Literally, a speaking ill, or evil, against someone, and hence, the opposite of a benediction, or a blessing. The Hebrew word qela·lahʹ basically refers to such a malediction and is regularly contrasted with “blessing” in numerous texts. (Ge 27:12, 13; De 11:26-29; Zec 8:13) It is derived from the root verb qa·lalʹ, which literally means “be light”; but, when used in a figurative sense, means “call down evil upon,” “treat with contempt.” (Ex 18:22; Le 20:9; 2Sa 19:43) This is the word David used when he told Michal he would make himself even more “lightly esteemed” than what she had accused him of doing. (2Sa 6:20-22) Jehovah God used it after the Flood in saying that he would never again “call down evil upon the ground on man’s account.”—Ge 8:21.
Purpose of Divine Maledictions. One purpose of divine maledictions is to make clear who are and who are not God’s approved servants, since the maledictions manifest God’s disapproval, even as his blessings manifest his approval. So, in promising Abraham his blessing, Jehovah also stated that “him that calls down evil [a participial form of qa·lalʹ] upon you I shall curse.” (Ge 12:3) When the object of the malediction is thus left anonymous, the malediction also serves as a warning guide and a protection for those who wish to gain or retain God’s favor. The Mosaic Law specified numerous blessings and maledictions, all of which would result from the application of the Law’s statutes and ordinances. (De 28:1, 2, 15) Prior to entry into the Promised Land, Moses emphasized the fact that the nation, as individuals and as a collective group, must choose between the blessing and the malediction and that this they would do by either obedience or disobedience. (De 30:19, 20) Joshua, in essence, repeated this protective exhortation and warning within the Promised Land. (Compare Jos 8:32-35; 24:14, 15.) Individuals could, therefore, endeavor to avoid coming under the announced maledictions.
The malediction also certifies that there can be no trifling with or despising of God’s principles and announced purposes. High Priest Eli became the object of a specific malediction because of weakly allowing his sons to go unrebuked, even though they were “calling down evil upon God.” (1Sa 3:13) Jehovah told him the rule that “those honoring me I shall honor, and those despising me will be of little account [from the root form qa·lalʹ].” (1Sa 2:30) Just recompense for wrongdoing thus accompanies God’s malediction. This may be immediate, as in the case of the jeering delinquents upon whom Elisha called down evil in the name of Jehovah (2Ki 2:24), or it may be reserved for a later time, as when God informed King Josiah concerning the calamity due to come on Judah. (2Ki 22:19, 20) Jehovah warned the nation of Israel that violation of his laws would bring inescapable difficulties, saying: “All these maledictions will certainly come upon you and pursue you and overtake you until you have been annihilated, because you did not listen to the voice of Jehovah your God by keeping his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you.” (De 28:45) Although he foretold their desolation and exile in the plainest of terms, they refused to give heed, and thus Jerusalem became “a malediction to all the nations of the earth.”—Jer 26:6; 24:9; De 29:27.
Setting Aside of Maledictions. A malediction can be set aside or canceled by Jehovah, but only where his just requirements are properly satisfied. This appears to be the case with the original malediction on the earth that was evidently terminated by the Flood that cleansed the globe of wickedness. (Ge 8:21) Failure to keep the Law covenant brought a malediction on all the nation of Israel, even on those who conscientiously (though imperfectly) tried to keep its terms. The apostle Paul shows that it was for this reason that Christ Jesus died in the manner in which he did—upon a torture stake. (Ga 3:10-13) Thereby Jesus, though he had perfectly observed the Law himself, took upon himself the curse that resulted from the malediction of the Law and that rested on all those under that Law. Deuteronomy 21:23 states: “Because something accursed [literally, a malediction] of God is the one hung up [upon a stake].” Jesus, by being nailed to the stake as a criminal, sentenced (though unjustly) by the Jewish priestly court, in effect became “a curse.” Thereafter, when Jesus presented the value of his sacrifice in heaven, the Law was canceled by God. In accepting the sacrifice, God figuratively nailed the Law to the stake, and the curse accompanying that Law was legally removed. (Col 2:14) Because Jesus’ body was viewed as being a malediction, and also to fulfill the Law’s requirement so that the Sabbath might not be profaned, the Jews were anxious that Jesus’ corpse and those of the malefactors be removed from their stakes before the day ended.—De 21:23; Joh 19:31.
What determines the effectiveness of a malediction?
While individuals may pronounce maledictions, their validity is entirely dependent on God, his principles, and his purposes. It was in vain that Goliath “called down evil upon David by his [false] gods.” (1Sa 17:43) Jehovah changed Balaam’s proposed malediction into a blessing. (De 23:4, 5; Jos 24:9, 10) Because David recognized that only Jehovah can make a malediction effective, he rejected Abishai’s angry request to be allowed to go and ‘take off the head’ of Shimei, who was abusively calling down evil on David. David said: “Let him alone that he may call down evil, for Jehovah has said so to him! Perhaps Jehovah will see with his eye, and Jehovah will actually restore to me goodness instead of his malediction this day.” (2Sa 16:5-12; compare Ps 109:17, 18, 28.) God’s Word specifically condemns the calling down of evil on one’s parents (Ex 21:17; Le 20:9; Pr 20:20), on God (Ex 22:28; Le 24:11, 14, 15, 23), or on the king (Ec 10:20), and it exposes those who bless with their mouths while “inside themselves they call down evil.”—Ps 62:4.
As God’s spokesman, Christ Jesus while on earth, in effect, pronounced maledictions on the religious guides and Pharisees for their willful opposition to God’s purpose. (Mt 23:13-33) The apostle Peter evidently ‘called down evil’ upon Ananias and Sapphira for playing false to God, resulting in their immediate death. (Ac 5:1-11) The apostle Paul did somewhat similarly with the false prophet Elymas, the sorcerer, whom he called a “son of the Devil” and an “enemy of everything righteous,” and who, thereafter, became temporarily blind. (Ac 13:6-12) These actions had a salutary effect on those witnessing them. Such apostolic powers, however, did not give authority, or license, to others to pronounce maledictions. James warns against Christians’ improperly using the tongue for cursing men.—Jas 3:9-12; compare Ps 109:17, 18 with Col 3:8-10.
Whereas history records that in postapostolic times and down through the centuries religious organizations have published many “anathemas” and “interdicts” against individuals, cities, and nations, it also shows that the agent employed to make such malediction effective has invariably been, not the power of God, but the earthly power of a church or of the secular state. In contrast, at Psalm 37:3-9, 22 we are counseled to wait on Jehovah, since “those being blessed by him will themselves possess the earth, but those upon whom evil is called by him will be cut off.” Such “cutting-off” is included in the malediction Jesus pronounces on the cursed “goat” class of his prophetic parable at Matthew 25:31-46. In connection with the “new heavens and a new earth,” evil is also prophesied to be called down on sinners.—Isa 65:17, 20; see CURSE.