Biblical Reference: Genesis 27:26-33
By Stephen Green
First published in Christian Voice June 2010
Gen. 27:26 And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near now, and kiss me, my son.
27 And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed:
28 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:
29 Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.
30 And it came to pass, as soon as Isaac had made an end of blessing Jacob, and Jacob was yet scarce gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting.
31 And he also had made savoury meat, and brought it unto his father, and said unto his father, Let my father arise, and eat of his son’s venison, that thy soul may bless me.
32 And Isaac his father said unto him, Who art thou? And he said, I am thy son, thy firstborn Esau.
33 And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.
I hope this brief study on blessing and cursing will help someone avoid negative forms of words against a loved one. It appears in Bible times to have been a father’s duty as his time on earth drew to a close to pronounce a blessing on his children. The father would try to be discerning; he would think to know his children’s gifts and would pronounce his blessing accordingly. Perhaps we should look a little more closely at this Biblical example.
THE BLESSING OF ISAAC WAS FULFILLED
We are all familiar with the story of how Jacob first bought Esau’s birthright with a bowl of food, and with the account of him stealing his brother’s blessing by impersonation. The key words I notice are those right at the end: ‘yea, and he shall be blessed.’ Even though Jacob’s blessing was gained by fraud, the words still stood.
Even though the Gibeonites deceived Joshua (Josh 9:3-13) – and Joshua forgot to seek the Lord before opening his mouth (vs14-15) – the promise he made to them had still to be observed even after the deception was uncovered (vs16-19).
Not only did Isaac’s blessing, intended for Esau but alighting instead on Jacob, still stand, but it came true. Israel did indeed end up blessed, and nations bowed down to them, including the descendants of Esau, the Edomites. Jacob himself was aware of the power of his father’s words. He confided earlier in his mother that if he was found out: ‘I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing’ (v12).
We can say, ‘Well, Isaac’s blessing on Jacob was all in the purpose of God Himself,’ and we should be right. But it still needed Isaac to say it. Some might then say, ‘It was a prophecy of the Lord,’ but Isaac himself says: ‘I have made him thy lord, … and with corn and wine have I sustained him’ (v37). He says he has done it by the words of his mouth, not that the Lord has done it. There is no statement later that I can find that this was ‘the prophecy of the Lord by Isaac’.
CURSES COMING TRUE
And we do find such statements, for example in the matter of Joshua’s curse on Jericho . (Josh. 6:26) Joshua said that whoever rebuilt it would sacrifice his eldest and youngest sons in the foundations. The curse fell centuries later on Hiel the Bethelite (1 Ki. 16:34). That verse says it was ‘according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun’. It was evidently a custom amongst the pagan people of those days to dedicate buildings by burying their children alive in them.
Sometimes we go all multi-cultural at the thought of God commanding Israel to destroy entire nations. Before rushing to judge the Almighty, we need to think very carefully about the evil they had done. Indeed we should consider ourselves in today’s ‘civilised’ West, especially in the United Kingdom, with our rebellion from God, our calling evil good and good evil in our law-making, with our depravity, our injustice and especially the shedding of innocent human blood in abortion (our version of human sacrifice). Are we any less deserving of God’s punishment than the Canaanites, or Sodom and Gomorrah ?
And if we deserve the destruction or our depraved culture and our rebellious society, then which aggressive, self-assured, monogamous, monotheistic people might God be preparing right now to act as His instrument of judgment on the West in general and the UK in particular, unless we repent and return?
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A PROPHET TO BLESS AND CURSE
Certain people were recognised in the Bible to have especial power to their words. Balaam was one such. Balak the king of Moab said to him: ‘Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I know that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed’. (Numb. 22:6)
But no such prestige attached itself to Jotham the son of Gideon, also known as Jerubbaal. When the wicked Abimelech (and whoever named him ‘Father of the king’ may have given him regal pretensions – such is the power of a name) – killed all Gideon’s sons so he could reign unopposed, Jotham escaped. He then said to the men of Shechem, who had been won over by Abimelech’s oratory:
Judg. 9:19 If ye then have dealt truly and sincerely with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice ye in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you:
Judg. 9:20 But if not, let fire come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo; and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and devour Abimelech.
