Part 2 of The Blessed Life

This is the second in a series of three posts on the blessed life. In the book on discipleship, they form one chapter. This week focuses on the nature of blessing in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament and the Blessed Life

The Old Testament reflects a clear understanding that the blessed life, like all of life, is a gift of God. The Hebrew word “Baruch” implies a kind of all completeness and wholeness that can only come from God. In the creation story, God creates the human race and then immediately blesses them (Gen. 1:27-28). The blessing God gives to the man and woman implies that the human race was intended to occupy and enjoy God’s good creation as a creature that can appreciate the blessings of God. The story of the fall contained in Genesis reflects the human race falling away from its divine destiny of blessing (Gen. 3:16-19). The curse is not the abusive action of an angry God, but the natural result of the human race leaving the path of fellowship with God for the self-centeredness of sin—a path that inevitably leads to alienation and suffering and a way from blessing. The human race, meant for communion with God, nature, and one another has forfeited its divine destiny and now must roam the earth in search of a restoration of its blessings.

In the story of Noah, God saves a righteous man in the midst of a catastrophe of sin and alienation that engulfs the entire world. When the flood is over, Noah departs from the ark, builds an altar, and praises God. God in return blesses Noah in language that reveals God’s desire to restore the blessing lost in the garden of Eden: “Then God blessed Noah and his children saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’” (Gen. 9:1). [1] Even in judgment, God is seen restoring and renewing His intended blessing on the human race.

The story recorded in Genesis reaches a decisive moment when God calls Abram into a new and special relationship with God. When the Lord calls Abram to leave his country, his people, and those of his household left behind, he promises:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3).

The blessing God gives to Abraham is a blessing not just for his family. It is a blessing for the entire would to flow from the restoration of Abraham and his family. It is a blessing for all the peoples of the earth. Throughout Genesis, over and over again, God blesses the family of Abraham. As the story unfolds, the blessing of Abraham is a blessing continually extended from Abraham and his family to the entire world (See, Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 28:14).

In at least one modern translation of the Beatitudes, the term blessing is translated “Happy.” The Old Testament makes clear that, while happiness may result from the blessed life, the blessed life is not constituted by happiness. The blessed life is dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. God is the source of all blessings. It is God that establishes his covenant with Israel. It is God who establishes his covenant with David. It is God who promises to bless Israel and the house of David. To be blessed is to receive a state of wholeness and holiness that only God can provide. It is a gift, an act of mercy, not a reward.

The book of Psalms begins with a blessing:

Blessed is the person who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His instructions day and night.

Such a  person is like a tree planted by streams of water,  which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever he or she does prospers.

Not so the wicked!  They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,  nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

By the time the book of Psalms was written, the people of Israel had come to understand that the blessed life is also a life of righteousness and of following the instructions of the Lord God. The blessed person not only receives the blessing of fellowship with God, but also the blessing that comes with obedience to the instructions God is provided for his people. God has revealed in nature and in his word a way of life that leads to blessing.

Those who follow the way of wickedness and live contrary to God’s will, can never be blessed. Those who follow God’s will and become wise in good living, receive the blessing a fellowship with God. Those who follow the way of holiness and righteousness are recreated into the image of the God who created them in the first place and received the blessing of that re-creation.

Wisdom literature continues this same idea: the blessed life is a life lived according to the wisdom God has imbedded in the universe, a wisdom that is revealed for the people of God in God’s instructions and laws. Thus, in Proverbs 3 we read:

Blessed are those who find wisdom,  those who gain understanding, for wisdom is more profitable than silver  and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;  nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand;  in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed (Proverbs 3:13-18).

 The blessed life is the wise life. Those who follow the path of wisdom (adapting their lives to divine and created reality), find a path that leads to peace and plenty. It is a way of life that leads to increased blessings and wisdom. For the wisdom writers, the blessings of God are to be found by those who find wisdom, a wisdom God imbedded in the universe he created. Thus, the wisdom writers go on to say:

By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,  by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew (Proverbs 3:19-20).

The blessed life is a life filled with the kind of wisdom that can only come from God and from a life lived in fellowship with God. The blessed person listens to the voice of God’s creative wisdom, listens to it daily, and waits for God’s revelation of the proper course of action (Proverbs 8:34). Ultimately, the wise life is a life of trustful, faithful obedience to God (Proverbs 16:20). It cannot be achieved without the kind of deep reverence and respect for God that that Bible terms, “the fear of the Lord,” which is the beginning of wisdom and of the blessed life (Proverbs 1:6, 9:10; 28:14).

The prophets also teach that the blessed life is a gift from God. If wisdom literature emphasizes that the blessed life is the result of wisdom, the Prophets teach that the blessed life is a result of following the will of God. The end of the Kingdom of David, the failure of Israel to retain its freedom and independence, their defeat by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and their exile to Babylon were all interpreted by the prophets as a judgment for their lack of faithfulness to the God of Abraham. As a result of their apostasy, God removed his blessing from them, and allowed a terrible judgment to come upon them. The people of God forfeited the blessed life.

If the receipt of the wisdom writers for a return of blessing was to forsake foolishness and wickedness and return to the “Path of Life,” the recommendation of the prophets was that Israel return to faith in the Living God of Israel and lives according to God’s commands. Their message was one of religious and national revival. “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). If Israel did return to faithfulness to the LORD, they would be restored to their land and the kingdom of David would be restored. They will then be blessed once again.

In Isaiah, for example, the prophet speaks of the coming of a “King of Righteousness,” who will usher in a time of blessing for the people of Israel (Isaiah 32:1). People will learn to live wisely and receive the blessings of justice and righteousness (v. 2-5). For those who refuse to follow God’s instructions and will, there will be suffering (vv. 6-15). Then, at the end of the prophetic vision, Isaiah speaks these words:

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,  his righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;  its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,  in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be,  sowing your seed by every stream,and letting your cattle and donkeys range free (Isaiah 32:16-20).

The blessings of God impact the moral and the physical well being of God’s people.

The Old Testament writers were not unaware of the role chance, good fortune, and bad luck play in human life. [2] Nevertheless, they believed that God was the fount and source of the good life and all the blessings of life, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The restored Kingdom of David was, even in the early stages of its development more than a restored earthly kingdom, but a kingdom of unusual blessing from God. It would be revealed in a kingdom of wisdom, righteousness, and peace.

Copyright 2017, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The language of Genesis 1 and 9 are nearly identical, indicating God’s divine intention remains the same for the fallen human race as it was for the human race at its creation.

[2] I have written about the awareness of the Old Testament writers that the wise and good life does not guarantee happiness: Job, Ecclesiastes and some of the Psalms speak of this awareness. Nevertheless, the Old Testament writers believe that God is the source of the blessed life and that it cannot be achieved without following God’s laws in faith. See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).

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