Recently, while shopping in a store I sneezed. From the next aisle behind the shelf a woman’s voice said, “Bless you!” At every meal we ask - “the blessing”. “Many blessings to you” are the words I often use to close a letter or an email or a text. What do I mean? What is being said when these words are offered?
Are we being too casual with the real meaning of offering a blessing? Yet, we may truly want that person to experience the blessing of God. Does what we say reflect a biblical view of the use of the word? Are we consciously offering to God our deep gratefulness and dependency on Him for our very sustenance? He IS so worthy of our worship. Or has it become the hallmark word for a certain kind of theology that says God owes us? “I’m blessed.”
From the scriptures the most frequent Old Testament word used for blessed, baruk, when applied to God, has the sense of praise – “Blessed be the Lord”. When used of man it connotes favor, happiness, living according to God’s ways of approval. It was tied to God leading the children of Israel forward and taking refuge in the Lord.
Consider Psalm 89:15 “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you; who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord…for you are their glory and strength…indeed our shield belongs to the Lord.”
In the New Testament use of blessed, makarios, it generally has a strong spiritual content as seen in Matthew 5 in the Beatitudes- plus the idea of happy, fortunate, to be envied, congratulated.
Dr. Kate Bowler, author of the book Blessed in her Sunday Review in a New York Times op ed piece discusses her research as a historian of the American prosperity gospel. She says, “Put simply the prosperity gospel is the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.” Continuing in this article she discusses the irony of her recent diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer and subsequently offers poignant thought provoking questions about God and God’s blessings and how we relate to Him. A friend alerted me to this article. See the link to the piece at the end of this blog.
God did bless the children of Israel that was tied to their trust in Him, but it did not always mean life without difficulty. Most people might consider suffering and hardship NOT as a blessing but better suited to the curse category as in Deuteronomy 11:26-28 or Jeremiah 17:7.
In the New Testament Jesus speaks of being blessed in ways we might not typically associate with blessing.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Matthew 11:6 “blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
James 5:11 “ blessed are those who have persevered.”
I Peter 3:14 “but even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”
It is obvious when one looks at the many passages of scripture that blessed, blessings and bless connote much deeper meanings than might be apparent on the surface when hearing “Bless you”. Run a quick concordance word check on “blessed/bless/blessing” and it is over 25 pages.
For sure I come away with these certainties:
It is good and right to bless the Lord. He is worthy of all my praise. “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul, all that is within me, Bless His holy name.” Psalm 103:1
It is biblical to offer a blessing to another. “May you be blessed of the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 115:15
It is a blessing in God’s economy to suffer for Him. “But even if you suffer for what is right, you are blessed” 1Peter 3:1
AND, I am blessed because of who Christ is in me. “...the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27
Now when I hear “bless you” or “God bless you” I can thank the person and say,"He has". And according to the scripture if I am having a hard time it may not be self induced but simply because we live in a fallen world.
New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, W.W. Wessel, Logos Bible Software
Picture by Mallory Seidel