Remembering to Bless God
By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective
We have been studying I Samuel in our Sunday night Bible study. In I Samuel 1:28, we read of one who “worshiped the LORD.” In the context, this one seems to be the very young Samuel, perhaps as young as 3 years old.
The text reads, “’Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.’ And he worshiped the Lord there.”
In Genesis 24:26-27, when Abraham’s servant was blessed in his search for a mate for Isaac, we read, “. .The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.’”
There are other similar examples throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 24:48, Exodus. 4:31, Exodus 12:27, I Chronicles 29:3, Nehemiah 8:6).
There seemed to be two elements to worshiping the LORD in the above contexts: (1) bowing down, (2) blessing the Name of the LORD for some reason. In the case of Abraham’s servant above, the reason is stated: “‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.’” The blessing defines what is meant by “worshiped.”
The Jewish people have long embraced blessing the Lord or blessing his name. Thus “worshipping the Lord” would be understand as bowing and either reciting a memorized blessing (as the young lad Samuel probably did), or spontaneously blessing the Lord (as Abraham’s servant did).
The Jewish tradition is to bless God’s Name for the food he provided, not to “bless the meal.” We should understand statements, like Jesus “blessed the bread” (Luke 24:30) to mean, “he blessed the LORD for providing the bread.” Jewish leaders have written scores of blessings for every experience of life, a few of which date back to the time of Jesus. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the light of fire. (This is said before lighting candles)
- Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. (This is said before eating bread)
- Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the trees. (This is said before eating fruit)
- Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine. (This is said before drinking wine)
- Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made creation. (This is said on seeing lightning, a high mountain or a great desert)
- Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made the sea. (This is said on seeing the sea)
- One important blessing is said for new things such as: Wearing new clothes for the first time, tasting a particular fruit for the first time in its season, moving into a new home, the first day of a festival. “ Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this season.”
Many of these blessings developed during the Middle Ages, and we might argue about the practicality of them. Repeated blessings can easily deteriorate into meaningless repetition. Still, the idea of looking for opportunities to bless God is a valid pursuit, which is my point.
Although there are many commands to praise the Lord in psalm and music (see Psalm 145-150), this refers mostly to (1) singing Psalms acapella, as, for example, the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-124) which were sung as pilgrims were ascending to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival, or (2) celebrating with choirs and instruments at the Temple experience itself (for most, during a festival). Psalms may have been sung even while folks were laboring in the fields, much as slaves labored to spirituals.
Although Exodus 23:17 commands men to visit the Temple three times a year, many devout Jews made the journey only once a year, sometimes every several years, once in a lifetime, or not at all. Jews living near Jerusalem were much more likely to visit the Temple consistently for the three annual feast clusters. The Jewish leaders elsewhere would send representatives from each village to offer sacrifices on behalf of the rest of the Jewish population in that town. Actually seeing the Temple was a rare privilege for most and should not be correlated with a church gathering. The New Testament correlation is that believers are God’s temple, both individually (I Corinthians 6:19) and collectively (I Peter 2:5).
Especially before the advent of the synagogue (about 850 years after Moses), the weekly Sabbath centered on families. Reciting the Scriptures, prayer, singing a psalm, and intentionally blessing the Name of the Lord for his blessings or his attributes were the most practical ways to worship God within the routine of life.
Our challenge, even in the Messianic era, is to cultivate these habits. While we may practice most of the above, many of us need to add “blessing the Lord” to our list of habits. We should aim to bless (and thank) God frequently for the many joys and even the routines of life.