It may seem that these blessings are merely entertaining phrases, but historically and biblically they are supposed to be impartations of divine power and favor. In the book of Genesis, the first blessing was spoken over the animals by God Himself.[i] Then God blessed Adam and Eve and gave them authority over creation.[ii] God blessed Abraham and those who were good to Abraham, affirming that the patriarch would be the father of many nations.[iii] Melchizedek blessed Abraham and shared Communion with him.[iv] When Rebekah left her family to become Isaac’s wife, they blessed her.[v] The fact that a blessing is a real, tangible, valuable thing is evidenced in Genesis 27. When Isaac was old, Jacob (Israel) stole the blessing from his brother Esau. Fearing that the blessing was a limited commodity, Esau begged:
“Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.[vi]
Throughout the Bible, blessings are seen not as mere sentiment, but as the actual impartation of divine protection, providence, and grace. Toward the end of Joseph’s story we read of Israel’s blessings for Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. It is the first time the old man sees his grandsons, and he grants them equal standing among his other sons. Ever notice that in the twelve tribes of Israel, there is no tribe of Joseph? In this blessing, Joseph’s sons each inherit as if they are sons and not grandsons, effectively giving Joseph a double portion. But more than simply granting an inheritance, Isaac prophetically pronounces that the older will be inferior to the younger (a repeat of the theme of Jacob and Esau). Yet both will be blessed, and will be called great.
But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn. He blessed Joseph, and said,
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
The angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
Bless the lads;
And may my name live on in them,
And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth (Genesis 48:14-16 NASB).”
Chapter 49 also records Israel’s blessing for each of his sons. As one who inherited the blessing of his father Isaac, Israel understands the power of positive words spoken to children. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some time ago, I read the following story:
At age 16 Andor Foldes was already a skilled pianist, but he was experiencing a troubled year. In the midst of the young Hungarian's personal struggles, one of the most renowned pianists of the day came to Budapest. Emil von Sauer was famous not only for his abilities; he was also the last surviving pupil of the great Franz Liszt. Von Sauer requested that Foldes play for him. Foldes obliged with some of the most difficult works of Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann.
When he finished, von Sauer walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead. "My son," he said, "when I was your age I became a student of Liszt. He kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, 'Take good care of this kiss--it comes from Beethoven, who gave it to me after hearing me play.' I have waited for years to pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it."[vii]
Israel had waited for years to pass on this heritage, this blessing from his father Isaac and from his father Abraham. He was someone who knew how to look to the past for inspiration and remember the blessings of those who had gone before him. Yet he also kept an eye on the future, placing his hope in generations to come. He knew that in order to foster good things in the next generation he had to speak blessings and not curses. He had to declare his belief in good things for them and from them. All too often we look with disdain at the generations that follow us. “Kids today!” we say, and lament how things don’t look good for the time when they come to power. Perhaps if we spoke more blessings and affirmation, rather than curses and woe, we’d see them take the mantle of responsibility that God has for them. I pray you’ll be able to see blessing and speak blessing to those who follow you, that you’ll have hope for the future and declare God’s favor for generations to come. In Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV), God gives an injunction to the people of Israel. God gives us the same choice today: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”