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The Promised Blessings and Their Fulfillment in God’s Perfect Plan

Introduction

I have become a cynic when it comes to promises received in the mail. Almost daily, some bulk mailing assures me I am the “lucky winner of one of several prizes.” All I need do is contact them to identify my prize. Routinely, such letters go in the trash without my even opening them. I know that no matter how good their promises sound, they simply are not true.

Some preachers and teachers promise God’s blessings as confidently as the mail promises a free gift. Such men say if we employ the right approach, (their approach, usually for a donation), success is assured. One only needs enough faith to be confident God hears and answers our prayers as we desire.

Divine blessing certainly is not well understood. Often, the Old Testament Israelite had a mistaken concept of God’s blessings. The Israelites of Jesus’ day also held a distorted view of divine blessings. This is one of the reasons Jesus’ teaching and His offer of the kingdom was rejected. Jesus simply did not fit the mold of Jewish expectations. His blessings were not the kind they wanted.

So it is today. Few understand the blessings of God as they should. The same errors which plagued the Israelites and Christians of old are popular in evangelical Christianity today. If we would understand what in the world God is doing in these days, we must understand what the Bible teaches about divine blessing. God’s plan is purposed to bring glory to Himself and blessing to us. If we do not understand God’s temporal blessings, and His eternal blessings, we will not understand the plan of God.

As we come to the study of divine blessing in our series, we begin by considering God’s promised blessings in the Old Testament. Next we will look at our Lord’s teaching on blessing before turning to the rest of the New Testament to study divine blessing.

The Importance of
Blessings in God’s Perfect Plan

The primary goal of God’s perfect plan is to demonstrate the glory of God. A secondary goal is to accomplish the good of those who love God: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The ultimate good is that which manifests God’s glory. For the Christian, “good” includes the blessing of all those who are the called in Jesus Christ. The promised blessings of the Bible are the good which God has purposed and promised. The Christian life should be lived out in the light of the superiority of God’s promised blessings in comparison to the “blessings” an ungodly world holds out to us (Hebrews 11:24-26). As we study the promised blessings of God, my hope is that the present pleasures of this life will fade in the light of the glory awaiting us.

Blessings in the Old Testament

When Adam and Eve disobeyed the command of God and sinned in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the human race. Along with sin came the curse. Eve was cursed with pain in child-bearing and with the dominion of her husband over her. Adam was cursed with hard labor, providing for his family by the sweat of his brow. Both were cursed with death by being banned from the Garden and the tree of life.

The blessing of God directly relates to two matters: (1) the overcoming of God’s curse, and (2) the cursing of Satan which promises his condemnation and destruction. The Abrahamic covenant takes up the promise of blessing:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

God promised to bless Abraham and his offspring. He also promised Abraham that he would become a blessing to all who would bless him. What an amazing promise--a promise which will surely be fulfilled! But just what has God promised to do for Abraham? How will Abraham be blessed, and how will he become a blessing to others? By tracing the fulfillment of this promise through the Scriptures we will better understand God’s blessings. We shall see what they are, what they are not, and when they will be fulfilled.

God’s promise to Abraham included a “land” and a “seed.” Abraham’s seed was to begin with a son. This child was not merely an adopted “heir,” but Abraham’s own son (Genesis 15:1-6). He was not only to be the son of Abraham but of Sarah as well (Genesis 17:15-21). The first recorded promise of Abraham’s son was made when Abraham was seventy-five years old (Genesis 12:4).98 Yet the child was not born to Abraham and Sarah until he was one-hundred years old (Genesis 21:5). Abraham had a twenty-five year wait for the blessing of a son.

God’s promise to Abraham was not merely the promise of a son. He also promised to make him a “great nation” (Genesis 12:2; 15:5; 17:5-6). The son was just the beginning. Abraham was one-hundred and sixty years old when Jacob and Esau were born. The “great nation” was still one seed, Jacob. It was not in Abraham’s lifetime that the promise of a great nation was fulfilled.

