Blessings and Curses in the Bible in the Ancient Near East

We may not believe it, due to our materialistic bent, but blessings and curses are real and powerful in the 21st century. 

Blessings and curses were very personal acts.  Hebrew words translated as bless occur 131 times in 121 verses in the NASB translation of the Old Testament. Hebrew words translated as curse occur 105 times in 94 verses in the NASB translation of the Old Testament.

Blessings and curses were considered to release a very real power which could determine the character and destiny of the recipient (Genesis 27:12).  A blessing was considered to be a visitation of the grace of a god and a curse was considered to be the visitation of the judgment of a god.  Polytheists such as the Babylonians and Egyptians believed that pronouncing a blessing or curse could force the deity to do the will of the one who was performing the act. Monotheists such as the Jews (in their better days) believed that a blessing or curse simply reflected the future that the sovereign God had ordained.

Blessings and curses in the Bible

Person Event Reference
God Cursed the serpent and cursed the earth because of the sins of Adam and Eve.  He did not curse Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:14-19
God Cursed Cain because of his murder of Abel Genesis 4:9-12
God Blessings and curses on the people of Israel were contingent on their actions. Deuteronomy 28:1-14, cf. Deuteronomy 27
God Curses the house of the wicked and blesses the dwelling of the righteous. Proverbs 3:33
Noah Cursed Canaan for the sin of his father (and maybe Canaan’s own sin).  He also blessed Shem and Japheth. Genesis 9:25-27
Isaac Planned to bless Esau prepared his favorite stew for his father and then returned to his presence. Genesis 27:1-4
Jacob Blessings and curses of his sons was in direct reaction to their actions. Genesis 49:1-27
Balaam Was paid to curse Israel but blessed them instead at the command of the Lord. Numbers 22-24
Goliath Cursed David by his Philistine gods. 1 Samuel 17:43
Shimei Cursed David during his flight from Absalom. 2 Samuel 16:5-14
Jeremiah Curse on Zedekiah, his house, Jerusalem and Judea. Jeremiah 24:9
Jesus Blessed Peter for his understanding of Jesus nature Matthew 16:17
Jesus Cursed the fig tree for its failure to bear fruit Mark 11:21
Peter Cursed himself for denying Jesus Matthew 26:74

The Bible contains laws governing the use of curses.  The deaf (Leviticus 19:14) and rulers of the people (Exodus 22:28) were not to be cursed.  Anyone who cursed God would face certain death (Job 2:9).  In the New Testament, Jesus taught that His followers were not to curse but were to bless (Luke 6:28).  Paul repeated that admonition (Romans 12:14).

In summary, we can see that blessings and curses are real, but they are not always effective (Proverbs 26:2).  God blesses and curses to effect His perfect will, which may or may not be in response to the actions of others.  His word is always accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).  Man blesses and curses in response to the actions of others.  His word may not be effective at all.  Blessings and curses are done person to person, usually face to face, and are often associated with a deed, good or evil.  Christians should ask for God’s revelation of Himself to all people. Some will consider it a blessing, others a curse.

Learn more about Hezekiah and the Assyrian War with historical fiction in Head of the Lion.

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