In this post, you will learn everything you need to know about the human practice of verbally blessing and cursing other humans.
HOW HUMANS VIEW BLESSING & CURSING
There are two main ways that humans view blessing and cursing. For non-serious users, the phrase “Bless you!” is the same as saying “Thank you!” or “I like you!” or “Wow, you seem like such a nice person that I hope things go well for you in the future.” Alternately, to say “Curse you!” is a way of saying “I hate you!” or “You’re such a jerk!” or “I hope rotten things happen to you because you’ve upset me!” For non-serious users, blessing and cursing people or objects is just a way of expressing personal joy or anger.
Now among serious users, blessing and cursing becomes a sincere attempt to alter the course of someone’s future. Among serious users, to say “Bless you,” is a way of saying, “I have supernatural connections, and I’m going to use those connections to cause positive events to occur in your personal future.” To say “Curse you,” is a way of saying, “I have supernatural connections, and I’m going to use those connections to make terrible things happen to you.” For the rest of this post, we’re going to be discussing the serious use of blessing and cursing.
TWO THEORIES ABOUT POWER
So what makes a human decide that he actually has the power to shape the future simply by exercising his vocal cords? Well, humans have always had a problem with exaggerating their own abilities and thinking that they can make their limitations go away just by ignoring them. At the same time, humans have a very exaggerated idea about how much influence they have over supernatural beings such as demons or God. These two factors result in two main theories about how humans can get their greedy mitts on a boatload of supernatural power.
The first theory is that of intrinsic power. Folks who subscribe to this theory decide that they have personally evolved into god-like beings who possess all kinds of supernatural abilities. In the world today, there are many religious systems that promote the idea that humans are really divine beings—they just have to wake up to their true identities and start utilizing their natural abilities. New Age is a good example here, but there are others. The idea is that you are the god, so you don’t really need outside assistance to make your blessings or curses come true.
Now as fun as it is to pretend you’re a god, it’s pretty hard to keep convincing yourself of your own divinity when you keep getting confronted with evidence of how impotent you are. So while that first theory is definitely around, it’s not all that popular. When it comes to humans trying to pretend they have the power to control the future, the far more popular theory revolves around the idea of third party manipulation. According to this second theory, humans don’t have power themselves, but they’ve got something just as good: they’ve got a bunch of potent supernatural beings acting as their personal slaves. But wait—why would non-human beings want to do our bidding? Because we’re such ace manipulators of course. We really know how to schmooze, pressure, wow, bribe, and nag non-human entities until they have no choice but to do what we want. This second theory is ragingly popular in the world today, and you’ll find many religions aggressively promoting it, including Christianity.
Now if you subscribe to the theory that you can get your hands on a ton of supernatural power simply by manipulating supernatural beings, then which beings you target will depend on which religious system you’re currently fooling around in. If you’re a Muslim, then you’ll be cursing and blessing people in the name of Allah. If you’re a follower of Judaism, then it will be Yahweh who you’ll be trying to push around. If you’re a Christian, then you’re going to focus on learning how to become an ace manipulator of Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If you’re playing around in the occult, then you’ll be trying to manipulate demons. Each theological system assigns varying degrees of supernatural power to specific beings, and then humans set out to manipulate those beings. It’s useful to note that in many systems, there are primary beings and secondary beings. For example, a Catholic Christian will view Jesus, Yahweh, the Holy Spirit, Mary, and the archangel Michael as primary beings—meaning that they are at the top of the supernatural power structure. But then there will be a whole host of secondary beings—such as St. Paul, St. John, other angels, and perhaps even the Catholic pope. The more beings you acknowledge, the more beings you will try to manipulate.
In the world of the occult, and in many Christian circles, we can find many humans who are promoting manmade lists of specific demon personalities. What’s the point in trying to assign names and personality traits to individual spirits? Because we want more beings to manipulate, of course. In Christian communities that promote prosperity theology, it’s often quite popular to talk about that pesky spirit of Jezebel who is always trying to cause trouble (see The Spirit of Jezebel: The Futility of Classifying Demons). And of course for every demon personality that we invent, we come up with specific ways to defend ourselves against that particular spirit.