God also promised Abraham a great land that his “seed” would possess. This was the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:5-7; 13:14-15) whose boundaries were more fully defined in Genesis 15:18-21. At the time of Sarah’s death, the land of Canaan was possessed by the Canaanites (Genesis 12:6) and Abraham did not own any part of the promised land. Abraham had to buy a small parcel of ground for a burial site for his family (Genesis 23:1-20). In his lifetime, Abraham would not possess the land of Canaan.

God clarified the promise of the land in Genesis 15:

And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete (Genesis 15:13-16).

From later history, we know that because of Joseph’s ill-treatment by his brothers, he was enslaved in Egypt. As a result, Jacob and his family moved to Egypt where they became a great nation. The land of Canaan was not to be possessed until Abraham’s offspring had been oppressed and enslaved for four hundred years. Nearly six hundred years passed from the promise of possessing this land to the time his “seed” actually acquired the land. God was in no hurry to fulfill His promised blessings.

God’s blessings took time to fulfill, and the process of fulfillment involved suffering and adversity. Abraham’s life had its own trials. He suffered because of his deception concerning Sarah. He suffered because of his impatience in acquiring a son through Hagar. Abraham’s life was not one of uninterrupted bliss, yet he was blessed of God in every way (Genesis 24:1).

The promise of blessing passed from Abraham to Isaac (Genesis 26:24) to Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29; 28:12-15). One would not have chosen Abraham’s life to illustrate blessing. He struggled with Esau from the womb until the day he left Canaan. He and his mother struggled with Isaac and Esau. Jacob struggled with Laban (see Genesis 31:42). Jacob saw much strife in his family and suffered much over the loss of Joseph and then Benjamin. In summing up his life before Pharaoh, Jacob gave an account not of unceasing bliss but of much affliction:

So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning” (Genesis 47:9).

Joseph, one of the Bible’s great heroes and a son of Jacob, suffered a great deal in his early life. Later Judah and his brothers suffered much over their ill-treatment of Joseph (see Genesis 37-45). The Israelites were greatly blessed in number while they sojourned in Egypt (Exodus 1:5-7). Their numerical growth concerned the Egyptians and brought about a time of great persecution and affliction. Foolishly, they sought to keep the Israelites subject to them as slaves and to keep them from leaving their land (Exodus 1:8-22).

The trials and afflictions of the Israelites did not end with their exodus from Egypt. Their journey to the promised land held many trials. These trials came from the hand of the God who had promised to bless them:

And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him (Deuteronomy 8:2-6).

God’s earthly blessings were dependent upon Israel’s obedience to His Law. If His people forsook the Law, then earthly cursings were promised:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You shall not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

God’s national blessings and cursings were conditional. If a nation repented of its sin and turned to God, its threatened judgment could be averted. If a nation turned from God, its promised blessings would be taken away:

At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10).

Many were the times in Israel’s history when God brought calamity upon His people due to their sins, yet the nation Israel never seemed to learn her lesson (see Psalm 78). At other times, Israel’s suffering was not due to her unbelief and rebellion. These were much more perplexing times as we see from the agony of this psalmist:

Thou art my King, O God; Command victories for Jacob. Through Thee we will push back our adversaries; Through Thy name we will trample down those who rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, Nor will my sword save me. But Thou hast saved us from our adversaries, And Thou hast put to shame those who hate us. In God we have boasted all day long, And we will give thanks to Thy name forever. Selah. Yet Thou hast rejected us and brought us to dishonor, And dost not go out with our armies. Thou dost cause us to turn back from the adversary; And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. Thou dost give us as sheep to be eaten, And hast scattered us among the nations. Thou dost sell Thy people cheaply, And hast not profited by their sale. Thou dost make us a reproach to our neighbors, A scoffing and a derision to those around us. Thou dost make us a byword among the nations, A laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my dishonor is before me, And my humiliation has overwhelmed me, Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger. All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten Thee, And we have not dealt falsely with Thy covenant. Our heart has not turned back, And our steps have not deviated from Thy way, Yet Thou hast crushed us in a place of jackals, And covered us with the shadow of death. If we had forgotten the name of our God, Or extended our hands to a strange god; Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart. But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. Arouse Thyself, why dost Thou sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why dost Thou hide Thy face, And forget our affliction and our oppression? For our soul has sunk down into the dust; Our body cleaves to the earth. Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness (Psalm 44:4-26).

