Roger Mugs writes a good post about the importance of blessing the Lord, based on Psalm 102:1-2. He concludes:
… the East is a LONG ways from the West. There is nothing about the East that is ANYTHING like the West.
Our God removed our sins that far from us. So next time before a meal instead of “Good food, good meat, good God lets eat,” try a “God we bless you for your steadfast love, for your provision for this meal, for your great love for us, for dying on the cross for us. Bless you God!”
But what does it mean to bless the Lord? Clearly not what “bless” meant to the author of Hebrews 7:7. This was a real problem in the project I worked on, for translation of the Bible into a language without a long tradition of Christian terminology. There is a word meaning “pronounce a blessing”, but we could not use that of a lesser blessing a greater. There is one meaning “give abundantly to”, but that did not fit either. We could just say “praise”, like some modern English translations, but we wanted to avoid too much repetition and anyway this word does not fit everywhere.
Eventually we used in most places a word which is usually translated “applaud”, not necessarily in the sense of clapping hands, but would also include shouts like “Bravo!” But even that doesn’t really work in the case of blessing God for a meal.
And things became even more complicated in the case of blessing the bread, fish and wine at the feedings of the 5,000 and 4,000 and at the Last Supper. In these places the gospel writers made a careful distinction between two Greek words, one usually translated “give thanks” and the other “bless”. Now “give thanks” is clearly directed at God. In the context “bless” is probably to be understood in the same sense. Thus in Matthew 14:19 “he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves” (RSV) the implied object of “blessed” is probably God rather than the loaves, especially because Jewish prayers of thanksgiving for meals always start something like “Blessed are you, Lord our God …” (I note that in Mark 8:7 and Luke 9:16 a literal translation is “he blessed them”, i.e. the fish or loaves are the grammatical object, but this too can be understood as “he blessed God for them”; similarly also in 1 Corinthians 10:16.) So there is no concept here of blessing being associated with a material object. (Indeed Deuteronomy 28:4,5,8 are just about the only cases in the Bible of this kind of association, and caused a different translation problem.) In fact in our translation we could not use the regular “bless” or “applaud” words and had to render “he said the prayer of thanks”. I note that TNIV simply uses “give thanks” for both the Greek words, used almost synonymously.
By the way, we used a quite different word in cases like Matthew 5:3-11 and Psalm 1:1, representing different Greek and Hebrew words.
The lesson I take from this is that we need to unpack the meaning of a word like “bless”, which is quite different in different contexts, even if the same Hebrew and Greek words are used. We have to do this and then restate the concept in appropriate words if we want to communicate such things to people whose regular language is as far from Christian jargon as the East is from the West – which means plenty of people in the West as well as the majority in the East.
Yes, Roger is right, we need to bless God, applaud him, give him thanks for all the great things he has done for us. And as Jews as well as many Christians have understood, one of the best times to do this than before a meal.