Today Christians are up to their necks in magical prayers, verses, mantras, and rituals that they perform in order to keep the demons weak, the angels strong, and our Gods submissive. Whenever you hear Christians talking about praying down demonic strongholds, raising up prayer walls, assisting the angels, and exorcising demons, just picture an ape in a zoo and ask yourself, “Would I go to that creature for spiritual advice?” Of course you wouldn’t, because apes are morons on spiritual matters. In the same way, don’t seek out spiritual advice from Christians who think they can manipulate supernatural beings. Such people are steeped in delusions of grandeur and they’re only going to lead you astray.
So then, if you’re a sorcerer, then when it comes time to bless or curse someone, you’re going to be counting on specific demon personalities to make your will happen. If you’re a Christian, then you’re going to be trying to sick God on the people you hate and make God bless those you like. But regardless of which supernatural entity you’re trying to push around, and regardless of whether that entity is real or fictitious, the soul attitudes driving your behavior are the same. First, you’re full of arrogance, by claiming to be far more important and capable than you actually are. Second, you’re being rebellious by rejecting what God says about your human limitations. Third, you’re embracing an attitude of domination which says “My Creator will take orders from me, not the other way around.” So then, arrogance, rebellion and domination—there’s an ugly little trio of foul soul attitudes. And since it is our soul attitudes that we are judged by, what do you think God thinks about humans trying to bless and curse each other?
CONTROLLING THE FUTURE
To get your theology straightened out on the subject of blessing and cursing, you need to start with a correct understanding of who controls the future. There are only three real Gods: Yahweh, Jesus and the magnificent Holy Spirit. These three Gods are Sovereign Creators, which means that Their control over all that is created is not partial, but absolute. The issue of God’s sovereignty is a confused muddle for many Christians, because the Church is so full of doubletalk on the subject. One minute she’s having you sing some worship song about how God is in control, and the control being described in the song is absolute. But then she tells you that God has nothing to do with evil, that God’s will is often being blocked in this world, and that Satan is really ruling over the planet. Now wait a second. If God has nothing to do with evil, and this world is filled with evil, then clearly God is not in total control. And if we’re going to say stupid things like “God doesn’t want kids to die of cancer” or “Terrorism is never God’s will” or “God isn’t the One making bad things happen to good people,” then we can’t even say that God is mostly in control. Instead, we have to view God as some extremely pathetic loser who is such a moron that He didn’t know better than to create creatures who would be able to turn against Him, beat Him up, tie Him up in a closet, and commandeer His Creation. How can you seriously respect a God who is that inept? If Satan has actually triumphed over God to the degree that the Church pretends he has, then we should all be changing our allegiance over to him, because clearly he is the supreme authority. Does it sound right to you to worship Satan? It shouldn’t. Right about now you should be sensing an internal check that the logical conclusion we just rolled out for you is dead wrong. That internal check is God telling you “Hey, something is wrong with this logic flow.” Yes, indeed, everything is wrong with suggesting that Satan is a higher authority than God. And yet this is what mainstream Christian teaching is constantly implying, which is why Christians today have way too much fear of the devil and far too little respect for God.
God’s sovereignty is one of those subjects that you can’t afford to be wrong about. God’s sovereignty comes down to the basic question of “How much power and control does God actually have?” Does God just get brief surges of power when He’s eaten enough veggies and had enough sleep? Or is God infinitely more powerful than all created beings? Is God’s control over His own creations constantly fluctuating? Does God suffer moments of no control when Satan sneaks up behind Him and takes all of His toys away? Or is God the kind of Being who is in absolute control at all times? God says that He is infinitely more powerful than all created beings and that His control over His own creations is absolute at all times. But the Church, demons, and most of the Christian leaders you’ll ever meet are countering what God says.
Whenever you find created beings opposing what God says, your loyalty is put to the test. You’re going to have to pick a side on this sovereignty issue. You can either be wise and side with God, or you can be an idiot and oppose Him. There is no option to straddle both camps, because Christians aren’t taking this sovereignty issue lightly. They are fiercely opposing what God teaches on this subject, and insisting that He absolutely cannot be as capable as He says He is. Why is sovereignty such a hill to die on for Christians? Because they only want to see God behind the things that they like—the nice, happy, pleasant stuff. They don’t want to see God as being responsible for all the nasty, scary, painful stuff. And since this world is filled with pain, misery, and horrific forms of suffering, as soon as you try to suggest that all of those elements are existing against God’s will, you are forced to reduce God to something so pathetic that He no longer qualifies as a true Deity.
