Tonight I want to talk about the word curse. It essentially means to treat with contempt, or to pronounce judgement or destruction, or damnation. It’s a word that is part of the vocabulary of humanity outside Scripture and Christianity. In fact, primitive people believe that certain folks possess supernatural power and could invoke super spirit beings to curse other people. These curses could bring about things like crop failure, failure of financial success, defeats in battle, general misfortune, and in some cases even death. No doubt, these things did occur because Satan has the power of death within the framework of God’s purposes, and satanic paganism and demons certainly wreaked havoc on people.
In the Old Testament there was a soothsayer, a diviner of sorts, a prophet by the name of Balaam. Balaam had a great reputation for one thing, he had mastered the art of cursing. He lived near the upper Euphrates where he received a heritage from Babylonia long famed in the art of divination and demonic religion. And no doubt, Balaam was able to invoke certain demons to bring about certain curses. When the land across Jordan was threatened by the invading Israelites, Balak, the king of Moab, called on this erstwhile diviner, and soothsay, and quasi-prophet, and asked him to pronounce one of his effective curses on Israel.
He was the king of cursers in his time. In fact, Balak, the king of Moab, said to Balaam, “Whoever you curse is cursed.” Well, you know the story. Balaam’s effort to curse Israel was interrupted by God and he wound up blessing Israel against his own will and certainly the intention of the king of Moab.
There was Goliath who tried to curse David by invoking his demonic gods, and it was he who lost his head. There was Shimei of Saul’s house who, again, cursed David in his flight from Absalom. Both ended up as futile as Balaam’s effort to curse God’s people. The point I’m making is it’s just a part of human pagan history to invoke curses, and some of them are successful because they operate within the framework of Satan’s kingdom.
But far more, far more significant than any curse that ever came out of the kingdom of darkness are the curses that come from God, and God’s curses are a major feature of Scripture. God curses men and the Bible is full of divine curses. Open your Bible if you have it handy to Deuteronomy, chapter 27, and let’s look at one of the sections that is unforgettable for its litany of curses. This section in the Scripture also tells us why these curses happened.
In Deuteronomy, chapters 27 and 28, God tells Israel, “Now that you’re in the land, you have a responsibility. You are to obey Me.” Chapter 27, verse 9, “You have become a people for the Lord your God – ” verse 10 “ – you shall therefore obey the Lord your God, do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today. Do what I say. If you don’t, you’ll be cursed.”
Verse 15: “Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image.” Verse 16: “Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.” Verse 17: “Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.” Verse 18: “Cursed is he who misleads a blind person on the road.” Verse 19: “Cursed is he who distorts justice due to an alien, orphan, or widow. Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife.”
Verse 21: “Cursed is he who lies with any animal. Cursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or his mother. Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law. Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret. Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person. Cursed is he who doesn’t confirm the words of this law by doing them.”
And then in chapter 28 again, “Now it shall be if you diligently obey the Lord your God being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God.” And then there is this recitation of blessings that follow.
But then you come down to chapter 28, verse 15: “But it shall come about if you do not obey the Lord your God to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city and in the country. Cursed shall be your basket, your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the offspring of your body, the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd, the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. And the Lord will send upon you curses, and confusion, and rebuke, and the Lord will make – ” verse 21 “ – pestilence cling to you.”
Verse 22: “The Lord will smite you with consumption, and fever, and inflammation, and fiery heat, and the sword, and blight, and mildew.” Verse 23: “The heaven which is over your head shall be bronze and the earth which is under you iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust.”
Verse 25: “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. Your carcasses – ” verse 26 “ - will be food to all the birds of the sky and beasts of the earth. The Lord will smite you with the boils of Egypt, tumors, scabs, itch; smite you with madness, blindness, bewilderment of heart.”
Verse 29: “You’ll grope at noon like the blind man gropes in the darkness.” Verse 30: “You’ll betroth a wife, but another man will violate her. You’ll build a house and not live in it. You’ll plant a vineyard and not use its fruit. Your ox will be slaughtered. Your donkey will be torn away from you. Your sons and your daughters – ” verse 32 “ - will be given to another people while your eyes look on and yearn for them continually. There’ll be nothing you can do. You’ll be driven mad,” verse 34.
Verse 35: “The Lord will strike you on the knees and legs with sore boils from which you cannot be healed from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.” Verse 37: “You’ll become a horror, a proverb, a taunt among the people where the Lord drives you.” So it goes down to verse 45, “All these curses shall come on you, pursue you, and overtake you until you are destroyed because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statues which He commanded you.”
This is an impossible command in one sense. Could anybody keep the commandments of God perfectly? Could anybody? Could any individual, could any family, could any tribe? Could Israel?
There they were at the ceremony at Shechem. Six tribes standing on Mt. Gerizim to symbolize blessing six standing on Mt. Ebal to symbolize cursing, and this litany of curses is pronounced on them if they disobey. Well, we know their history; they did disobey. And the rest of the Old Testament tells the stories of their disobedience, and the curses came to pass.
When you come to the book of Psalms, you come to the heart cry of the people of Israel. And the Psalms are full of people responding to curses. “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. God will shatter the heads of his enemies,” says the psalmist.
The Psalms say, “Add to them punishment upon punishment.” The Psalms say, “Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbor the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord.” The Psalms are full of these affirmations of God’s curses on disobedient people.
