Sunday, May 13, 2007

Blessings as Effectual Commands?

I tried to demonstrate, in a very autobiographical way, in my series of posts on infant baptism, my belief that children of believers are in a better position than they ever have been before because of the nature of the New Covenant. In the next couple of weeks, I’d like to begin outlining a biblical theology of the family. Since Barry Danylak has done such an excellent job of tracing some of the important aspects of the Old Testament’s teaching on the family, I’ll be using his work as a springboard for my own.

In his paper, Barry points out that there is a very real relationship in Genesis between the blessings of God and the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply.” Barry states, “This relationship is explicitly established very early....” In fact, he notes that the blessing/command relationship holds true for all of creation, not just for man, and that the blessing/command relationship is reestablished in God’s words to Noah after God wipes the slate clean.

It is not Barry’s purpose in his short paper to discuss the nature of the relationship between the command and the blessing, and it is beyond the purpose of this post to try to demonstrate this, but I wonder if the relationship can not be defined as a means to an end. That is, it could be that God blessed all of creation in general and man in particular by commanding them to “be fruitful and multiply.” In this sense, we might see a correlation between the patriarchal blessings of Genesis (think Isaac blessing Jacob or Jacob blessing his twelve sons) and God the Father’s blessing his newly created son, Adam.

I’ve never done a study on the patriarchal (not to mention other Ancient Near Eastern) blessing formulas, but I would not be surprised if we didn’t find a similar pattern between them and what is going on with God’s command to Adam to be fruitful and multiply. There’s likely been a multitude of doctoral dissertations on this and if anyone is familiar with any of them and can point me to their findings, I’d appreciate it.

Anyway, if we had a year to be tucked away in a library, and we found that the means/end relationship was substantiated, I think we could go a long way to creating a biblical theology of the family from those findings. Part of what we might find might be that the blessing spoken of is not a powerless well wishing, but is an effectual command. What I’m thinking of is something like a prophetic pronouncement that actually brings about the end stated.

When seen this way, we moderns could have a better understanding of why Isaac could not bless Esau after he had already blessed Jacob. The effectual prophetic nature of the blessing had already gone forth and his words and the power that went with them could not be annulled. Again, it could be that the patriarchs were following the God-given pattern of the Heavenly Father blessing his newly created son Adam, not at the time of God’s death (as seems to be the case with many patriarchal blessings, okay, so I don’t have this all worked out) but at the time of the joining the husband and wife together to become one flesh.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoy remembering and pondering the blessing that my father pronounced over me and my new wife at our wedding. In fact, I do believe there was a power that went forth in the words my father spoke over us as he blessed us. They really weren’t just wishes, but they were blessings. In fact, much of the blessing that he spoke was in the form of commands, “hold the goods of this world lightly!” If I can find this blessing, I’ll post it, as it is powerful.

In a lesser sense, I think we would also see something similar taking place in the naming formulas in the Old Testament. Jacob was a deceiver, Nabal was a fool, Moses would be the instrument to draw a people out, etc. This could also help explain the importance of Adam naming Eve, for the greater (the one in authority) blesses and names the lesser (the one under authority).

Well, as it’s getting late, and this is likely the start of a long discussion on a biblical theology of family, I’ll sign off. I’m going to file all these under the category called “Biblical Theology - Family.” Hopefully some day I’ll be able to come back to this series and piece it all back together to bring some coherence to it. Until then, sorry, you’re getting it in the form of a bunch of random thoughts.

Above: Leslie (postpartum three times over!) in front of the Jekyll Island Club. Happy Mother’s Day to Leslie, my mom, and Grandma Taylor! You have been blessed by God.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
Proverbs 31:28 ESV

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