“Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!”
What does it mean to “Bless the Lord”? What does it mean to “bless”? The latter is a bit easier to define than the former, but when it comes to definitions, especially of terms that relate to Scripture, I like to see how the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary (accessible online) defines it. Nearly all of the explanations given there for “bless” and “blessed” include examples of their use from the Bible (Genesis:2:3; 28:3; Deuteronomy:15:4; 33:11; Psalm:103:1; Jeremiah:4:2; Luke:9:16; Revelation:14:13).
Many of the other terms found in the Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language also feature examples from God’s Word. I remember the first time I used this dictionary. I wanted to get a better understanding of the word “blasphemy.” My thinking was that it simply meant using the Lord’s name in vain. That’s an example of blaspheming, but it misses a main explanation of the word cited by Webster: “Blasphemy is an injury offered to God, by denying that which is due and belonging to him, or attributing to him that which is not agreeable to his nature.” In other words, the term also has to do with mischaracterizing God and therefore includes all the false teachings that abound about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It goes without saying that no contemporary dictionary defines words by referring to the words of God.
So what does Noah Webster’s dictionary say about “bless” or “blessed”? He begins with the definition “expressing a wish or desire of happiness,” e.g., “Isaac blessing Jacob” (Genesis:28:3). Then he adds “the desire to make happy; to make successful; to prosper in temporal concerns”; as in “we are blessed with peace and plenty.” Deuteronomy:15:18, he notes, declares “The Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thou doest” (emphasis added). Revelation:14:13 tells of those who die in the Lord being blessed for eternity. Consecration for God’s purposes is found in Genesis:2:3: “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” “Blessed” means to consecrate by prayer; to invoke a blessing upon, as in Luke:9:16: “And Jesus took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven he blessed them.” It also includes praising and glorifying God for all of the blessings we have received.
Then we come to an aspect of blessing that is mostly lost today, and that is—blessing God. I remember that for months following the Islamic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, on the US, the foremost rallying cry was “God bless America!” That was certainly something we all very much wanted. But that wish begs one critical question: why should God bless America? Even a cursory look at where America is heading spiritually should give one second thoughts about God blessing us.
Why should God bless America? The litany of offenses against the righteous God could fill the rest of this article. Anyone who balks at using the term “antichrist” to characterize our country is either a) spiritually burying his head in the sand, or b) clueless regarding the teachings of the Bible, God’s holy Word. For those who may be of that mindset, consider the issues of abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage, marijuana legalization, prayer censorship in schools, evolution, transgenderism, increasing legislations directed against biblical beliefs and practices, e.g., public preaching and evangelizing, even against public praying and witnessing, etc. Whatever is opposed to the teachings of Christ is antichrist and quite obviously cannot receive the blessings of God. Tragically instead, this country will collectively reap what it has sown. In Jeremiah:4:2 we learn that “The nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him they shall glory.” If the “in him” is missing, so is the blessing.
Yet for some, the reaping will be blessings: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians:6:7-9). Our blessings are due to our blessing God: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm:103:1). That involves a host of things, including our praise, our worship, our adoration, our submission, our obedience, our thankfulness, and our trust in Him, all of which please our Lord and Savior.
The testimony of Enoch found in Hebrews:11:5-6 incorporates pleasing God and the resulting blessing: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (emphasis added). Some believers tend to shy away from seeking God’s blessings as an overreaction to the corrupted teachings of the “prosperity preachers.” But that can be as wrong as the false teachings themselves, leading to not pleasing or blessing God by not obeying His Word. Clearly, these verses declare that we must “believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” When the “seek Him,” however, takes a back seat in favor of pursuing the reward, God is no longer being blessed. Our blessing the Lord is the antidote for a wrong emphasis on His blessings or for taking His blessings for granted. When we begin with Him—when He is our focus—we will be motivated to do things His way. That’s blessing God!
Therefore, blessing God should be our first concern as believers, and the foundation of that is revealed in the “first and great commandment”: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark:12:30). That certainly reflects the “O my soul: and all that is within me” of Psalm:103:1. And the command to “love the Lord thy God” will manifest itself in obedience to Him: “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (John:14:23-24).
Disobeying God’s Word is the antithesis of blessing God. Jesus indicated as much in His admonishment of those who claim to love Him: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke:6:46). He then added this parable as an encouragement for those who would do what He said and as a warning to those who would reject His words: “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke:6:47-49). Disobedience leaves a man foundationless and subject to great ruin.
Not doing what God says quite obviously does not bless Him, but what about not being thankful for what He has done for us and continues to do for us? “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm:103:2), which includes all of His benefits. Yet how many of our meals have gone by, personally and with others, without blessing God for them? No big deal? Well, Jesus thought thanking His Father was important enough to set the example for us, whether feeding the thousands or having a meal with His disciples.
What should be a big deal is blessing God in thanks for what took place on Calvary’s hill, Golgotha, where they crucified our Lord and Savior. “And He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke:22:19-20). The most important act in the history of mankind has been, in many churches, relegated to a once-in-a-while add-on event with the elements served up in businesslike efficiency in order to expedite the experience. When that takes place as little more than a custom, it’s wrong. But even given the misuses of communion, we can be grateful that that’s not the only time the overwhelming sacrifice of Jesus is remembered. Even so, it’s terribly grievous that thanking God for His “unspeakable gift [indescribable, far beyond being expressed in words]” (2 Corinthians:9:15) seems to have gone awry. But that’s not new for God’s people.
In Psalm 95, which contains wonderful words of blessing God, we nevertheless find God warning His people not to slip away from Him as their fathers did, losing sight of His ways, falling into temptation, and consequently rebelling against Him.
“O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Psalm 95).
Those are glorious words followed by a serious warning. It’s comparable to the admonishment Jesus gave to the church at Ephesus in Revelation:2:4-5. Those believers, the bride of Christ, had “left their first love.” The consequence would be losing the light of God’s words and turning away from His truth.
Psalm 96, on the other hand, rights the wrong of failing to bless God as it looks forward to Christ’s Second Coming. “O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the Lord made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (Psalm 96).
Lastly, blessing God by extoling His attributes must be a major part of our witnessing. As the psalmist wrote, “Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day” (Psalm:96:2). “The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen” (Psalm:98:2). This reveals the purpose of blessing. Too frequently we hear the words “God bless you” (even shortened to “God bless”) reduced to a contentless gesture following a sneeze or the closing of correspondence. God does indeed bless, as we noted, but it would serve us all better in this day of overwhelming self-preoccupation if we would give priority to blessing God.