I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. – Genesis 12:3 NIV
Over the weekend, I wrote a very short story at Thinking Out Loud about what I felt was unnecessary use of the word blessing. In the course of writing, I decided to investigate how Biblical dictionaries define the word.
In terms of reliability, my default choice was an entry from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology as sourced at BibleStudyTools.com and partially reprinted below (their rather stern copyright statement prevented us from using it in full as I would have preferred):
God’s intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.
The Old Testament Terms for blessing abound in the Old Testament, occurring over 600 times. The major terms are related to the word meaning “to kneel, ” since in earlier times one would kneel to receive a blessing…
…Three common themes are present in formal Old Testament blessings. First, the greater blesses the lesser, a fact picked up by the writer of Hebrews to demonstrate the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham ( Heb 7:6-7 ). Second, the blessing is a sign of special favor that is intended to result in prosperity and success ( Deu 28:3-7 ). Third, the blessing is actually an invocation for God’s blessing: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful” ( Gen 28:3 )…
The New Testament The parallels between the Old and New Testament usages of blessing are striking. To be blessed is to be granted special favor by God with resulting joy and prosperity. In the New Testament, however, the emphasis is more on spiritual rather than on material blessings…
…In a general sense, the terms for blessing in the New Testament are used to designate that one is favored by God. Included among these are Jesus ( Mark 11:9-10 ); children ( Mark 10:13-16 ); Mary ( Luke 1:42 Luke 1:48 ); the disciples ( Luke 24:50 ); those who “have not seen and yet have believed” ( John 20:29 ); and those who endure trials ( James 1:12 ; 5:11 ). As in the Old Testament, when these words are ascribed to God they are rendered “praise” ( Rom 1:25 ; 9:5 ; 2 Cor 11:31 )…
William E. Brown
The website CompellingTruth.org provided more background:
Perhaps the meaning of the word blessing can be most accurately understood when these three etymological meanings—blood consecration, praise, and good fortune—are taken in concert. For example, in Genesis 12:1-3, God makes a promise to Abram, saying, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God is promising good fortune, and a good future, to the descendants of Abram, and He is saying that others will gain good fortune through him. It can be said that the nation of Israel, and all who believe in the God of Israel, are consecrated with blood—the blood of Jesus Christ—through faith. The Hebrew word barak means literally “to kneel” and when used in this context, it indicates a relationship between man, who adores God by kneeling, and God, who benefits men with His presence.
One of the best known blessing in the Bible is the Aaronic blessing, as found in Numbers 6: 22-27. Since this is quite familiar to many of you in its original form, here is how Eugene Peterson translates it:
22-23 God spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the People of Israel. Say to them,
24 God bless you and keep you,
25 God smile on you and gift you,
26 God look you full in the face
and make you prosper.
27 In so doing, they will place my name on the People of Israel—
I will confirm it by blessing them.”
Some background about today’s graphic image. It was found at the blog So What Faith, by Greg Smith, where he describes an unusual blessing:
In the April 16, 2014 edition of The Christian Century, a challenging blessing appears (p.9). It was originally given to Brennan Manning by his spiritual director, Larry Hine, on the occasion of his ordination.
May all of your expectations be frustrated,
May all of your plans be thwarted,
May all of your desires be withered into nothingness,
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and can sing and dance in the love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.