Foundational Theology: Promise and Blessing
James D. Strauss
Hebrew root brk possesses two spheres of meaning in English
A. berekh - refers to the knee and indicates the knee joint upon which weight is placed when we kneel down - Jud 7.5; also used to indicate the lap upon which a child may sit, as in the English ‘sit on my knee’ - II Kgs 4.20.
B. The second area of meaning is that of blessing. In this sense the verb barakh and the noun berakhah are found frequently (see articles TDNT/DNTT and TTDOT; also Gerenius, Lexicon, p. 142; Pedersen, Israel, I, p. 204, note 1; G. von Had, Genesis, p. 410). The primary meaning would then be “to bend the knee”. Since thanks were given and homage rendered on bended knee, the root came to have a secondary significance of ‘to give thanks,’ i.e. to bless. The central problem with this lexical explanation is that the idea of blessing coming from God to man is extremely prominent, thus making it difficult to see how this meaning can be derived from the prior meaning ‘to give thanks.’
1. Giving of children - Gen 48.8ff; 30.3; Job 3.12
2. Chief element in the content of blessing (von Had, Genesis, p. 410).
3. barakh - ‘to place on the knees of and to suggest that Joseph placed his sons on Jacob’s
knees. Vs. 12 then means that Joseph removed his children from Jacob’s knees. The act of taking the children on or between (Hebrew ‘im) the knees seems to indicate a readiness to regard the children of an Egyptian mother as in the true line of succession, and therefore qualified to receive the blessing which follows in vss 15ff, a blessing which consists of numerous progeny (cf. maid’s child was born on the knees of Rachel and thereby became Rachel’s child, Gen 30.3). This is the only form of adoption known in ancient Israel and could only be practiced within the family unit - Gen 50.23- Hence the connection between the two ideas, unrelated in English, is to be found in the fact that children were born on the knees and this was considered to be a great blessing. Such a blessing could be passed on most naturally within the family unit.
4. Careless use “God bless,” “God bless mummy,” “God bless the missionaries” - vague
enough to cover everything without the necessity of giving too much thought to the needs of those for whom we pray.
5. In the O.T., on the other hand, the blessing is a solemn, deliberate act through which
specific and concrete advantages are conveyed.
6. Pre-Israelite magical blessing - Mum 22.6 - Balak regarded Balaam as possessing this power (cf. magical power of words (see my critique, Journal of Christian Studies, 1986/ 87, ‘Word’).
7. Blessing is the prerogative of God. Balaam does not possess it as a magical power to be
used irrespective of God (vs 12; chaps 23, 24).
8. Berakhah ‘blessing’ and that blessing is the life and power within the soul. It is something
dependent on God who Himself alone can give or withhold it (A. Weiser, Psalms, E.T. 1962), p. 87). Men can —--only transmit blessing as He permits it or commands it (Gen 27.4).
9. Word ‘blessing’ does not always, indeed does not primarily, refer to actual advantages
that are granted by it (English - “count your blessings”, see Gen 2.11,28). Blessing is much more than a vague wish or hope (Gen 27).
10. Blessing is obviously and closely connected with The Promise, and is normally handed on
to the first-born son, but we have noted that God could not be restricted to this in the case of Jacob and Esau. So also when Israel blessed Joseph’s sons (Gen 18) he quite deliberately blessed Joseph through the younger son.
11. The passive participle (barukh) may be used of him to express that he now possesses
blessing (Pedersen, Israel, I, p. 199 and note). So, according to Dt 7-14, Israel possesses more blessing than the other nations and will therefore be more numerous and prosperous (Dt 28.3-6; I Kgs 2.15; Laban claims that Yahweh has blessed him on account of Jacob (Gen 30.27,30; also Egyptian Pharaoh - Gen 39.5 - niph’al -nibhrekhu - Gen 12.3; 18.18; 28.11; parallels - Gen 22.18; 26.11; 28.11; use the Hithpa’el; Israel is a blessing in Zech 8.13; Isa 19.21).
