When someone sneezes, the usual response is, “God Bless you!” Having heard those words spoken after a sneeze for most of my life, I wondered for years why a sneeze would provoke a blessing in response. There are many superstitions and traditions that deal with this mundane question; but for now, I would like to ask: What exactly is a blessing? What does it mean to be blessed, or to bless someone? We often think of blessings as originating from God only; but, can people also be the source of blessings?
It is clear from the writings of Moses that God promises to bless people, but also to curse people in certain situations. “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). According to that passage of scripture, it is also clear that people can be the source of blessings and curses.
Since blessing and cursing are considered polar opposites, I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject in an effort to explain more about blessing and cursing. After all, God introduced the concept of blessing and cursing, so it is a very important subject to know and understand.
The Blessings and Curses of God’s Covenant with Israel
In the 27th and 28th chapters of Deuteronomy, after the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian slavery, Moses delivered to the Children of Israel the provisions that God made in His covenant with them, for receiving the blessings which were intended to bring them life and prosperity, and the cursings that would produce death and loss. Both were tied directly to their obedience to the commandments God gave to them. He made it very clear what the blessings would bring if they obeyed the commandments, and what the consequences would be if they disobeyed:
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2). The next eleven verses list the blessings that would be theirs if they obeyed.
Beginning in verse 15, we read: “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:” (Deuteronomy 28: 15). The next fifty-three verses detail the curses that would come upon them if they were disobedient.
More Than Just Words
Based on what we know of the history of the Jewish people after their release from Egypt, it is very clear that both the blessings and curses that God presented to the Israelites through Moses were more than just idle words. The creator of the universe swore that He would actually increase and enlarge them (blessings) in response to their obedience to His commands, and decrease them (cursings) as a result of their disobedience
As to the blessings promised, they were to expect and receive a tangible result, something that could be used to live better, more prosperous lives. Don’t take my word for this; read Deuteronomy 28:3-13 and see for yourself what God said would be theirs if they were obedient.
Most of these verses involve some sort of “increase.” For example: in their baskets or their storehouses, meaning the increase of their harvests, their cattle and flocks (verse 4-5); victory in battle (verse7); and finally, in verse 11, abundant fruitfulness in every area of their lives. The other verses in this scripture paint a clear picture of the result of God’s blessings. The Israelites were meant to take this literally and be moved to continuous obedience to God’s commands.
The curses that would “come on them and overtake them” as a result of their disobedience were meant to bring decrease and loss of their possessions, their food, cattle and flocks, as well as death due to loss in battle against their enemies. It is clear from the history of the Jewish people that, because of their frequent rebellion against God’s commands, the curses pronounced by God eventually did “overtake them,” and caused their dispersion throughout the peoples of the world. Once again, read the curses detailed in Deuteronomy 28:16-68 and understand that God was as serious about the curses as He was the blessings.
Almighty God, the creator of the universe, had the power (and He still does) to both bless and curse; bless to bring tremendous prosperity and life, and curse to bring utter loss and death.
In Deuteronomy 30:19, we read: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”
His desire, His intention, was to make them a blessed nation, prosperous and healthy, a shining example to the nations, the Gentiles. The Israelites had seen God perform so many miracles during the forty years that He led them through the wilderness, there should have been no doubt that God would follow through on His promises, both of blessing and cursing. Both the blessings and the curses would bring forth that which God intended; there would be a visible, tangible result of the blessings and curses based on their choice to obey, or disobey, God’s commands.
The bottom line is that God is faithful to His word, even when that word brings curses upon people. The fact that the curses actually happened provides no basis to think that God is cruel or lacking compassion. In fact, the opposite is true. He placed the blessings and curses squarely before His people and allowed them to choose whether they would experience blessings and life, or cursings and death. God has made it clear in His word that He desires to bless His people and provide the life that they also should desire.
Just as we all have the choice to receive the free salvation provided by the blood of Jesus, so we also have the choice to receive the blessings, or the cursings God has promised. It is all about accountability. If we are to receive the best that God has for us, we must make the right choices.