To prepare the way, God himself sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and Shechem (vs23). In the final act of this drama, Jotham’s curse came true. Abimelech killed the men of Shechem by setting light to the tower which they thought would protect them (vs49). The fire motif followed Abimelech to Thebez, where, as he was about to set another tower ablaze, a woman threw down a stone and broke his skull with it (v53). The Bible concludes:
Judg. 9:57 And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads: and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.
OUR WORDS HAVE SPIRITUAL POWER
We could at this stage look at Biblical injunctions against cursing, and balance those against the imprecatory psalms. That exercise needs doing but it is not within the scope of this article. Maybe we shall return to it. One verse which links the two topics is found in the book of James, who says this about the tongue:
Jas. 3:9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
Jas. 3:10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
James is giving a warning against hypocrisy, but there would be no point in James writing this advice if the words which our tongue speaks did not have spiritual power. We humans are spiritual beings, all of us, and our words resonate in the spiritual realm. When Archbishop Gavin Dunbar composed his curse against the Cumbrian Reivers, he did not think for a moment that he was wasting his time; he fully expected the things he said to come to pass at least in part. There is no Biblical record of anyone taking a curse a man has pronounced upon them, engraving it on a stone and proudly setting it up in their courtyard, like the City Council of Carlisle have done, as a talking point or tourist attraction. They knew what we have forgotten, that words have power.
They knew that even names have the power of conveying someone’s character. I don’t know whether to be pleased or troubled that my parents gave me the name of the first Christian martyr, a name which means ‘Crown’, but not in a kingly sense, only in the sense of martyrdom.
And it is to parents, children, husbands and wives I finally turn. Let us never use words loosely or carelessly against those we love. Let us not inadvertently curse one another. Let us not say things like: ‘You are just like your mother/father’ (in some respect), or things like ‘You are so lazy/useless/hopeless,’ or ‘Do you have to be so stupid/thick/ridiculous?’ The Biblical witness (Matt 18:15) shows that it is acceptable to draw attention to a fault, but (Matt 5:22) not to curse someone’s character. In other words, we should concentrate on our loved one’s doing, not on their being. It is especially important to control the tongue in the heat of the moment.
THOU SHALT NOT EXCEL
One Christian writer records a father saying to his son: ‘You’ll never amount to anything’, or another saying, ‘You’ll never be half the man I am.’ Never, as my late mother used to say, is a long time. It was the sons who had remembered those damaging words ( Col 3:21). Yes, the son may rise to be a captain of industry to spite his father, but that does not excuse the father’s condemnation. What greater things might the son have done with parental encouragement and blessing, as Isaac blessed Jacob? Or as Jacob would subsequently bless Judah (Gen 49:8-12)?
‘You won’t be able to do this’ or ‘You won’t ever do that’ are curses every bit as severe as Jacob’s dying words to Reuben, remembering his son’s adultery years before (Gen 35:22) with his concubine: ‘Thou shalt not excel’ (Gen 49:4). And let us not curse ourselves either: ‘I’m no good at such and such’, or ‘my life is rubbish’. The two spies (Caleb and Joshua) who said they could take Canaan , did so. The ten who said they could not did not. They perished without ever seeing the promised land. The Lord said to them:
Num 14:28: As ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you. And He did. The Bible also says:
Prov 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
The tongue, that is, the words it speaks, have power to build up and power to destroy. Both the power of death and of life, as the writer of Proverbs puts it. And the Lord Jesus himself warns us:
Matt 12:36: But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
A CAUSELESS CURSE WILL NOT STAND
The Bible says: ‘The curse causeless shall not come’ (Prov 26:2). In other words, if a curse is uttered without foundation, or if the Lord is against it, it cannot stand. For example, Balaam could not curse Israel (Numb 23:8). Knowing that, if someone has spoken words against you without foundation, and against the purpose of God for your life, revoke them by that word of the Lord. It does not matter if the someone who has cursed you is a friend or family who said that harsh word in a moment of temper – or an enemy who really meant it. The Lord is our strength. We need not be afraid of the terror by night nor of the arrow which flieth by day. (Ps 91:5) Turn those arrows around, and if an enemy has fired them, return them to sender in the name of the Lord! His name, as we read in Proverbs 18:10, is a strong tower in which the righteous are safe.
Instead of cursing those close to us by intemperate words, scripture exhorts us to encourage them. God tells Moses: ‘But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him (Deut 3:28).’ Paul tells Timothy to ‘exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine’ (2Tim 4:2). And to the Colossians, he writes:
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Col 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.