Here’s a critical point to understand: God does not have a problem with being associated with evil. God doesn’t feel He is making a mistake to keep sustaining the existence of demons. God isn’t sorry that He has chosen to let angelic beings interact with humans, despite the fact that those interactions are causing us endless grief. God heartily approves of everything He does. When He creates some new scary virus, He doesn’t say, “Oh, whoops, what did I just do?!” He says, “Yep, that’s exactly what I wanted.” In this world that is under God’s absolute control, nothing happens that God doesn’t want to happen. So you see, aligning with God’s truth about His own abilities forces you to accept many other conclusions about how God operates. Every element in this world that you hate only exists because God created it and is currently sustaining it. If God really hated human suffering to the degree that Christians try to pretend, humans wouldn’t be suffering. One of the many perks of being God is that you never have to do what you don’t want to do. You never have to compromise. You never make mistakes. You never get taken by surprise.
If you’re going to learn to treat the real Gods correctly, you have to unlearn the ocean of bad teaching that the Church pumps out which greatly reduces who They are. Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are Sovereign Creators who are always in absolute control over all that They create. Because of this, They are the only Ones capable of controlling the future. Created beings have no ability to make the future go a certain way, because created beings are not in absolute control. Now as a human, you can certainly attempt to make the future go a certain way, and you do this all the time. When you get into your car to get to work in the morning, your plan is to arrive safely at your place of employment. That’s your future plan, but the only way your plan will happen is if it aligns with God’s plan. If God has a different plan for you, then His plan will override yours, and you’ll find yourself scrambling to adjust.
God’s will always trumps the will of created beings. Because demons and angels are created, they are stuck in the same predicament you are: what they want to happen will only happen if it’s also what God wants. This is why it is so utterly foolish for you to assume that angels or demons have the power to make your personal agenda happen. No created being has the power to override God. So when your kid becomes fatally ill and you try to make a deal with the devil to buy your kid’s health, you’re being ridiculous. Demons are created beings, and as such, they are incapable of making you any solid guarantees about the future. Oh sure, they’ll promise you the moon if you’re going to be stupid enough to believe they can actually deliver it. But empty promises and misplaced faith don’t change the fact that we’re all a bunch of created specks who are totally dependent on the Gods who made us.
In the world today, demons are having a grand time lying their faces off to gullible humans and watching those humans put their faith in empty things. On YouTube, you can find countless spiritual morons posting videos of themselves gloating about what potent little sorcerers they are. Such people actually believe they have gained supremacy over supernatural beings by selling their soul, making sufficient sacrifices, or going through some other meaningless hoopla. They will then boast about how they cursed so-and-so and their curse came true. But did it? If we humans can’t control God, can we at least get angelic beings to do what we want? No, we can’t. The embarrassing reality is that we humans are at the bottom of the power chain and we can’t find any created beings who we can control. Think about it: if you can’t even get your household pets to obey you 24/7, how absurd is it to pretend that you can get angels or demons to serve you? Despite our deep longing for power, we humans are utterly powerless, and we can’t even get the lower life forms to fully submit to us, let alone other humans.
Once you have an accurate understanding of your own impotence as a human being, and once you understand that all created beings are at the mercy of their Creators, you can see why it is so moronic to think that someone’s verbal utterances actually have magical power. If we humans were really as potent as we pretend to be, we’d all be constantly adjusting reality to fit our ideal preferences. We’d never get sick, we’d never get stuck in traffic, and we’d never have to deal with annoying people for more than a fraction of a second. We’d simply go around speaking whatever we don’t like out of existence and making what we want a reality. In other words, we’d all be gods. Better yet, we’d be higher gods than the real Gods, because we’d be able to verbally modify Them as well.
Just as atheists today are clinging to the delusion that God can’t exist without their permission, many Christians are clinging to the delusion that they can modify who God is to fit their personal preferences. When someone chucks a bomb into a church window, and the whole thing blows up, we Christians don’t want to think God actually caused that to happen, so we declare that it was against His will. “God didn’t want that to happen,” we say, and then we act like simply declaring it makes it so. And yet if God really didn’t want our church to get bombed, then it wouldn’t have been bombed, because God’s will always overrides the will of created beings. You see, our verbal declarations aren’t worth bumpkus. What we declare has no effect whatsoever on what actually is. We cannot alter reality to suit our personal preferences, and we certainly can’t modify the Character, Personality, or preferences of our three Creators.
