What blessings does God need?
Psalm 135:21 begins, “Blessed is the LORD from Zion.” The obvious question is, does God really need to be blessed by us? What are we actually doing when we bless God? I understand what it means to bless another person. It usually means either that I am bestowing gifts upon them or that I am offering a prayer for their success and well-being. When we speak of blessing someone, we mean that we have something to offer them that will benefit them. Colloquially, someone is blessed with wealth or with a particular talent.
When Isaac blessed his sons, Jacob and Esau, for example, he bestowed gifts upon them both in the realm of materialism as well as in the spiritual arena. In this context, the word blessing indicates material wealth, spiritual gifts, or loftiness of status and power.
The phrase “And He will bless your bread and your water” (Exodus 23:25) likewise refers to the granting of something beneficial by the blesser to the one being blessed.
So, what does it mean to bless God? Are we to understand that when we bless God, we are bestowing something upon Him? The implication that there is some good that we could give God makes no sense. God is complete and perfect in every way. To say that we could bestow anything upon Him implies that there is some way in which He could be improved. Furthermore, as God’s creations, we cannot possibly possess anything to give God that does not come from Him to begin with. Obviously, when we talk about blessing God, we mean something other than the conventional use of the term.
Blessing = Abundance
The Hebrew word for blessing is beracha. The first time that this word – or its verb root – appears in the Torah is on the fifth day of creation:
[God] blessed them [the fish] saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas.’ – Genesis 1:22
God told the fish that there would be many of them. Beracha, “blessing,” refers to abundance. God blessed the fish by saying, “May there be a lot of you.” More broadly, blessing is the actualization of hidden potential for good. For example, two fish, or two people, may have the potential to reproduce. This is not a blessing. The blessing is the realization of this potential when a child is actually produced.
When we bless God, we are not bestowing anything on God. We are attempting to draw out the hidden potential for more Godliness in the world. In Judaism, every blessing, whether it is over food, before the performance of a commandment, or as part of the prayer liturgy, begins with the words Blessed are You, Lord. When we say Blessed are You, Lord…, we are saying to God, “Let there be more of You revealed in this world.”
Blessed from Zion
Notice that our verse states that God will be blessed from Zion and that He dwells in Jerusalem. What does it mean for God to be blessed from Zion?
Interestingly, 7 chapters earlier in the book of Psalms there is a parallel verse in which God is the one doing the blessing:
May the Lord bless you from Zion; and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. – Psalm 128:5
There are many names for Jerusalem in the Bible. Zion and Jerusalem are the two most common among them. In these two verses, we see that the blessing is from Zion. The prosperity that follows is in Jerusalem. What is the difference between these names?
Zion vs. Jerusalem
Here is another well-known verse that uses both names.
For from Zion will come forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. – Isaiah 2:3
While it is true that both Zion and Jerusalem are names for the same city, we can see from these verses that there is a subtle difference in implication when these names are used together.
In the verse we just cited from Isaiah 2, we see that Torah emerges from Zion, whereas the word of the Lord comes from Jerusalem. What is the difference between these two ways of describing God’s word? Isn’t Torah just another name for the word of God?
Torah refers specifically to God’s law. The word Torah literally means “instruction” and is used by the Bible itself in the context of the commandments given to Israel.
Moses commanded the law – Torah – for us, a heritage of the congregation of Jacob. – Deuteronomy 33:4
I would like to suggest that the name Zion refers to the intimate relationship between God and the people of Israel as expressed by the observance of the Torah, God’s law for Israel. The Torah does not bind the nations of the world. It is the heritage of the congregation of Israel. The name Jerusalem, when used in tandem with Zion, refers to the wider universal society that embraces faith in the God of Israel.
Now we can understand the verse in Isaiah. From Zion will come forth Torah; as a result of Israel fulfilling their covenantal obligations to God through the commandments, the word of the Lord, the message of faith for all of humanity, will emerge from Jerusalem.
Blessing God – from Zion to the world
This difference between Zion and Jerusalem makes sense in our verse here in Psalms when we consider the verses leading up to it. Here is our verse in context.
House of Israel, bless the Lord; house of Aaron, bless the Lord. House of Levi, bless the Lord; fearers of the Lord, bless the Lord. Blessed be the Lord from Zion, He who dwells in Jerusalem. Halleluyah. – Psalm 135:19-21
Blessed be the Lord means that there will be an increase in awareness of God. This increase in faith and knowledge of God will emerge from Zion, from the spiritual leadership of Israel as well as those who are deemed “fearers of the Lord”, i.e., the spiritual elite from among the nations as well. The result of that blessing, the increase in faith in and awareness of God, will be that God will dwell in Jerusalem. In other words, once the leaders of the Jewish people and those who fear the Lord spread faith and awareness of God, God will be more present and seen amidst the universal community of faith in the God of Israel.
The ultimate purpose of the restoration of Zion and Jerusalem is to bring about a revolution in awareness of God. This revolution will be jointly led by the spiritual elite of the nation of Israel and those who fear the Lord from among the nations.
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