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by bruno sebrechts  
3/17/2021 / Bible Studies

“The tongue … with it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men” (Jas 3:9).

In modern English, cursing generally means “speaking vulgarisms or profanities,” but it still contains vestiges of invoking bad things to happen to a person. Bible references to cursing are often closer to that original meaning, and evil powers interpret curses as invitations to bring harm to people. As God grants blessings and strength to the prayer and the lofty words of the righteous, so the evil powers are attracted by shady practices and detect opportunities to get involved. 

The story of Balaam shows how God's people enjoy protection against groundless curses (Num 22:8).[1] But though Balaam could not verbally curse them, he achieved the same result by seducing them to idolatry (Num 31:16). Other passages suggest that prolonged conditions of uncleanness can cause similar effects (e.g., Num 5:19, 27).

Words are said to have creative power. In its literal sense this statement goes too far, because it attributes magical power to words. Nonetheless, words can unleash powers (Jas 3:6) and can, in exceptional cases, be confirmed by the supernatural. But we should never be deluded into thinking that words alone can literally create miracles or—negatively—can bewitch. God will only release his supernatural power to words that are inspired by his Spirit. Likewise, the powers of darkness will only empower words that benefit their strategies, and only as far as they are allowed.

So, the power of words is relative. Yet curses are not always limited to fleeting words, and Scripture is less relativistic when such words combine with a destructive mindset, as per this verse: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Pronouncing curses from utterly negative attitudes creates fertile soil for dark forces to flourish. Evil pondering, anger, and a destructive mindset pave the way for them (Eph 4:27; 1 John 3:12). James 3:6–9 pictures the tongue as a fire, with cursing as an inducement for evil: “the tongue is ... set on fire by Gehenna.… With it we curse men, who are made in the image of God.”

In the Old Testament, curses could be pronouncements of divine judgments (e.g., Deut 28:20). These curses were aimed at reflection and repentance, or as a way to restrain evil (Jer 11:3). But we also read of God severely condemning those who curse without being authorized to do so. Cursing your parents made a person liable for the death penalty (Exod 21:17).

Job mentions cursing in connection with evil powers when he describes “them ... who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up leviathan” (Job 3:8). The Bible also notes the staying power of curses that are spoken with some kind of spiritual authority. The prophets confirmed that sorcery can powerfully influence people (e.g., Ezek 13:20). God’s intervention to prevent Balaam from cursing Israel also suggests the potential power of cursing (Num 23:6-11). And Jotham’s curse even led to Abimelech’s death (Judg 9:57). God did not protect Abimelech, for his death was a judgment (Judg 9:56–57).

We ought to find the right balance about curses (see Eccl 7:21). Not every negative statement is a potent curse (see Gen 31:32); not every curse activates evil spirits (1 Sam 14:26–27, 17:43); and evil spirits do not always attain their goals.

A curse cannot automatically cause a demonization, but it may create a climate for a serious spiritual attack. So how are we to understand passages like Isaiah 47:12–14 that declare the utter impotency of charmers and cursers?

It is certain that all hostile forces will be nullified when God’s final judgment comes, but until then the devil still has certain power, although limited. The snakes of Pharaoh’s magicians were devoured by Aaron’s snake. Though those magicians lost every other confrontation, they could perform at least some alternative copy of God’s miracles at first (Exod 7:12). We may compare this with earthly power and wealth, which mean little or nothing in light of eternity, but we cannot deny their influence in this present age.

General curses from enemies cannot harm someone who shelters under God’s protection (Isa 8:20), but because we may all fail to do this at times, any of us may also become vulnerable to a certain extent. Even brave Elijah was in shambles after being cursed by Jezebel (1 Kgs 19:2; see also 2 Kgs 9:22).

In the New Testament, believers are commanded not to curse, but to even bless those who curse them. It is not for us to execute judgments, let alone to pronounce curses, not even in our thoughts. New Testament writers were exceptions to this rule when pronouncing warning curses, for they could speak with the same authority as the Old Testament prophets in order to underline the seriousness of their message and its consequences (Gal 3:10; 1:8–9; 1 Cor 16:22; Heb 6:8; 2 Pet 2:14).[2]

Deadly Poison

Although God’s word points to the ineffectiveness of undeserved curses, it also likens curses to deadly poison, even if they are spoken by children of God: “Like a fluttering sparrow, like a darting swallow, so the undeserved curse doesn’t come to rest” (Prov 26:2) versus “The tongue ... is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.… With it we curse men” (Jas 3:8–9).

When curses are driven by hatred, emotional aggression, or religious zeal, they may provoke evil powers, harming vulnerable people. Paul places cursing in a list together with the poison of vipers (Rom 3:14).

Christ and Deliverance from Curses

Mark 7:35 reveals Christ’s healing power for the man who was deaf and could hardly speak, and seems to demonstrate his power over curses: “the string of his tongue was loosed, and he was speaking plain” (YLT). To describe his restored speech as a string being loosed probably suggests a demonic curse, for in a culture that assumed the reality of demonic ties, this term suggests more than a general metaphor.[3] Binding someone’s tongue was indeed a typical curse in the first century.[4] Moreover, Jesus spat before touching the tongue. Knowing that spitting and saliva usually have a negative connotation in Scripture, and that one of the cultural meanings of spitting in ancient societies was to ward off witchcraft,[5] it seems—in its original cultural context and picture language—this symbolic act of Jesus demonstrated his ability to break a spell, ultimately by a simple verbal command.

Whether or not Jesus was breaking a curse, it is clear that Christ came to end the impact of all works of darkness—then and now. God protects his children from much more harm than we may realize. But when the Holy Spirit wants to shed some light on what is going on, then the breaking of a curse can be a conscious experience.