While the Old Testament records many instances in which Israel suffered for their sins, texts like this one in Psalm 44 indicate there are times when God’s people suffer innocently, “for His sake” (see verse 22). Such suffering serves as a test of our faith and obedience as we see from Job’s experiences.99 Precisely at times like these, God’s people find their perspectives changing and discover God’s presence as their true source of blessing:

Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart! But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, As I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death; And their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men; Nor are they plagued like mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; The garment of violence covers them. Their eye bulges from fatness; The imaginations of their heart run riot. They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; They speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, And their tongue parades through the earth. Therefore his people return to this place; And waters of abundance are drunk by them. And they say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long, And chastened every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form. When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from Thee will perish; Thou hast destroyed all those who are unfaithful to Thee. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (Psalm 73:1-28).

At times like these, the Word of God becomes much more precious and meaningful:

Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Thy word (Psalm 119:67).

It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Thy statutes (Psalm 119:71).

I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me (Psalm 119:75).

If Thy law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction (Psalm 119:92).

In the Old Testament we find that while the righteous were those who believed God’s promise of blessing, they were also those who suffered innocently.100 David suffered for his sins (Psalm 32), but he also suffered innocently for the Lord’s sake (see Psalm 22). In the early days of David’s life, he was misunderstood and chided by his brothers (1 Samuel 17:20-30). After David was anointed as Israel’s future king, and Saul’s replacement, David spent his days fleeing for his life from Saul who was bent on killing him (1 Samuel 18-31).

All of the prophets of Israel were resisted, rejected, and persecuted because they spoke to men for God:

And the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).101

The prophets suffered themselves and also spoke of the Messiah to come as the One who would suffer for the sins of men (Isaiah 52:13--53:12). Somehow, in God’s perfect plan and according to God’s promises, God’s blessings would not come apart from suffering. The blessings of God are not inconsistent with suffering.

Perhaps the most puzzling passage in the Old Testament concerning God’s blessings comes from the Book of Proverbs:

It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, And He adds no sorrow to it (Proverbs 10:22).

I believe this text provides the key to understanding God’s blessings, especially their relationship to suffering and adversity. The full and final blessing of God is not accompanied with sorrow. Thus, the blessings of the Old Testament are partial and provisional. Only with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ does permanent blessing come into clear focus.

Blessings in the New Testament

When our Lord presented Himself as Israel’s Messiah, He taught a great deal about the blessings of God. His teaching was radically different from that of the Jewish religious leaders of His day. His teaching was different not as the result of a change in God’s plan, but due to the Jew’s misconceptions concerning God’s promised blessings. Judaism’s errors concerning divine blessings can be summed up in these statements.

(1) The Jews thought of God’s blessings primarily in terms of the here and now, while God’s Word speaks of the fulfillment of His promised blessings in terms of the future.

(2) The Jews thought of God’s blessings in primarily physical and material terms and not in spiritual terms.

(3) The Jews thought of God’s blessings in terms of material prosperity and His cursings in terms of material adversity and physical affliction. Since the Mosaic covenant spelled out God’s blessings and cursings in this way in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30, this is not difficult to understand.

(4) The Jews of Jesus’ day thought of God’s blessings not in terms of grace but in terms of works.

(5) The Jews of our Lord’s time believed suffering was incompatible with God’s blessings. When Jesus began to teach His disciples concerning His coming rejection, suffering, and death in Jerusalem, even His disciples reacted. Peter rebuked our Lord for speaking of His own suffering (see Matthew 16:21-22).

(6) The Jews concluded those who prospered were pious (spiritual, righteous), while those who suffered were sinners.

(7) The majority of the Jews in Jesus’ day concluded that Jesus could not be the promised Messiah because He failed to meet their expectations and desires.

A review of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God and about the blessings of God explains why His teaching was found unacceptable by the Jews. One can imagine how shocked men were to hear Jesus teach about God’s blessing and cursing precisely opposite from their own view:

And turning His gaze on His disciples, He began to say, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets. But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” Luke 6:20-28).