Jesus Example of Blessing People
Jesus, during His earthly ministry, was teaching a large crowd of people who, after sitting and listening to Him for a long time, were tired and hungry. Jesus’ disciples implored Jesus to send the crowd away so that they could go into villages and buy food. Instead, Jesus told His disciples to feed the multitude; but all the food they had was five barley loaves and two small fish, offered freely by a small boy.
Jesus instructed the crowd of five thousand men, plus women and children, to sit; He then took the meager amount of food, ‘blessed it’ and divided it unto His disciples to be passed among the people. All those present ate their fill and, when the meal was over, He commanded His disciples to collect all the remnants of food, amounting to twelve baskets full, so that none would be wasted. See Matthew 14:13-21 and John 6:1-13.
Jesus’ blessing supernaturally caused the small amount of food, just enough for one small child, to multiply and increase until it would feed many thousands of people. We are not told, but I like to think that the remnant of food collected was given back to that child who so freely blessed many with it. Jesus proved that true blessing provides an increase that is tangible and produces life-altering results.
The Commandment to Bless Others
So, what does this have to do with blessing or cursing that we as Christians should do? I have heard and seen people many times who were in dire straits, nearly destitute and unable to help themselves and improve their lives or situations. In such cases, a “true blessing” was what they needed, a blessing that would produce a tangible result: an increase in their lives, something the destitute persons could wear, eat or otherwise use to sustain life and improve their condition.
I have also seen people who called themselves Christians simply utter the words, “Lord bless you” and walk away. While the words they uttered sounded very ‘churchy,’ the destitute persons remained as destitute after they were spoken as before; the words, not backed up with action, were empty and meaningless to the hearer and produced no tangible results.
Jesus taught His disciples what a true blessing is through the encounter of a severely wounded man, left for dead after being attacked by thieves on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Several Jews, one a priest, and the other a Levite, saw the man and passed him by on the other side, doing nothing to help him. But, eventually a Samaritan man came by, saw the wounded man, had compassion on him, treated his wounds, placed him on his own beast and took him to an inn where he could be further treated until he was well. The Samaritan then paid the innkeeper from his own purse, assuring him that he would further recompense him for any additional cost when he returned from his trip.
If you will notice, the first two men, religious Jews, were aware of the wounded man’s plight but lacked compassion and preferred not to become involved (See Luke 10:29-37). Though it was not stated, it is likely that the priest and the Levite both had the means to bless the wounded man as much as did the Samaritan, but their lack of compassion stopped them from offering any assistance.
Jesus made it clear through this story that the only ‘true neighbor’ in this case was the Samaritan man who, through compassion, was able and willing to provide the help the wounded man needed. We are also not told what happened to the Samaritan; but I believe that, since Jesus was aware of the details of the incident, and the story became part of the Holy Scriptures, the Samaritan was in store for a greater blessing from God because of his compassion and willingness to help a destitute person.
James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, wrote this: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:14-18).
This scripture makes it clear that a person claiming to be Christian, having the means to help others, who yet does nothing to alleviate the suffering of a brother or sister, is lacking in faith, being unwilling to part with this world’s goods and add the needed works to his dead faith. Without the works done in the form of a blessing, the faith that should be demonstrated by a Christian is futile and empty.
The Treatment of the Jews
Jesus taught His disciples about the time immediately following the Tribulation period when He will return to judge the nations. This particular judgment will be based on how the nations of the earth treated the Jews during the time of Jacob’s trouble, especially the last three and a half years of the seven-year tribulation. Those who had compassion on the Jews and assisted them during the time of their persecution, Jesus referred to as “sheep nations,” and those who had no compassion, nor tried to help them were called goat nations.
He will separate them one from the other, the sheep nations on His right and the goat nations on His left, based on how they treated His brethren, the Jews. Those sheep nations will be accepted by God and allowed to go into the Millennial kingdom. But those goat nations will be sent away into everlasting punishment. This account (Matthew 25:31-36) by the Lord makes clear that all the nations of the earth will face the judgment of Christ at the end of the tribulation period.
