Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blessings and Curses, Part 4

The subject of blessing(s) in the Bible is a major theme, particularly in the Old Testament. The word appears 133 times in the Bible as a whole. That 133 is the total for the entire Bible, including what Protestants refer to as the Books of the Apocrypha. I include those works in this total because my original letter writer refers specifically to the King James Version. The original King James Version did include what Protestants now refer to as the Apocrypha, but, ironically, the books are not now found in most Protestant editions of the King James Version.

The following list breaks down how many verses in the Bible contain the word "Blessing" in the King James Version by book (a few instances have the word used more than once in a verse):
Old Testament:
Genesis: 15
Exodus: 2
Letivicus: 1
Deuteronomy: 17
Joshua: 1
2 Samuel:  2
2 Chronicles: 2
Nehemiah: 2
Job: 1
Psalms: 15
Proverbs: 7
Isaiah: 6
Ezekiel: 4
Joel: 1
Zechariah: 1
Malachi: 2
Tobit: 7
Judith: 1
Wisdom of Solomon 2
Ecclesiasticus: 18
Azariah and the 3 Jews: 1
1 Esdras: 1
New Testament:
Matthew: 1
Mark: 2
Luke 3
Romans: 2
1 Corinthians: 3
2 Corinthians: 2
Galatians: 1
Ephesians: 1
Hebrews: 3
James: 1
1 Peter: 1
Revelation: 3

So, as you can see, the books where the word is used the most are (in order): Ecclesiasticus, Deuteronomy, Genesis, and the Psalms. This is not surprising, particularly because of the way the Law of Moses was largely premised. If you read through Deuteronomy, most of that book is a collection of Moses' great sermons. Largely what Moses presents is a series of blessings and curses to the Israelites. In other words, If you do this, you will be blessed; if you don't do this, you will be cursed. That is a theme that the Wisdom literature of Ecclesiasticus and the Psalms pick up on. To an extent, Genesis follows some of that as well, though Genesis is somewhat unique.

Now, "blessed," which is blessing in verb form, is used 319 times in the Bible. Again, Ecclesiasticus, Deuteronomy, Genesis, and the Psalms being the books that use that word the most. Likewise, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (Blessed be the poor...blessed be the meek, etc.) uses the word to great extent as well. Matthew presents a very rabbinical Jesus, and the Sermon on the Mount can be argued to be a rabbinical commentary on God's machinations from the Mosaic form of blessing and curses, though, interestingly, Matthew omits the curses part. It is in Luke's version of this Sermon that included the bookend curses in the more Mosaic blessing and cursing form of rhetoric, though Tradition tells us that Luke was a gentile.

Now, if you scroll through the links above, you will see that the use of "blessing" or "being blessed" refers largely to God and His People. Either the people are blessed by God, or the people are blessing God, largely as a form of thanksgiving. I believe many people who have serious issues with a St. Francis day blessing of the animals (or blessing of inanimate objects) point to this and say, "See, you cannot justify blessings of anything other than people on what is in the Bible!"

Actually, this is not true. There is scriptural warrant for both the blessing and cursing of inanimate objects in the Bible by none other than Jesus himself. Jesus in Mark "took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave it to them, and said, 'Take, eat: this is my body.'" Conversely, Jesus curses the fig tree in Mark 10. The Serpent is cursed in Genesis. The bread bowls of the disobedient are cursed in Deuteronomy 28, and so on.

Now, whether my "Bless Your Heart" hate mail sender would be satisfied, probably not. I imagine a good Calvinist will be screaming "God's Sovereignty!" at this point because God is the giver of the blessings and curses in these instances. If one is obsessed with God's sovereignty, then this Scriptural warrant probably will not satisfy. In terms of theological rhetoric, however, I do not find the cry of "God's Sovereignty" all that convincing a logical argument because to me, it is not unlike the calling of someone a fundamentalist or nazi that I referenced yesterday.

Calvinists play Divine Sovereignty as a trump card, as if God can do whatever He wants, whenever he wants, whether just or unjust, and there is nothing we can do or say about it; case closed. I reject that use of God's Sovereignty because it is a cop out. God has attributes like being love and being just and having a divine plan. While we might not be able to comprehend how in this one instance how God is being loving or just or what God's plan is, God is not insane nor is he unjust. Simply playing the sovereignty card to cover up an action of God that we do not like or understand (and are maybe somewhat embarrassed by in our modern sensibilities) it not a theological justification unto itself. Theology is the study of God. If God's actions cannot be scrutinized, then that is not a study of God. That's blind obedience to a divine despot.  

I, however, am satisfied that there is scriptural warrant for both the blessing and cursing of animals and inanimate objects in both the Old and New Testaments, at least as far as the blessing the Eucharist because Jesus did go on to say, "Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me." Doing this would include the blessing and breaking of the bread at the Eucharist. If we can bless bread for God's holy use, why can we not bless and consecrate other elements of His creation for God's holy use?

1 comment:

The Underground Pewster said...

When it comes to "Divine Sovereignty," where do the verses, "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul" (Psalm 103) fit in? I think this is an example of the verb "to bless" meaning "to give thanks."

As an aside, my Pulmonologist friend tells me that he often hears people come in to visit a friend in ICU who may be intubated on a ventilator and uncommunicative. The visitor may say "Bless his/her heart."

To this my firend cries out, How come nobody ever says, "Bless their lungs!"?