Cursing in the ancient Hebrew world was not a burst of bad language as it usually is in the world of today. It was a pronouncement of judgment believed to bring the release of powerful forces against the person cursed (Num 22:6; Judg 5:23; Job 31:30; Prov 30:10). For this reason to curse the deaf was as great a sin as to put a stumbling block in the path of the blind. For the deaf, not having heard the curse, could not take protective action by calling for the more powerful ‘blessing’ of Yahweh (Lev 19:14; Ps 109:28).

God’s curse on people or things was more than a pronouncement of devastating judgment; it was a punishment on sin (Gen 3:14; Prov 3:33; Dan 9:11; Matt 25:41; Mark 11:14,20-21; Heb 6:7-8). That is why the judgments upon those who disobey God’s commands are called curses, and the rewards to those who obey his commands are called blessings (Deut 27:11-26; 30:19; Josh 8:33-34; Zech 5:3; see BLESSING). Those who disobey the law fall under God’s curse; but Jesus bore this curse when he himself became a curse in place of the sinner (Gal 3:10,13; see CROSS). The Bible sometimes speaks of people or things that had to be destroyed as being ‘put under the curse’ or ‘devoted’. That is, they were devoted to God for destruction (Deut 7:25-26; Josh 6:17-18; 7:1,11-12; 1 Kings 20:42; Mal 4:6) and could not under any circumstances be spared. This was the sense in which Paul was willing to be cursed (Greek: anathema) in the place of his fellow Jews. He was willing to be cut off from Christ and totally condemned, so that his fellow Jews might be saved from judgment (Rom 9:3). He called for a similar judgment on any person who preached a false gospel (Gal 1:8) or who hated Christ (1 Cor 16:22). On the other hand the saying ‘Jesus be cursed’ became a common saying among the opponents of Christianity during the time of Paul. It seems that in Corinth, some who spoke in strange tongues even used the expression in Christian meetings. Paul referred to this to demonstrate that speaking in tongues was not necessarily speaking by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).

A ‘woe’ pronounced on people did not have the same sense of absoluteness as a curse. It was, nevertheless, to be taken seriously. It was either a stern warning or an announcement of catastrophe or judgment (Num 21:29; Isa 5:18-22; Ezek 24:9; Matt 11:21-22; Luke 6:24-26; Rev 8:13).

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