What does it mean to give a blessing? What actions and attitudes combine to make this biblical tool so uniquely effective?
The blessing as described in Scripture always included five elements:
- Meaningful and appropriate touch
- A spoken message
- Attaching high value to the one being blessed
- Picturing a special future for him or her
- An active commitment to fulfill the blessing
Let’s take a quick look at each of these.
Meaningful touch was an essential element in bestowing the blessing in Old Testament homes. So it was with Isaac when he went to bless his son. We read in Genesis 27:26 that Isaac said, “Come near now and kiss me, my son.” This incident was not an isolated one. Each time the blessing was given in the Scriptures, a meaningful touch provided a caring background to the words that would be spoken. Kissing, hugging or the laying on of hands were all a part of bestowing the blessing.
Meaningful touch has many beneficial effects. The act of touch is key in communicating warmth, personal acceptance, affirmation, even physical health. For any person who wishes to bless a child, touch is an integral part of that blessing.
A Spoken Message
The second element of the blessing involves a spoken message — one that is actually put into words. In many homes today such words of love and acceptance are seldom received. Parents in these homes assume that simply being present communicates the blessing — a tragic misconception. A blessing fulfills its purpose only when it is actually verbalized — spoken in person, written down or preferably both.
For a child in search of the blessing, silence communicates mostly confusion. Children who are left to fill in the blanks when it comes to what their parents think about them will often fail the test when it comes to feeling valuable and secure. Spoken or written words at least give the child an indication that he or she is worthy of some attention. I learned this lesson on the football field.
When I began playing football in high school, one particular coach thought I was filled with raw talent (emphasis on raw!). He was constantly chewing me out, and he even took extra time after practice to point out mistakes I was making.
After I missed an important block in practice one day (a frequent occurrence), this coach stood one inch from my face mask and chewed me out six ways from Sunday. When he finally finished, he had me go over to the sidelines with the other players who were not a part of the scrimmage.
Standing next to me was a third-string player who rarely got into the game. I can remember leaning over to him and saying, “Boy, I wish he would get off my case.”
“Don’t say that,” my teammate replied. “At least he’s talking to you. If he ever stops talking to you, that means he’s given up on you.”
Many adults we see in counseling interpret their parents’ silence in exactly that same way. They feel as though they were third-string children to their parents. Their parents may have provided a roof over their heads (or even a Porsche to drive), but without actual words of blessing, they were left unsure of how much they were valued and accepted.
Abraham spoke his blessing to his son Isaac. Isaac spoke a blessing to his son Jacob. Jacob gave a verbal blessing to each of his twelve sons and to two of his grandchildren. When God blessed us with the gift of his Son, it was his Word that “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God has always been a God of words.
“But I don’t yell at my children or cut them down like some parents,” some may say. Unfortunately, the lack of negative words will not necessarily translate into a verbal blessing.
To see the blessing bloom and grow in the life of a child, we need to verbalize our message. Good intentions aside, good words — spoken, written and preferably both — are necessary to communicate genuine acceptance.
Attaching High Value
Meaningful touch and a spoken (or written) message — these first two elements lead up to the content of the words themselves. To convey the blessing, the words must attach high value to the person being blessed.
In blessing Jacob (thinking it was Esau), Isaac said, “Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed. … Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you” (Gen. 27:27, 29).
That pictures a very valuable person! Not just anybody merits having nations bow down to him! And while we might think that calling a person a field would be criticizing him, that is not the case. Ablessed field was one where there was tremendous growth and life and reward. Just ask a farm kid what a record crop, all ready to harvest, means to his or her parents. That’s the picture Isaac gives his son.
As you may have noticed, Isaac uses a word picture (the field) to describe how valuable his son is to him. Word pictures are a powerful way of communicating acceptance. In the Old Testament they were a key to communicating to a child a message of high value — the third element of the family blessing.
Picturing a Special Future
A fourth element of the blessing is the way it pictures a special future for the person being blessed. Isaac said to his son Jacob, “May God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth. … Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you” (Gen. 27:28–29).
Even today, Jewish homes are noted for picturing a special future for their children. One story I heard illustrates this activity very well.
Sidel, a young Jewish mother, was proudly walking down the street, pushing a stroller with her infant twins. As she rounded the corner, she saw her neighbor, Sarah. “My, what beautiful children,” Sarah cooed. “What are their names?” Pointing to each child, Sidel replied, “This is Bennie, the doctor, and Reuben, the lawyer.”
This woman believed her children had great potential and a special future before them. Isaac believed the same about his son and communicated that in his blessing — as we should communicate to those we seek to bless.
One distinction should be made between Isaac’s blessing and the act of picturing a special future for a person today. Because of Isaac’s unique position as a patriarch (God’s appointed leader and a father of the nation of Israel), his words to Jacob carried with them the weight of biblical prophecy. We today cannot predict another person’s future with such biblical accuracy. But we can help those we are blessing see a future that is full of light and opportunity. We can let them know we believe they can build an outstanding life and future with the strengths and abilities God has given them.
Our Lord himself speaks quite eloquently about our future in the Bible. In fact, he goes to great lengths to assure us of our present relationship with him and of the ocean full of blessings in store for us as his children.
We need to picture just such a special future for our children if we are serious about giving them our blessing. With this fourth element of the blessing, a child can gain a sense of security in the present and grow in confidence to serve God and others in the future.
An Active Commitment
The last element of the blessing concerns the responsibility that goes with giving the blessing. For the patriarchs, not only their words but God himself stood behind the blessing they bestowed on their children. Several times God spoke directly through the angel of the Lord to the patriarchs confirming his active commitment to their family line.
Parents today, in particular, need to rely on the Lord to give them the strength and staying power to confirm their children’s blessing by expressing such an active commitment. They, too, have God’s Word through the Scriptures as a guide, plus the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Why is active commitment so important when it comes to bestowing the blessing? Words alone cannot communicate the blessing; they need to be backed with a willingness to do everything possible to help the one blessed be successful. We can tell a child, “You have the talent to be a very good pianist.” But if we neglect to provide a piano for that child to practice on, our lack of commitment has undermined our message.
When it comes to spending time together or helping develop a certain skill, some children hear, “Wait until the weekend.” Then it becomes, “Wait until another weekend” so many times that they no longer believe the words of blessing.
The fifth element of the blessing, an active commitment, is crucial to communicating the blessing in our homes.
At Home with the Family Blessing
That’s a brief overview of the five elements of the blessing that can become a life-changing part of how we do family. Provide the five basic ingredients of the blessing — meaningful touch, a spoken (or written) message, attaching high value to the one being blessed, picturing a special future for him or her, and confirming the blessing by an active commitment — and personal acceptance can thrive in a home.