If we Christians are ever going to climb down off our mountain of arrogance, we need to stop viewing our prayers as potent magic spells and realize that the most humans can ever do is make requests of the Gods who are actually in control. We can ask the real Gods to heal someone, but that doesn’t mean that They will. Happily for all created beings everywhere, the real Gods do not let Their creatures control Them. So when They see that remaining sick is what is best for the long-term spiritual well-being of your friend, They’re going to turn down your request for healing. Your friend will remain sick until her Creators decide to either cure or kill her, and you really have no control over what They will decide. Once you understand that your Creators don’t let you tell Them how to think, you can see how disrespectful it is for you to start laying on hands, flinging holy water, dabbing holy oil, and quoting Bible verses. Such rituals are nothing more than cheap manipulation tactics that are employed by humans who are refusing to accept God’s will for the present time.
Now just because God refuses to heal your friend today doesn’t mean He won’t heal her next week or next month. But what you can be sure of is that if God does heal your friend, it won’t be because you found a way to manipulate Him, thus you won’t have any grounds for taking credit for the good news. Today Christians love to take credit for making good things happen through the power of persistent prayer. And yet the truth is that such power is non-existent. Nagging is still nagging, even if you try to dress it up by calling it “prayer.” When Christians boast about how long they prayed for something to happen, all they’re really doing is boasting about what bossy brats they’ve been acting like. What’s admirable about refusing to respect the wisdom of God? And you’re hardly respecting His wisdom when you’re constantly praying for Him to do something other than what He’s doing.
So then, let’s summarize what we’ve learned about power. While created beings can have strong preferences about how they’d like the future to go, what they want will only happen when it is also what God wants. God’s will always trumps the will of created beings, and since God doesn’t take orders from us, trying to boss Him about in any way is both rebellious and useless.
Since cursing and blessing are both attempts to control future events, such activities are a total waste of time. Humans cannot effectively bless or curse anyone, because humans have no control over the future.
RESPONDING TO BLESSING & CURSING
Now once you really grasp that humans have no control over the future, you will see blessing and cursing as the meaningless things that they are. When someone curses you, there’s no need to fear, because the curse has no power. Instead, when someone makes a sincere attempt to curse you, you learn two things: first, that the person finds you threatening for some reason, and second, that the person is currently steeped in some major delusions about his or her own abilities.
When someone blesses you, things get a little more complicated, because people bless for many manipulative reasons. Humans often use blessings as a way of baiting people—a way of increasing their own fans and fame. A good example here is professional healers—those guys who go around staging dramatic shows for themselves to star in. Do career healers really care about the well-being of the people who they call up to the stage to act as living props in the healers “I’m so awesome” show? Not hardly. In the same way, when a church leader lays his holy hands on someone and declares some verbal blessing over them, often his real purpose is self-exaltation. He wants everyone to be impressed with his magic hands and his God manipulation skills. He isn’t blessing people because he genuinely likes them.
UNDERSTANDING SPIRITUAL ILLUMINATION
So far in this post, we’ve been using some pretty crispy language to describe humans who actually think they have the power to control the future through verbal declarations. We’ve been discussing some basic truths about God and humans as if they are super obvious facts. And once God personally confirms to you the truth of what we’re saying, the things we’ve been talking about will seem super obvious. But before God educates you about something, there’s nothing obvious about it at all, and that is something we need to discuss.
Truth comes from God, not from websites, humans, bibles, or angels. What this means is that we can post reams of truth on the internet, and you won’t recognize any of it as truth until God personally illuminates your soul. In our material, we use the term spiritual illumination to refer to the process of God educating you on spiritual matters. We use the term illumination because having God teach you truth is like having someone turn on the light in a pitch black room that you’re standing in. As soon as the light goes on, you can suddenly see everything that is in the room all at once. You don’t slowly become aware of the chair that is right in front of you: you instantly become fully aware of it. This is how it works when God educates your soul about truth. Once He drops some kernel of understanding on you, it’s like you can suddenly see something that has been right in front of you the whole time. But before God metaphorically “flips the switch” for you on a particular issue, you will remain in the dark about it.
For some of you, this post is the first time you’ve been introduced to the idea that all of your cursing and blessing is nothing more than useless noise. This is the first time you’ve really thought about all of the arrogant assumptions you have to make about your own abilities before you can argue that blessing and cursing could really be effective. In other words, you aren’t trying to insult God with your pompous declarations—in fact, some of you have been taught that God actually likes it when you stand around telling Him what to do in the future. If this is where you’re at, then you need to realize that God doesn’t hold you accountable for knowing things that He hasn’t taught you. Instead, He judges you by your soul’s motivations.
