In the creation account recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, we read that God specifically blessed the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
This divine blessing and command was repeated to Adam and Eve, and thus to all of mankind who alone are created to reflect the image and likeness of their Creator.
We see in this account a threefold benediction – of life in the air, of life on the earth, and of life in the sea – a representation of the Trinitarian Source of all blessing, the Eternal Father who is in Heaven, the Son who walked the earth among us, and the Spirit who comes to us in the waters of baptism.
It is not until the ninth chapter of Genesis that we first see man imparting benediction upon another in God’s name as Noah blesses his son, Shem. This means - at least insofar as the sacred writer records for our knowledge – that the blessing imparted by God to Adam and Eve along with the command to be fruitful and multiply was not in turn imparted upon another in His name, even though, created in His image and imbued with the power of dominion (from the Latin Dominus meaning Lord) they surely had the means to do so.
Could it be that God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” not only meant “to multiply physically,” but also in the case of mankind, “to be fruitful in multiplying my blessing” as befits one who is created to reflect the image of the God who blesses?
Perhaps in their severely wounded and fallen state our first parents lost sight of this crucial element of God’s command; the command to multiply His blessing that it might propagate throughout the generations, a command that will loom especially large after the Fall as Divine Providence guides mankind toward restoration and ultimate perfection.
So what became of humankind, deprived in a sense of the fruits of this multiplied blessing in the generations to follow Adam and Eve? Utter corruption permeated the human race to the point where God’s justice demanded the flooding of the entire earth, save for the righteous Noah, his family, and two of every kind of living creature.
When the flood waters subsided, God blessed Noah and his sons, once again issuing the command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” The Lord then entered into a covenant with Noah and through him with every living creature, promising that “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood.”
Was this gesture more than simply a matter of God promising to remove an arrow from His divine quiver as though he suffered regret, or was it an indication of God’s foreknowledge that the collective disposition of humanity would somehow be different from this point forward? If so, exactly what would be different?
As previously mentioned, one notable difference is that, unlike Adam, Noah did indeed “multiply” God’s blessing in the benediction of his son, Shem. One may also notice that Noah is the first person mentioned in Sacred Scripture as having built an altar to the Lord as well. As such, we begin to see in Noah our first glimpse of man embracing the priestly vocation for which he was created; a vocation of sacrifice and sanctification that is perfected in the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Returning to the early chapters of the story of man, it is not until the twelfth chapter of Genesis that we once again see “blessing” mentioned as God tells Abram, “I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves;" a passage that further reflects the priestly vocation that God wills for His people; a vocation in which man will receive blessing in His name through others.
So how does God deliver on the promise to Abram, “I will bless you?” The promised blessing is received in a particular way as recorded in Genesis 14 when Melchizedek, who is described therein as a “priest of God Most High,” offers a sacrifice of bread and wine and blesses Abram saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand."
The bread and wine offering of Melchizedek was not the singularly obscure occurrence it may initially seem to be, rather, it would be recognized by the early Jewish readers of Sacred Scripture as the Todah, or sacrificial “thank offering” commonly offered to God by someone who had been delivered from harm as were Abram and Lot just prior to Melchizedek’s appearance.
In preparation for the Todah, a lamb would be sacrificed in the Temple while bread for the meal would be blessed at the moment that the lamb was being sacrificed. Family and friends would then gather to recite prayers of praise and thanksgiving and to partake of the consecrated bread; the flesh of the lamb; and wine, blessed at the table as always.
These elements of the thank offering clearly prefigure the sacrifice offered in the Mass, the Eucharist, so named from the Greek eucharista, which means, “thanksgiving.” It is noteworthy that among the teachings of Jewish tradition as recorded in the Pesiqta (a midrash, or collection of Rabbinic commentaries based on the Torah) one reads, "In the coming Messianic age all sacrifices will cease, but the thank offering (the Todah) will never cease."(1)
So who is this mysterious figure, Melchizedek, who offers the Todah and passes along the blessing as last recorded in Genesis 9 when Noah imparted benediction upon his son? Interestingly enough, the Jewish oral tradition associates Melchizedek with none other than this very same son of blessing, Shem!
Abram, having received God’s blessing at the hands of the priest Melchizedek, further brings into focus the priestly vocation of man in being the next person mentioned in Sacred Scripture as building an altar to the Lord, ultimately going so far as to willingly offer his only son.
As we continue through the divinely inspired telling of salvation history from the time of Abram forward, we discover that the passing along, or multiplying, of God’s blessing weaves a crucial thread throughout the story. We see how the benediction received by Abraham is in turn imparted to his son Isaac, and from Isaac to his son Jacob, and from Jacob to his offspring; the fathers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who themselves prefigure the twelve Apostles.
In the fullness of time, it is these Apostles who would one day be blessed by Jesus - who Himself is descended from the line of Noah, Shem and Abraham – as the first in a succession of men called from among the common priesthood of the people to the sacred order of ordained ministry; sacramentally configured to the person of Christ in their very being, that through the fruitful exercise of their priestly vocation, His blessing may be multiplied according to His commission, “As the Father sent me, so I send you,” even to the close of the age.
1. cf “From Jewish Passover to Christian Eucharist: The Story of the Todah” Dr. Tim Gray, Ph.D.
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio has been a columnist for Catholic News Agency since April 2009. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com