a friend who accepted Jesus as his Lord. He was set free immediately and permanently from his nicotene addition. But, years later, thinking that 'he had done it before and could do it once more', when he took up an offer for a sigarette 'just for fun' he was hooked once again and has been ever since. This man is still a Christian but, by his own ignorance, his addiction has returned. Though Christ is still his redeemer, he is once again subject to this deadly vice. Curses over Christians are no different. Furthermore ‘Christ has done it all already – we don’t have to do anything’ attitude not only reflects ignorance, it is also not helpful to others.

Curses in the New Testament

Two other examples in the New Testament stand out in terms of curses taking effect. Firstly, Jesus curses the fig tree: In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again” (Mark 11:14, NKJV). “Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” (Mark 11:20-21, NKJV)

Thus, even in the New Testament curses take effect, albeit on a fig tree and albeit prior to Jesus’ victory on the cross. Note that Jesus did not actually say to the fig tree ‘I curse you’. Instead, He simply expressed words of ill intent that meant the fig tree will no longer bear fruit. The result seems overwhelming – the fig tree dried up completely.

In the story of Ananias and Sapphira, which unfolded after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the same character from the example above – the Apostle Peter - speaks a word of ill intent and both of them, on separate occasions, die immediately. Again, Peter did not actually say ‘I curse you’ because it is not necessary to use the word “curse” in order to proclaim a curse. “Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.” (Acts 5:10, NKJV)

Such is the power of the spoken word. See what Solomon says about the spoken word: The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” (Prov. 18:21, NLT).

We know already that in the same way that Jocob and Jesus did not actually need to use the word "curse" soo too others do not need to use it in order to bring a curse. So, the fact that the word "curse" was not used, simply is irrelevant.

Again, critics say that Ananias and Sapphira were judged - that’s why they died. Yes, they were judged. But the judgement didn’t kill them. The words of ill intent spoken by Peter killed them. Allow me to explain: Peter made a judgement in his heart about both Ananias and Sapphira at exactly the same time, and found them both guilty. At this point, both are still alive. Then, as he spoke to Ananias separately to Sapphira, he died. At this point, despite the fact that both had been judged already, Sapphira is still alive. So, it could not have been Peter's judgement that killed Ananias, else Sapphira would have died at exactly the same time as him. But she didn't. Then, as Peter spoke to Sapphira, she too died. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, they were two people who were judged guilty at the same time but they died on separate occasions only after words of ill intent were spoken over them. These words simply came to fulfilment. That is a curse on Christians having taken effect.

Now, I am happy to hear from you about your experience. My experience testifies to what I have written here. And the experiences of those close to me say the same thing. To those scheptics who say that I have suffered from some sort of confirmation bias I will say simply this: my experience of deliverance from curses relate to a time where I knew nothing about it, had no interest in it and had no faith in it either. To me it was all a bit 'airy fairy', till I saw what effect deliverance had made to my personal well-being and life in general.

At the very least I will ask you to consider seriously the testimony of those who have experienced true deliverance, not those who wish to prove otherwise through philosophical reasoning.

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Please consult the Bible and test what is written here. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom in this area. Keep that which is good and reject that which is not Scriptual. Should you come to a different understanding than I please let me know - perhaps I can learn from you.

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