What is a Blessing?
Agents of Divine Blessing
The notion of ‘Blessings’ is seen in many different ways throughout our lives; from the mundane action of acknowledging a person’s sneeze, to the joy of a father giving his consent to a prospective son-in-law. Or, from the request of the divine to grant his favour prior to eating a meal together with friends, to the authoritative pronunciation of a blessing over the Sacraments, the weddings rings, and the congregation.
Because the notion, understanding, and indeed definition of Blessings is so broad, as members of the priesthood of all believers, we must remember that we are in the ‘business’ of the divine. Without loosing our own identity, we are seeking to communicate not ourselves, but Christ. As such, when we are discussing subjects such as ‘Blessings”, we must ensure that we differentiate between our human notion of Blessings (I give my blessing to this, that, or the other) from a divine understanding of Blessings. When we begin to greater understand the significance of a divine Blessing, we will no longer simply pronounce, with such flippancy, “God bless you”.
The Blessing as Old as Scripture itself
A quick look through dictionaries and encyclopedias will help us to find out that the word “Blessing” has it’s etymology seemingly grounded firm in the Hebrew tradition. It would seem appropriate therefore for us to explore further the meaning of blessings more from a theological and biblical point of view than any other. Taking the word blessing at face-value and upon brief scanning of the Old Testament references, we could simplify things by saying that to be blessed means to be favoured by God and to bestow a blessing is to pronounce the favour of God.
Many believe that the oldest known passage of scripture is the book of Numbers. In Numbers chapter 6, verse 24-26 we read Aaron’s Blessing. According to scripture, Aaron was a priest who descended from the tribe of Levi, and he was the older brother of Moses. He was also a prophet.
Aaron was infamous for being well spoken, often using eloquent and persuasive speech as a means of communication. According to Exodus 29, Aaron was responsible for offering sacrifices to God as part of the consecration on new priests. These ceremonies of consecration took place for seven days and then on the eighth day Aaron would make the final sacrifice. If we were to move in our bibles to the book of Numbers, chapter 6 (v.24-26), we can see that after the sacrifice, Aaron lifted his hands and spoke a blessing over the people. If we move once more in our bibles to Leviticus 9 (23-24) we can see that after the blessing the people, Aaron (and Moses) went into the tent of meeting. When they came out again, it says that he blessed the people again; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.
Remaining with Aaron the Priest, we can move to Psalm 133. The Psalms are full of blessing, both requests for the Lord to bless us and as a cry for our hearts and souls to bless to the Lord. In Psalm 133 (a Psalm of Ascent),we are given an insight into the fact that the Lord loves to bless, and He loves to bless certain things, specifically in this chapter He is blessing unity. The Psalmist likens unity to the oil poured out on the head, running down the beard, even down the beard of Aaron. This speaks of Anointing and this speaks of worship. With the reference to Aaron we are can draw some parallels between this Psalm and what we know about Aaron from earlier texts already mentioned - in summary we can conclude that unity is like unto God, the holy act of worship and sacrifice, and where there is true worship and sacrifice, there follows a divine blessing.
Where something is done in the context of true worship - ascribing worth - to God and seeking to have His best interests at heart, it is then that the Lord blesses. Perhaps here we could draw parallels with the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we seek God’s Kingdom and Righteousness, He bestows His blessing. As an aside, it’s interesting to see that this passage is found in the very heart of the Sermon on the Mount where the reader is really challenged to understand the meaning of blessing, sometimes in the face of suffering and persecution.
We Seek a Blessing?
Before we speak the blessing of the Lord, first and foremost, we must seek the blessing of the Lord, over our own lives and over the lives of our families and friends.
As previously expressed, we seek the blessing of the Lord by seeking his Kingdom and His righteousness. When we live lives where we seek His Kingdom and His righteousness we are living lives which are dedicated to God’s praise and worship. Aaron did this by offering animal sacrifices, we do this by offering our lives as a living sacrifices.
We live a life which is called to be Christ-like. When we read through the gospels we see that time and time again, Jesus lived with the sole intention of bringing praise and worship and glory and honour to His Father. Jesus lived seeking first His Father’s Kingdom and righteousness. Everything that Jesus did pointed to his Heavenly Father. We see this in every conversation that Jesus had with His disciples, we see this in every interaction with the society in which Jesus walked, we see this in every prayer that He prayed and every miracle that Jesus commanded to happen. We see that Jesus pointed to His Father whenever he broke bread to the thousands or when he broke bread with his nearest and dearest. But the greatest place that we see Jesus pointing all the glory and honour to His Father and the greatest sacrifice of praise that Jesus ever offered was at the cross.
Furthermore, when we read through the gospels and see Jesus’ sole intention was to seek first His Father’s Kingdom and righteousness, we can also see that every time the Father commanded a blessing. Whether it was to provide, or to heal, or to affirm.
Prior to seeking a blessing, we should seek to worship. Not to be formulaic or prescriptive (knowing that God is faithful and does command a blessing to those who whole-heartedly seek His praise and worship), but because the worship of the Father, as demonstrated by Jesus, should be first on our agenda. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and [then] these things will be added unto us.
When we seek a blessing from God on behalf of other people we do so with the intention of seeing God receive worship and honour.
We Speak a Blessing?
To God. When we worship (understood in a number of ways - singing hymns and songs of praise, uniting together in the Lord’s name, taking part in the Eucharist etc...), we are blessing God. We are declaring either verbally or through other expressions that we delight in and are delighted with God. The Psalms are full of these expressions of blessing to the Lord.
To Others. When we speak a blessing, we are not declaring our own favour on something or someone, we are speaking and the declaring the favour of the Lord. And when we speak a blessing, we are merely agents communicating a blessing on the Lord’s behalf. And that is why often a vicar or priest will suffix the blessings with a line that attributes the blessing to God (such as “in name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen”).
At the point of pronouncing a blessing, we are declaring that we are adopted as children of God and as such we are entitled to a wonderful and heavenly inheritance from the source of all creation and all blessing; an inheritance that is freely given and totally underserved, and an inheritance that because it comes from the heartbeat of all holiness, becomes in itself holy. And that inheritance is a blessing, and it is because we have received this blessed inheritance which is holy, that we are entitled to speak a blessing which is holy. We speak this blessing of holiness on behalf of our heavenly Father.
More simply put, ‘what we breathe in, we breathe out’: We are blessed by God so we bless him in reply, and in addition we bless others around us; and in the process of blessing others, we also bless God. It is at blessing that we are emulating the Perichoresis - the dance of the Trinity. And the more we bless each other, the more the circles of blessing converge. Blessing should by very nature be infectious. As we are blessed we should seek to bless. In one sense it is very much about passing a blessing on which is then passed on which is then passed on. We act as agents of blessing.
Blessing People. As touched upon in the previous paragraph, we seek to bless because we have been blessed. From our the earlier references we read about how Aaron worshiped God, then he himself received a blessing, and then he passed this blessing on to the people around him.
We could go on to use this passage to place further emphasis on the importance of speaking a blessing over a group of people such as at the end of a church service. When we pronounce a blessing, we are speaking literally speaking the name of the Lord (which is Holy) over people; we are speaking His peace, His graciousness, his love, and his holiness. When we pronounce a blessing over people we are declaring that the glory of the Lord is resting upon us, and will also rest upon them, not just for that moment, but as they leave and go about their day to day lives. It is at the point of pronouncing blessing that we are sending people out to be holy, enabled and empowered by God.
We are literally saying “we’ve come into contact with holiness and we want to pass that onto you so that you also may seek to be holy and then subsequently praise God and pass that holiness on.”