by Bob Burridge ©2015
We often hear people talk about being blessed, or about the blessedness of God. We sing “Blest Be theTie That Binds”, and “Blessed Assurance”. But what do those words about “blessings” really mean as they are used in the Bible?
We are introduced to the concept of “blessing” right away in the early moments of Creation.
Genesis 1:20-22 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
The verb translated as “blessed” in verse 22 is a form of the Hebrew word “barak” (בּרך). Some uses of this word and similarities it has with other words have led several researchers to suggest that it originally meant “to bend the knee, to kneel”. A person may kneel before someone to show submission or respect. The word primarily came to be used more broadly for simply acknowledging something or someone as being unique and therefore special in some particular way.
In the 415 uses of this word in the Old Testament we see three primary subjects and objects of blessing.
– God blesses things or people.
– People bless God.
– People bless other people.
God Blesses That Which He Created
In Genesis 1:22 God blesses the creatures of the sea and air telling them to “be fruitful and multiply.” He was acknowledging the unique role they are to play in his creation, and he gives them the ability and mandate to reproduce.
Right before this verse he pronounced that these creatures he had just created were “good”. These animals were not made to be capable of making moral choices, and they had just come into being. Their “goodness” could not have been because of any thing they had done. They hadn’t done anything yet. In this case, as with the other pronouncements at each stage of creation, the “good” means that they were exactly what the Creator intended them to be. He recognizes how the objects of his blessing fit into his plan. It was not because of their behaviors or merits. God’s blessings upon the things he created, and upon the people he creates, are because of his work, not theirs.
When the Bible speaks of “a blessing” it uses the noun form “berakah” (בּרכה), or in the New Testament “eulogia” (εὐλογία) which literally means, “good words” or “the speaking well of someone or some thing”. It is the acknowledgment of some type of speciality in the thing being blessed.
God has promised that he would bestow certain good things upon those who think or behave in ways that display God’s goodness, grace and power. When we see these accompanying gifts of God in someone’s life we say the person has been “blessed”. It is evidence of the Creator’s work in that person’s heart to move him and to enable him to do what God has commanded. Therefore the benefits are not rewards for a person’s behavior on his own. They are evidences of God’s gracious and merciful work in and through him. We can do no good thing except by God’s restoration of our souls in the atoning work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Romans 3:10-12, Ephesians 2:4-10). It is only by God’s continued care and promise that we continue to do those things which are pleasing to the One who made us.
When we say we have been “blessed by God” in some way, it should humble us and move us to give thanks to God for his work in us.
Psalm 1:1-3, Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
In God’s Covenant Blessings of Israel, specific benefits were promised to his people when they evidenced his work in them.
The Book of Deuteronomy is laid out in the form of an ancient treaty covenant, a “berit” (ברית). God chose Israel to be a special nation representing him and his truth here on earth in preparation for the appearing of the promised Messiah. As he suppressed the sin they all inherited from Adam, he would demonstrate their speciality through his care of them.
Deuteronomy 28:1-2, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.”
Continuing through verse 14 of that chapter in Deuteronomy, God lists some of the advantages he will bestow upon those he blesses so that he could further demonstrate the benefits of his grace at work in their hearts.
Jesus pronounced blessings upon people with certain godly attitudes in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12). The Greek word translated there as “blessed” is “makarios” (μακάριος). The emphasis seems to be the inward joy and happiness God bestows upon the ones evidencing the work of redeeming grace in each of its manifestations. God is to be honored not only as the one promising the benefits listed, but also as the one enabling the believer to show the godly attitude being rewarded.
God’s blessings are not only the beneficial things he bestows for obedient behavior. Blessing originates in God designing, enabling, and moving his creatures to display his glory. God has by covenant attached to his creation certain benefits which come from living rightly so they would reflect his nature and glory when carried out by his people.
People Bless God
When we bless God we are not giving him something he does not already have. We give him no benefit or new responsibility. But consistent with the meaning of the word, we are acknowledging him as the uniquely wonderful God that he is. He alone is “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Answer #4)
1 Samuel 25:32, And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!
People Bless Other People
When we bless other people, we are acknowledging them as showing evidence of God’s special determination for them in his eternal plan. When Mary visited Elizabeth the baby Jesus “leaped” in her womb. Elizabeth was moved by the Holy Spirit to recognize the special persons in her presence. She said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:41-42)
There are several places in Scripture where a person is acknowledge by someone else to have some special calling, ability, or quality.
Genesis 24:60, “And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, ‘Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!’ “
There Are Also Curses
The word usually translated as “to curse” is “qalal” (קלל). It means to acknowledge something or someone to be of lesser importance, to be insignificant, as being despicable.
Right after the covenant Book of Deuteronomy speaks of the blessings God announced toward those who honor his covenant, it lists the cursings upon those who do not obey God. The cursings go on from Deuteronomy 28:15 through verse 68.
Deuteronomy 28:15, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.”
This term is not only used as a pronouncement by God upon those who are despicable. It is also used by people to diminish the value and importance of enemies and evil doers.
Psalm 109:28, “Let them curse, but you will bless! They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!”
Psalm 109:17, “He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!”
It is interesting that in some places the word for “bless” is translated as “curse”. In some of those cases “bless” appears to be used in a dismissive sense as if it had become a common way to say “good bye” to someone. We still see people use it that way today in our culture when someone is leaving and says, “God bless”.
This may be the meaning in Job 2:9 when in his great suffering Job’s wife told him to “curse God and die”. The word translated “curse” in that verse is the Hebrew word for “bless” [“barak” (בּרך)]. It’s as if his wife was telling him to put an end to it all, say “good bye” to God and let death take it’s toll.
The word for “bless” is also often translated as “curse” in some translations of Job 1:5. This is where Job made sacrifices in case his sons had sinned and “cursed” God in their hearts. Rather than saying that Job suspected his sons may have actually “cursed” God [“qalal” (קלל)], pronouncing the Creator to be insignificant or to have a despicable nature, it could simply mean they had in effect said “good bye” to God, and were living as if God was of no importance to them. That would explain the use of the word for “bless” here.
Blessings and cursings are contrasting ways of viewing the value of a person or thing. We observe their behavior, words, and values and acknowledge them as either special in promoting God’s glory, or in being opposed to ways and attitudes which promote God’s glory. The results are either benefits bestowed by God’s unearned grace as he moves his people to live rightly, or the judgments deserved for violating the clear principles our Creator has given us to direct our lives.
Too often people trivialize the source of the good things in their lives by centering their attention upon the benefits to themselves rather than to see every good thing as a gracious provision from God. Even our talents, opportunities, and our diligent use of them is enabled and stirred in us by the workings of our Sovereign Creator.
James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)