How Blessings and Curses Operate
The forces that determine history fall into two categories: visible and invisible. It is the interplay of these two realms that determines the course of history. As long as we confine our attention to things that are visible and material, we will find ourselves confronted from time to time by events and situations that we cannot fully explain or control.
To the visible realm belong all the normal objects and events of the material universe. We are all familiar with this realm and feel at home in it, even though events often do not follow the course we would wish. For many people, the limits of their awareness do not extend further. Yet the Bible opens a door to another, invisible realm, which is not material, but spiritual. The forces at work in this realm exercise a continuous and decisive influence on events in the visible realm.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 Paul delineates these two realms:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
The things that belong to the visible realm are transitory and impermanent. It is only in the invisible realm that we can find true and abiding reality. It is in this realm, too, that we discover the forces which will ultimately shape our destiny, even in the visible realm. Paul makes it clear that success in life depends upon being able to apprehend and relate to that which is invisible and spiritual.
Both blessings and curses belong to the invisible, spiritual realm. They are vehicles of supernatural, spiritual power. Blessings produce good and beneficial results; curses produce bad and harmful results. Both are major themes of Scripture. As already pointed out, the two words are mentioned in the Bible more than 640 times.
Two important features are common to both. First, their effect is seldom limited to the individual. It may extend to families, tribes, communities or whole nations. Second, once they are released, they tend to continue from generation to generation until something happens to cancel their effects. A number of both blessings and curses mentioned in the Bible in connection with the patriarchs have continued to work for nearly four thousand years and are still at work today.
This second feature of blessings and curses has important practical implications. There may be forces at work in our lives that have their origin in previous generations. Consequently, we may be confronted with recurrent situations or patterns of behaviour that cannot be explained solely in terms of what has happened in our lifetime or personal experiences. The root cause may go back a long way in time, even thousands of years.
The main vehicle of both blessings and curses is words. Such words may be spoken or written or merely uttered inwardly. Scripture has much to say about the power of words. The book of Proverbs, in particular, contains many warnings as to how words may be used either for good or for evil. Here are just a few examples:
The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbour, But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered. (Proverbs 11:9)
There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, But the tongue of the wise promotes health. (Proverbs 12:18)
A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, But perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)
The apostle James also has much to say about the use of words. He points out that the tongue is a small member of the body, but the hardest of all to control:
Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is afire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude likeness of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:5-6, 9-10)
James uses vivid imagery to emphasise the tremendous power that words have to affect people and situations, either for good or for evil. It is significant that he singles out both blessings and curses as words that can be charged with this kind of almost measureless power. Words are not, however, the only channels through which the spiritual power of blessings or curses may be transmitted. There are various ways in which, at times, physical objects may become vehicles for this kind of power.
In Exodus 30:22-33 the Lord gave instructions to Moses for making a special anointing oil, which was to be used solely and exclusively for anointing the Tabernacle and its furniture, and also the priests who were to minister in the Tabernacle. In Leviticus 8:1-12 we read how this oil was applied. In verses 10-12 the account concludes:
Then Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and sanctified them. He sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times, anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the layer and its base, to sanctify them. And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to sanctify him.
The word "sanctify" in this passage means to "set apart to God, make holy". Thus the anointing oil became a vehicle to impart the blessing of holiness both to the Tabernacle and its furniture and to the priests who ministered in it. Later in Israel's history, olive oil was used to impart appropriate blessing to the kings who were to rule the people on God's behalf. I Samuel 16:13 records how the prophet Samuel set David apart as God's chosen king:
Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.
The oil poured on David's head by Samuel became a vehicle through which the blessing of the Holy Spirit was released in his life to equip him for his task as king. In the New Testament, the emblems used in the Lord's Supper likewise become vehicles of God's blessing to those who partake of them. In I Corinthians 10:16 Paul says:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
For those who partake with scriptural faith, these emblems transmit the blessing of God. Paul speaks specifically of "the cup of blessing" - that is, the cup that transmits the blessings of the new covenant to those who drink from it.
It must be emphasised, however, that in all the ordinances described above there is no room for "magic". The blessings are not inherent in the physical objects as such. They are imparted only to those who apprehend the will of God as revealed in Scripture, and who then by personal faith and obedience receive what is offered to them through the physical objects. Without faith and obedience, no blessing results.
On the contrary, in I Corinthians 11:29, Paul says, concerning the emblems of the Lord's Supper:
He who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement to himself.
Such, then, are the alternatives. Faith and obedience receive God's blessing through the emblems; unbelief and disobedience provoke God's judgement. In both cases alike, it is the physical objects used in the Lord's Supper through which the spiritual power is transmitted, whether it be for blessing or for judgement.
Numbers 5:11-31 describes an ordinance used to determine whether a man's wife has been unfaithful to him or not. The appropriate prayers and sacrifices are required, but the focus of the ordinance is on a cup of water, into which the priest mixes dust from the floor of the Tabernacle and ink, which he scrapes from a written curse. The woman is then required to drink the water. If she is guilty, the outworking of the written curse will be manifested in her physical body:
Her belly will swell, her thigh will rot, and the woman will become a curse among her people.
That will be the punishment for her sin. In this case, the cup of water is the vehicle through which the curse is transmitted.
If the woman is innocent, on the other hand, she will not experience any harmful effects. In this way, God will have vindicated her righteousness, and her husband will not be free to bring any further accusation against her. Her innocence will have protected her from the curse.
The various instances given above establish one important scriptural truth: in certain circumstances, both blessings and curses can be transmitted through physical objects. On the other side, if we turn our attention from biblical practices to all the various forms of false religion and the occult, there is virtually no limit to the ways in which physical objects can become vehicles of curses.
In Exodus 20:4-5, in the second of the Ten Commandments, God explicitly forbids the making of any kind of idol or image for religious purposes, and He warns that those who break this commandment will bring judgement not only on themselves, but also on at least three following generations:
"You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me..
A wide range of objects comes under this ban. In my own case, which I have already described, the embroidered Chinese dragons exposed me to the invisible influence of a curse. It was true that I had no intention of worshipping them. Nevertheless, they represented something that had been an object of idolatrous worship for many centuries. They opened a channel into my home for the evil power of pagan worship that had been practised for millennia.
Looking back later, I noticed one particular effect that those dragons had on me. Not merely were they a barrier that kept me from moving forward into the blessing of prosperity. They even kept me from seeing that the blessing was actually there. Only after I was free from their influence could I discern by faith what God had prepared for me.
Since that time, I have observed the same effect in the lives of many people under a curse. The curse not only keeps them from receiving the blessing God is offering to them. It also keeps them from realising that the blessing is there to receive. Only when the Holy Spirit shines the light of Scripture into our lives do we begin to understand how the devil has been deceiving and cheating us.