However, we who are Christians now, before the tribulation, also have been told that we can face either blessing or cursing based on whether we bless or curse the Jewish people: “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).
As Christians, we are to minister to those, the brethren of Jesus in the flesh, the Jews, as we are able and have opportunity.
Even though God has brought a large number of Jews back to their ancestral homeland, Israel, there are many who long to return but are unable due either to political constraints in their current countries, or to the lack of money to pay for the trip. In addition, there are thousands of elderly Jews, some who are holocaust survivors who have returned to Israel, but live in abject poverty there. The majority of them are extremely old, poor, and in bad health, just waiting to die, longing for someone to provide some small amount of food, medicine or clothing to comfort them in their final hours.
Israel is in a state of constant war with her Arab neighbors, and the cost of defending their borders limits the government in providing enough monetary support to many of her Jewish citizens.
However, there are many organizations that provide both transportation, housing, medical help and job placement in Israel. Mostly, these groups depend on donations from anyone who has the compassion to help. There is so much opportunity to provide for many poor, sick and destitute Jews, some still in lands such as the Ukraine, Russia, Siberia and other Asian and Middle Eastern nations where they are persecuted; some of the same relief organizations also minister to these people.
The nations of the earth are right now determining where they will end up, either on Jesus’ right, as sheep, or on His left as goats. But, we who are born-again Christians, who have been saved by the love of God the Father Who sent His only begotten Son to be our sacrifice, have opportunities to fulfill the Words of God to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. We can receive abundant blessings both now and in eternity by blessing the Jewish people.
A Christian praying, “Well, Lord, bless these poor Jews,” but who then does nothing to alleviate their suffering by giving of his abundance, does nothing to actually provide what they need. I can imagine the Lord saying in response to such prayers: “Why don’t YOU bless them, feed them, clothe them, visit them and comfort them? After all, have I not blessed you abundantly?”
Just as the nations are being closely observed for their treatment of God’s chosen earthly people, the deeds of all Christians are constantly being recorded; and when the books are opened, all deeds done in the body will be presented to all the saints. Even though our eternal salvation will be based on our acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood, washing us clean from our sins, our eternal rewards will be based on all the deeds while alive in our flesh and blood bodies.
Just as God demanded and expected Israel’s obedience to His commands, He expects obedience from us. The difference is that we, as recipients of the ultimate blessing of the covering of our multitude of sins by the blood of Jesus, should offer our obedience from a heart of love, the same love that Jesus displayed when he offered Himself as our sacrifice, indeed the sacrifice for all sinful mankind. Our merciful Father does not demand that we bless others in order to be saved; but if we fail to be the obedient people of God in blessing others, not only will those in need go without, but our rewards in eternity will be affected.
I have heard many people use God’s name to damn someone or something; most people call this ‘cursing.’ But, unless the ‘damner’ follows his words with physical action, I doubt that the ‘curse words’ have much effect. Even though the words themselves may not have a lasting effect on the people to whom they are directed, blessing and cursing are still serious business. In fact, James, the half-brother of Jesus, said:
“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” (James 3:5-11).
One old adage I first heard as a child is: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While this may be partially true, since words are spiritual in nature rather than physical, it’s also true that, when dealing with people in need who are destitute and hurting, words without accompanying action can be very hurtful. Failing to give of one’s abundant resources and possessions to those less fortunate and in serious need not only fails to provide for the needs of those hurting, it robs the potential giver of a much greater blessing that comes from God who sees and knows all.
The writer of Proverbs stated: “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again” (Proverbs 19:17).
We, as Christians, are to function and live our lives in faith and by faith, the same faith that is given to us by Jesus (James 2:1) and is increased as we read, study and absorb the Truth of God’s word (Romans 10:17). According to James, this faith, if true and alive, will cause us to look with compassion on others who are in need and open both our hearts and our wallets, and sometimes our homes (Hebrews 13:2) so that we can bless those, especially the Jewish people, who have needs that we can supply.
If any encouragement is needed to believe how God feels about this issue, please read Genesis 12:1-3 again and understand what God expects His children to do.
After all, this is what true Godly, Bible-based blessing is all about!