We’re moving right along in our study of the word blessed, and I cannot wait to get into this week’s lesson!
We’ve learned there are four root words which have been translated blessed in our modern English Bible translations:
Old Testament (Hebrew)
New Testament (Greek)
For the last two weeks we’ve studied barak and eulogeo. I hope you’ve gotten as much out of what we’ve uncovered so far as I have!
This week I am super excited to get to the other two words translated blessed - esher and makarios. Esher is the word used in the passage in Psalm which opened this study, so let’s take a look at it again:
Blessed [esher] is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3, NIV)
Next week we will shift gears and dive head first into studying this passage. But before we do that we need to understand the word it opens with - blessed (esher).
Esher is often stated as an interjection or exclamation, and it literally means “how happy!,” “oh the blessedness of!,” or “oh the happiness of!” It refers to an emphasized state of happiness and prosperity. In fact, its Greek counterpart, makarios, can be translated “supremely blessed, happy” and adds an element of being envied to the word, meaning that this kind of blessedness is enviable.
Esher and makarios are used (for the most part) only of man. There are two exceptions to this in the New Testament when Paul uses makarios to describe God in his first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:11, 6:15). In this case, Paul is literally saying that God is supremely “happy.”
This blessedness is only had by those who, again, are in Christ. It is a state of being which exists apart from material welfare or lack thereof. It exists apart from circumstances or achievements. I want to show a comment by James Strong regarding esher here because I love how he describes it:
“One’s status before God (being ‘blessed’) is not always expressed in terms of the individual or social conditions that bring what moderns normally consider to be ‘happiness.’” (Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, 2001)
This brought me to the following question:
If this meaning of blessed refers to a state of happiness, then what is the definition of happiness in the Bible?
What I found in answer to that question astounded me. A quick word study of happiness in Scripture brought me back to the same two words we’re studying today - esher and makarios! In most cases when the word happy is used in the Bible, it is a translation of one of these two words.
For example (same verses, different translations):
Blessed (esher) are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding. (NIV)
Happy (esher) is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. (KJV)
And in the New Testament:
Now that you know these things, you will be blessed (makarios) if you do them. (NIV)
If ye know these things, happy (makarios) are ye if ye do them. (KJV)
I’m not saying Scripture doesn’t talk extensively about joy, because it absolutely does, but this is a different word altogether.
This state of blessedness, happiness, can be described as a contentment which is had due to a person’s understanding of their divinely favored (blessed) well-being.
This is where all blessedness collides!
Okay, now let’s look at some other places in the Old Testament where the word esher is used. In each passage, try replacing the word blessed with the phrase “how happy!” just to get the full effect of the meaning:
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2, NIV)
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8, NIV)
Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. (Psalm 40:4, NIV)
LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. (Psalm 84:12, NIV)
And it’s no different when makarios is used in the New Testament:
But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28, ESV)
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, ESV)
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him. (Romans 4:8, BSB)
These passages all make sense. But let’s look at some places where these words are used that don’t make quite as much sense. Again, replace the word blessed with its meaning of how happy!:
Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law; (Psalm 94:12, NIV)
"Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (Job 5:17, NIV)
And in the New Testament Jesus uses the word makarios in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted because of righteousness…
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me….” (Matthew 5:3-11, NIV)
Wait, what? How can a person be enviably or supremely happy in these types of situations?
Just as we’ve talked about in the past two lessons, it’s easy for us to understand blessing as it relates to circumstances we would consider good or favorable. But it is another thing altogether for us to understand blessedness (let alone happiness!) being directly connected to things or circumstances we would view as negative, difficult, or unfavorable.
We’ve talked about how God’s “good” and our “good” are sometimes two very different things. We’ve talked about how we can look backwards and see how some difficult situations were actually blessings. It’s one thing to look back and see these things, but what about living with that understanding within the difficult the situation?
I’d say every person on the planet would want to know the secret of being able to live in contentment and happiness when facing circumstances that seem anything but favorable. But can we truly do that? Is it even possible?
