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Does God “bless” missionaries?

Do you ever ask God to “bless the missionaries”? Do you ever ask yourself what that even means? If you go to the dictionary and look up the word “bless”, you may see a definition something like this:

Bless: pronounce words in a religious rite, to confer or invoke divine favor upon; ask God to look favorably on.
“he blessed the dying man and anointed him”

This is what we usually mean when we ask God to bless the missionaries. We are asking God to look favorably upon them. This understanding of the word “bless” is very vague because you have no way of knowing whether or not God is indeed looking favorably upon someone. How do you know if God is indeed blessing the missionaries?

Let me ask you this: Does this definition match the Biblical concept of “bless”? If the Bible uses the word bless, and it does, should we not have a Biblical understanding of the concept of a blessing?

Today we’re going to look at an event in the life of Jacob and Joseph that gives us a Biblical perspective on the definition of “bless”; and we’re going to see that the Biblical definition is a little different than our concept of a blessing. Furthermore, we’re going to look at some verses that tell us what the Bible has to say about us being blessed. Let’s start reading at Genesis 47:27.

Gen. 47:27 ¶ Now Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in Goshen, and they acquired property in it and were fruitful and became very numerous.

Gen. 47:28 Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the length of Jacob’s life was one hundred and forty-seven years.

Gen. 47:29 ¶ When the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Please do not bury me in Egypt,

Gen. 47:30 but when I [Jacob] lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their [my fathers’] burial place.”

At this time, Jacob and all his descendants were living in Egypt. Jacob realized that he was going to die in Egypt, but he didn’t want to be buried in Egypt, so he asked Joseph to bury him in his fathers’ burial place.

Let’s look at this on a map. This is Egypt.

This was Goshen where Jacob and his family were living.

Jacob’s fathers were buried over here in Hebron. Hebron was in Canaan.

It would have been about a one week journey from Goshen to Hebron.
In the next few verses we will see that Joseph agreed to his father’s request.

And he [Joseph] said,
“I will do as you have said.”

Gen. 47:31 He [Jacob] said, “Swear to me.” So he [Joseph] swore to him [Jacob]. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.

Gen. 48:1 ¶ Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is sick.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him.

Gen. 48:2 When it was told to Jacob, “Behold, your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed.

Gen. 48:3-4 Then Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me,

This reference to God’s appearance at Luz is a reference to Jacob’s dream where angels were going up and down a ladder that reached into heaven. This had happened many years earlier when Jacob was on his way to his mother’s homeland to find a wife.

This dream had taken place here at Bethel. This place was originally called Luz, but after his dream, Jacob had renamed it Bethel.

Notice the word “blessed”. Jacob knew that God had blessed him. As we read how God had blessed Jacob at Luz, think about what his blessing tells us about the
definition of the word “bless”. This next screen is what God said to Jacob when He blessed him.

‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.’

God blessed Jacob with two very specific promises. First, He promised to make his descendants very numerous. Second, He promised to give him the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession. These promises were specific enough that we can look back on history and determine whether or not these promises were fulfilled.

This tells us that a blessing was not something vague and undefinable; instead, in Biblical times a blessing was something specific and verifiable. We will talk about this some more later. The next verses return us to the conversation between Jacob and Joseph, with Jacob talking to Joseph.

Gen. 48:5 “Now your two sons, who were born to you [Joseph] in the land of Egypt before I [Jacob] came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.

Gen. 48:6 “But your [Joseph’s] offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance.

Let’s back up to verse 5. Jacob claimed Ephraim and Manasseh as his own.

What was happening here was that Jacob originally had 12 sons. Joseph was one of the twelve.

When Jacob claimed Ephraim and Manasseh as his own, he was putting them here on this list of his sons. This became very important later in Bible history. Many years later, when the Israelites conquered the promised land and divided it among the twelve tribes of Israel, there was not a tribe of Joseph; instead, there was a tribe of Ephraim and a tribe of Manasseh.

If you’re wondering how there were still only twelve tribes of Israel…

Well, Levi was the priestly tribe and as the priests, they did not receive an allotment of land. Instead, they were disbursed throughout the other tribes. If you take these thirteen names and subtract Levi, you are left with the twelve tribes of Israel.
Let’s continue reading the text. Remember that Jacob was talking to Joseph.

Gen. 48:7 “Now as for me [Jacob], when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the journey, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

Bethlehem was over here in Canaan, between Bethel and Hebron.

Gen. 48:8 ¶ When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?”

Gen. 48:9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” So he [Jacob] said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.”

Notice that Jacob wanted to bless Joseph’s sons.

