In the summer of 1741 the composer, Georg Frederick Handel was depressed and in debt. An acquaintance, Charles Jennens, approached him with a libretto taken almost entirely from the Bible. In a burst of creativity Handel began composing and in just 24 days completed one of the most famous pieces of music in history, Messiah.
At one of the first performances in London, King George II stood up. Some people think that because he was deaf in one ear, he mistook the opening chords for the royal anthem. But if you want to know why he stood, consider the words that brought him to his feet:
"…Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth...'The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord,' …and he shall reign for ever and ever. …KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."
In an era when the power of kings was fading, George, a man of robust faith, clearly understood that his allegiance belonged to a greater king from whom he sought a blessing, God's favor. Or perhaps, like so many under the spell of that magnificent chorus he felt a transformative spiritual energy at work—the deeper awareness of the presence and power of God.
That's also what we call a blessing. A blessing can be words, it can be actions and it can be a plea to the Almighty God for favor in any situation.
When Abraham stepped out of his house in Haran and decided to follow God and worshiped him all the way across the Near East, he entered into that understanding; it was clearly a process that began with a promise in which he was both the recipient and the source of blessing. That’s what the complex Hebrew of Gen. 12:3 says:
"I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."
A generation later, when Jacob wanted the blessing of his father, Isaac, he seemed to expect something tangible in its power. And poor Esau, even though he was tricked, found out that Isaac had only a limited amount of blessing to give.
Jacob, meanwhile, not only received his father’s blessing, but after wrestling with the angel at the ford of the Jabbok, he again demanded a blessing. This time, though, the blessing came with a price and Jacob, now renamed Israel was never the same—it was transformational. He's no longer a self-made man who lives by his wits,a survivor; he's now a man whose life is gift of God's mercy. That changed attitude is also the mark of God's blessing on one's life.
Note: we’re never allowed to curse in God’s name—just bless. To curse using the name of God is a sin; not just because we might be wrong but because the curse releases evil into our midst that can’t be contained.
In time, blessings became a special privilege of the spiritual elite: the priests. We went to the priests with a blessing—a sacrifice or an offering from our best—and in turn received a blessing. Every week, we intone the fact that Moses instructed Aaron how to bless the children of Israel. Other blessings are for children, for wives, for Shabbat: often the father, as priest over his own home, provides these blessings.
But as we read even Gen. 12 closer, we see that Abraham can be blessed by unbelievers; those who treat him well also receive a blessing.
A further question follows: How can I bless God? Isn’t He the source of all blessing? Yet the psalmist says: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me…" (Ps 103).
We bless the Lord with our praise, our worship—our internal surrender that expresses itself through praise of His character, His power and Lordship: thus, the Hallelujah of a king, standing up as he sensed a greater presence before which he was present.
The effect of being blessed was originally what we might call the good life: one of peace, prosperity and the joys of seeing our children’s children, which is why God instructs Israel at Sinai to “choose life.”
The essential word of blessing is still the simplest word we know that represents the original sign of blessing for humanity. That is the word shalom. What word better exemplifies our expectation of God’s presence and his power to restore: Yeshua is the Prince of Peace; Sar Shalom. Our worship flows to him and out of our relationship comes a life filled with the promise of peace.
But through the prophets we also learn that the nature of blessing is bound up with our character. The prayers and intercessions of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah all seek blessings despite the curses which came down on Israel because of its behavior. This reminds us that blessings also have another dimension: they can bring restoration to God’s people despite their sins. (Even Abraham was restored after he sinned.)
But God does more than restore those whom he knows by covenant relationship. He also can bless whom He never knew by covenant: He can call to himself those people whom he did not know; He will bless those who never deserved His blessing. That shows us the ultimate promise of God for all nations: even those whose actions we think aren't worthy of blessing.
This power to do more than restore–to bring life and healing into places that seem hopeless and sinfully distant from God are a further sign of His of power and presence.
I recently read the story of the young woman who was divorced at a young age. Later, when she found a man who wanted to marry her, she despaired about not being able to use her grandmother’s engagement and wedding rings. They were tainted by association with her first, unhappy marriage. She mentioned to the new boyfriend that she was selling them at auction.
The boyfriend had never been to an auction—but guess where he went. A stranger kept sending the bid higher and higher, much past the value of the items but the young man prevailed—at great cost. Months later, during Christmas, her fiancee mentioned that he had one final gift for her: her heart leapt. She received the rings back—no longer tainted: they represented a rescued love: “It was the proposal I wanted, and the rings that I loved and showed how much he loved me.”
Something tainted that's rescued-or redeemed-and made new. That's the ultimate sign of love-someone cares for us so much that they don't care about the cost as long as they are able to restore what's most important to us. In essence, that is what God allows for us through his forgiveness of our sins-a blessing waiting to be received whenever we seek it.
Think of the power of forgiveness, the power of grace waiting to be released. Yeshua urges us to let go of our desire to have our own way and let God rule in all things so that we can receive His blessing; His life, His peace—Shalom.
Out of those depths of love and peace are great riches, blessings waiting to be given or restored. So, we too are called to stand up before the king and let his authority reign: "For the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, … and he shall reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 11:15)