Sounds like: ba’rahk
The word blessing seems to be one of those religious catch-words that people throw into conversation, without really thinking about its meaning. According to the Oxford dictionary, “to bless” is to confer or invoke divine favour… or, it is asking God to look favourably upon you. God blessed people all the time in the Tanakh, but the first blessing did not actually go to humans:
God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed [way-barek] them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
Whales, and sea creatures and birds were the first to be blessed. Once God created humanity in His image, He also blessed them:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed [way-barek] 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 the earth.”
A Plan of Blessing
There was no cursing in creation, only blessing, but when the humans disregarded God’s single command, they ended up cursing themselves. God was left to find a way to give a blessing to the humans that would overcome the curse they put upon themselves.
It was through the family of Abraham that YHWH would put His rescue plan into action.
Now YHWH said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you [wa’a-vareka], and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing [b’rakah]; and I will bless [wa’a-vareka] those who bless you [m’var’keka], and the one who curses you I will curse [a’or]. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed [we-niv’r’ku].”
All the families of earth would be blessed through Abraham. The Jewish people, through Abraham’s family, were chosen to be the ones through which salvation would come… and that salvation was for everyone. To keep this line of salvation safe, YHWH said He would bless those who blessed Abraham’s line, and curse those who cursed Abraham’s family.
Blessing and Cursing
The opposite of blessing, as indicated in the Bible, was cursing. YHWH had saved the Hebrew people from Egypt. He took them out of slavery and death, and into freedom and life, but they still had an important decision to make:
…See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love YHWH your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that YHWH your God may bless you [u-vehrak’ka] in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing [ha-b’rakah] and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants…
Life is a great blessing, but is also a choice we have to make.
Mountains and Blessings
YHWH had specific curses and blessings that He wanted to present to the people. He used the geographical background of the twin mountains, Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, to announce His blessings. Settled in the valley between the two mountains was the ancient city of Shechem. The mountains may have created a natural amphitheatre.
Moses also charged the people on that day, saying, “When you cross the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. For the curse, these shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice,
‘Cursed [arur] is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to YHWH, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who dishonours his father or mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who moves his neighbour’s boundary mark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who misleads a blind person on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who lies with any animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Cursed [arur] is he who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
‘Cursed [arur] is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
‘Cursed [arur] is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
‘Cursed [arur] is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Then from Mount Gerizim, the following blessings were pronounced:
“Now it shall be, if you diligently obey YHWH your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, YHWH your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings [ha-b’rakot] will come upon you and overtake you if you obey YHWH your God:
Blessed [baruk] shall you be in the city, and blessed [u-varuk] shall you be in the country.
Blessed [baruk] shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.
Blessed [baruk] shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
Blessed [baruk] shall you be when you come in, and blessed [u-varuk] shall you be when you go out.”
Yeshua would have been completely aware of the Mount Gerizim blessings and Mount Ebal curses. He also would have known that mountain ranges made great amphitheatres, which would carry voices farther than they would naturally go. Early in His ministry He would use this knowledge to deliver one of His most famous speeches:
Matthew 5:1-12 (Sermon on the Mount)
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Although humans cursed (and still curse) for many, many reasons, YHWH preferred to bless. From the beginning of human creation He wanted to bless them, help them grow, and multiply. He wanted them to learn and become the best images of YHWH that they could be. He wanted humans to bless others, share the love… but cursing became the prevalent choice for humans. How often do we wish others would “get their due” or “get caught” or “be punished”. We want to curse our enemies, not bless them.
Others may consider you the enemy, but we should not wish ill upon them, we need to leave it to YHWH. Take it to God in prayer, but not to your co-workers at the water cooler. It is not our battle to fight:
Help me, O YHWH my God; save me according to Your lovingkindness. And let them know that this is Your hand; You, YHWH, have done it.
Let them curse, but You bless [t-varek]; when they arise, they shall be ashamed, but Your servant shall be glad. Let my accusers be clothed with dishonour, and let them cover themselves with their own shame as with a robe.
With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to YHWH; and in the midst of many I will praise Him. For He stands at the right hand of the needy, to save him from those who judge his soul.
Pouring out a Blessing
More than anything God wanted to bless His people:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says YHWH of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing [b’rakah] until it overflows.”
God had blessed the Hebrew people, and the surrounding nations had taken notice. They began to see Israel as a curse upon them… a mighty people who threatened their territorial boundaries and their cultural heritage. Kingdoms all around them saw them as the enemy.
‘It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you that you may become a blessing [b’rakah]. Do not fear; let your hands be strong.’
The Moabites were particularly concerned about these “people [who] came out of Egypt”. Balak, the king of Moab, sent out elders to pay a man of divination to curse the Hebrew people. They offered Baalam the position of curser on behalf of king Balak:
“Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless [t-varek] is blessed [m-bor’ak], and he whom you curse is cursed.”
But God came to Balaam and said:
“Who are these men with you?” Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me, Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed [varuk].”
Eventually God did allow Balaam go with them, but with the caveat that Baalam could only speak the words of YHWH (Numbers 22:20).
He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth.”
Later YHWH spoke of Moab, saying:
“…they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless, YHWH your God was not willing to listen to Balaam, but YHWH your God turned the curse into a blessing [liv’rakah] for you because YHWH your God loves you.”