Gen. 48:10 Now the eyes of Israel were so dim from age that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them close to him, and he [Jacob] kissed them and embraced them.

Gen. 48:11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.”

Gen. 48:12 Then Joseph took them from his knees, and bowed with his face to the ground.

Gen. 48:13 Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right, and brought them close to him.

Gen. 48:14 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.

Jacob laid his right hand on the head of the younger son.

He had to cross his hands in order to do this. We will come back to this shortly.

As we read this next verse, notice the word “blessed”, again.

Gen. 48:15 He [Jacob] 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,

Gen. 48:16 The angel who has redeemed me [Jacob] 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.”

Gen. 48:17 ¶ When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head.

Here we see that Joseph was displeased that Jacob put his right hand on the head of the younger son. This is something that seems irrelevant in our culture, but apparently in their culture, this was very significant.

Gen. 48:18 Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one [Manasseh] is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.”

Here we see clearly that the placement of the right hand was very significant.

Gen. 48:19 But his father [Jacob] refused and said, “I know, my son, I know; he [Manasseh] also will become
a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”

Here we see why Jacob placed his right hand on the head of the younger. The younger brother was destined to be greater than the older brother. Remember, this was part of a blessing; so again, we see that in their culture a blessing was specific and verifiable. As we look back on Israelite history, we can see that Ephraim did indeed become greater than Manasseh.

Gen. 48:20 He [Jacob] blessed them [Ephraim & Manasseh] that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.

Again, let’s back up one screen. Notice the word “blessed”.

Here the specific nature of the blessing was the promise that the Israelites would use the names Ephraim and Manasseh to pronounce their own blessings. Now let’s go to verse 21.

Gen. 48:21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers.
Gen. 48:22 “I [Jacob] give you [Joseph] one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”

Jacob finished by giving Joseph one more portion of land than his brothers. This was fulfilled when Ephraim and Manasseh were both counted as a tribe of Israel when the land was divided among the twelve tribes.

Let’s go back to this definition of bless that we looked at earlier.

Bless: pronounce words in a religious rite, to confer or invoke divine favor upon; ask God to look favorably on.
“he blessed the dying man and anointed him”

In this definition, a blessing is something vague and intangible. Thus, it is hard to determine if the recipient of the blessing ever actually does receive a blessing. How do you know if God is looking favorably upon you or not?

Unlike this definition, in the story about Jacob and Joseph that we read today, the blessings were very tangible. Furthermore, the blessings were permanent and long lasting.

When God blessed Jacob, He gave him numerous descendants and a specific area of land.

When Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons, He made the younger son greater than the older son. These were tangible blessings, and we can look back on history and see that the recipients did indeed receive these blessings, and that the blessings lasted for centuries.

Here is a definition of bless that is closer to the Biblical concept of bless.

Bless: endow (someone) with a particular cherished thing or attribute.

“God has blessed us with free will”

Notice the word “endow”. That word has the concept that you are giving someone something tangible and valuable. The word “endow” also has the concept that it is a permanent gift, and that once you give it, legally, it cannot be taken back.

With all this in mind, let’s look at some verses in the Bible that tell us that we are blessed. These verses are meant to comfort us, and now that we understand what the Bible means by a blessing, we can fully understand the blessing that we have. Let’s consider James 1:12.

James 1:12 ¶ Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

If you look at the context of this verse, the word “trial” does not refer to a trial in a court of law, it refers to something that tests your faith.

This verse tells us that if we persevere when our faith is tested, then we are blessed.

The blessing we will receive for persevering is to receive the crown of life. The crown of life is a tangible reward. Also, since a blessing is similar to an endowment, the crown of life cannot be taken away from us, we are more or less “legally” entitled to it, and the crown is something that will be a continual benefit to us, not simply a one time gift.

Now let’s look at 1 Peter 4:14.

1Pet. 4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

This verse tells us that we are blessed when we are reviled for the name of Christ.

The blessing we have is that the Spirit rests on us. Again, the Spirit resting on us is something tangible. It is also something permanent, and something that provides continual benefit and comfort, not just a one time help.

The immediate lesson from these verses is that when we, including missionaries, are tested or persecuted, we should remind ourselves that we are blessed. This should encourage us because the Biblical understanding of a blessing is something tangible, permanent, and long lasting, not something vague and undefinable.

The long term lesson is that the next time you are reading the Bible and you see the word “bless” or “blessing”, remember that the Biblical concept of bless is deeper and more comprehensive than our conventional concept of bless.

The conventional concept of bless is vague and intangible.

The Biblical concept of bless is specific, tangible, permanent, and something that cannot be taken away.

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”