Jesus turned the teaching of the Jews upside-down. He called those “blessed” whom the Jews regarded as accursed. Jesus called “blessed” those who were poor, hungry, and sorrowful. The accursed were those who were rich, well-fed, and happy. All of this made no sense to the Jews.

The adversity of those whom Jesus called “blessed” made them discontent with this world, causing them to look ahead to the promised blessings of the kingdom of God. Paul later put it this way:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE,” we also believe, therefore also we speak; knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).

To those who equated wealth and ease with piety and the blessing of God, the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) was shocking and disturbing. Death turned earthly, external appearances upside-down. The rich man spent eternity in hell while Lazarus spent eternity enjoying the blessings God promised in Abraham.

Jesus’ teaching concerning His own suffering and death took His disciples by surprise:

From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:21-27).

How could it be that the blessed Son of God could suffer? Peter rejected the thought out of hand. But Peter was wrong for supposing that God’s blessings were incompatible with suffering. Our Lord’s suffering and sacrificial death were God’s means of blessing us:

“It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ “For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:25-26).

For what does the Scripture say? “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT” (Romans 4:3-8).

It is in Christ, the “seed” of Abraham, that we are blessed. It is by “blessing” Him that we enjoy God’s blessings, rather than the curse of sin. Christ is the source of all our blessings; indeed, He is the blessing:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:3-14).

Peter, who once rejected the idea of suffering, later has much to say about suffering in his epistles. Just as our Lord suffered because of His identification with sinful men, so God has purposed that we who trust in Him should suffer because of our identification with Him. As God’s suffering brought blessing to us, so our suffering is viewed as a blessing for us and a potential blessing for others. Suffering is both a blessing, and a means of blessing, when it is suffering for Christ’s sake:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21).

To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9).

And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong (1 Peter 3:13-17).

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God (1 Peter 4:14-16).

God not only accomplished our salvation by the means of Christ’s suffering, but He uses suffering to draw men to Himself (Luke 6:20-23). Suffering is also a blessing because it is a part of God’s process of sanctification. Through suffering we are blessed in many ways:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1:2-5).

While not a pleasant experience in itself, suffering can be the source of comfort and assurance. When we struggle with sin and the flesh (Romans 7), we know it is because we have become a new creation in Christ. We now loathe that which we once loved. We now desire that which we once found offensive and repulsive. We seek to obey God when we used to delight in disobedience. Satan, once our master, has now become our enemy.

Living in the midst of a fallen world itself suffering from the curse of sin (Romans 8:18-25) results in a suffering of soul for the Christian. Like Lot, we find our righteous souls vexed by sin (2 Peter 2:7-8). There is a sense in which our suffering bears testimony to the end of sin’s dominion in our lives (1 Peter 4:1).

Suffering at the hand of a gracious God is a comfort, for our chastening evidences that we are God’s sons:

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that {the limb} which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (Hebrews 12:3-13).

Perhaps best of all, our suffering for Christ’s sake deepens our love for our Lord and our fellowship with Him:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8-12).

The Difference Between
Temporal and Eternal Blessings

God’s temporal blessings are not inconsistent with suffering. In fact, suffering can be a blessing in the hand of God. If we are a child of God, we know His eternal plan allows only those things into our lives which result in our ultimate and eternal good:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

But what of God’s eternal blessings? These blessings fit the definition laid down in Proverbs 10:22:

It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, And He adds no sorrow to it.

These blessings are not fulfilled in this life, but in the next. They are not experienced in time, but in eternity. These are the blessings our Lord Himself brings to pass in His second coming. They are based upon His sacrifice at Calvary but are realized in His coming to judge the earth:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:1-8).

And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).

Conclusion

The Book of Hebrews brings the Old Testament faith into focus and clearly describes the nature of the blessings God promised and for which believers waited in faith. The Hebrews were Christians who came out of Judaism by faith in Jesus Christ. Their identification with Jesus Christ had brought on them the reproach of Christ and the opposition and persecution of unbelieving Jews. Things were bad and about to get worse. Some toyed with the thought of turning back into Judaism to escape persecution. The temporal “blessings” of Judaism were tempting in the light of the affliction they faced as Christians. The unnamed author of this epistle reminds these Christians of their Old Testament roots. He points them to the true blessings which are in Christ.