YHWH could take curses and turn them into blessings. He took the curses that Baalam was meant to deliver and gave him only words of blessing. And what was YHWH’s greatest blessing?…
“…a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17)
The greatest blessing YHWH poured out over His people, was a chance for redemption.
Greatest Blessing- a Redeemer
YHWH promised an Anointed One (Mashiach/Messiah) who would redeem the people for the terrible decision that they made in the garden of Eden. Because they chose death in the garden, they needed a Saviour to die for them to return them to the Images of God they were intended to be.
YHWH put a plan into action to save the people. His Anointed One would come through the line of the Moabite woman, Ruth:
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And YHWH enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is YHWH [baruk YHWH] who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
It is interesting that it was Balak, the Moabite king, who wanted to curse Israel, but it was through a Moabite woman that Israel, and the entire world, would receive its greatest blessing!
2 Samuel 7:12-14a
“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me…”
The Messiah would be the great blessing to save ALL who took refuge in Him, and all who follow Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah should consider themselves blessed.
Blessed by the Messiah
When Mary discovered she was pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah, she immediately went to visit her relative Elizabeth:
Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name.”
Elizabeth announced the blessing, and Mary accepted it. This was a great honour (to be chosen), but later Yeshua made it clear that the blessed were ALL who quietly heard the word of God, and followed His commandments:
While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
Body parts weren’t to be blessed… humans were… And humans who walked in God’s path, followed His precepts, and had a relationship with Him would be the most blessed. No matter what hardships you go through, or how cursed you feel you are, you are blessed because Yeshua has saved you. He defeated death so that you could truly live.
1 Chronicles 16:34-36
O give thanks to YHWH, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Then say, “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us and deliver us from the nations, to give thanks to Your holy name, and glory in Your praise.”
Blessed be YHWH [baruk YHWH], the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. Then all the people said, “Amen,” and praised YHWH.
Blessing & knees
The word meaning to bless was also connected to the Hebrew word for knees [berek: Strong’s 1290]. So when people fell on their knees it was, using word play, asking to be blessed. For example, David’s son, Solomon, built the Temple and gave a great prayer of blessing at its grand opening ( 2 Chronicles 6). At the blessing he…
…knelt on his knees [bir’kaw] in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven. He said, “O YHWH, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart; who has kept with Your servant David, my father, that which You have promised him; indeed You have spoken with Your mouth and have fulfilled it with Your hand, as it is this day. Now therefore, O YHWH, the God of Israel, keep with Your servant David, my father, that which You have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your sons take heed to their way, to walk in My law as you have walked before Me.’ Now therefore, O YHWH, the God of Israel, let Your word be confirmed which You have spoken to Your servant David.” (2 Chronicles 6:13b-17)
Falling on your knees wasn’t a guarantee to be blessed… it was much more about following through with your promises. God would keep His promise if the people obeyed God. It was simple: walk in YHWH’s path and do not stray.
However, as we come to find out, Solomon’s sons broke the promise and the line was split. They didn’t just turn away from God, they directly rebelled against His commandments.
For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire,
and the greedy man curses he blesses [berek] the greedy and spurns YHWH. The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times; Your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his adversaries, he snorts at them. He says to himself, “I will not be moved; throughout all generations I will not be in adversity.”
Sometimes it seems that those who defy God seem to be blessed with richness and easy lives… while we struggle and suffer. Where is our blessing? Where is their curse?
Although we know that we have been blessed with a Messiah who saved us and a God who loves us, often it feels as if we struggle harder that many who do not believe. And living for God can be an extra weight to bear, as it may come with jeers, taunts, and for some, persecution. The first letter of Peter addressed this issue:
1 Peter 4:12-14
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Messiah, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Messiah, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Jacob demanded a Blessing
Wallowing in self pity will get us nowhere. We need to seek God out… have a relationship, wrestle with God about what is going on in our lives. Get all your feelings on the table and demand a blessing.
Jacob came face to face with God, in the form of a man. They wrestled, and then the “man” said…
…“Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he [Jacob] said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me [behrak’tani].” So [the man] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”
[The man] said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed [wey-varek] him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (Genesis 32:26-30)
Jacob demanded a blessing and God provided. He had seen God face to face.
The Messiah was sent to die, and conquer death, so we could stand up and face YHWH at the end of our days. All who have a relationship with their Creator will be blessed to see YHWH, face to face, when their heart thumps its last beat. This was the great hope expressed in Aaron’s blessing:
YHWH bless you [ye-varek’ka], and keep you; YHWH make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; YHWH lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’
So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless [a-vara’kem] them.”
Blessed are the Believers
According to John’s Gospel account, for those of us who believe, but were not first hand witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua, we have been particularly blessed:
So the other disciples were saying to him [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord!” But he [Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
Believers! Stand united! We are blessed and we are meant to be a blessing to everyone who lives on this planet… from the wealthy to the weak. And we may very well be the weak. We may be the sufferers… the poor, the needy, the widowed, the orphaned, the foreigner. But with YHWH, no matter where life leads us, we are rich, and we are strong, and we are not alone, and we are not foreigners in God’s family. We are blessed and we are a blessing:
1 Peter 3:8-18
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
For the one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good, he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of YHWH are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayers, but the face of YHWH is against those who do evil.
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Messiah as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Messiah will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For the Messiah also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
You are blessed. Now go and be a blessing to everyone around you!
Next week: Oil