In our Psalms class we came upon this call from David to bless Jehovah, a wake-up call directed first to himself as he sat complacent and satisfied with his ho-hum worship, and then later to the people who were following their king’s lead. The question quite naturally arose then, how can a man bless God? So we did a little research.
Your first thought might be that there are two distinct words for “bless”—one for God blessing men and one for men blessing God. Not true. Both are the same Hebrew word. It doesn’t take a Hebrew scholar to look at the anglicized word barak in several different verses and see that it is indeed the same word.
Here is something else we discovered with but a small amount of time searching the scriptures: “bless” usually does not involve physical things. We tend to think that way in our all too materialistic culture. When asked to count our blessings, what do we list? When we ask God to bless us, what do we expect? Yet in the scriptures, I found that well over half the times the word “bless” was used it involved nothing more than what we might call “well wishes,” wanting good to happen to the other person. Now think about the opposite—if someone curses a person, what is it exactly that he wants? He wants evil to befall that person. We understand that perfectly fine; the problem comes when we think a blessing involves a tangible gift. Of course, we cannot do that for God, but we can give God other “blessings.”
We checked out over 300 verses using the word “bless,” many of which involved men blessing God. It helped enormously when we saw the various ways that word is translated in the KJV. In fact, some of these things completely lost there punch in the newer versions. Let that be a lesson to you not to completely ignore those older versions. They lasted a long time for a good reason.
Five times the word is translated “salute.” In the newer versions that word is translated “greet.” There is a world of difference between saluting someone and simply saying hello. Salutations involve respect. Especially in 1 Sam 25:14 the difference between David’s men “saluting” Nabal and just greeting him color how we view Nabal’s reaction—it was completely out of line if he had been saluted.
One time the word is translated “congratulate” (1 Chron 18:10). When do you usually congratulate someone? When he has received an accolade or a well-deserved award. This word involves honor.
One time the word barak is translated “thanks.” This word denotes gratitude and appreciation.
Three times it is translated “kneel” or some variation of it. That word signifies humility and submission.
All of these are other English words used to translate the word “bless” found in Psalm 103:1, Bless God, O my soul. So how do we as mere mortal men bless an Eternal and Almighty God? We show respect, we give Him honor, we appreciate the things He has done for us, and with humility we submit our lives to Him.
Can a disobedient person bless God? Read that last paragraph again. No, he cannot. Can a self-righteous person bless God? No, not a chance in the world. Can a half-hearted Christian, who somehow thinks there is a minimum he can do to get by bless God? None of those things show honor, respect, gratitude, and humility.
Be careful before you read Psalm 103. It demands a whole lot more than most people want to give.
Then David said to all the assembly, “Bless the LORD your God.” And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and paid homage to the LORD and to the king, 1 Chron 29:20.