Judges 9:56-57 – Lethal Curses

Throughout the Old Testament, we see various curses being pronounced; some are by men, some by God.  What we also typically see is a fulfillment of those curses.  So, are curses real, and something we should be concerned about today?

The account of Gideon with his victory over the Midianites ends poorly.  God raised up Gideon, who considered himself least in the eyes of his family.  He was also part of the smallest clan of his tribe of Manasseh (Judges 6:15).  Regardless, through Gideon’s exploits, his enemies proclaimed that he had the impressive stature of a king (Judges 8:18).  Gideon recognized that none of this was his doing; rather it was by the hand of Yahweh, and he gave Him all credit for this great victory when Israel wanted to glorify him, as seen in Judges 8:22-23:

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”

Unfortunately, Gideon then made a wrong decision.  Aren’t poor choices the bane of us all?  In the afterglow of victory, Gideon directed all the people of Israel, who had participated in their conquest of Midian, to give him gold from the spoils of the enemy.  Taking the golden earrings and crescent ornaments, Judges 8:27 informs us what Gideon did:

And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.

Forgetting Yahweh’s command not to make anything by hand that would represent Him in any way like an idol, Gideon made this golden ephod, i.e. a priestly garment.  This became a snare as the text says.  Why?  The people whored after it.  This item which represented their victory became an idol.  With idols, there is almost a sexual lust associated with them.  In other parts of the OT we also see that the Urim and Thummim were attached to the priest’s ephod and used for Godly divination (Exodus 28:28-30).  Perhaps, Gideon and others consulted the ephod but not in the presence of Yahweh.  This might also have been part of the snare it represented.

A quick aside concerning the crescent ornaments used to make the ephod: The Hebrew word for these items is saharonim, meaning moon or crescent.  The enemy they had taken these items from were Ishmaelites (Judges 8:24).  Arabs today are descendants of Ishmael and Esau, with most of them being Muslims.  Gideon defeated Midian in the time frame of about 1191 BC.  Mohammad lifting up the god Allah did not happen until about 600 AD, around 1800 years later.  Yet, from the legacy of Ishmael, Mohammad apparently took this crescent moon symbol that is representative of Islam today.

All this is background for the discussion of curses.  Gideon had many sons with many wives.  One was Abimelech, who killed all his brothers except one in his desire to rule Israel (Judges 9:5).  Jotham, the brother who escaped, went to the top of Mount Gerizim to decree a curse on Abimelech and the town of Shechem, which had enabled him.

Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal were the two opposing mountains upon which Joshua carried out Moses’ instructions to declare God’s blessings and curse upon Israel (Joshua 8:33; Deuteronomy 28).  Interestingly, Mount Gerizim was the place of blessings, while Mount Ebal was the one of curses.  Jotham reversed this and proclaimed his curses from Mount Gerizim.

The curses came about.  Abimelech died a violent death and Shechem paid the price for supporting all of Abimelech’s wickedness.  We see the conclusion in Judges 9:56-57:

Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

God honored Jotham’s curse.  The curse was a real thing.  You’ll recall that after Joshua’s victory over Jericho with his destruction of the city, he also decreed a curse.  The man who rebuilt the city would do so at the price of losing his firstborn son (Joshua 6:26).  We’re told in 1 Kings 16:34 that this curse was fulfilled.

What are we to think of curses in our present day?  James 3:5-12 warns us how powerful the tongue of man is:

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

The tongue can be the source of much good, but also much evil.  We ask God to bless us and we bless others in His Name.  But what about those who curse, whether in the Name of God or effectively by some other deity?

If we utter a Godly curse, let’s say in the vein of an imprecatory psalm, that’s seemingly acceptable, as long as our heart still desires that the object of the curse ultimately come to know the Lord Jesus.

However, many curses are decreed in these dark times with malicious intent.  There were numerous accounts during President Trump’s tenure of witches and satanists casting curses upon him.  Were they effective?  Because so many Christians were praying for him, perhaps not to the extent these wicked people desired.  Yet, God may have allowed them to come to pass, which could have been a contributing factor in the 2020 election with all its fraud, cheating, and deception.  Of course, none of this would have happened without God’s sanction.

We hear of many other curses; those uttered by voodoo practitioners, sorcerers, and warlocks.  Because they tap into demonic spiritual powers, there can be no question that they are often effective.  Sometimes that effectiveness comes simply through the psychological fear these people wield.  But, I have no doubt that actual physical harm from these curses also happens.  The spiritual war Paul defines in Ephesians 6:12 continues, and will do so until Jesus returns.

The most important thing we can take away from all this is that God is in control.  He will allow or disallow any of these curses to have effect.  Most importantly, those of us who are bought by the blood of Jesus Christ have nothing to fear.  With the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, we are sealed by God.  We live and move in the power and authority of Jesus Christ.  If cursed, we can respond that the Name of Jesus protects us, and that curse has no ability to penetrate the armor with which God has shielded us.

These are dark times.  Certainly the curses of the evil one and his followers will increase.  Despite that, we who believe in Jesus can rest assured that we are in the palm of God’s hand, and He will not let any fiery darts of the enemy come near.

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