Today a lot of Christians are engaging in some very inappropriate, irreverent activities, but they’re doing it with good motivations. A bunch of other Christians are engaging in the same activities with very rebellious intentions. God never confuses sincere attempts to please Him with intentional rebellion. When you know that you sincerely care about pleasing God, you need to stand on that, and not confuse education with condemnation. The fact that God is teaching you something new does not mean that He’s irked at you for doing it wrong in the past. Don’t assume that all conviction is a form of criticism because this is far from true (see Conviction Q&A). Because no one can understand truth until God chooses to illuminate them, it is a major compliment when God decides to share some new spiritual insight with you. The more God educates you about what His preferences are, the more of an opportunity you have to improve your treatment of Him. So it’s always a thrilling thing when God teaches you something new, and you want to eagerly embrace what He’s saying and ask Him to help you apply the new information in a way that will please Him.
BLESSING & CURSING IN THE BIBLE
Now for those of you who are wondering why there is so much blessing and cursing going on in the Bible if it’s all a bunch of hooey, let’s take a moment to discuss the cultural context of Christian Scriptures.
In the Old Testament, we find Yahweh doing a lot of talking. In the New Testament Gospel books, Jesus is the main God doing the talking, and then in Revelation we find Jesus and Yahweh passing the mic back and forth. But in all three cases, we find one common theme: the primary audience being addressed is composed of folks who are big believers in the power of the spoken word. In other words, the people who lived in the biblical world were serious users of verbal blessings and cursing. When Jews cursed someone in Yahweh’s Name, they were sincerely trying to do harm to that person. In the same way, when a Philistine blessed someone in the name of a Philistine god, he was really trying to pressure that god into doing nice things for that person in the future.
Spell casting was an extremely popular and revered activity in Bible times, and there were many rules to the game. For starters, you had to name your power source, and there were a ton of options to choose from. Maybe you’d choose a god from your own culture, or maybe you’d borrow one from some other culture. For example, Yahweh was the national God of Israel, but in Old Testament times, Israelites often ignored Yahweh while they worshiped other gods instead. So in the Old Testament, a Jew might bless or curse someone using the name of the false god Baal or his female counterpart Asherah.
Now in real life, even the highly superstitious Jews had to face the fact that their efforts to bless and curse were not having high success rates. So what was the problem? What was jamming up the works? In an effort to cling to the delusion that it really was possible for humans to totally control the flow of supernatural power, the Jews came up with all kinds of ridiculous reasons to explain why their verbal spells were flopping. Social status was a very convenient excuse to use. Clearly a layman wasn’t going to be as potent as a professional sorcerer or an anointed priest. Anyone who made a career out of interceding with supernatural beings had to be a better spell caster than the regular folks, and this assumption paved the way for sorcerers and priests to become very wealthy playing off the foolishness of others.
Today many Christians don’t realize how prevalent sorcery was in both Old and New Testament times. In the biblical world, public displays of supernatural power were common, and you didn’t have to look far to find someone who was practicing dark magic. In an atheistic society like modern America, we’d find it alarming and strange if we saw someone sacrificing a goat to their god in a public street. But in Bible times, public worship sites peppered the land, and you didn’t have to go far at all to find some yahoo who would perform a bunch of ritualistic hoopla to the god of your choosing. While Yahweh’s Temple stood in Jerusalem for many centuries, it was rarely used correctly, nor was it reserved just for Him. By the time Jerusalem was destroyed, Yahweh’s Temple had been converted into a shrine where every god except Yahweh was being worshiped. Roasting animals, cutting their own bodies, roasting their own living children, engaging in “sacred” prostitution—the Jews were doing it all in Old Testament times. As Yahweh once not-so-delicately said:
“You have left Me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods.” (Isa. 57:8)
And of course the more gods an individual worshiped, the more power sources he had to choose from when it came to blessing and cursing other humans.
