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What does it mean to “bless” anyway?

May 30, 2014

The word “bless” or “blessing” has always been an ambiguous term to me.  I know that Christians often thank God for their blessings, and seek to bless each other with gifts and acts of service.  But when it comes to Bible passages and songs that talk about blessing the Lord, it just seems kind of vague.  For example:

Psalm 103:1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

And the popular praise song by Matt Redman:

Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship his holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship your holy name

When I’m singing that song I often feel plagued by this feeling of vague worship, like I don’t really understand or feel what I am telling God.

We sing God Bless America, and then there are bumper stickers that say “America Bless God.”  What is that supposed to mean?  God doesn’t need anything, he is God.

I did a Google search for the word Bless, and this is what it said about the origin of the English word:

Origin
Old English blēdsianblētsian, based on blōd ‘blood’ (i.e., originally perhaps ‘mark or consecrate with blood’). The meaning was influenced by its being used to translate Latin benedicere ‘to praise, worship,’ and later by association with bliss.
How interesting. The root of the English word is blood.  Now I don’t know if there is any association of blood with the Hebrew word found in the Psalms, but still, that is profound.  Blood implies sacrifice.  In order for God the Father to bless us, he had to sacrifice something, and that something was his son Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of  a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8 (ESV)
Another Google search revealed this explanation by Jeff Benner of the Hebrew word for bless, barak.
Every word in the Ancient Hebrew language was related to an image of action, something that could be sensed (as observed by the five senses – seen, heard, smelled, touched or felt) and in motion. The word bless, found numerous times in English translations of the Bible, is a purely abstract word that cannot be sensed, nor is it in motion. In order to interpret this word correctly we must find its original concrete meaning. In Genesis 24:11 we read, “And he made the camels “kneel down” outside the city.” The phrase “kneel down” is the Hebrew verb ברך (B.R.K), the very same word translated as “bless.” The concrete meaning of ברך is to kneel down. The extended meaning of this word is to do or give something of value to another. God “blesses” us by providing for our needs and we in turn “bless” God by giving him of ourselves as his servants. 
So when I pray or sing, “Bless the Lord, o my soul,” I am essentially saying to Him, “In my spirit, I kneel and humble myself before you Lord.  I am willing to give up anything, whether it be my pride, my sin, my possessions, or those I love most, or anything, for your sake.”
This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:39:
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (ESV)
And of my grandfather’s life verse, Galatians 2:20, which is found on his tombstone:
 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV)
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