God-Fearers: Grace After Meals
In light of the release of God-Fearers, I am doing a series of blogs that further explores the topics introduced in the book as well as answer some frequently asked questions.
Today most believers recite a thanksgiving blessing to God before they eat a meal, but historical evidence suggests that the early Gentile believers were also following the Torah’s injunction to bless God after they had eaten. Deuteronomy 8:10 tells the children of Israel, “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God.” Judaism interpreted that commandment as the obligation to say a blessing of thanksgiving after the meal, referred to as “blessing for the food (birkat ha-mazon, ×‘×¨×›×ª ×”×ž×–×•×Ÿ).” The blessing thanks God for the food that has just been eaten.
Paul refers to the practice of the birkat ha-mazon in his discussion of the Last Supper. It is customary in some circles to include a cup of wine in the after-meal blessing, and this cup is referred to as the kos shel brachah (“cup of blessing,” ×›×•×¡ ×©×œ ×‘×¨×›×”). Paul refers specifically to the name of this cup when he states: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). Once again, this type of imagery would only make sense to an audience who was already familiar with the practice and the vocabulary.
The Didache instructs the Gentiles to follow the Torah by reciting mealtime blessings. The document presents specific, liturgical prayers for Gentiles to recite before and after meals. Scholars have noted the similarity in form and wording between the Didache mealtime prayers and the traditional brachot and birkat ha-mazon. This evidence points to the fact that Gentile believers felt commanded to bless HaShem at mealtimes both before and after they ate.
Practically, there are a few blessings that Gentiles can choose to recite after they eat. Orthodox Judaism suggests the recitation of the first blessing of the Birkat HaMazon as appropriate for the nations:
Blessed are You, O LORD, our God, King of the universe, who nourishes the entire world with goodness, grace, devotion, and compassion. He gives bread to all flesh, for His devotion is eternal. Because of His great goodness we have never lacked, and we shall never lack nourishment forever and ever. For the sake of His great name, for God provides for and nourishes all, who does good to all and prepares nourishment for all of His creatures which He has made. Blessed are You, O LORD, who nourishes all.
Some may even prefer to pray the full version. Another good text is the grace after meals prayer from the Didache:
We thank You, our holy Father, for Your holy name that You have caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge, faithfulness, and eternal life that You have made known to us through Your servant Yeshua. Yours is the glory forever.
You, O LORD of Legions, created all things for the sake of Your name; You gave nourishment and drink for human beings to enjoy, in order that they would give thanks to You. You also bestowed upon us spiritual nourishment and drink and eternal life through Your servant. And for all things, we thank You, because You are powerful. Yours is the glory forever.
Remember, O LORD, Your congregation to rescue her from all evil, and to make her complete in Your love. Gather the betrothed from the four winds to Your kingdom that You have prepared for her. For Yours is the power and the glory forever.
May grace come and may this world pass away. Hoshana to the God of David! Everyone who is holy, let him come. Everyone who is not, let him repent. Maran Etha! (Our Master is coming!) Amen.
You can find this after meal blessing along with the traditional Grace After Meals prayer in both Hebrew and English along with commentary in our book We Thank You. Additionally, I recently found this short after meal blessing from the Apostolic Constitutions (forth century) which includes some phrasing very similar to the traditional Birkat HaMazon.
You are blessed, O Lord, who nourishes me from my youth, who gives food to all flesh. Fill our hearts with joy and gladness, that having always what is sufficient for us, we may abound to every good work, in Christ Jesus our Lord, through whom glory, honor, and power be to You forever. Amen.
Whatever version one chooses the most important thing is to realize that the injunction to bless God after meals is for all his people. To learn more about the commandment in general see our book Breaking Bread.
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