What does the Bible mean when it talks about blessing? Like “glory,” it can be somewhat hard to define, but since understanding it will help us live in Christ’s power, we should try to do so as much as possible!
The NT word is eulegeo, which originally meant “to speak well [of someone].” That meaning, however, is absent in the biblical usage. The meaning comes almost completely from the OT word barak. Barak is used over four hundred times, so it would be impossible to do it justice in a short article, but a few ideas can be sketched out.
First, the concept of blessing in the oriental world came out of its polytheism. It was deeply tied to good and evil forces. To receive a blessing was to have divine goodness “magically” work itself out in your life, whereas the opposite was true in the case of a curse. The monotheistic Jews, however, had a different concept. For them, blessings and curses came from God alone (Deut. 28). In fact, if a person was not rightly related to God, they could not bless, and even the blessings they did offer would be turned into curses (Mal. 2:2). Two biblical stories illustrate this concept perfectly. God promised Abraham that He would bless anyone who blessed him and curse anyone who cursed him (Gen. 12:3). In this, we see that if God is the source of all blessing, then God’s blessings or curses rested in large part on men’s relationship to His chosen people. In Num. 23-24, Balaam was asked to curse Israel, but he was only able to bless them. Again, God is the source of all blessings and curses.
Second, blessing primarily had to do with divine favor, which usually manifested itself in physical prosperity (Christians should not apply this directly to themselves, as we will see shortly). This prosperity was always conditioned on men obeying God’s laws and remaining in His good grace. In the case of the patriarchs, the fathers passed the blessing to their children via prophecy, since they acted as the first prophets. Yet it is important to note that God Himself established the covenant with each of them in His own time. By the time of the kings, it became apparent that the blessings of God were available to each individual Israelite who lived righteously, and those who did not were cursed. Finally, the Bible speaks of men blessing God. In this case, the concept is one of thanksgiving and praise.
By the NT, there is little discussion of men blessing men. Primarily the references are limited to Jesus’ command to bless those who curse you (Matt. 5:44 (KJV), etc.), the idea being to pray to God for their good. In the Gospels, Jesus blesses bread, which is to say He thanked God for it. The remainder of the uses (except in Hebrews, which focuses on OT stories of blessings) reference God blessing mankind. This concept is very similar to the OT idea. It is divine goodwill. Rather than being manifested in prosperity, however, it is manifested in spiritual growth and maturity (1 Cor. 14:16, etc.). All blessings are available in Christ to anyone who receives Him. When Paul said he could do all things through Christ, he was referring directly to this concept of blessing.
To be blessed by God, then, is to be empowered to live like Christ. The rewards that come with that, many temporal but ultimately fulfilled in glory, are the visible result of walking in our blessing. This is consistent with OT usage, in which walking with God was required to be blessed. In any case, this explains why we should not confuse our blessing with physical prosperity. Though God may bless us that way, the basic concept of blessing is always spiritual empowerment. If we are “blessed” materially, to be a true blessing, it must be tied to the edification of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Walking in blessing, then, is actually one of the most fundamental aspects of the Christian life. We don’t have to ask God to bless us. He has already done it. Now, we just have to receive that blessing, in faith, and live as He requires.