Blessing By Faith

Dr. Brian Allison

A number of weeks ago, I was talking to a Jewish hematologist. As I was leaving his office, I looked at him and said, "The Lord bless you." He smiled at me and responded (I suspect, according to religious tradition and propriety), "Be well with you too." That exchange made me think again about the matter of blessing people. I suspect that few of us realize the religious value, significance, and even power, of blessing people. It is a vital aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Recall, for instance, the account in Ruth 2. Boaz, having returned from Bethlehem, met his reapers, and pronounced, "May the Lord be with you." To which they responded, "May the LORD bless you" (Ru. 2:4). Again, recall the account in the life of King David in which he orchestrated the transportation of the ark to the city of Jerusalem. Subsequently, he rejoiced and praised the Lord, offering up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and "he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts...Then all the people departed each to his house...David returned to bless his household" (2 Sam. 6:18-20).

Faith is convinced that God will bless

We find this notion of 'bless' or 'blessing' numerous times in the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the act of blessing is a biblical directive and a Christian duty, as Romans 12:14 teaches, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not." Now, I suspect that we do not fully appreciate the fact that the act of blessing, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is to be an act of faith. Hebrews 11:20,21 reads, "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff."

Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; and the Scriptures tell us that that was an act of faith. Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh; and the Scriptures tell us that that too was an act of faith. Now, why are these particular acts by the patriarchs highlighted as exemplifying faith? Does it seem strange to you that these particular acts are given space and mention in Holy Scripture; that these acts apparently emphasize and provide us with illustrations of faith? What is so special about blessing someone? Surely there were more significant acts in the lives of Isaac and Jacob than the act of blessing to which the Hebrew author could have referred. For instance, why not, "By faith, Jacob accumulated much wealth, even though his uncle Laban tried to dupe him." Does not this occurrence seem much more significant, especially in light of how Jacob actually became wealthy? Or concerning Isaac, why not something like this, "By faith, Isaac prayed for his wife, Rebecca, who was barren, and she conceived twins." Does not that seem more significant than the act of blessing? But why do we read, "By faith Isaac faith Jacob blessed..."? Well, we should remember that the act of blessing, with respect to Jacob and Esau, on the one hand, and Ephraim and Manasseh, on the other hand, is very critical to the flow and development of redemptive history. It is with these blessings, uttered in faith, that we have the continuation and the realization of what God had, in part, promised Abraham. What we have highlighted here, with these patriarchal blessings, is the conviction of both Isaac and Jacob that God would indeed be true to His Word and to His promises. Their acts of blessing underscored and revealed their belief of God and in God. They really believed that God would bestow His blessing, and thus they blessed "regarding things to come."

My Christian brothers and sisters, does your belief in God reveal itself in blessing? Isaac and Jacob were of the conviction that God would indeed be true to His Word and to His promises; and God has given us many promises. And, of course, we believe that God is loving, kind, and faithful. Does your belief in God and in His Word reveal itself in blessing? When you say, "Lord, bless sister so and so;" or, "Lord, bless brother so and so;" or even, "Lord, bless Pastor so and so;" when you use that language, do you understand the import and significance of that language? Or is it simply mere religious jargon? Is it simply programmed praying? Or is there that belief in God? Do you believe that God will bless according to His Word and in keeping with His promises?

I appreciate much of the material produced by Chuck Swindoll; and there are not too many times that I disagree with him, but I remember a while ago hearing him say something like this, "You know Christians use this term 'bless' too often; it has become a rather general, empty term." He was suggesting that we really should not use that kind of language or, at least, not use it as often as we do; it has lost functional value. I understand what he was trying to say; and we often use such language as mere religious jargon; but I do take some exception to his remarks because I believe that we are instructed to use such language in our speech and prayers. If we really understand what we are saying, and the significance of what we are saying, in using such language, we will realize that it communicates great significance and power. When mothers bless their children, that communicates power. When fathers bless their children, that communicates power. Gary Smalley and John Trent recently coauthored a book, The Gift of the Blessing, in which they teach the importance and effect of pronouncing blessing. It makes for interesting reflection.

Faith invokes God's favour and prosperity

Now, what does it mean to bless? It basically means to utter a word of favour; it is requesting good and prosperity; and in the Judeo-Christian tradition, to bless is to invoke or call forth God's favour, good, and prosperity in a formal way. For instance, in 1 Kings 1 we have the account of the anointing of Solomon as king. Adonijah, his brother, usurped David's authority, attempting to secure the throne. His plans, however, were overturned. After Solomon had been anointed king, Adonijah was informed about the matter which included the following statement, "And moreover, the king's servants came to bless our lord King David, saying, 'May your God make the name of Solomon better than your name and his throne greater than your throne!' And the king bowed himself on the bed" (1 Kgs. 1:47).

So, to bless is to invoke, to call forth, God's favour, good, and prosperity. And I suggest that this matter of blessing is to be a Christian practice. At different times, I have had the opportunity of attending an African Methodist Episcopal service. At some point in the service, the minister will say something like this, "The Lord bless you." And the congregation will respond, "And the Lord bless you too." In the Common Book of Prayer, the liturgical book of the Anglican Church, there is a common liturgy that is often used in their services, and it begins with the minister's words, "The Lord be with you." To which the congregation responds, "And with thy spirit." This exchange is simply the act of mutual blessing.

