We talk about blessing, we pray for blessing, we read in the Bible about blessing, but have you ever stopped to ask – what does it really mean? Things going well, in the right direction? Prosperity – health, wealth and whatnot? God’s favour? What is it exactly? We can easily agree that it’s a very positive thing, but when we try to pin the concept of blessing down to a definition, it suddenly seems surprisingly slippery. We talk about blessing all the time as believers, but is it possible that we don’t really know exactly what we’re talking about?
The first time we encounter blessing in the Bible is in the very first chapter, and helps us understand what this wonderful mystery is about;
And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 1:22)
So this fits in with the idea of prospering – fruitfulness and multiplication. Then we see in verse 28:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God blesses creatures and then he blesses Adam and Eve. But the blessing is a bit different… yes there is fruitfulness and multiplication in the blessing, but also permission and authority to subdue and have dominion over the creatures. Right at the end of the creation process, God creates Shabbat. In the Jewish Bible, this is also in chapter one, because it is part of creation. And God blesses the Shabbat:
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:3)
So what is this now? It’s breaking the pattern of blessing being about multiplying and bearing fruit – what does it mean that God “blesses” Shabbat? He blesses it and makes it holy, as he is holy. It is his special day of rest, mirroring his coming to a rest after the creative work.
A Definition of Blessing
Philip Litle, a wonderful Biblical teacher, defines blessing like this:
Essentially, blessing is God giving power to something or somebody to do that which they are designed or intended to do. The creatures were supposed to fill the earth and multiply – so God gave them his blessing – his power – to do it. Human beings were also supposed to multiply numerically, but also to take care of the rest of creation. And God gave them power to do that too. When it comes to Shabbat, God imbues it with his power to be all it was designed to be – a holy day of rest, connected to God. Blessing is God granting the power to do what he wants us and intends us to do.
So what about when we bless God?
When we bless God (and every Jewish blessing does bless God – baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech HaOlam – Blessed art thou Lord God, King of the Universe), we are simply recognising him as the rightful and only source of all blessing. Through his power we have and are all that we have, and all that we are.
And what about blessing others?
When we bless others in the name of God, we are in effect praying that God would send his blessing to them. When we bless we are asking God to bless someone to be successful in God’s good will and intentions for them. It is also an acknowledgement that we can’t do this without his power. It’s not simply a matter of desire, but of design – doing the very good that God intended and designed us for. He tells us what to do in his word, and his blessing is his given power to do it. He gives us commands, then he alone is the one who gives us the capacity to be fruitful in obeying them.
Remember Where Blessing Comes From
We see this pattern of command and blessing very clearly in Deuteronomy 8:
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness… For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.”
So God gives the command and the blessing, and warns Israel against forgetting where the blessing came from:
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God… Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
It is God who gave the capacity and power to be fruitful and successful and we need to make sure that we keep that in the front of our minds. It is the blessing of God that has enabled us to be here, not our own hard work or good chance.
Also in this passage, we see the concept of multiplication repeated a few more times. This is an important part of blessing. That which comes from God will always grow and increase. We see it in terms of families multiplying, flocks, herds and possessions. There is the relational aspect of blessing, but there is also the economical aspect. There is also the emphasis on blessing the whole of society, and this is an important point for us to remember too. Our blessing is not to be hoarded for ourselves – we should first of all acknowledge and bless God, the source of all blessing, and second remember to obey his commands, as his power enables us, to pass on his blessing to others.
God promised that through Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He was blessed to be a blessing, as the people of Israel did what God had always intended them to do, and brought light to the nations through bearing the Messiah. In turn, he has purposed the rest of the world to be a blessing back to the Jewish people in returning God’s mercy to them too. And what does he intend Israel’s return to him to be? Even greater riches for the whole world! (Romans 11:12) We are so glad that you are joining in blessing the people of Israel!