In the ministry of deliverance, one of the dynamics we need to be aware of is generational curses. There’s no formula, but I have seen that for some people, the key for their breakthrough, healing, or deliverance, was to be set free from the strongholds and curses that were passed down through the family line. The following is an excerpt from my book, Keys for Deliverance:
A generational curse is an example of a root beneath the surface that produces bad fruit above the surface. A generational curse is simply a curse that is passed down from one generation to the next. Just like we receive an inheritance of physical traits from our parents, we also receive a spiritual inheritance from our family line. This includes both blessings and curses. One of the foundational Scriptures for this is Exodus 20:4-6:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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 upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
The iniquity of parents is visited upon their children. To be clear, this does not mean that children are charged with guilt for the sins of their parents (see Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:19-20). However, the sins of parents do have an adverse effect upon their children and open the door for similar patterns of sin. When parents—who are meant to provide spiritual protection for their children—walk in iniquity, idolatry, and sin, children are left more vulnerable to the enemy’s work. As the sin of Adam and Eve passed on to their offspring, so our sinful tendencies can pass on to our offspring.
There is no exact list of the different kinds of generational curses, but based on Scriptural examples and real-world experience, I have listed four basic types. There can certainly be overlap in some of these, but the distinctions might be helpful in identifying when there is a generational stronghold at work.
The Exodus passage quoted above speaks specifically about the sin of idolatry. Idolatry relates to the worship of anything other than the one true living God. This can happen in the traditional sense of the worship of physical idols, but idolatry is much broader than this. The Bible speaks of setting up idols in the heart, and also equates covetousness with idolatry (see Ezekiel 14:3 and Colossians 3:5). Even good things can become idols if we allow them to take the place of God. We are to ascribe to God the highest worth and give Him our love and devotion above all else.
Another specific type of idolatry is involvement in the occult. We will look more extensively at this topic in chapter 12, but any type of involvement in the occult is equated with idolatry. It is seeking to gain from evil spirits what we are only meant to gain from God. Many types of participation in occult practices and secret societies require you to take oaths and curses, and even commit your children to these curses.
Idolatry and occult involvement is an iniquity that is visited upon the family line and passes from one generation to the next. These curses can take the form of an overshadowing darkness over a person’s life, unexplainable sickness and pain, a drawing to spiritual darkness, or other destructive patterns.
Have you ever wondered why some people are prone to certain sins while others are not? There are various factors that can influence this, but one of them is generational curses. Sinful strongholds that are not broken end up being passed down to the next generation. If there is a pattern of sexual sin in your family line, this may be a bigger battle for you than for others. If one of your parents couldn’t conquer uncontrollable anger, you may find that you are also prone to outbursts of rage. The same could be said of worry, greed, unbelief, pride, or various other types of sin.
We can see examples of this dynamic in Scripture. While Abraham is considered the father of the faith and had a tremendous walk with God, he had his sins and flaws like the rest of us. One time he used deception to protect himself before a king, asking Sarah to lie about being his wife and to claim only to be his sister. What is fascinating is that Abraham’s son, Isaac, fell into this exact same trap. And then we know that Isaac’s son, Jacob, had a problem with using deception. We can see that this pattern of sin was passed from one generation to the next.
To be clear, we can never blame our parents or previous generations for our own choices and sins. We must take responsibility and repent where we have sinned. But being able to identify generational curses and strongholds can help explain why we battle certain sins more than others and can help us get free. We can receive deliverance from sinful strongholds and any evil spirits that are attached to them, and we can begin to walk in the blessing of God. What we conquer, our children will inherit!
Similar to sinful patterns, destructive behaviors can be passed through the family line. You can often see cycles of harmful tendencies going from one generation to the next. Suicidal inclinations and self-harm can go from parents to children. Abuse of all kinds can end up passing through a family line for generations. Addictions to alcohol and drugs can run in the family. Patterns of marital breakdown and divorce can be traced through a lineage. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy; and he not only wants to lay hold of individuals, but also to get a stronghold in whole family lines.
Destructive generational behaviors can usually be obvious to identify, but faulty mindsets can be subtler. For example, religious strongholds of legalism and traditionalism can be passed down. Consider Stephen’s rebuke to the religious leaders of his day: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51, emphasis added). There was a generational resistance to hearing God’s voice and allowing the Holy Spirit to work. There were traditions passed from one generation to the next which opposed the work of God, even though they were religious in nature.
Mindsets of condemnation, perfectionism, skepticism and unbelief, judgmental attitudes, and other unhealthy strongholds can flow through the family line.
One of the first things that doctors do is check into your family’s medical history. They know that certain types of diseases have a tendency to pass on through the family line. But what they may not recognize is that this pattern can actually be a spiritual problem, not just a genetic one. While not every sickness is the result of a curse, sickness, disease, and mental torment are all included in the list of curses that are outlined in Scripture (see Deuteronomy 28:20-22, 27-28, 58-61). Deuteronomy 28:59 speaks specifically of plagues coming upon “you and your descendants”, showing the generational impact.
Diseases such as cancer and heart disease; mental health issues of depression, bi-polar disorder, and anxiety; problems with barrenness or miscarriages; these can all be passed through the family line and be inherited. God’s heart for His children is never for sickness, disease, or mental torment to afflict them. His heart is to bless and to heal, but the consequences of the Fall and the personal sins of people have opened the way for all types of destruction and death in the world. Being aware of the reality of generational sickness and disease should not scare us, but equip us to receive healing if what we are dealing with is a generational curse.
I remember leading a middle school student through deliverance several years ago. He had dabbled into some occult activity through reading books connected to witchcraft and was experiencing torment. He was delivered from several demons as I prayed over him, but what is amazing is what happened after the prayer time ended. He lifted his head up and began to look around the room with a startled look in his eyes. He had been colorblind but was now seeing in normal color for the first time. It turns out that colorblindness ran in his family, and through the process of deliverance the generational curse was broken and he was healed!
*Check out this follow up article on how to break free from generational curses and strongholds
**Make sure to pre-order my new book, Setting Captives Free