The complete and final fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham is yet to occur. It is the blessing to which Abraham and every other Old Testament saint looked forward. They understood that the blessings God promised were not material, but spiritual, and that they were not temporal, but eternal. They knew these blessings would not come in life, but after death and resurrection:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Unlike many Israelites in the Old Testament, and most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, Abraham looked for a better blessing. He looked for a heavenly city, a city which God would prepare. I believe this is the dwelling of which our Lord Jesus spoke just before His death:

“Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

It is that New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven at our Lord’s return (Revelation 21:1-2). It is the blessing which comes from faith in Jesus Christ and not from human effort or achievement.

Unfortunately, many Christians today hold to the same basic errors held by the Jews of Jesus’ day. They think of God’s blessings primarily in terms of that which is physical and material.102 They believe that because Christ has come, every promised blessing can be ours, now, if we but believe and ask for them in faith. All too much like Job’s friends, they equate present affliction with sin, and they see it as a curse. They would do well to give more thought to the blessings of God as defined in Scripture. They would do especially well to give careful thought to this text in Hebrews:

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:32-40).

Our text speaks only of Old Testament saints. “All,” as the writer informs us in verse 39, “gained approval through their faith.” All,” as he also reminds us, “did not receive what was promised” (verse 39, see also Hebrews 11:13). All of those referred to were people who obtained God’s approval through their faith in God’s promise. Not one of them received the promised blessing. The reason, we are told, is that God wanted them to enter into blessings with us, at the same time. They have been waiting for us to join them in entering into God’s promised blessings.

The point I wish to underscore here are the two very different categories of saints. The difference between these two categories is not that one group has faith while the other does not. It is not that one group is more spiritual than the other. The difference is that one group seems to succeed on the basis of faith while the other group suffers by faith.

The first group--those who succeeded by faith--are described in verses 32-35a. By faith, these saints conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises,103 shut the mouths of lions, received their dead back to life, and so on. How were these saints so successful? They were blessed by God, through faith.

The second group--those who suffered and endured by faith--are described in the last half of verse 35 through verse 38. These saints also had faith, but their faith resulted in perseverance rather than in success or prosperity. These are the very ones who would be chided today for their lack of faith. Like Job, they would be badgered by their “friends” to find the sin in their life, and confess it so they could be blessed.

From the Scriptures, we have seen that suffering is neither incompatible with faith nor inconsistent with God’s blessings. The suffering of some saints should be no more troublesome to us than the success of some saints, or even the success of some sinners. Only in eternity will the full blessings of God be poured out on God’s people. It is also only in eternity that the curse of God will be fully poured out on sinners.

Because all of God’s blessings are a gift of His grace, through the work of Jesus Christ, we have no basis for demanding His blessings. Neither do we have basis for complaint if and when He withholds His blessings. They are His to give; they are also His to withhold. This is the profession of Job:

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Let this profession be ours as well.

The simple fact is that our prayers betray us. Our prayers reveal an understanding of God’s blessings virtually identical with the mistaken view of the Jews in Jesus’ day. When affliction and adversity comes into our life, we conclude that suffering is incompatible with blessing. We begin to make decisions and to pursue a course of action which takes away the pain. Those honest enough to admit it reason something like this: “God wants to bless me. That means He wants me to be happy. I am not happy. This is not a blessing. I must do whatever it takes to be happy, even if that involves disobedience to God’s revealed Word.”

Most of us are not quite this honest in our thinking, nor quite so bold in our rebellion against God and His Word. Yet our prayers betray us. When affliction comes into our life, we do not pray for God’s grace, nor do we ask God for wisdom, patience, or endurance. We ask God to take away the pain and the circumstance. When we suffer, we do not ask God for the mind of Christ, or the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we ask God to bless us by giving us a life free from the pain and sorrow we are currently experiencing. And in so doing, we actually miss the blessing God has for us in affliction. If suffering is meant to result in our spiritual growth, in a deeper level of commitment, and in greater intimacy and communion with our Lord, we must accept suffering as a part of God’s good and perfect plan for our lives, one purposed to result in our good, in a blessing for us. Whether God in His goodness enables us to succeed, or whether His grace enables us to endure our suffering, let us realize that God is able to make use of suffering to produce blessings.

