eikon - blessing and cursing
What a blessing to be with you today! Let’s turn to Gen 12 and read our passage:
Genesis 12:1–3 || 1 The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. [CSB]
There are at least 4 pieces of this promise:
- I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great
- You will be a blessing
- I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you
- Through you all the people of the world will be blessed
Each part of this promise to Abraham and his heirs is significant. Today we are going to look at #3 – blessing and cursing.
NOTE: Have you ever thought about how this is a blessing to Abraham? This is talking about the way that God will treat those who affect him. For Abraham, this is a residual blessing. God is going to affect the lives of those around him. Those that treat him the way God treats him will experience the same blessing of God. This shows the esteem that God has placed in Abraham.
This idea of blessing and cursing is not one that we are familiar with in American culture. To “curse” in America means what? To say a bad word, right?
We bless people when they sneeze and we bless our food. We curse when we smash our finger in the car door or use God’s name in a bad way. Sound about right?
The promise was made that God would bless those who bless Abraham and curse that who curse Abraham. Each part was recorded and then passed along to future generations. All the descendants of Abraham can claim these promises.
Abraham has a son named Isaac. Isaac has two sons, Esau (the oldest) and Jacob. Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loves Jacob. As Isaac nears the end of his days he calls his son in so he can pass along a blessing. Remember, we are made in God’s image to bless others.
Long story short, Jacob tricks dad and get the blessing. Here is the blessing he is given:
Genesis 27:28–29 || 28 “From the dew of heaven and the richness of the earth, may God always give you abundant harvests of grain and bountiful new wine. 29 May many nations become your servants, and may they bow down to you. May you be the master over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. All who curse you will be cursed, and all who bless you will be blessed.” [NLT]
The first part of the blessing is for abundant provision. The second part of the blessing is about power and position. These are often the things that we think of when we talk about inheritance: power and possessions. But that last sentence, that is a bigger inheritance! That is the inheritance that God promised to Abraham being passed down to his grandson.
I have no idea why Isaac chose the 3rd part of the four fold blessing to pass along to his son, but that what the part he quoted.
What do curses look like?
Last week we looked at a specific prayer that God told Aaron to pray over the Israelites to pronounce God’s blessing on them. Hopefully after the last two weeks you have a pretty good idea of what blessings look like- and it is NOT necessarily health or stuff. The blessings from Yahweh include God’s protection, God’s presence and God’s peace.
Perhaps one way we can best understand the cursing, since it is not just foul words, would be to reverse the blessings. They are the anti-blessings:
- Lack of protection or destruction
- God’s absence or abandonment
- Lack of peace or conflict
These are not just words; these are statements of condition. Those that are cursed by God will experience conflict, isolation from God and destruction. The first time we understand the cursing of God in such a way is back in the garden when God cursed the serpent:
Genesis 3:14–15 || 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. 15 I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. [CSB]
Can you see the themes played out?
Now this promise of blessing and cursing is a very literal thing. We see it played out in the story of Balaam and Balak – Numbers 22-24. As the Israelites are just about to marching into the promised land, their enemies are afraid.
Balak is a bad guy who wants to wipe out Israel. He was afraid of Israel because there were a lot of them and they were victorious in battle, so he finds a prophet-for-hire named Balaam and offers to reward him handsomely if he will curse the Israelites:
Numbers 22:4–6 || 4 So the Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will devour everything around us like an ox eats up the green plants in the field.” Since Balak son of Zippor was Moab’s king at that time, 5 he sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the Euphrates in the land of his people. Balak said to him: “Look, a people has come out of Egypt; they cover the surface of the land and are living right across from me. 6 Please come and put a curse on these people for me because they are more powerful than I am. I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed.” [CSB]
Three times Balak pressures Balaam to curse Israel, and all 3 times Balaam blesses them. Because God had blessed Israel, and that blessing could not be undone.
In his final blessing on Israel, Balaam says this:
Numbers 24:1–9 || 1 Since Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go to seek omens as on previous occasions, but turned toward the wilderness. 2 When Balaam looked up and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came on him, 3 and he proclaimed his poem: The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eyes are opened, 4 the oracle of one who hears the sayings of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls into a trance with his eyes uncovered: 5 How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel. 6 They stretch out like river valleys, like gardens beside a stream, like aloes the Lord has planted, like cedars beside the water. 7 Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by abundant water. His king will be greater than Agag, and his kingdom will be exalted. 8 God brought him out of Egypt; he is like the horns of a wild ox for them. He will feed on enemy nations and gnaw their bones; he will strike them with his arrows. 9 He crouches, he lies down like a lion or a lioness—who dares to rouse him? Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed. [CSB]
Sound familiar? Balaam could not curse Israel because God had blessed them. BUT, since Balak had in his heart to curse them, Balaam then pronounces a curse on Balak.
