Barak (but not Obama)

About 25 years ago, my job moved from Red Wing, MN, to Memphis, TN. I moved from a small factory office building to the massive corporate offices. I moved 800 miles from a private office to a world of cubicles. Privacy didn’t exist. Early in my cooperate cubicle experience, I sneezed and was greeted by a dozen or so “Bless Yous,” which caught me by surprise. Apparently part of the Memphis culture was to communicate a blessing on anyone and everyone that sneezed.

In the last post, we talked about the song The Blessing, based on the Priestly Blessing found in Numbers 6. I have always been intrigued by the word bless as it appears in scripture (~500 times), wondering what the word meant to the ancient readers and hearers. It is used in a number of different ways, which was always a bit confusing to me. God blesses us as we bless him (especially as seen in the Psalms). It always sounded to me like a mutual admiration society…

Suspecting the word means far more than mutual admiration, I started to look at occurrences of bless in scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some significant instances from the beginnings of Genesis:

  • God blessed Adam and Eve
  • God blessed the Sabbath
  • God blessed Noah after the flood in a similar fashion as he blessed Adam and Eve
  • Noah, in turn said, “Blessed be the Lord”
  • In the calling of Abram, God said he would bless Abram so he and his descendants would, in turn, be a blessing to others (a significant departure from God being the sole ‘blesser’)

This is interesting, but on the surface it still smacks of mutual admiration. So, being a dabbler in Hebrew, I decided to see what I could discover about this word bless. The basic Hebrew word for bless is barak. Barak is the word for ‘knee’ and implies kneeling. That makes some sense. One approaches royalty on bended knee out of reverence, respect, and humility. In Philippians 2, we read that “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” – bended knee. So we bless God with great reverence, literally and figuratively, on bended knee. A Psalmic example:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits… (Ps. 103)

So, blessing God makes sense but what of God blessing us? What immediately comes to my mind is Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet. In John 13 we read:

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…and began to wash his disciples feet.”

This is a great visual. Jesus, knowing full well who he was as God incarnate, showed the full extent of his love and began to wash his disciples feet, presumably on his knees. Picture that for a bit. The God of the universe, the Lord of lords, the King of kings in human form on his knees, serving his creation!

What kind of God do we serve that serves us? What royalty, when approached by a subject on bended knee, would in turn kneel before that subject? And then wash their feet? I remember watching a movie in which a young king left his throne to comfort a young subject (female, of course). He was quickly reprimanded by the elders for his impropriety – it was a scandalous act! I suspect to Jesus’ disciples, his washing of their feet was scandalous. It certainly was to Peter who anxiously tried to refuse Jesus’ gesture.

This is something worthy of our pondering. What does it mean that the God of the universe would want to bless us so scandalously? Does it make you anxious or give you peace? As you ponder…

The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.

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Curt Hinkle

I am a practical theologian. A theology that doesn't play out in one's everyday life is impractical, or of no real use. A simple definition of theology is the attempt to understand God and what he is up to, allowing us to join him in his work.

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