Now because ethnic Jews are God’s primary audience in the Bible, they get the most attention in Scriptures. But it’s useful to realize that an obsession with “the power of the spoken word” began way before the time of the Jews. Abraham, for example, was not a Jew. The first official ethnic Jew was Abraham’s grandson Jacob, who Yahweh gave the nickname of Israel to. Before Jacob, the Jewish ethnicity did not exist. So when we read about Abraham, we are reading about a guy who lived before the Jews, and this gives us some useful insights into the history of humans trying to cast spells on each other. For example, in Genesis 14, Abraham meets a man named Melchizedek. Abraham doesn’t know anything about Melchizedek except that he claims to be the king and high priest of the city that he ruled over. In Bible times, major cities often had their own kings, and many kings liked to control the religious climate of their kingdoms by claiming to be the top religious authority. So there was nothing strange about Melchizedek playing two roles, and there’s nothing strange about Melchizedek pompously giving himself a name that meant “righteousness.” Just as Catholic popes like to choose heady names for themselves like Pious, Innocent, and Honorius, we can find many ancient rulers giving themselves ego-pleasing titles once they take the throne. So when the dingdong who wrote the book of Hebrews tries to tell you that Melchizedek was really Jesus in disguise, you need to realize the man is talking like a total fool (see Applying Hebrews 7: Melchizedek Madness).
So then, Abraham runs into this king-priest with a pompous name, and what happens? Melchizedek brings Abraham some goodies: some bread and wine. Now Abraham is super rich, and so is Melchizedek. But while Abraham is rolling in wealth, he isn’t a king or a priest. So Melchizedek totally trumps Abraham in the area of social clout, and since Melchizedek calls himself a high priest, it’s a big deal to superstitious Abraham when Mel suddenly speaks a verbal blessing over him. Who does Mel name as his power source? The God Most High. To Mel, that title was referring to a specific Deity—whoever Mel personally worshiped. Was it the real God? It seems like it, which is a refreshing change. These are the days before Yahweh followers used the Name Yahweh, so both Abraham and Mel refer to Yahweh by the generic title of God.
Now Abraham was raised a polytheist, but he later became a monotheist when he met Yahweh and decided to worship Him as the only true God. So when Mel names God Most High as the power source of his verbal blessing, Abraham is super excited. Not only does he assume Mel is talking about the same God that Abraham worships, but he also figures that the blessing of a high priest who is also a king has to be super potent. So in gratitude, Abraham gives Mel a whole bunch of money. Well, to be technically correct, Abraham gives Mel a bunch of someone else’s money—and that’s a detail no one bothers to mention today when they talk about how Abraham tithed to Melchizedek. Should you really get credit for tithing if you steal the money from the wallet of the guy who is sitting next to you in the church pew? Not hardly. There’s really nothing impressive about wealthy Abraham giving Mel a cut of someone else’s property. It’s more like Abraham is acting like a tightwad at the same time as he’s trying to reward Mel for verbally blessing him and no doubt trying to increase his chances of getting more blessings in the future should he and Mel ever meet again. Abraham’s behavior demonstrates that he put a lot of stock in the power of spoken words.
Now if we roll back the clock even more, we come to another non-Jew named Noah. The Flood has been over for quite some time and Noah accidentally overdid it with the wine he made from his new crop of grapes. He’s passed out drunk in his tent, which would be fine if he wasn’t also stark naked. Along comes Noah’s son Ham, who peeks into the tent, sees dad in the nude, and starts snickering like a little pervert. There was a lot of shame associated with nakedness for people in Bible times, and kids weren’t supposed to see their parents in the nude. When Noah finds out that Ham was trying to smear his father’s reputation by spreading the news about his vulnerable situation, Noah retaliates by verbally cursing Ham’s son Canaan. Because Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Japheth, had covered their sleeping father with a blanket while being careful not to look at his nude state, Noah verbally blessed them. Noah’s behavior demonstrates how seriously the people in his day viewed the power of the spoken word.
