“God Blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
-Genesis 1:22 NASB
Bless. To be Blessed. This is a term that we often use as believers. It is a term that rolls from our speech very easily in our worship services and conversations. It is a term that we are comfortable repeating because it sounds ‘churchy.’ It has become a religious word. It is a word that is decorative and adds flavor to our speech. Much like an accessory on an outfit, the word bless is a point of emphasis. When we offer a blessing, we appear to be offering some sort of supernatural well wish upon the circumstances of that utterance of blessing. It is a term that we seem to use in all parts of speech. It can be a verb; a noun and it can even be used as a descriptor to modify the subject of our speech. It is a term that is used as a greeting as well as a send-off. As a greeting, ‘what a blessing it is to see you!’ As a send-off or a closing to a conversation, ‘God Bless or Blessings!’ As a descriptor ‘what a blessed morning!’ With the veracity of our use of the word, it sparked my interest in learning what this word actually means. As I stated before, we use the term in all sorts of ways. I feel that if we use the term, it is appropriate that we understand what we are saying when the term is used.
In this chapter, I am going to examine the word blessed as it is used Biblically. To begin, let’s look at the dictionary to see if we are able to discern an accurate definition. Dictionary.com lists the word ‘bless’ as a verb. They offer three definitions as
1. To consecrate or sanctify by a religious rite; make or pronounce holy.
2. To request of God that bestowal of divine favor on: Bless this house.
3. To bestow good of any kind upon: a nation blessed with peace.
While these definitions are not completely inaccurate, the intent of the word ‘bless’ is misrepresented. These definitions, as I have found, do not fully communicate the intent of the word.
As we often do as humans, we make everything about us. We use the bless, as implied in the dictionary definition, in an attempt to benefit from or receive some sort of personal gain. In this usage of bless, we seek God to provide for us by alleviating or adding something to our requests. We use the word bless as an impartation of well-wishes upon something. If we ask the Father to bless someone, we are, according to our dictionary definition, asking the Lord to act in goodness toward that person. Using the word this way is not wrong, but this interpretation of the word bless is not wholly accurate. It is limited in the true scope of the word. The fault, in our interpretation of bless, lies in the focus or benefactor of the use of the word. Like I said earlier, we use the term bless as a means to a personal end, in many ways. If we look at scripture, which is probably where we should look initially to gain understanding of spiritual matters, we find the first use of the term ‘blessed’ in Genesis 1:22, as written at the opening of this chapter. Verse twenty-two of Genesis one describes God’s actions toward the animals of the sea and air He created on day four of the creation week.
The Word says that God filled the waters with “swarms of living creatures” and He made birds to fly above the earth. God looked upon His creation and He saw that it was good. Verse twenty-two reads: “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” It is interesting to note that the blessing was not in the fact that God instructed His creation to “be fruitful and multiply.” The blessing, by God, actually came before what we mistakenly consider to be the blessing. In human terms, the instruction of “be fruitful and multiply” seems to be the blessing. God imparted the animals with the ability to be well and to propagate. But this is not the blessing, this is an instruction from God. As the animals complied with God, they functioned within the instruction. This same language is also found in the account of the creation of man on day six.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps o the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on earth.’”
We have been created in the image of God. We are His image bearers, meaning that we are imparted with His attributes. We have the ability to carry the attributes of God as a witness to our culture. God gave Adam the authority to have dominion over the things that were created. The task assigned to Adam was to expand the Kingdom of God, the Garden, into the rest of the earth. Adam was to be a human representative of God’s grace and authority. As descendants of Adam, and as image bearers of the King, we too are charged with being a witness to righteousness as we walk this world. We are to build His Kingdom.