Now, to really pronounce a blessing should be to really believe that God will show visible kindness, love, and good fortune – "Isaac blessed Jacob...Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph." By faith they laid hold on future favour, they knew that God would show kindness. In effect, Isaac and Jacob had received inner revelation, inner confirmation, from God; and they spoke accordingly. They spoke through the inspiration of God. That is, blessing often has divine roots. A number of weeks ago, I was on the phone to a pastor, a good friend of mine, and during the course of our conversation, I was struck by the inner sense, the strong conviction, that God was going to use this brother in a special way. I cannot explain it, it just sensed it. As we were saying goodbye to one another, we had a word of prayer, and I prayed the Lord's blessing upon this brother in keeping with that inner conviction. I do not think that is mere subjectivism. I believe that the Spirit stills works, and still moves, and still reveals Himself. I believe that He still speaks to us, not in audible language, but in the Spirit's language, too deep for human expression. Isaac and Jacob had that inner conviction. The Word of God was impressed upon their spirits, and they spoke out of that conviction, that is, they spoke by faith and they blessed their children.

Faith secures future favour and prosperity

Let us note the blessings that were uttered – "Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau." First, consider Isaac's blessing upon Jacob. Genesis 27:26-29 reads, "Then his father Isaac said to him, 'Please come close and kiss me, my son.' So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, 'See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed; now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.'" Now, this blessing came true in Jacob's life (cf. Gen. 33:11), but it came true in a fuller sense in the lives of Jacob's descendants; and so we read, for instance, in Deuteronomy 33:26-29, "There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and He drove out the enemy from before you, and said, 'Destroy!' So Israel dwells in security, the fountain of Jacob secluded, in a land of grain and new wine; His heavens also drop down dew [the same language as in Isaac's blessing]. Blessed are you, O Israel; who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, who is the shield of your help, and the sword of your majesty! So your enemies shall cringe before you, and you shall tread upon their high places" – the fulfilment of Isaac's blessing.

Second, consider Isaac's blessing upon Esau. Genesis 27:39f. reads, "Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, 'Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.'" That blessing came true in Esau's life (cf. Gen. 36:6-8), but in a fuller sense, it came true in the lives of Esau's descendants, the Edomites. Thus, 2 Kings 8:20-22 reads, "In his days Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah [they cast off Judah's yoke], and made a king over themselves. Then Joram crossed over to Zair, and all his chariots with him. And it came about that he arose by night and struck the Edomites who had surrounded him and the captains of the chariots; but his army fled to their tents. So Edom revolted against Judah to this day" – the fulfilment of Isaac's blessing.

Furthermore – "And Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph [Ephraim and Manasseh]." Genesis 48:15,16 reads, "And he [Jacob] blessed Joseph, and said, 'The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; [and notice the particular content of the blessing] and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.'" Jacob's blessing came true. Recall that Israel had entered the Promised Land and Joshua apportioned lots to the individual tribes. Joseph's descendants received two lots because they had increased in multitude. We read in Joshua 17:17, "And Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, 'You are a numerous people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours'" – the fulfilment of Jacob's blessing. The fathers blessed their children, and their children tasted the goodness of the Lord.

Fathers are to bless their children. Now, I have personally prayed about this matter (and am seeking the Lord about it) of a blessing that He wants me to pronounce upon my children when they reach a certain age and they 'go out into the world'. My brothers and sisters, do you believe the language of Scripture, the religious significance and value of blessing one another, blessing your household, and blessing your family? You are to invoke God's almighty name that He may show favour, prosperity, and good to others. Could that be the reason (and I conjecture at this point) that different young people who have grown up in a Christian family go astray, become overcome with the enticements of the world, and thus fail to shine in the Lord's grace and favour? Do we so much despise this kind of language that we fail to appropriate it and enter into it? Is it too common or simple for us that we do not embrace, by faith, the truth that this language communicates power? Where is your faith, my brothers and sisters? God's ways are simple; they are not difficult. Isaac blessed Jacob, and Jacob prospered. Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph and they prospered.

God should be worshiped by faith

In conclusion, do you see what else is recorded in Hebrews 11:21? We read, "By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and [here is the phrase I wanted us to consider] worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff." As you read the historical record, Jacob first worshiped, leaning on his staff (or head of the bed) (Gen. 47:31), and then he blessed the sons of Joseph (but the order of events is inconsequential). The significant point is that the act of worship was also an act and expression of his faith. Let me put it this way, "By faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, and by faith Jacob blessed the Lord (i.e., he worshiped)." He spoke that 'good word' about God, he praised God, he extolled God, he exalted God.

The whole of Jacob's life was a life of faith, but particularly his worship of God; and we too need to worship by faith. Do you do that my brothers and sisters? Do you worship by faith? There must be the belief in your heart that God is near; that God is present and holy; that God is worthy of praise. That belief in your heart must motivate you and control you. Do you worship, believing that God is loving, that He is kind, gracious, and merciful to us and to others? We bless God by faith; and it is in blessing Him by faith, and experiencing the reality of that, that we can, and we will, in turn, bless others. As we hear from Him, as we receive from Him, as our cups overflow because of Him, we will bless others; and thus we will fulfil Jesus' command, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Lu. 6:27f.). You cannot do that, not with a right heart, unless by faith you bless His name. Bless His holy name.