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Blessing

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Blessing

    In most biblical texts, the associated verbs (to bless), adjectives (blessed), and nouns (blessing, blessedness) express a reciprocity pertaining between God and his chosen people. God blesses them as a mark of his grace and favor; their blessing of God is a recognition of his presence among them. His blessing conveys to his people a share in his own vitality and ageless purpose. Their blessing of him, often in song, dance, and instrumental music, celebrates their gratitude for his goodness and help. Each movement in this mutual activity elicits the other, so that the words point to the conjunction of two activities, especially in worship.

    This intersection is especially prominent in four types of literature. First are the historical narratives of the Pentateuch, which describe God's choice and guidance of the ancestors of Israel. Typical is God's promise to Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you … and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen. 12.2–3; NRSV: “shall be blessed”); the importance of this tradition is made clear in Romans 4.6–9. The intersection is prominent, second, in Deuteronomy, which records the covenant sealed between God and Moses. Here the command “You shall bless the Lord” (8.10) is linked to the promise “The Lord your God will bless you” (15.10). Third, the hymnbook used in Temple and synagogue shows how dominant this reciprocal action appears in regular worship. We frequently hear the injunction “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (Ps. 103.1), as well as the assurance “The Lord will bless you from Zion” (Ps 128.5). This dual motif may be found in more than a third of the Psalms. Then there is a fourth type of literature, the writings of the prophets and apocalyptists. The visions given to Daniel, for instance, made him bless the name of the Lord (Dan. 2.19–20), and in response he declares as blessed by God all who persevere until “the end of the days” (Dan. 12.12–13). So too in the Christian apocalypse, the book of Revelation, faithful saints receive beatitudes (Rev. 1.3; 14.13; 16.15; 22.7) and join in grateful doxologies addressed to God (5.12–13; 7.12). Significant in the Christian Eucharist are the word and the cup of blessing (Matt. 14.19; Luke 24.50–51; 1 Cor. 10.16). Further, Jesus' followers are enjoined to respond to curses with blessings as an imitation of generous divine blessing (Matt. 5.44–48).

    In the Bible the idea of blessing forms an important link between theology and liturgy, theology and ethics, theology and a way of looking at all human history and experience. Literary documents are introduced by extensive liturgical preludes that bless God for what he has done (e.g., Eph. 1.3; 1 Pet. 1.3). The beatitudes pronounced by Jesus become well‐remembered clues to his entire legacy (Matt. 5.3–12; Luke 6.2–23; see Sermon on the Mount); translators of these beatitudes despair of finding equivalents in English (should “blessed” be replaced by “happy” or “fortunate”?). The problem remains: How to do justice to the conjunction of divine and human activity in a language that limits itself to human relationships.

    Paul S. Minear

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