Dealing with Curses

If we suspect that we are dealing with a curse, and we suspect demonic oppression, we must submit to God in prayer and trust that he will clear the situation. When our suspicion is confirmed, then we bring the curse in prayer to the cross, where Jesus has overcome all evil. Through his sacrifice, all the powers of evil were principally defeated. We should not live in uncertainty and fear of sinister forces, for we may “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God ... casting all worries on him, because he cares [for us]” (1 Pet 5:6-7).

If we conclude that others are cursing us, we should not make loud protests, for an emotional response will make us even more vulnerable. We have to fight with prayer, kindness, and a humble but victorious attitude, living out the directives of the following passages: “Not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but instead blessing; knowing that to this were you called, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Pet 3:9); and, “See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but always follow after that which is good, for one another, and for all” (1 Thess 5:15).

Curses from our distant past were basically broken when we became Christians, though we may carry some residual history that makes us still vulnerable. However, we need to be balanced in how we see our own and others’ challenges, which are not immediate proof of being accursed but may be part of the many difficulties that we must go through. Difficulties can be tools that God uses to mold us.

Conversely, it may be appropriate to ask whether a curse is involved in someone’s otherwise-inexplicable oppression or experience of being haunted by fate in ways that do not enhance spiritual growth. And though the sufferer is willing to confess sins and adopt a positive attitude, discomfort continues. It is then that God’s Spirit may indicate that, rather than surrendering to what is happening, we should pray to conquer an apparent evil attack. 

Persistent Curses

Trusting the victory of Christ on Calvary and praying for protection will usually be sufficient. However, if we suspect that an ongoing curse may be behind a believer’s spiritual sufferings, the following points could help:

  • Repent from past involvements and check for objects with links to the world of darkness, such as idols, shady books or obscure music (Acts 19:18–20).[6]
  • Check for unconfessed sins.
  • Look to Jesus. He endured the curse of the cross to deliver us (see Gal 3:13). On the cross, he forgave those who cursed him and trusted the Father. God’s children are called to humble themselves, cast all anxiety on him, and thank him for his sure salvation.
  • Never return a curse to the sender! While some curses do damage the sender, we are called to bless (Eccl 10:8; Luke 6:28).
  • Ask prayer for healing when certain wounds are still hurting.
  • Put on the spiritual armor and learn to trust God (Eph 6:11).
  • Ask, if still needed, for spiritually mature people to pray in faith for a breakthrough (cf. Matt 17:20). Among the gifts and ministries that God provides to the church, the ministry of pastor (shepherd, Eph 4:11) is characterized by caring and protecting vulnerable believers.
  • If nothing seems to work: Humble yourselves and give thanks to Jesus as our Savior and Protector, fully confident that his deliverance will come at his time.

Taylor’s book Demon Experiences in Many Lands includes the story of a Christian woman from Laos who bluntly challenged a temple priest. Her bold move lacked proper guidance and prayer backing, and when she refused to obey the priest’s command to leave the temple, he cursed her, angrily calling on evil spirits. Soon afterwards, she began seriously suffering excruciating pain, sometimes even unable to pray out loud as her tongue seemed tied. Prayer for deliverance brought no relief until she confessed her pride and recklessness and bitterness toward fellow believers. Only then was she released. The same book also refers to 1 John 4:7 (“to remain in God's love”) and James 4:7 (“to resist the devil”) as basic attitudes in order to break curses.[7]

Christ’s salvation is sufficient: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:31–32).

[1] On Deut 30:19–20: “In this context the curse is simply God withdrawing His protection and allowing the enemy to attack us. In the Old Testament it was a military enemy. Today it is a spiritual enemy. The principle is the same.” Neil Anderson and Timothy Warner, 'The Essential Guide to Spiritual Warfare' (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016), 83.

[2] On 2 Pet 2:14: This is not a simple wish on Peter’s part that the heretics be cursed, as if he were invoking a curse formula, but a recognition of their standing before God.” Green, 'Jude and Peter' (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 283.

[3] “In the NT, the word for ‘chain’ (Gk., desmos; NIV, ‘loosened’) most frequently means a chain or fetter that binds a prisoner (Luke 8:29; Acts 16:26, 20:23, 26:29; Phil 1:7; Col 4:18). The breaking of the fetter by Jesus is a figure of liberation.” James R. Edwards, 'The Gospel According to Mark' (Pillar New Testament Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 224.

[4] John G. Gager, 'Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World' (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 116.

[5] Bernard A. Taylor, John A. L. Lee, Peter R. Burton, and Richard E. Whitaker, eds., 'Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker' (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 51–52.

[6] In Africa, we saw how young believers not only got rid of objects that traditionally had to do with the occult, but also of pots and pans, modern weapons, cell phones, etc., to the extent that these were symbols for them of their former dark practices (see 2 Kgs 23:11). For an example of spirits responding to wrong music, see Jim Logan, 'Reclaiming Surrendered Ground' (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 51–52.

[7] Taylor, 'Demon Experiences in Many Lands', 80–86, 121. The story of Amy Carmichael shows the other side: She was called by God to rescue young girls from temple prostitution in India and was protected when she entered these temples. See Logan, 'Reclaiming Surrendered Ground', 54.

Text is available in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Farsi. 

For a general treatment of the theme of spiritual deliverance, see
"Light In Our Darkness, Essentials of Spiritual Deliverance" –
 Bruno Sebrechts.­­­
Humble Joy Publishing  ISBN 9789083136400.
Spanish Edition ISBN

Bruno Sebrechts is a counselor and Bible teacher with over twenty-five years of pastoral experience. He saw God at work, especially in the healing and deliverance of the most damaged believers. His writings are the result of his extensive experience and continuous study.

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