The word “blessing” brings to mind a variety of images for all of us. But what exactly does it mean when God blesses someone? And where did the curse come from? In this episode, Tim and Jon start exploring the third movement of Genesis, tracing the theme of blessing and curse.
There are three moments on page one of Genesis where God blesses, and in each time it is an effective blessing. It brings into reality the thing that God is saying—it’s performative speech. There’s a trace of that when we say “bless you” after someone sneezes; there’s a hope my word will bring about health for you. When God speaks, he brings it about. And when we pray a blessing, we hope that God will bring a blessing to you.
In part one (00:00-18:35), Tim and Jon dive into the third movement of Genesis, which spans the story of Isaac and Jacob. In this movement, we’re tracing the theme of blessing and curse. This episode covers the representation of blessing and curse in the Hebrew Bible up to the third movement of Genesis. The theme of blessing and curse is critical to understanding the third movement of Genesis, as well as the entire story of the Bible.
When we think about the word “blessing,” most of us have specific associations with that term. For instance, “bless you” is a common Western idiom we use when someone sneezes. In the Hebrew Bible, blessing is a much more active concept. There are three moments in the opening act of Genesis where God blesses something. And each time it is an effective blessing, meaning it brings into reality the thing that God is saying. It’s performative speech, a creative act. (There’s a linguistic theory about this called the speech act theory.) There are traces of that when we say “bless you” after someone sneezes—there’s a hope the words will bring about health for someone. When we pray a blessing, we hope that God will bring a blessing to someone.
In part two (18:35-37:40), Tim and Jon discuss the three occurrences of blessing in Genesis 1.
The Hebrew word for blessing is barekh or barekah. The word occurs more than 400 times in the Hebrew Bible, most frequently in Genesis. In the Bible, there is no neutral, “un-blessed” state of humanity. Either you are blessed by God, or you are under the curse. God desires to bless humanity, so if humans are under the curse, it is because they have chosen not to receive God’s blessing.
Sometimes in the Bible, humans try to create their own blessing in opposition to God, so he hands them over to the curse. Neither the curse nor the blessing have power in themselves as magic words, only as performative words from Yahweh.
Each of God’s creative acts in Genesis 1 is blessed with a calling to multiply and fill the earth. In Genesis 1, God is the ultimate producer, but the moment he blesses a living creature, he gives it the opportunity to produce and reproduce as well. When we look at the world through this lens, anytime we see living creatures spreading, multiplying, and abounding, it’s evidence of God’s blessing. Notably, God doesn’t bless the plants he creates—they are evidence of God’s blessing to animals and humans.
God gives humans the additional blessing to rule and subdue the earth. In other words, God gives humans the gift of responsibility over his blessing to other creatures, making humans his partners. Humans have the ability to bless the world God made. When humans try to manipulate the very blessing that sustains them, it creates the plot conflict that we see replayed throughout the whole Bible.
The only non-living thing God blesses in Genesis 1 is the seventh day, which is the first occurrence of a sacred space and time. The seventh day is also the only day without mention of a morning and evening. It’s an unending, abundant day of eternal rest.
In part three (37:40-51:30), the guys explore the human ability to bless other humans (and even God). When humans bless God, it’s not because of any deficiency on his part. Rather, it’s a way to acknowledge his goodness as the giver of blessing.
The word “blessing” doesn’t occur in Genesis 2-3, but the opposite of blessing is prominent. Human attempts to manipulate God’s blessing result in a curse. Even though the word blessing isn’t present in the text, the image of blessing is present in the flourishing garden.
God’s blessing in the Eden story is conditional upon Adam and Eve’s willingness to trust God’s word that the tree of knowing good and evil will kill them, even though it looks like a blessing. Whenever humans take what is a blessing in their own eyes, they forfeit God’s true blessing.
Throughout the story of the Bible, there are always two ways to obtain blessings. The right way is to receive blessings from God, which may involve a path forward that doesn’t look like a blessing at first glance. Any other path to what appears to be a blessing actually isn’t one at all and results in a curse—the rupture of relationships and disordering of God’s world.
In Genesis 3, God curses two times, but he never curses the man and the woman. Genesis 3 is like God’s lament. He curses the serpent (Gen. 3:14-15), and he curses the ground (Gen. 3:17). To be cursed is the opposite of the blessing to rule and to reign—it’s lowly, in the dirt.
When the humans God has chosen to bless and to be a blessing try to take blessings by their own means, they bring about a curse instead. Notably, if the blessing of Eden was for Adam and Eve to rule together, then the curse produces power struggles between men and women and generations of people treating each other like animals.
In part four (51:30-1:01:42), Tim and Jon talk about God’s response to humanity’s rejection of his blessing and the entrance of curses into his good world.
As the story of the Bible unfolds, God proceeds to choose one human in each generation to carry a special burden for distributing God’s blessings to others. These chosen ones receive a special blessing from God but also a huge responsibility.
When God’s chosen one, Noah, gets off the ark and offers a sacrifice, God promises to never again curse the ground because of humanity’s wickedness (Gen. 8:21). When a chosen one surrenders all, it reverses the curse (the ultimate curse being to undo creation, as seen in the de-creating work of the flood). Amazingly, God only requires one human to fulfill this purpose, and the tradition that we see with Noah continues with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The selection of one person is always meant to be a rescue plan and a blessing to everyone else.
As we observe the pattern of God’s chosen ones, an important principle becomes clear. Sometimes God’s blessing is given because a person is righteous. Other times, the blessing is given as a test to prove whether that person will trust God and become righteous. Sometimes, like in the case of Job, the removal of a blessing becomes a test too.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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