It was C. S. Lewis who once wrote, “In some of the Psalms, the spirit of hatred strikes us in the face like heat from a furnace.” In 1901, a man named Benson wrote a book called War Songs of the Prince of Peace, and in it said that no less than 39 psalms were war psalms. One English study group in 1974 concluded that 84 psalms were not fit to sing, and he asks people to jettison those psalms because they’re full of curses.
David is the author of many of the psalms that speak about divine cursing, divine judgment. But David never demonstrated a heart of vindictiveness, personal vengeance. Saul, without reason, tried to kill David, and David twice refrained from touching Saul; showed him mercy. On the death of Saul, it was David who even composed a eulogy which had no words of reproach.
On the death of his own rebel son Absalom who often tried to kill him, David was only heartbroken. When Shimei tried to kill him, he refused the request of Abishai to cut off his head. Even to his personal enemies, David was very gracious. His heart was broken.
But he says in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up.” He had such a passion for the glory and the holiness of God that he did understand the necessity of condemnation and judgment and cursing. They were not personal expressions. They were not selfish. They were not expressions for hatred toward men, but love toward God.
The prophets also unleased divine curses. When God reveals to Jeremiah that some are plotting his death, Jeremiah says, “O, Lord of Hosts who judges righteously, who tries the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance on them, for to Thee I’ve committed my cause.” God replies, “Behold, I will punish them, Jeremiah. Young men will die by the sword, their sons and their daughters will die by famine, and none of them will be left.” Jeremiah had a broken heart over all that. Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet.
There are other prophets who pronounced curses as the voice of God – curses on Nineveh, curses on Babylon, cities of cruel and ruthless nature. When you come into the New Testament, Paul pronounces a curse on anyone who preaches a false gospel, Galatians 1. He declares of Alexander the coppersmith who had done him great harm, “The Lord will avenge him for his deeds.”
In the book of Revelation, there are martyrs who cry out to God, “O, Lord, holy and true. How long will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” In Psalm 16, there are those under the onslaught of antichrist’s demonic rule who cry out, “Bring judgment; they deserve it.”
Even our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 25, “Depart from Me you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Our Lord pronounced a curse in Luke 10 on Chorazin and Bethsaida. In Luke 11, He pronounced a curse on the Pharisees and the scribes. In Luke 17, He pronounced a curse on all who cause others to stumble. In Luke 22, He pronounced a curse on Judas.
All of this solemn cursing that we find in Scripture reflects the holiness of God and His righteous reaction toward sin. There’s a common thread in all of this and it’s summarized in Romans 12 where we read this: “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,” says the Lord. “Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,” says the Lord.
Is this something God finds pleasure in? “No, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” Jeremiah 13:17, “God weeps over His judgments.” But because God is holy, because He is just, because He hates sin, because He must punish and sinners, because sin must be driven from His presence, because He will establish a kingdom of righteousness forever, He does curse and He does destroy those who disobey Him.
Why am I talking about all of this? Because I want you to turn to Galatians, chapter 3. Galatians, chapter 3, verse 10. You say, “Well, He cursed those Israelites again and again and again. He cursed certain pagan nations. Jesus cursed certain towns, certain cities.”
That’s just representative. The truth is every person who breaks the law of God comes under the curse. Look at verse 10: “For as many as are of the works of the law, anybody who is attempting to keep the law is under a curse,” because it is written in Deuteronomy 27, the chapter we read, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them.”
If you fail at one point, you’re cursed. So, verse 11, “No one is justified then by the law before God.” That is evident. Why? Because no one can keep the law fully, or even partially. One violation and you’ve come under the curse. So what we see in the Old Testament and the New Testament of those specific curses are simply illustrations of the condition of every person who has broken God’s law.
The whole human race is cursed. As many as have broken the law are cursed because, verse 11, “The righteous man shall live by - ” what “ –faith,” not by keeping the law. We can’t do it. It curses us all. It’s by faith. The law is not of faith. On the contrary. You practice law, you’re going to by law and be judged by law and be cursed.
That brings us to verse 13, and this is the whole point: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.” We needed a redeemer, right? We’re all cursed. We’re all cursed.
The language of Deuteronomy 27 and 28 applies to us. The language of the Psalms, again, sinners, it applies to us. The language of the prophets applies to us. The language of Jesus applies to us. The language of the apostles applies to us.
We’re all cursed. We have all broken God’s law. Our only hope is that someone would redeem us from the curse. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law how? Having become a curse for us. All the fury that God unleashed in His curse of every sinner who will ever believe fell on Christ. All those promises of cursing that Scripture pronounces on sinners fell on Christ. And it’s written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” taken again from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. He became a curse for us.
When you hear Him say as I read earlier, “My God, My God. Why have You forsaken Me?” The answer is because you’re cursed. The Father cursed His Son with the full curse that belonged to all the people throughout all human history who would ever believe. He was forsaken and cursed for us. And that is why we can be as verse 9 says, “Blessed like Abraham who believed.”
Lord, we thank You that we’ve been able to gather together tonight and look back at the narrative of the cross, and rejoice in the cross. And hopefully in these few moments as we have thought about the curse, we perhaps have been reintroduced to a new perspective on the cross and what was going on there. It wasn’t just physical suffering, physical pain. It wasn’t just psychological and emotional rejection.
It was something far beyond that. You were cursing Your Son with the curse that belonged to us. You unleased all its fury. Vengeance is Yours and You wrought that vengeance on Christ so that You could spare us who believe. Thank You for this mighty, incomprehensible, magnificent, and gracious work. Amen.