Blessed Assurance?!

I felt a little stupid in church the other day. We were singing Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons and I realised that I was happily warbling ‘Bless the Lord, O my Soul’ with no real idea what it meant. I felt even more stupid as I realised I’d sung similar lines in songs for years, read them in the Psalms, and never once stopped to ask what ‘blessing’ God might mean. I kind of intuitively thought it just means ‘thank’ or something. But that’s not the way we use the word when we speak of God blessing us. (One hardly imagines God expressing immense gratitude to us, or Jacob wrestling with an angel and refusing to let go until he received a ‘thank you!’) What’s more, Hebrews 7:7 says ‘It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.’ So in what sense might I, who (in case you were in any doubt) am clearly God’s inferior, bless Him?

Well… of course we can deduce how Redman intended us to understand the word from the context of the line in his song, but that just raises more questions about the extent to which worship songwriters have power to shape our theology… a topic I shall resist for the time being! So on the off-chance that I’m not the only one who occasionally sings lyrics without really understanding what they mean and why, I dug out a concordance and concluded the following: 

In Scripture, the language of blessing is used to speak of God’s provision for us. People are blessed with offspring (Gen 12:2; 17:16; 22:17; 26:24), land (Gen 26:3), food (Exod 23:25), health (Exod 23:25), and fruitfulness in work (Gen 26:12; Deut 15:10, 18; Job 1:10). God blesses us, too, by turning us from wickedness and towards Him (Acts 3:26). If someone is described as being ‘blessed’ it means they have received something beneficial (Gen 27:35-41; Deut 33:23) or are in a state in which they are able to receive blessing (Psalm 1:1). In the Sermon on the Mount, the declaration that the poor, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted are blessed seems to refer to the happiness and fullness of life that comes from being right with God, including the experience of comfort, mercy and a place in the Kingdom (Matt 5; Luke 6). Similarly, generosity to the poor invites God’s blessing, presumably by demonstrating that we have right hearts and a godly attitude towards the things with which God has blessed us (Prov 14:21; 22:9).

If God blesses a particular item, He declares it holy and beneficial to those who use or possess it; for example the Sabbath (Gen 2:3; Ex 20:11). The same is probably true of things that men bless; like sacrifices (1 Sam 9:13), food (Mark 8:7; Luke 24:30) and the communion cup, which is both the cup we bless and the cup that blesses us (1 Cor 10:16).

People can use blessing as a greeting (Ruth 2:4) or bless one another, which seems to be a way of asking for the blessing of God to be bestowed upon them (Gen 27; 24:60; 48:9; 1 Sam 2:5, 20; 2 Chron 30:27; Psalm 115:15; 128:5; 129:8), although in the case of Isaac it appears he had a limited number of blessings to give (Gen 27:38)! Priests seem to have a particular role in blessing people (Num 6:23-24; Deut 10:8; 21:5), which may also involve a declaration of their holiness and the removal of their sins (Lev 9:22-23). It is the opposite of cursing people, and seems to be more than simply a wish; it is efficacious. It invokes God’s blessing rather than His punishment (Num 22:6; 23; Psalm 62:4) and in the New Testament we are commanded to bless those who curse us (Luke 6:28; Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Pet 3:9). It can also be used to recognise merit in a person, and perhaps as a declaration of thanks to them (1 Sam 32-33). Abraham was told that he was blessed in order to be a blessing to others (Gen 12:2, 3) and it seems that we can bless ourselves by ensuring that we remain in God so that we receive His blessings (Isaiah 65:16; Jer 4:2).

But it doesn’t seem that any of these uses is adequate to explain exactly what happens when we bless God, since they all involve providing something to satisfy a lack, and we know that God ‘is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else’ (Acts 17:25). So the word must be used in two quite different, though related, ways.

Blessing God is linked to praise and worship (1 Chron 29:20; Psalm 16:7; 34:1; 66:8; 100:4;104:35; 115:18; 145:1-2, 21; James 3:9), and the NIV often renders the ESV’s ‘bless’ as ‘praise’ (cf. Judges 5:2; Psalm 16:7 etc). Sometimes this act of ‘blessing God’ is done in a corporate setting, accompanied by music and celebration (Psalm 68:24-26). Sometimes the whole created order is called to join in (Psalm 103:22; 145:10), and on occasions it seems to be not simply an act of worship, but perhaps a public declaration or telling forth of God’s goodness (Psalm 96:1-3).

It is also used to speak of being thankful to God for His provision (Deut 8:10; 1 Kings 1:48;Psalm 100:4), and not allowing ourselves to forget all that He gives us (Psalm 103:1-2). People bless God for food that satisfies (Deut 8:10) or for good and godly leaders (Judges 5:2, 9), for all things that we receive in life, including life itself (Job 1:21), or simply for His hearing our prayers and showing us love (Psalm 28:6; 31:21; 66:20; 69:19). There is a sort of reciprocity to blessing: nations are blessed in Him and call Him blessed (Psalm 72:17).

In passages like Daniel 2:19-20 we see that blessing God means calling Him blessed. ‘The blessed’ is used as shorthand for God (Mark 14:61) and may simply mean ‘the one who blesses’, or ‘the one who is full of blessing’ i.e. He lacks and needs nothing from others. In the same way that God blesses something and declares it holy and set apart, when we bless God we declare His holiness and transcendence above all others, hence His being blessed is often linked with talk of His glory (Neh 9:5; Ezek 3:12; Psalm 72:19).

There may also be a sense in which God does receive something from us when we bless Him, as in the song of the angels which declares that the Lamb is worthy to receive glory and blessing (Rev 5:12), referring to worship. This is to be seen not as receiving something that makes up for a lack, but receiving something that is rightfully His.

So drawing those strands together I would suggest that blessing God means something like the following: Recognising that God is Holy and He is Provider of all good things, thanking and praising Him for all He has done for us, and so giving Him what He is due: our undivided worship.

Or as Ephesians 1:3 puts it, combining a number of those strands: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.’

Now doesn’t that give an extra depth to those worship songs that speak of blessing God and Him being blessed? We truly do have 10,000 reasons to bless Him!

 

Featured Image: Lumen Christi by Eustaquio Santimano

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