Neither God’s blessings nor His wrath are fully manifested in this life. We must therefore live by faith. We must live by faith trusting God to fulfill His promises, even when our eyes tell us the opposite is happening now. As Asaph protested centuries ago in Psalm 73, the wicked may prosper, and the righteous may suffer. We must view such “blessing” and “suffering” as temporary and not eternal. We must see that in the midst of our suffering, we are drawn nearer to God, and recognize this as true blessing.

God’s blessing is not only the gift of those things which are good and desirable but the removal of the curse. First and foremost, God’s blessing involves the forgiveness of our sins, the defeat and destruction of Satan, the passing away of that which is old and corrupted by sin, and the creation of that which is holy and acceptable.

God’s blessings are the fulfillment of His promise and the conclusion of a process which includes suffering and sorrow. Only God can make something good from that which seems evil at the moment. If you have not trusted in God’s promise of blessing in Jesus Christ, then you are under the curse of sin. Trust in Him, and you will be blessed. Your blessings in this life will be mixed with sorrow. Your blessings in eternity will not.

As I conclude this lesson, let me share a quotation by Harold Stigers in his commentary of the Book of Genesis:

“God designs certain tests and trials in regard to earthly things so that we may see that our inheritance resides in God Himself--in our finding them nothing without Him, and Him everything even without them.”104

For Further Study and Meditation

Principles Pertaining to Divine Blessing

(1) God’s blessing refers to His purpose, pronouncement, and process of bringing about a person’s good.

(2) God’s curse is the process of bringing about man’s deserved retribution of divine judgment.

(3) God’s blessing is opposed to cursing. His blessing is the reversal of the curse (see Genesis 12:1-3; Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28).

(4) God has the right to bless or to curse men (see Romans 9:19-21). He blesses men out of His grace and curses out of His holiness.

(5) God is able to bless men because He has borne their curse in Christ, and thus His holiness is maintained in His grace (see Romans 3:24-26).

(6) God’s glory is revealed in both His blessing and His cursing (see Exodus 34:5-7).

(7) Divine blessing is based upon divine grace and not human merit or effort. God not only graciously blesses men, He also graciously delays the curse so that men might be saved (see Romans 9:22-24).

(8) Divine cursing or condemnation is based upon an individual’s decision and works. Men are not only condemned because they are destined to destruction, but because they deserve it and have decided for it (see Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 28; John 3:18; Revelation 16:5-6).

(9) Blessing or cursing are not necessarily evident in the means God employs to produce His desired goal. Cursing may be accomplished by what appears to be God’s blessing. Blessing may be accomplished by what appears to be God’s cursing. The story of the rich man and Lazarus underscore this principle (see Luke 16:19-31).

(10) Blessing and cursing have present manifestations, but they are not fully manifested until the second coming of Christ. Blessing and cursing are both temporal and eternal, the temporal being partial and mixed with sorrow, while the eternal is full and complete. Temporal blessings are experienced by sinners, living in a sin-cursed world. Eternal blessings are experienced by saints who have been transformed into the image of Christ, whose mortal bodies are left behind and who live in a new world free of sin, of Satan, and of the curse (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 21 and 22).

(11) Ultimately, blessing or cursing are the result of one’s response to God’s provision of forgiveness and righteousness in Jesus Christ, the promised “seed of Abraham” (see Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; John 3:18; 14:6; 1 John 5:12).

(12) God’s temporal blessing is neither synonymous with prosperity nor incompatible with suffering.

(13) Adversity and suffering is not synonymous with sin and cursing.

(14) God blesses all men physically and materially in this life out of His common grace. He blesses only Christians spiritually and eternally.

(15) Since divine blessing is based upon the sovereign grace of God, we cannot demand it, and we dare not protest when God’s dealings with us do not appear to be a blessing.

(16) One of the blessings God gave Abraham and his “seed” (which includes us as believers) is that of being a blessing to others. When God promised Abraham that his “seed” was to be a blessing to all nations, this was a part of Abraham’s blessing. In God’s economy, serving others is a privilege and not a curse. Our Lord Himself took upon Himself the task of serving.