Yes! Absolutely. Otherwise the Bible wouldn’t tell us things like this:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, (Romans 5:3-4, ESV)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4, NIV)
There are certain attributes which God develops within us through difficulty to equip us for the things He calls us to do.
Goodness it would be great if those qualities just came naturally rather than having to be developed!
I talked briefly about my family’s move and that we know our situation is a blessing even though it doesn’t always feel like one right now. I believe this is the first time in my life in which I am “considering the joy” of the trial within the trial. I have this knowing, in the midst of the stretching and discomfort, that God is working something good in me and in my family.
It is the coexistence of joy and pain. This is esher blessedness to its fullest, and it ONLY happens with God.
We don’t have to look any further than the words themselves to understand why. Stay with me here because this is going to bring it all together!
Esher is a derivative of the Hebrew root word ashar, which literally translated means “to go straight, to go on, to advance.” Makarios stems from the root word mak, which means “to become large, or long.”
When we are walking with and seeking God, we can live with an enviable contentment because we know, despite our circumstances, that we are advancing, going straight, and walking in the right direction. We can be happy and content within the trial because we know that God is advancing our path and that we are becoming larger - that we are growing into the people He needs us to be to do what He’s called us to do!
In mid-2016 I began to realize God was shifting my heart out of the nonprofit organization He called me to start. I would stand in front of audiences speaking of the issues related to human trafficking, yet feeling like something was going to explode within me if I couldn’t say the name of Jesus (which I often was not able to do). I leaned heavily on this verse to trust that my will was being shaped by God’s purpose for my life:
for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13, NIV)
Eventually I announced my intended departure to my board, knowing there was no one yet to take my place as Executive Director. The person I thought would take my place had recently been called on to something else. To make matters all the more “impossible,” I had worked unpaid (out of passion:) all those years, and there was no funding available at that time to pay someone a salary. So who, I questioned, would be willing to step into my role without a salary?
Meanwhile, God was stirring the hearts of my family for transition. We knew He was leading us to get our house ready to sell, but we had no idea where we were going. God led us to put our house on the market before He showed us where He was taking us.
I remember lying in bed one night and saying out loud, “I don’t know anything about anything anymore.” Immediately I felt the Lord speak to my spirit and say, “you may not know anything about your circumstances, but you know Me.”
In time, God connected my path with the person He had already been working in to take my position, a person who left behind a paying, promising career to walk through a door God was calling her to walk through. He showed my family the land He had for us and the endeavor He was leading us to undertake. Furthermore, He brought me into a new season of ministry, one which hadn’t even come across my mind two years before when He began calling me out of the ministry He had me in at that time.
Oh how I longed for God to reveal the pieces sooner than He chose to. However, now I appreciate the blessing of learning to walk forward into the unseen because my daily life requires it!
God doesn’t hide the fact that we won’t understand our journey, but He does promise He’ll direct it.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)
There are many places in Scripture which reference the fact that we won’t understand the ways of God. Remember, as we said in Lesson 1, God is seeing and planning from the vantagepoint of eternity!
When we are in Christ our happiness and contentment come not from knowing our circumstances, but from knowing God is directing them and growing us into the people we need to be to do the things He’s created us to do.
That is how we can rejoice and be enviably happy within the trial rather than only when we reach the other side of it!
ONLY with Jesus.
Oh Lord, thank You for the promise that I can walk in a happiness and contentment not contingent upon my circumstances. When circumstances arise which feel difficult or negative, please help me to trust that You are directing my path for the purpose of my growth!
1. Take time to think back on your life experiences thus far. In what ways have you seen God work in and through your circumstances to advance your path and advance your spiritual growth?
2. What spiritual characteristics within you have been shaped by the experiences you have gone through?
3. Is there something you feel God leading you to do that you’re aware will involve an earthly “cost?” If so, is it something you can now view as a venue to blessedness (enviable contentment and happiness)?