Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
I’ve seen this verse tossed around a lot over the past few years, usually in the context of “This is why God blessed us in the past” or “This is what we need for God to bless us now.”
And while I don’t think this is a terrible way to read this verse, I do think it’s too simplistic. God doesn’t give us formulas, magic spells, or spiritual leverage that we can use to force Him to do our bidding. So, rather than a “if-then” statement—”If we worship God, then He will bless us—I think this verse is saying something far more powerful. In part, the confusion comes from only reading the first half of the verse, which is how the verse is often disseminated. Thus, we can ascertain the truest meaning by carefully reading the whole verse. (We could even go deeper by reading the whole chapter, but this post will already be too long.)
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD…”
In the first half of the verse, we read that the nation who worships the LORD is blessed. Pretty straightforward. But what does it mean for this nation to be blessed? Does it mean they’ll be safe and prosperous, blessed by God with favorable conditions in this world? Or does it mean something even more simple: that to know and worship the LORD is a blessing in and of itself?
Could both readings be true? Absolutely! But of the two, it is the second interpretation of blessing that carries over into eternity. The blessing of a relationship with God is an everlasting blessing. Prosperity is temporal and so, ultimately, unimportant because only the eternal things truly matter.
“Nation” and “People”
Now, let’s talk about the word “nation” in the first half. In Hebrew, it’s the word gôy, which could translate as either “nation” or “people. “ The English word “people” in the second half is ʿǎm, which could also be translated as either “nation” or “people.” Why point this out? Because today we use the word “nation” as a stand-in for “country,” which adds a centralized, political connotation to the word that is almost entirely modern and Western. In the ancient, Eastern world, a “nation” and a “people” were the same thing. Thus, there is a more decentralized, organic, familial connotation. Essentially, we can think of “nation” in terms of “nationality,” which has more to do with family ties, culture, and history than politics.
“the people he chose for his inheritance”
Given all of that, since the words used to represent humanity in both halves of the verse are essentially synonymous, then it is highly likely that the second half of the verse isn’t conveying a separate message but is rather echoing and clarifying the message of the first half.
It’s not that the nation is blessed because it has chosen to worship God, but rather, it is blessed because the LORD chose it as His inheritance. He is the active party in this verse. The people/nation are the objects of His choosing and blessing.
If it is God who chooses and thereby blesses the people, then, we can stop stressing over how to make our country into a “Christian nation” so that God will bless it. That’s not where His focus lies, and so neither should ours.
God has chosen a new people, a people of His creation. The nation that is blessed to have the LORD as their God is the Church, the people of God chosen through Jesus to be blessed with eternal life. We are His inheritance now, just as the children of Israel held that place under the Old Covenant. And what a blessing it is to be chosen by God! To be loved and highly esteemed by the King!
We need to be careful to not read the Bible with a modern mindset, trying to fit the Scripture into our worldview and altering its meaning in the process. It’s a dangerous thing to do, and so very easy to do! I know I’ve fallen into that trap more than a few times—and I’m sure I’ve missed elements of that even in this piece.
In fact, you might think I’ve missed a very obvious element: “God did choose America! So we are blessed.” Where did God say He chose America? I think you’ll find that the only source you’ll find for this claim are in the writings and speeches of people trying to defend the conquest of the continent.
I’m not saying I’m not happy to be living in this country, but I’m also not going to ignore the fact that the “land of the free and the home of the brave” was purchased at the expense of others deemed unfit to be considered either “free” or “brave.” Verses like Psalm 33:12 have been used in the past to justify sins like this by pointing to the effect of the hegemonic power of a Christianized majority, which isn’t the same as being a “Christian nation.”
But more on that later. For now, I just want to remind you of the grace of God: He chooses, He blesses. He has made us his inheritance. Our chasing after some mythical national holiness doesn’t factor in.
Original American flag image from Unsplash