Blessing is all or nothing at all.
For the next few months, I will be writing on a psalm that has held my attention for quite a while. I hope you find this as thought provoking as I do.
Psalm 1 begins with that declaration, “Blessed.” And then the psalmist describes two ways to approach that blessedness. Only one of those ways works. The other way leads to the exact opposite condition, which we will consider in due course.
But we want to consider this one word at the outset: blessed. What does that mean, and why is it all-important?
In the original language (Hebrew), “blessed” means “happy.” We are not talking about subjective happiness. If we were, what makes you happy doesn’t make me happy. It’s a matter of taste.
We are talking about ultimate happiness, complete, total, so transcendent that translators always use the word “blessed” instead.
What’s the difference?
First, in the etymology. Happy contains the Anglo-Saxon particle “hap,” referring to chance and external circumstances. It shows up in “happen,” “mayhap,” and “happenstance.” (Luck, chance, it all came together, and I won the Lotto.) If I don’t like what is happening, I’m not happy. It’s all about impersonal chance and all about "me."
"Bless" comes from an Old English word meaning “blood,” because in the Bible, blood was used to consecrate a thing to be holy. Holiness separates a thing from all defilement to be God’s possession, sacred, pure, clean, for His purpose and for His glory.
There’s a big difference right there. On one hand, there’s my purpose and my happiness, and on the other, God’s making holy that brings His purpose and ends in His glory.
Another difference is in permanence.
Happiness comes through my own efforts. If I work hard, take advantage of opportunities, make the breaks, then I can achieve completion and success. But then, things happen that are outside my control that affect my happiness, despite all my hard work. Industrial actions, government regulations, wars, storms, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, power outages, delays, economic turndowns, stock market crashes, terrorist attacks, broadband slowdown and death. Stuff happens. Time and chance are such a big component of happiness.
But blessing is always under the supervision of God. He is always watching over His people. He won’t leave them until He has finished His eternal purpose to bless His people.
I know this because I read one day in 2 Timothy and noticed:
"...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity" (2 Timothy 1:9).
This fragment of a sentence shows us that God’s purpose and His grace are eternal because they are both given in Christ Jesus before time began. God has always purposed to bless us with salvation, not to give us the destruction that we deserve. In contrast, the devil opposes that purpose with all his plans and might. He wants to nullify grace and destroy salvation. What this scripture shows is that he cannot succeed because he is not eternal. His temporary purpose is limited by his finite power. At a certain point, the time allotted to him will run out. His power will come to an end. But God’s purpose is eternal. His power is eternal. His grace is eternal. God’s purpose and goodness cannot be changed or nullified by anything that opposes Him.
Notice how many bad things happened to God’s people in the Bible:
. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren. So were Rebekah and Rachel, the wives of the patriarchs. Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Zacharias' wife, Elizabeth, were also barren.
. Jacob was cheated over and over by his father-in-law.
. Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, slandered, imprisoned, forgotten.
. David was attacked and hated by Saul and by his own son, Absalom.
. Job was oppressed by God, who listened to Satan.
. Zerubabbel was overwhelmed by the enormity of his task to rebuild the Temple.
. John the Baptist was left by Jesus in prison, later beheaded because Herod liked the way Salome danced.
. Paul was shipwrecked, in dangers, hungry, cold, exhausted, fearful.
God’s people do not live in a hermetically sealed glasshouse with only good things happening to them. They went through terrible things that seemed random and purposeless. After 20 barren years, Rebekah conceived and then had a difficult pregnancy. She asked what we all would have asked: “If all is good, why am I this way?” But we see throughout the Bible God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him, to those who are the called according to His purpose, so that Paul says, "We know this" (Romans 8:28).
“Happy” is pitifully weak by comparison. To be happy, everything has to work itself out. Chance and randomness are in control. Maybe things work out, and maybe they don’t. There is no plan and no power in randomness. But God has an eternal plan that He works out with all knowledge and power. Because it’s eternal, nothing can stop it. All the opposition is temporary, limited, weak in comparison.
Blessing is different from happiness in its scope.
Happiness is about me alone. If I attain to happiness, that’s all that matters. I just want to be happy.
Blessing is about me, but it doesn’t stop with just me. God’s purpose for blessing me is a prelude to blessing the world. God revealed that when He blessed Abram:
"Now the Lord 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, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed'” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Yes, God was concerned to bless Abraham, and He began to do that with Isaac, the child of promise. God started a river of blessing that began small and has since grown into a tremendous flow of blessing. It led to the creation of God’s chosen people, the Jews. It led to the written Scripture, the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms. It led to their fulfillment in Jesus, the Messiah, His crucifixion and resurrection. Then Jesus poured forth His Holy Spirit upon the church, beginning the evangelization of the world. What will come next is still greater: the restoration of Israel and life from the dead. God’s blessing always goes beyond personal blessing.
David found out that his sufferings were actually part of God blessing him so that others would trust in the Lord and also become blessed:
"I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:1-3).
When God saves David, other people will see and will themselves put their trust in the Lord. His example of trusting God influences others to do the same. The principle is that our lives are intended by God to be significant. We were created to be blessed by God, to affect others for good, so that we bless others. That’s why Jesus said it is more blessed to give than receive. We get to participate in God’s blessedness by becoming blessed and then being a blessing to others.
It helps to define a thing by its opposite.
The opposite to blessing is cursing. What is cursing? It is the power of God to oppose, to harm, to make bad, to destroy.
Is there any state in between blessing and cursing? God wants the best. The devil wants the worst. Blessing is binary: It’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death. It’s all or nothing at all.
You want to be definitely and certainly blessed by God forever. You don’t want to be temporarily and uncertainly happy, as a result of time and chance and your hard work. You certainly don’t want to be cursed. Anything less than eternal life is a stay of execution.
What are the things that make for blessing? That’s the subject of my next blog.