The Bible is a blessed book. It begins with blessing. It ends with blessing. It’s about blessing. Even more, it is a blessing. But all of this begs a question: what exactly do we mean by the word blessing?
Count Your Blessings
In everyday parlance, the word blessing reflects a range of meanings. We can count them one by one. So, for example, we might speak of bumping into a long-lost friend as an “unexpected blessing” or (depending on the friend) even as a “mixed blessing.” Here the word more or less conveys the idea of personal gain and good fortune. But the term can also carry with it a sense of granting approval, as when a love-smitten lad asks for the “blessing” of a would-be father-in-law for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Still further, we often think of blessing as connoting divine favor and protection; hence, nearly every presidential speech ends with those grandiose words: “God bless America.”
I would suggest, however, that none of these uses of the term get to the bottom of blessing. Sure, the Bible likewise speaks of it in a multiplicity of ways. We thus read of blessing as the reward of a birthright (Gen. 27); the goodwill of one person to another (Gen. 33:11); the endowment of fatherly favor (Gen. 49:28); the privilege of serving God (Ex. 32:29); the receiving of an inheritance (Josh. 15:19); the benefit of a healthy crop (Lev. 25:21; Heb. 6:7–8); the bounty of creation (Ps. 65:9–13); and so on.
But even these blessed experiences need to be read against the wider backdrop of the Bible’s teaching on blessing.
From Whom All Blessings Flow
The word for blessing comes from a Hebrew noun (berakah) that is most often used to communicate the conferring of God’s covenant favor and goodness. Similarly, the verb form, “to bless” (barak), means, at root, “to kneel,” but it is frequently used to describe the reverent worship of God’s covenant people, both in terms of prayer and praise.
But how are these Hebrew words related? Think of the difference between a benediction and a doxology. Both involve a distinct aspect of blessing. In a benediction we receive a blessing (berakah) from God (Num. 6:22–27). But in a doxology we exalt or bless (barak) God for His blessing (Ps. 103:1–5). In short, benediction begets doxology (Eph. 1:3–14).
The bestowal of divine blessing, therefore, points to an intimate relationship between a benevolent benefactor and his unworthy recipients. The former gives and graces, and the latter receives and rejoices, with blessing as the bond between them. God richly blesses us, and we in turn bless Him for His blessing. So we gladly sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
This, however, is only the nuts and bolts aspect of blessing. Throughout Scripture, the word is inextricably linked to four other biblical principles: creation, covenant, cursing, and Christ. In this context, blessing takes on a much richer, and more specific, meaning.
Fount of Every Blessing
The Bible opens with a pronouncement of blessing. In Genesis 1 we learn that the first benediction was spoken directly by God: He blessed creation on the fifth day, humanity on the sixth day, and the Sabbath on the seventh day. Life in paradise was lived under the full blessing of God.
In Genesis 3, however, God’s benediction became a malediction due to Adam’s sin. Thus, He cursed the Serpent, the woman, and Adam for their rebellion. As a result, humanity no longer lives under the umbrella of divine favor but under the hand of divine judgment. Sadly, the blessing that was enjoyed in paradise was lost as a result of the fall.
The rest of the Bible tells the unexpected story of how God’s blessing from creation is rediscovered by means of God’s gracious covenant. Hints of how this would be accomplished were given to Adam (Gen. 3:15), Noah (Gen. 9:1), Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3), Moses (Deut. 27–30), David (2 Sam. 7:28–29), and Ezekiel (Ezek. 34:25–26), among others. But the fount of God’s blessing is ultimately revealed in the Son of God incarnate.
In the New Testament, we discover the good news that Jesus turned God’s cursing into a blessing by becoming Himself a curse on the cross (Gal. 3:10–14). Those who trust in Christ are therefore gloriously forgiven and blessed both now and in eternity (Rom. 4:7–8); blessing lost is now blessing regained by the Lamb of God (Rev. 22).
Tragically yet justly, those who reject Him remain under God’s judgment and are cursed forever (John 3:36).
What, then, is God’s blessing? The answer is simple: Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3).