Now if we return to Abraham’s lifetime, then jump ahead to the lives of Abraham’s twin grandsons Jacob and Esau, we find the story of Jacob tricking his elderly father into blessing him instead of Esau. The ritual of a father speaking verbal blessings over his firstborn son was a huge deal to folks who really believed in the power of the spoken word. When a father was close to dying, he was supposed to lay his hands on his eldest and speak all kinds of positive things into the man’s future. Once a spell was cast, it was viewed as irrevocable, thus we find Esau going into a meltdown when he learns that daddy Isaac had already spoken his best ideas over conniving Jacob. When the deception is clarified and Isaac realizes he’s blessed the wrong kid, he gives this really lame response to the devastated Esau:
“I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” (Gen. 27:37)
Really? So there’s no more water in the magic well? When Esau keeps pressuring him, Isaac finally scrapes up a subpar blessing to speak over his favorite son, but it’s not as good as Jacob’s package, so Esau is furious and he decides that he’s going to murder his brother. Think about that for a second. Esau is going to murder his brother because he feels like he got ripped off in the verbal blessing department. This kind of logic demonstrates how seriously the ancient peoples viewed this blessing and cursing business. And once you understand what a big deal it was, you can understand why Yahweh later gave the Jews this command:
“Whoever curses his father or mother must be put to death. He has cursed his father or mother and deserves to die.” (Lev. 20:9)
This command sounds insanely extreme to modern Americans who are used to letting the insults fly in the name of free speech. If we were to start executing every American child who got too mouthy with his parents, we’d end up butchering most of the population. And yet the reason God isn’t ordering the death of all snarky American kids today is due to cultural context. You see, Americans don’t view spell casting the way Jews did. When an American teen screams at her mother, “I hate you and I wish you would drop dead!”, she isn’t really trying to murder her mother. If murder was her true aim, she’d grab a kitchen knife and start swinging. But in ancient Jewish culture, a child who really believed that words had power was trying to physically murder his parents by calling down a curse on them. This is why it was a totally appropriate and proportional response for Yahweh to order the immediate execution of such children. Also, realize that there was no age limit to this command—the “child” might be a full grown adult when he starts cursing daddy. Regardless of the age, the cursing of one’s parents was an attempt to do serious harm them, and that was what Yahweh’s law was responding to.
Now once you understand that Yahweh was talking to the Jews within the framework of their cultural and theological beliefs, you can understand why He talks so much about blessing and cursing people in the Old Testament. He’s speaking the language of the ancient peoples when He talks like this. He’s also being very exaggeratory, because the Jews were a very exaggeratory people. What this means is that you need to leave room for exaggeration when you hear Yahweh talking about blessing and cursing. You also need to leave room for Him to use bless and curse language to express general sentiments, not supernatural realities. A classic example of this is found in the wilderness years. In Numbers 6, we find Yahweh instructing His Levite priest to use this language when blessing Yahweh followers:
Then Yahweh said to Moses: “Tell Aaron and his sons how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: May Yahweh bless you and protect you; may Yahweh make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; may Yahweh look with favor on you and give you peace. In this way they will pronounce My Name over the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Num. 6:22-27)
Notice how Yahweh says that when the Jewish priests speak His Name over the Israelites, Yahweh will bless them. And yet we know that in real life God doesn’t take orders from humans, so what is God doing here? Is He really committing to perpetually blessing the Israelites just because some humans are using the magic word? Of course not. Skip ahead to Numbers 13-14 and we find Yahweh getting super ticked because the Jews are refusing to enter the Promised Land He has led them to. This is after the twelve spies return from checking out the land. Ten of the spies are filled with horror stories about how the land is filled with fortresses and giants. Only two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb—express faith in Yahweh and urge the people to go in. Well, the rest of the mob side with the ten rebellious spies and there’s a huge group meltdown as everyone decides that Yahweh is too incapable to really conquer the people who are currently living in the Promised Land. Yahweh is so irked by this insulting whine fest that He whips out a nasty plague and kills off those ten mouthy spies who were insulting His abilities. Then He condemns the whole group to wander in the desert for forty long years while He kills off everyone who was over 21 years old on that the day the mob refused to enter the Promised Land (see The Last Straw: Israel Refuses to Enter the Promised Land). So much for God perpetually blessing the Israelites just because some priests are speaking His Name over them.
When you look more closely at God’s use of blessing and cursing language, you’ll find that God never boxes Himself in with words. Today many Christians promote the idiotic idea that once God says something, He’s bound to follow through. You may have heard the common Christian mantra “God can’t ever go against His written Word.” Well, yes He can. There are plenty of examples right inside the Bible of God violating His previous written commands (see Present Convictions vs. Past Commands). If you don’t want to get bogged down with a bunch of delusions about what God can’t do, keep your focus on the fact that He is a Sovereign Creator who is always in absolute control. God is bound by nothing—least of all the rules He makes up for us to live by (see Why God Doesn’t Obey His Own Laws).
Now once we understand that God uses the terms bless and curse very loosely when He’s talking to the Jews, let’s jump ahead to the New Testament Gospel books. There we find Jesus telling His disciples to perform miracles in His Name. What’s that about? Why does Jesus tell His boys to start throwing His Name around when He knows that He doesn’t take orders from humans? Well, this was a self-exalting tactic on Jesus’ part. To understand why it was so helpful, you need to understand that none of Jesus’ disciples understood who He really was. When they were walking around with Him in human form, they didn’t see a God, they saw a regular human being.
