The word ‘blessed’ is a big word. It is so big that many times it is even pronounced as having two syllables! The Gospel text for this Sunday [Matthew 5:1-12], the Sunday when we observe All Saints Day, has Jesus saying that word many times. It is also the first word he says. And the text says that he even opens his mouth right before he says it, which brings even more emphasis to this extremely important word.
What is the meaning of the word in this situation? It is best to first look at the Old Testament situation, and this is especially true for words which occur within the Gospel according to Matthew.
It is not a coincidence that this word is also the first word of the Psalms; it is the first word in Psalm 1. The word is also most common in the Psalms and means ‘to consider fortunate’ or ‘to call happy’. Some translations (mostly paraphrases) even use the word ‘happy’ in their rendering of the Matthew text.
I thought it was interesting that, in other ancient languages, essentially the same word means ‘to march’ or ‘to look after’. It can also mean ‘footmark’ or ‘track’, as well as ‘to follow the track’ or ‘offspring’. In the Hebrew it means to ‘stride’ or ‘lead’ [HALOT, vol. 1, p. 97]. Now how could meanings like that be related to being happy?
There is also a very close word in the Hebrew which usually means ‘which’ or ‘that’. It is a connecting word, and it makes sense that the meaning leads the reader or listener in a slightly new direction.
The basic idea with all those meanings is that there are words which are to lead the reader or listener. Words lead, and people are to follow. That kind of thing has been happening since the beginning of time. In the creation account God leads, and things follow.
In one dictionary, as the author tries to give a good definition of the word, he states, ‘The desire for happiness is different from the blessing in that it demands that the believer do certain things… [TDOT, vol. 1, p. 446].’ Then a long list of things for the believer to do is given. And that is what we see a lot of time happening in the Old Testament. And some people today still follow that ‘rule’.
There is a hint of that farther along in the Sermon on the Mount, since Jesus also says, ‘You, therefore should be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ But he does not wish for us to end up focusing on that focus and on what WE do.
Jesus continues on, and he goes in a deliberately different direction. And the author of the dictionary does as well. Thankfully, and by quoting someone else, the article ends with this statement: ‘Blessing is praise of the grace of God which creates salvation for the man who is chosen [TDOT, vol. 1, p. 448].’
The best source of blessing or happiness does not come from within. It comes as a gift, along with all the other things that come to us. And it is the Lord Jesus Christ who leads us down a most wonderful way.