Now, in a casual reading of the text in Genesis, it is easy to claim that the authority that God gave to Adam was the blessing. We often misinterpret that God blessed Adam and Eve by giving them the ability to be “fruitful and multiply,” but as we will come to see, this was not the blessing. The blessing, in Genesis 1:26 came before God gave them instruction to be fruitful. The ability to be “fruitful and multiply” was given as instruction delineating the task set before Adam and Eve. Again, when Adam walked in obedience to God, he was walking in God’s instruction. Like Adam, we also have been given the instruction to be fruitful and build the Kingdom. We are instructed by God to work (1 Thess. 4:10-12) so that we are not dependent on anyone. Our independence gives us the freedom to be generous and share with those in need. As believers, we are also called to build His kingdom, to multiply. The great commission, given by our Savior, instructs us to take the message of repentance and salvation to the world
(Matthew 28: 16-10). In our work and witness, we follow God’s instruction. We are obeying the instruction that was given to Adam, but this is not the blessing. Remember, the dictionary definition of bless is to request or bestow. If we apply this understanding to the term bless, it does not make sense for God to request that He bless. Why would God have to request that He bestow a blessing upon that which He created? God does not need to request of God to impart divine favor, He is God. He is the divine favor! Our interpretations are often inaccurate. Like we often do, as humans, we twist everything to be about us and what we can gain. We perceive a blessing as a request lifted up to God and then God acting on our behalf to bestow us with and answer to that request. In the text from Genesis, we misunderstand that the blessing of God was that Adam was given the ability to accomplish the task set before him. Like Adam, we too have the ability to accomplish what has been set before us, but in our ability is not the blessing. In our determination to follow the instructions of God, we are acting in compliance with His image. In our work, we are bearing His image. As He is the Creator and Sustainer, we too have the ability to create peace, joy and hope as well as to sustain and provide for others. Life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). We have the ability to speak life or death into someone or into a situation. We have the ability to uplift and encourage or to demean and destroy. In this, we function, in a limited way, as God’s image bearers. Our authority to speak life into this world is in accordance with instruction given by God, but this is not the blessing. To truly understand the concept of blessing, we have to look at the original language. The first scriptural appearance of the word bless is found in the text I shared at the opening of this writing. “God Blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth (Genesis 1:22 NASB).” The Hebrew word used here in this first appearance of the word bless is: בָּרַךְ (barak). This word appears over 300 times in the Hebrew (Old Testament) scriptures.
Before I get into the Hebraic definition of the word בָּרַךְ , (barak, bless), I want to talk briefly about the hermeneutical concept of “the law of first mention.” Hermeneutics is the theological word for Biblical interpretation. There are a number of hermeneutical principals that are used in the process of interpreting scripture. The “law of first mention” is “the principal that requires one to go to that portion of the Scriptures where a doctrine is mentioned for the first time and study the first occurrence of the same in order to get the fundamental inherent meaning of that doctrine.”1 In other words, we are to place an emphasis on the accuracy and intent of the use of a Biblical concept upon its first appearance in the Bible. It is beneficial to look at how a particular Biblical concept was used in its first appearance. That 1 Cooper, David PhD. Hermeneutics: the Science of Interpreting Scriptures, messianicassociation.org. accessed on 8/9/18. Initial context of the concept or word will be carried throughout the remainder of Scripture. We are to understand the “law of first mention” as that when God first reveals a truth, the foundation for that truth has been determined and defined by God. As we interpret Biblical truth, we are to base our interpretations upon that original intent of the concept. If our interpretations do not fall into compliance with God’s original intent for a word, then we are in error in our usage and understanding of that concept. God determines truth, we do not.
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon defines the word בָּרַךְ , (barak,
bless), in this way:
1. Kneel down
The Lexicon goes on to define the word bless according to various parts of speech and contextual usage based on tense, but the definitions all revolve around the concept of kneeling. When I first saw the actual meaning of this word, I was shocked. In my mind, I tried to incorporate God’s intent for this word with the way that we actually use the word in our speech. How do we reconcile the word bless with how we use the term?
There are two aspects of the term bless that we have to come to know in our attempt to fully understand the meaning of this word. Let me start by defining our ability and obligation to bless God. I will list just a few verses that speak of blessing God. This is not an exhaustive list, I am only pointing out a few to add clarity to our understanding of the word bless. All verses are taken from the NASB.
“Come and see the works of God, Who is awesome in His deeds towards the sons of men. He turned the sea to dry land; they passed through the river on foot; there let us rejoice in Him! He rules by His might forever; His eyes keep watch on the nations; Let not the rebellious exalt themselves, Selah. Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad, who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip (Psa. 66: 5-9).”
“A psalm of David. Bless the Lord, O my souls, and all that is within me, bless His holy name (Psa. 103: 1).”
“A Song of Ascents. Behold, bless the Lord, all servants of the Lord, who serve by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the Lord (Psa. 134: 1- 2).”
“Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done in Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. So Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the Lord who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know the Lord is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people (Ex. 18: 9-11).”
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for HE has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant- as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old- Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days (Luke 1: 68- 75).”