12. Communication of blessing usually requires some act involving close physical proximity -
Gen 27; 31.55; 32.25; 18; II Sam 19.39. Blessing conveyed in a solemn word and a sacred act was no superficial things -II Sam 7.29 (note things rather than persons are often blessed - Ex 20.11; 23.25; Dt 26.15; 28.12; Job 1.10; Ps 65.10; 107.38; 132.15; Isa 65.8; Ezek 11.30; Gen 2.3; 19.25; 33.11; Jos 15.19; Jud 1.15; I Sera 25.27; 9.13; II Kgs 5.15).
13. The Patriarchal blessing, then, is really the capacity given by God to the Patriarchs to
ensure the fulfillment of His Promise, that is, to multiple their descendents and become a great nation as numerous as the stars and the grains of sand (Gen 12.3; 21.35; 26.21; 28.3).
14. Similarly in the reign of David the blessing consists in the ‘House of David’, which will
endure. So in the account of the Davidic Covenant in II Sam 7.29, David’s prayer is for God’s blessing upon ‘the house of David that it may continue forever before you’ (cf I Chr 17.17; Ps 115.15; growth on the earth - Ps 65.10 - productive and fertile).
15. Even in the Patriarchal stories fertility does not exhaust the content of blessing. In Gen
26.3 blessing consists of possession of the land, another part of The Promise (cf Gen 28.3,13; 35.9; 18.3). Along with the ability to continue the race by begetting children is the ability to sustain the race. Therefore, in Gen 1.28 man is promised, as part of God’s blessing, dominion over fish, birds and every living thing. This is renewed to Noah (Gen 9.Iff) with the exception that he may not drink the blood. Isaac’s blessing of Jacob (Gen 27.27ff) includes ‘the fatness of the earth and plenty of corn and wine’, whereas the most he can offer Esau is that he shall live ‘away from the fatness of the earth’ vs 39. Then also there occurs the idea of dominion, not only over living creatures, but also over enemies - Gen 22.17; 21.60; 27.29; Dt 15.6 and, in the case of Jacob, over his brothers, Gen 27.29.
16. In Dt., blessing is often equivalent to prosperity - Dt 7.15; 12.7; 11.23,29; 15.10,11,18;
16.10,15; 23.20; 21.19; 28.3-8.
17. Blessing is associated with peace (Shalom) Gen 26.29; Ps 29.11 (Shalom indicates total
well-being; salvation (yeshucah); vindication (Ps 21.5) deliverance (Ps 3.8) and even eternal life (Ps 133.3). See Harrellson, “Blessing” IDB 1962, p. 117.
18. Blessing pronounced is’the Presence of God Himself - Gen 26.3,28ff - for it is only
through the presence of God that blessing can come - Dt 2.7; Jud 13.2lf; Isa 11.3.
19. Blessing with man as its subject and God as its object. How can man bless God? (cf. I Kgs
1.17) Man cannot ultimately bless God, so we have on this occasion a derivative sense (Knight, Christian Theology of The Old Testament, 1959, p. 223; Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament 1958, p. 179). In acknowledgment of God’s blessing man may bless, i.e., thank, praise or worship God. Man’s blessing God is always human response to God’s blessing (Gen 24.48; Dt 8.10; Jud 5.9; I Chron 29.10,20. This usage appears in the Psalms most frequently -praise - Ps 34.1; 145.2,21 sung to Ps 96.2; give thanks to Him Ps 100.4; 145.10; to extol Him Ps 145.1 The passive participle in particular is frequently used with the meaning “May Yahweh be blessed” - Gen 24.27; I Kgs 1.48; 5.7; 8.15; 8.56; 10.9; I Chr 16.36; Ps 18.46; 28.6; 31.21.
20. In the New Testament, the blessing of God is totally related to Jesus Christ!