I overheard something recently that sparked my curiosity. Some people were making small talk when one asked another how they were. The person responded that they were “blessed.” We tend to speak of being blessed in a casual way—something like a feeling of being lucky or fortunate, and this is the sense that they were using the term.
While this is not necessarily an incorrect use of the term, it made me wonder what is at the heart of biblical blessedness. Is it simply being happy or fortunate, or is there something more substantial than a casual, subjective, feeling of luck? By using the term in a casual way, are we stripping the concept of any spiritual qualifications? It seems that many times we consider ourselves blessed in a casual way that simply points to a favorable set of events or state of affairs while, potentially, not considering the biblical rationale for why this is.
Think for a moment about those who Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-12) as blessed. There are those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who desire righteousness, those who have been persecuted, and those who have been insulted. At the same time, the merciful, pure of heart, and peacemakers are also addressed.
These are all said to be blessed despite their circumstances. In this discussion, Jesus points to the true reason we are blessed. He is not saying they are blessed because of their temporal circumstance, but rather, the blessing rests in a spiritual reality. For example, they are reminded that their reward is in heaven (v12), theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v3), they will be comforted (v4), and they shall be considered sons of God (v9). Jesus was stating that, despite their current situation, there is something greater, even everlasting, that real blessing rests on.
Jesus was not presenting a new concept here. This same idea of a substantial blessing is the same in the Old Testament. It would be a great study if we could look at all the verses that spoke of blessing across Scripture, but time does not permit this, so let’s just look at a few. A quick word search reveals the English term “blessed” shows up over 500 times (in the NASB at least). In both Hebrew and Greek, the idea of blessing is expressed with a handful of specific terms. Jesus uses the specific adjective makarios (μακάριος), which appears 47 times in the New Testament. The Old Testament term that translates to makarios is ʾašrê (אַשְׁרֵי), and is used 44 times. While surveying these occurrences, I found two passages to consider that make the point Jesus makes: that being blessed arises from something substantial.
In Deuteronomy 33 Moses lays out what God will do for Israel. More importantly he states that “there is none like the God of Jeshurun” (v26). He opens and closes the passage with allusions to God’s majesty as seen at Mt. Sinai after the exodus. Moses refers to God as the eternal God who is a refuge (v27). He is a God of security, who drives out and destroys His enemies and provides security and provision (v27-28). These truths culminate in the final verse that reads:
“Blessed [ʾašrê] are you, O Israel;Deuteronomy 33:29 (NASB)
Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord,
Who is the shield of your help
And the sword of your majesty!
So your enemies will cringe before you,
And you will tread upon their high places.”
Note how the blessing is grounded in the actions of God; the people can say they are blessed because of what God has done for them. It is not a result of luck; their “good fortune” is directly related to the objective actions that God took—and is taking—on their behalf. They are a people saved and redeemed by God. He is their protection to the extent that their enemies will cringe. They are blessed because of the actions that God alone took. He came and redeemed them; freeing them from Egypt and establishing them as His people. God promises to be their protector and provider, and for this they are blessed. The world can throw what it will at them, but the world can never remove their blessing.
Another interesting passage comes when the Queen of Sheba says to King Solomon:
“How blessed [ʾašrê] are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom.”1 Kings 10:8 (NASB)
The Queen has made quite an observation. Notice that this state of blessing is related to standing continually before the king. Only those who are in the presence of the king are declared “blessed.” Now it’s true that being in the king’s presence would not always be a blessing, take for example when one comes before the king for judgment. In that situation, we would say the party being judged is in the presence of the king for cursing and not blessing. But this is not the case here. These men are here to serve the king and are welcomed in his presence. Not only that, they get to hear his wisdom. This is more relational in nature. When you hear the wisdom of another you are coming to know and understand them; even if you are there to serve someone, you are beginning to build a relationship with them. This has to do with being in the presence of a human king, so consider how much greater this is when we apply these same truths to God. Those who confess Jesus as Lord, are welcomed into the presence of the true King, and we get to hear true wisdom.
These truths are all over the Psalms. Here, blessing [ʾašrê] relates to our sins being forgiven (Ps. 32:1-2). The people whom God chooses (Ps. 33:12) are blessed because He brings them near; that is, into His presence (Ps. 65:4), and these are those who dwell in His house (Ps. 84:4). If we were to survey more of the Psalms, we would find that these are the common themes throughout. These occurrences are consistent with what Moses and the Queen of Sheba stated.
Now, think again about the Sermon on the Mount. The people that Jesus was addressing were “blessed” despite their situation. The theme that we see across Scripture is that blessing is more than a feeling; it has a spiritual grounding. We have to realize that when we come to Jesus in faith and repentance, accepting Him as our Lord and savior, we are not promised a perfect life from there on out. Our blessing, regardless of our circumstance, rests solely on the grace of God. We are blessed because He chooses us and forgives our sins, which is the only reason we can come into His presence. These truths remind those of us who are in Christ that no matter what we face in life, we are blessed, and nothing can change that.