How does this apply to Christians?
This was a great promise for Israel, the descendants of Abraham. Does this promise apply to you and me? I think so. As followers of Jesus we have become the children of Abraham and heirs to the promise.
Galatians 3:29 || 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. [CSB]
I believe these same promises of blessings and cursing apply to us as heirs as well.
But what does that look like for us? I think it might be best to begin by reviewing what this promise does NOT say because it will highlight some misconceptions.
What this promise does NOT say:
- It does not say that God will curse those we curse
- It does not say that we should curse others
- It does not say that we should bless only those who bless us
When understanding the Bible, we must make sure that we keep the context of the entire Bible in view as much as is possible. We already learned that we are called to bless others. We are called to be a blessing to others. Then we read about Balaam cursing Balak and we could believe that we have the right to curse also.
Jesus teaches us a better way.
We would always be wise, as Christians (little Christs) to look at the teachings and actions of Christ when we want to understand how we ought to live.
Luke 6:27–36 || 27 “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. 31 Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. [CSB]
Bless those that curse you? Why? Because we are to reflect God. IF we do not understand the concept that we are meant to be iconic, to reflect God to the word around us, then this passage may confuse us.
True or False: some people are easier to bless than others? Why?
Some people are easy to bless, right? Others are, well, not so easy. Some seem almost impossible to bless. The example you and I have is God. Who, while we were his enemies, while we were children of wrath, he chose to bless us by giving his Son.
If God can bless us in our rebellion, how can we withhold blessing from others?
In a different sermon, Jesus stated the command to bless our enemies a different way:
Matthew 5:43–48 || 43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. [CSB]
When we listed all the ways to bless others, praying was one of them. This passage puts those things very close together. Bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you. Why? To be like our Father in heaven – to reflect Him on this earth.
Upside down living
Like many of Jesus’ teachings, the concept of blessing those that curse us turns our world upside down. It is NOT a cultural norm. It is NOT “fair”. We want revenge. We demand justice when we are wronged. If the golden rule is “do to others what you want them to do to you”, then we want them to get what they have been giving! You reap what you sew, right?
God’s economy is different.
You and I are not called to live up to the social norms. We are called to live up to the image we are created in. We are called to reflect God, not Hollywood.
Romans 12:17–21 || Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. [CSB]
Verse 20 is a direct quote from the OT:
Proverbs 25:21–22 || If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22 for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. [CSB]
I used to love this set of verses as a teen. We used to call this, “killing them with kindness”. When people were mean we would go out of our way to be nice to them, and it would make them so mad! I found a sort of twisted satisfaction in that. Yet, that is what this passage says to do!
I think my motives were probably a little off, but I think God knows how we are. He is telling us that the greatest revenge we can give them is to show them how shallow their actions compared to the depth of love God has. Show them light and their darkness seems darker, which, Lord willing, will make them want the light.
Jesus is the better blesser
Our ultimate example, of course, is Jesus. As Jesus hung on the cross, as he bled out from the beating he took, and he was spit upon and mocked by those that hung him on the cross – the very descendants of Abraham, what was his response?
- He could have called down fire from heaven. He did not.
- He could have cursed them for their actions. He did not.
Luke 23:34 || 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his clothes and cast lots. [CSB]
You and I are meant to reflect Jesus. We are meant to reflect God, in whose image we are created. That means having the same love and compassion for people that Jesus had.
James 3:9–10 || 9 With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. [CSB]
Do you see how out of place it is for us to curse others and bless God?
We are called to GIVE BLESSINGS.
Not called to give curses, not called to revoke blessings, not called to withhold blessings.
We are CALLED to give blessings
1 Peter 3:8–9 || 8 Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, 9 not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing. [CSB]
We are called out by God to do the work of blessing. When we think of calling, we often think of grandiose images of leaving all that we have to do work in some remote area of the jungle where the mosquitoes are big enough to carry off young children.
While God may move us around geographically, we all have the same calling. While we each have different gifts, we have the same calling.
Part of that calling is the magnificent gift of blessing others – especially those that choose not to bless us!
Do you have people who are hostile or antagonistic towards you? Are there people who have hurt you and who make your stomach turn when you think of them?
PRAY. Ask God to teach you to bless the way HE blesses. Ask him to use you to reflect his goodness and mercy on those that do not deserve it and are not easy. The more we learn to bless others, especially those that are hard to bless, the more we reflect God and the more He blesses us.