Holman Bible Dictionary
Blessing and Cursing
The English word “bless” is often used to translate barak . The word means “to kneel” (2 Chronicles 6:13; Psalm 95:6 ) and thus “to bless” (Genesis 27:33; Exodus 18:10; Deuteronomy 28:4 ). Old Testament individuals might bless God (Genesis 9:26; Ezekiel 18:10; Ruth 4:14; Psalm 68:19 ). God also blesses men and women (Genesis 12:23; Numbers 23:20; Psalm 109:28; Isaiah 61:9 ). Persons might also bless one another (Genesis 27:33; Deuteronomy 7:14; 1 Samuel 25:33 ), or they might bless things (Deuteronomy 28:4; 1 Samuel 25:33; Proverbs 5:18 ). Normally, however, when used as a verb, the word is in the passive voice (“be blessed”), as though to suggest that persons do not have in themselves the power to bless.
Words of blessing also are used as a salutation or greeting, with an invocation of blessing as a stronger greeting than “peace” (shalom , Genesis 48:20 ). As such it may be used in meeting (Genesis 47:7 ), departing (Genesis 24:60 ), by messengers (1 Samuel 25:14 ), in gratitude (Job 31:20 ), as a morning salutation (Proverbs 27:14 ), congratulations for prosperity (Genesis 12:3 ), in homage (2 Samuel 14:22 ), and in friendliness (2 Samuel 21:3 ).
In the New Testament, the word “bless” often translates makarios , meaning “blessed, fortunate, happy.” The special characteristic of New Testament uses of “bless” and related words is close relationship to the religious joy people experience from being certain of salvation and thus of membership in the kingdom of God. “Bless” occurs in the New Testament only ten times, in contrast to 122Old Testament occurrences. The New Testament never uses “blesses” and uses “blessing” only 17 times. It is reasonable to conclude that the primary use of the blessing concept in the New Testament is that of “blessed” as opposed to the verbal emphasis on “bless.”
“Blessed” appears frequently in the New Testament (88). Especially is “blessed” well known for Jesus' references to the word in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-11 ) and His congratulations to those who respond positively to the kingdom of God (Matthew 23:39; Matthew 24:46; Mark 11:9; Luke 10:23; Luke 14:15 ). In contrast to frequent usage in the first three Gospels (52 occurrences) the Gospel of John uses the word “blessed” in only three places (John 12:13; John 13:17; John 20:29 ).
Elsewhere, Pauline literature uses the word: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7 ); “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3 ). John often used the word in Revelation: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein for the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:3 ); “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13; cf. Revelation 16:15; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:7 ,Revelation 22:7,22:14 ).
“Cursing” is less frequently used in the Bible (199) than is “blessing” (516). The concept is almost exclusively Old Testament, which speaks of “curse” (89), “cursed” (65), “curses” (18), and “cursing” (8). The New Testament uses “curse” only 8 times, “cursed” in 9 places, “curses” in a single verse, and “cursing” in one reference. Of the 199 biblical uses of the words, 180 are in the Old Testament and only 19 in the New Testament.
An early word for “curse” in the Old Testament is arar and is used primarily in poetic and legal sections of the Old Testament. The word appears n the call of Abraham, “and curse him that curseth thee” ( Genesis 12:3 ). An extended curse formula appears in Deuteronomy, where blessing and cursing are contrasted (Deuteronomy 27:15-26; cf. Deuteronomy 28:16-19 ). Later the same word refers to cursing the priests: “If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart” (Malachi 2:2 ).
Another word used for “curse” in the Old Testament (qalal ) has less severe implications, although it probably came to be used as a synonym for the harsher term (arar ). The basic meaning of the word is light, insignificant, or trifling. It described persons lightly esteemed (2 Samuel 6:22 ) and also meant “to make contemptible”; hence, to curse persons (Genesis 12:3; Exodus 21:17 ). The word also means to treat with contempt (2 Samuel 19:44; Isaiah 23:9 ) or to dishonor (Isaiah 8:21 ).
The unique concept of the spoken word, especially in the context of worship or other formal settings, is important for understanding the significance of both cursing and blessing. According to Old Testament thought patterns, the formally spoken word had both an independent existence and the power of its own fulfillment. The word once spoken assumed a history of its own, almost a personality of itself. The word also had the power of its own fulfillment. Both of these concepts are fundamental to understanding Isaiah's emphasis on God's Word: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it” (Isaiah 55:10-11; cf. Jeremiah 1:12 ). The Word of God exists as a reality and has within itself the power of its own fulfillment. Formal words of blessing or cursing also had the same power of self-fulfillment. When Isaac mistakenly blessed Jacob rather than Esau, he could not recall the blessing, for it existed in history (Genesis 27:18-41 ); it had acquired an identity of its own. Blessing and cursing released suprahuman powers which could bring to pass the content of the curse or the blessing.
Both blessing and cursing assumed unique power in Israel's life as they were taken into the context of worship. The Lord was the source of all blessing, and people sought to express gratitude for that blessing; indeed, to pray for the continuation of such blessing: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2 ). Central to the covenant renewal ceremony was the blessing (Deuteronomy 28:3-6 ). Aaron's benediction both proclaims and petitions the Lord's blessing: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6:24-26 ).
Roy L. Honeycutt
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Blessing and Cursing'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/b/blessing-and-cursing.html. 1991.