The Jews in the Gospels were taught that Yahweh was the only true God. Well, no He’s really not, but Jesus was the first One to illuminate the Jews on this point. In New Testament times, the Jews were already in a regular habit of flinging Yahweh’s Name around, and they commonly named Him as their power source when they started verbally blessing and cursing other humans. So how does Jesus get a superstitious, monotheistic Jew to start grasping the fact that He’s not just a man, but that He’s God Almighty? One very helpful step would be for Jesus’ superstitious disciples to start trying to claim Jesus as the power source of their spell casting and get some jaw dropping results. If Jesus was just a man, then flinging His Name around shouldn’t be enough to drive demons out or to bring the dead to life again. So when Jesus’ Name did prove to be potent enough to make these things happen, then the Jews started to view Jesus in a new light. First they just viewed Him as a prophet who Yahweh was working miracles through. But they couldn’t help but notice how Jesus didn’t Name Yahweh as His power source when He’d cast verbal spells. In fact, He didn’t name any power source. Jesus would just tell demons to leave, and they left. He didn’t say “In the Name of Yahweh, I command you to leave.” That was very bizarre. And how about all of those times when Jesus created food, calmed storms, healed the crippled, and declared people’s sins to be forgiven, all without invoking the Name of Yahweh?
One of the many very disturbing things about Jesus is that He spoke as if He was His own power source. Sure, He’d talk a good story about obeying Yahweh and only doing what Yahweh wanted Him to do, but when it came to verbal spell casting, He didn’t name power sources, and that was strange behavior. Later on when Jesus’ disciples discovered that miracles were happening when they used only the Name of Jesus and not the Name of Yahweh—well, that just made things all the more mysterious. For a superstitious Jew, there was no getting around the fact that Jesus’ Name appeared to have great power, and if the Name had power, than Jesus Himself had to have power—too much power for a normal human being.
The only reason Jesus pushed the Name business with His early followers was because those folks were already steeped in delusions about the power of the spoken word. Today, we Christians should be recognizing how mistaken the ancient peoples were to ever think they could control God through verbal utterances. If the Church was doing it right, she would have dropped this name flinging business a long time ago and identified silly superstitions for what they were. But instead what we find in the Church today is Christians aggressively promoting the delusional idea that there is power in simply speaking Jesus’ Name. We even write whole worship songs which celebrate the power not of Jesus the God, but of merely speaking His Name (see Worship Song Analysis: THE NAME OF JESUS by Chris Tomlin). But is there really power in Jesus’ Name, blood, or cross? Of course there isn’t. Is there mystical power in holy water, or holy communion or holy oil? No, there’s not (see What’s holy about holy water?). But since our beliefs have an enormous impact on our behavior, it is very useful for Christian leaders to keep promoting this garbage about “the power of the spoken word.”
Today Christians are taught to act like wannabe sorcerers by using manipulative prayer language. They’re taught that merely speaking the Name of Jesus will force supernatural beings—including Jesus Himself—to align with human agendas. Well, no, it really won’t. Whether you declare things in the Name of Jesus or in the name of your favorite beverage, the results will be the same: God doesn’t take orders from you. God does what God wants to do, and His will always overrides your own. So the next time you declare something and it actually happens, don’t be so foolish as to think you actually made God bow to your will. Instead, ask God to help you improve the way that you communicate with Him and to teach you more about the soul attitudes He wants you to embrace. Submission is a critical soul attitude which says “Pleasing God is more important than pleasing myself, so I want Him to have His way in my life.” Humility is another critical soul attitude which says, “As a creature who can do nothing apart from my Creator, I do not deserve the glory for anything.” If you pursue these two attitudes, you’ll find there is no room left for trying to control God’s future behavior or for taking the bows for the things God does. Add the concept of God’s sovereignty, which means that nothing happens in this world that God doesn’t want to have happen, and you’ll see how totally absurd it is for a powerless speck like you to try and verbally control the future of any created being.
Why We Shouldn’t Make Promises to God
God’s Absolute Sovereignty: Essential Theology
Treating God Like God: Simple Steps to Improving the Way that We Pray
God’s Will vs. Human Choice Q&A
The Laying On of Hands
Praying for Your Flock in a Way that Honors God (Guidance for Pastors & Priests)
Encouraging Christians in a Way that Honors God
All About Fasting