(17) The blessings our Lord accomplished on the cross of Calvary will not all be poured out on men in this life. Full and unhindered blessing can only take place in heaven, when Satan is bound, sin and death defeated, and the things corrupted by sin (including our bodies and this world) made new.

(18) Christians will suffer--and not just for sin. When Christians suffer for Christ’s sake, it is a blessing.

(19) God’s promised blessings do not assure us we will escape the wrath of men toward God, but only that we will escape the wrath of God toward men.

(20) If God’s blessing cannot be equated with prosperity and ease, neither can it be said that His blessing is automatically associated with asceticism (denying ourselves of earthly pleasures). Put simply, God’s blessing does not mean that we are free to indulge in every sensual pleasure, but neither does it mean that we must deny every earthly pleasure. God’s blessing is found in trusting and obeying God and in the resulting enjoyment (blessing) of His presence and fellowship.

Questions to Stimulate
Further Study and Meditation

(1) What is blessing? How is it related to cursing? What is the basis for blessing and cursing?

Divine blessing refers to God’s purpose to bring about the good of an individual or nation, His proclamation of this purpose by His promise, and a program of bringing about this blessing which includes suffering and adversity.

God’s blessing is the overturning and removal of the curse due to sin. In Christ, God bore the curse of sin and death and provided for us eternal life in its place.

God’s blessing is not based upon human merit or works, but upon His grace. We can never, in and of ourselves, be worthy of divine blessings. In Christ, we receive every blessing because He is worthy (see Ephesians 1; Revelation 5:9-14). Humanly speaking, men are blessed or cursed on the basis of their response to Abraham’s “seed,” Jesus Christ (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 24:3-6; 32:1-2; 84:4-5; 89:14-18; John 3:16-18; 14:6; Acts 3:26; Romans 4:6-8; Galatians 3:9, 13-16; 1 John 5:11-12). Obedience, stemming from gratitude, faith, love, and hope, which is empowered by God’s Spirit, brings the temporal blessings of God, while disobedience brings a curse (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28; Psalm 106:3; 112:1; 119:1-2; Proverbs 8:32; Isaiah 44:3; Daniel 12:12; John 13:17; James 1:12; Revelation 14;13).

(2) In what ways does God bless all men? In what ways does God bless only Christians?

God’s “common grace” is extended to all men, without distinction. God gives rain and sunshine to men, and in His grace He delays judgment, giving opportunity for repentance. This is to be the pattern for the Christians’ dealings with others, including our enemies (Matthew 6:44-48; Acts 14:15-17; 17:30-31).

God blesses the Christian by bearing our curse in the person of Jesus Christ. He blesses the Christian temporally by His presence, by producing our growth and maturity, and by creating a hunger for the full and final blessings of heaven.

(3) What is the relationship between blessing, faith, and obedience?

God’s blessings are based upon His grace and not our works. His blessings are offered in the form of a promise, and this promise must be believed by faith (see Genesis 15:1-6). Our faith in God and in His promise will result in the obedience of faith (Genesis 17:9-14; Romans 4:9-24; Hebrews 11:13-31; James 2:14-26). Faith and obedience are both necessary because each calls upon us to act, not on the basis of what we see, but on the basis of what He has said.

(4) What, if any, are the differences between temporal and eternal blessings?

Temporal blessings are those blessings which God bestows upon sinful men, living in a fallen world, flowing from His grace. Temporal blessings are incomplete and never without a measure of sorrow and suffering. (Marriage and children are both a blessing, but neither is without its trials and suffering.) Temporal blessings are not to be measured so much in terms of material prosperity, physical health, or the absence of pain, as in the enjoyment of God’s presence. Eternal blessings are full and complete, the enjoyment of physical and material prosperity, the full manifestation of God’s goodness and glory, and the absence of sin, Satan, death, and the curse.

(5) What errors concerning divine blessing can we see in the Jews of old and also in Christians of today? How do you explain these errors? Why are they wrong?