In all of the verses listed, there is a recognition of the awesome authority and dominion of God. In recognizing the attributes of God, a sense of awe overshadows the speakers in the listed verses and they are compelled to revel in the mighty works of our Creator. The verses point to God’s deliverance, provision and diligent, unshakeable will to be true to the covenant He makes with His people. Because of the overwhelming weight of God’s glory that fell upon the speakers in the listed verses, they were compelled to pay homage and bless God. From this short sampling of verses that speak of blessing God, we can gather that it is appropriate and vital that we recognize what the Lord has done for us. It is essential that we recount the innumerable times that the Lord has delivered us from that which seeks to destroy us. As believers, it is imperative that we recognize that God will not forget nor nullify His covenant. In this recognition, the Name of our almighty Father is lifted up above all else. He is exalted and given His rightful place of honor. To bless God then, is to stop and to kneel before our mighty provider, to kneel before our Savior and Redeemer, to kneel in splendor of His immaculate glory. In blessing God, we set ourselves aside and honor Him. To bless is to kneel before our mighty King! This is one aspect of the fullness of the word bless. Looking back to our dictionary definition, we see that this understanding of requesting or bestowing favor does not quite fit into the Biblical model. I do not think it is wrong to use the word bless in the typical ways that we do in our speech. But I think it is beneficial to remember what we are actually saying when we use the word. Our act of blessing God, is in a recognition of who God is and what He does for His people. We should try our very best not to relegate the word bless to a simple nonchalant term in our everyday speech. To bless is to worship our Hope. Be diligent, my friends, in remembering that we are heirs of an eternal promise and take hold of the enduring hope set before us (Hebrews 6: 17-20). As we can see to bless God, is to kneel before His authority and revere His Name, but what of the fact that God also blesses us? In the Biblical definition of blessing, should we suggest that the Almighty bow before us? Should we suggest that God, Himself kneel before His creation? No, not at all. He is the Creator and the King. He bows before no one, but the concept of kneeling still applies to the blessings of God. Let me explain by citing the Aaronic Blessing. Aaron was the brother of Moses. In the book of Exodus, God calls Aaron and his sons to become priests ministering to the Lord. This was the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood, the Cohanim, that ministered to God, the Father, through the Tabernacle and Temple periods of Jewish history. God gave Moses and Aaron instruction on reciting this Priestly/ Aaronic blessing in the book of Numbers chapter 6 verses 22 through 27. This blessing was to be spoken over the Israelites in order that the Name of the Father be upon them. In English, the blessing reads in this way: “The Lord Bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” God, the Father, instructed Aaron to pronounce a blessing over the people. The blessing was a request that the Lord look upon the people. God’s instruction to Aaron was that Aaron speak God’s presence over the people. In other words, Aaron was to ask that God pay attention to the people. This is how we are to view the blessing of God in that Biblical framework of kneeling. Not that God kneel before us, but that He turn His face toward us, offering us His recognition. Is this interpretation consistent with other accounts in scripture? Let’s take a look at a few verses to clarify the point. “Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in Your lovingkindness (Psalm 31: 16 NASB).”
“O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved (Psalm 80:3 NASB).”
“Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statues (Psalm 119:135 NASB).”
We see requests lifted up before God of salvation, provision and instruction. The blessing of God comes when He turns toward us. He blesses us by recognizing our call and looking upon us as His children. In requesting of God to receive a blessing, we are not suggesting that God kneel before us, but that God hear and pay attention to our voice. We are asking God to shine upon us His face of love and peace and console us in His presence.
A blessing of God is knowing that He is in control (Psalm 90:2, Colossians 1:17) and that we are in His hands (Isaiah 41:10, John 10:28-30).
In view of the Biblical definition of the word bless, we have an obligation to bless God.
We have an obligation to kneel before our Father and King offering Him praise. Our act of kneeling before the Father, will express our allegiance to His will on earth as well as in the heavenly realms. In our blessing of God, we lift His Name above all names, declaring Him as King!
In blessing God, kneeling before Him, it will cause Him to see our obedience. He will remember our submission to Him and He will in turn hear our call. He will turn His face toward us, He will bless us with His countenance and offer us the peace of His presence. James sums up this mutual act of blessing when he writes: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you (James 4:10 NASB).” If we cry out to God for a blessing, we must first fall to our knees in recognition of His authority. In our submission, He will lift us up.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on earth (Genesis 1:27-28 NASB).’”
God created us. He looks upon us and He blesses us with His presence. Because He looks upon us, we have the authority to take dominion of this world, suppressing evil, and declaring the true and rightful Kingship of our Lord!
Courtesy of Philia Contributor Corby Shuey @ Becoming Bereans