Blessing and Cursing

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Although it is rarely noted, the concept of blessing lies at the very heart of the gospel. The Apostle Paul highlights this in his letter to the Christian believers in Galatia. In vigorously defending the inclusion of Gentiles within the people of God, he writes, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’ ” (Gal. 3:8). As Paul goes on to emphasize, the blessing given to Abraham comes to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ (v. 14).

Paul’s observations recall how the concepts of blessing and cursing are highly significant within the book of Genesis. At creation, God blesses humanity when He instructs them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). Unfortunately, Adam and Eve’s subsequent disobedience of God brings them under His condemnation. Blessing gives way to cursing, as God pronounces the punishments that will blight the lives of Adam and Eve and their descendants (3:16-19). God’s curses upon humanity bring hardship for both man and woman, affecting the whole of creation.

Against this background, God summons Abraham to initiate a process by which blessing may be restored to people everywhere. The second half of God’s invitation to Abraham underscores the importance of blessing:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

The repetition of the verb bless in these verses highlights the significant role that God calls Abraham to undertake. With Abraham, the possibility is created that some people may once again experience God’s blessing.

Although the hope of blessing begins with Abraham, it continues through a select line of his descendants, who are themselves blessed by God. God’s oath to Abraham in Genesis 22 associates the blessing of the nations with one of Abraham’s descendants: “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:17b-18).

The offspring mentioned here will come from a line that includes Isaac, Jacob, and, initially, Joseph, all of whom bring blessing to others. We see this especially with Joseph, who rescues from famine people from different countries. Significantly, this line of Abraham’s descendants is linked to royalty (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11; see Gen. 27:29; 37:8; 49:8-10). Thus, beginning with Abraham, the expectation exists that God’s blessing of the nations of the earth will come through a future king. In due course, this expectation is linked to the Davidic dynasty and ultimately to Jesus Christ (see Matt. 1:1-17).

The idea that Jesus Christ brings blessing in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham is also affirmed in Acts 3 when Peter addresses a crowd of Jews:

You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:25-26)

Once again, Jesus Christ is presented as the One who mediates God’s blessing to others. In claiming this, Peter emphasizes that this blessing comes only to those who turn from their wickedness.

Returning to Paul’s remarks in Galatians 3, it is noteworthy that he also speaks of Christ’s “becoming a curse” (v. 13) for those who failed to “abide by all things written in the Book of the Law” (v. 10). Here, Paul alludes to the covenant initiated at Mount Sinai between God and the Israelites. When this covenant is later renewed on the plains of Moab, Moses gives to the Levites the Book of the Law (Deut. 31:24-26). As part of this process, Moses lists blessings (28:1-14) and curses (28:15-68; see 27:15-26) that will come upon the Israelites for keeping or breaking the covenant, respectively. Ominously, the list of curses is much longer than the list of blessings, and Moses’ subsequent remarks indicate that the future disobedience of the Israelites will result in God’s severe judgment coming upon them.

Quite deliberately, Paul draws attention in Galatians 3 to the curses associated with the Sinai covenant, for these have come upon both him and his fellow Jews. Paul believes that Jews in general are under God’s curse because they have failed to observe everything required in the Book of the Law. Consequently, Jews are no better placed to enjoy God’s blessing than the Gentiles are. Paul obviously considers himself to be one of those under condemnation. In light of this, Paul emphasizes how Christ has become “a curse for us,” that is, for people condemned by the law. Ironically, Paul’s opponents want Gentiles to become Jews in order to know God’s blessing. Paul argues strongly that this is not necessary, because blessing comes through Christ.

Apart from the importance of blessing and cursing for understanding the significance of Christ’s death on the cross, we should not forget that in His teaching, Jesus also highlights the issue of knowing God’s blessing. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Sermon on the Mount begins with a series of statements that focus on the concept of blessing. In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes the characteristics of those who will be blessed. He also indicates that these blessings will not necessarily be experienced immediately. The future orientation of Matthew 5 suggests that the benefits of belonging to the kingdom of heaven await the consummation of the kingdom and the creation of a new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:1-4).

Interestingly, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount not only lists blessings (Luke 6:20-23), but also contains a series of “woes” (vv. 24-26) that will afflict those who fail to embrace Jesus as their Lord. This contrast between experiencing God’s blessing or cursing is an important reminder that we do not automatically enjoy God’s favor regardless of how we live. Only those who have truly trusted in Jesus as their Savior and submitted to His lordship will experience God’s eternal blessing. Obedience brings blessing, not because it merits salvation but because it demonstrates the reality of our faith in the One who blesses His people.

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