The Jews of old and many Christians and others today think of God’s blessings in terms of the immediate enjoyment of physical and material pleasures and the absence of pain. They suppose prosperity is one’s reward for being spiritual and that suffering is the consequence of sin. To be spiritual they say is the assurance of earthly pleasures; to be sinful is to bring upon oneself pain and suffering. To have enough faith is to have the means to move God into blessing us as we think best, they say. God’s blessings are not sovereignly bestowed in the way He chooses but are mechanically obtained by doing the right things. This false view of blessing justifies one’s expectations of no pain and all pleasure in this life. The true view of temporal blessing seeks the enjoyment of God’s presence whether in pain or pleasure.

(6) How can a clear understanding of divine blessings help us to better understand God’s eternal plan, especially as it relates to man?

The plan of God is to bring about His own glory and the Christian’s good (or blessing). That plan incorporates “all things” (Romans 8:28), which includes pain, suffering, and sorrow. When we understand the difference between God’s temporal blessings and His eternal blessings, we learn to expect suffering and trials as a part of His plan, and as a part of His program to bring about eternal blessing for us. While we should not seek suffering in this life, we should expect it, recognizing it as a part of the plan of a loving God who is bringing about our good and His glory.

(7) How do the temporal “blessings” and “cursings” which God promised the nation Israel relate to the life and experience of the Christian today?

God chose Israel as the object of His blessings. His desire was to demonstrate His blessings to all men so that men from every nation would seek blessing in Him. Those who identified with Israel and Israel’s God would also be blessed, as God told Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3).

As Israel trusted in God and obeyed His Law by faith, God poured out the blessings promised in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. When Israel turned from God, the promised cursings came. But in addition to the deserved suffering of Israel, many godly Israelites suffered. They suffered for God’s sake and not for their own sins (Psalm 44:22).

With the coming of Christ, the blessings of God are more spiritual than material, and they come to those who appear not to be blessed as men would appraise blessing (see Luke 6:20-23). Our blessings are “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). In our identification with Christ, we enter into His rejection and persecution by men, and in so doing are blessed by a closer walk with Him, a deeper fellowship with Him, and a growing hunger for heaven and the full blessings of God (see 2 Corinthians 4 and 5; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 2-4).

Scripture Texts

Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6, 13-20; 17:15-21; 26:24; 27:27-29; 28:12-15; 47:9
Exodus 1:5-22
Deuteronomy 8:2-6; 28; 30:15-20
2 Chronicles 36:15-16
Job 1 and 2
Psalm 22; 24:3-6; 44; 73; 78; 94:12; 119:67, 71, 75, 92
Proverbs 10:22
Jeremiah 18:7-10
Zechariah 8:13; 14:11
Matthew 16:21-27
Luke 6:20-28; 16:19-31
John 14:1-3
Acts 3:25-26
Romans 4:3-8; 5:3-5; 8:18-25, 28; 12:14
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
Galatians 3
Ephesians 1:3-14
Philippians 3:8-12
Hebrews 11 and 12
James 1:2-5
1 Peter 2:21; 3:8-9, 13-17; 4:1, 14-16
2 Peter 2:7-8
Revelation 21 and 22


98 This verse tells us that Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. It does not tell us that he was seventy-five when he first received the promise of a son. Abraham may not have left Haran immediately which would mean that Abraham was younger when the promise of a son was first given to him. Thus, his wait would have been more than twenty-five years.

99 See also Deuteronomy 8:2-3.

100 When I speak of innocent suffering here, we must all understand that no mortal is ever innocent, save in the blood of Jesus Christ. All of us deserve to suffer for our sins. But in the case of these innocent sufferers, their suffering was not attributed to their sin but was the outgrowth of their righteousness.

101 See also Matthew 23:29-39; Acts 7:52.

102 This is not to say they do not believe in spiritual and eternal blessings, but only that their emphasis is on present material prosperity.

103 Notice that while these saints “obtained promises” (verse 33) they did not receive “what was promised” (verse 39). The writer may have meant that they were given promises, but they did not receive them. More likely, he meant that they received some of the promises but not the promises which could only be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ, promises which are still future for us. Some Christians seem to be saying that we can be assured of receiving all the promises now. The writer to the Hebrews differs with such thinking. So too does history and our own experience.

104 Harold G. Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p. 135.

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Theology Proper (God)