Numbers 7: How to Bless.
The blessing pronounced over the people of God by the High Priest is a foundational concept in the Bible, one that reverberates throughout all the pages of Scripture. Here God is giving us a blueprint for blessing, an exemplar of encouragement a personal commitment to our peace. If you’re a new Christian you can readily identify with the Israelites who first heard these words, because they were uttered right at the outset of their relationship with God, just chapters before they set out for the Promised Land. If you’re just setting out with God, you could do much worse than starting with these words. And if you’ve been a Christian for a long time there is buried treasure in the Old Testament that we should dig up and use to illuminate our minds and edify our hearts.
I remember these verses especially well because Chris Lane, the former pastor at St. Albans Vineyard, had the habit of speaking them over the congregation at the end of every service. The power of these ancient words in a contemporary setting left an enduring impression on me. I committed them to memory and have since spoken them over my sons every day of their life, pouring out blessing as they drifted off to sleep.
The word ‘blessing’ can sometimes feel a bit overused and a bit emptied of its richness. For many it seems to mean little more than a vague hope for pleasantness of some sort, and for others it’s just an email sign-off. Let’s go back and recapture the original strength and depth of this word. In the days of Moses and Aaron it signified something more concrete – a faith-filled expectation of receiving goodness from the Lord and not just a hazy aspiration or pleasantry. God is the source of ‘every good and perfect gift’ (James 1:17), and He chose to channel His blessing through the High Priest – which originally was Aaron and ultimately Jesus. So seriously did He take this process that God took the trouble to spell out for Aaron and his sons how to do this. The blessing itself is introduced by the words ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites’ (v. 23). What better way to bless than to follow the inventor’s instructions?
The words in this blessing are a beautiful three-part instruction, three pairs of sentiments, and far from repeating themselves they pile up one after another to convince and reinforce the palpable, tangible favour of God. In the original Hebrew they are even more artful, with three words in the first pair, five in the second and seven in the third. The number of syllables and consonants likewise gradually increases, giving us the inescapable sense of the mounting riches of God. Each on their own would be wonderful in their own right, but together they are greater than the sum of their parts, resonating with the all-encompassing, and all-sufficient love of God.
And it’s important to note that although the word ‘you’, repeated six times in verses 24-26, is singular – aimed and addressed to each person in their own right – the introduction in verse 23 ‘Say to them’ is plural, applying to and covering the whole community. There’s enormous significance here. These are promises that are personal to each of us, but we cannot do life alone and the blessings do not stop with the individual but are supposed to rebound on to those around them. The blessing of God does not lessen in you just because you pass it on – in fact, like the three-part construction of vv. 24-26, it actually amplifies it.
So, with no more gilding the lily…
The Lord bless you…
God Himself will pour out His favour on us – a God who is committed to our salvation and to relationship with us – as shown by the use of the covenant name of God (Yahweh).
…and keep you…
We are safe with God and rest secure in His hands. His blessings are not transitory but permanent and inexhaustible. They are blessings which keep giving.
…The Lord make His face shine on you…
God’s face shines on us like the sun. He gives us both warmth and light, his attention like a lamp in an otherwise dark room.
…and be gracious to you…
The greatest blessing of all is grace, God’s unmerited kindness and mercy. Knowing how flawed and prone to failure we are, He knew we would need grace to receive as a gift what we could never earn through our own efforts. God is gracious to us in forgiving our sins, forgoing our punishment and favouring us with privileges we don’t deserve.
…The Lord turn His face toward you…
God is watching over you, not turning away – He’s interested and invested in you. When you look to Him, you’ll find Him already looking at you.
…and give you His peace.
In a world full of conflict – with ourselves, with others and with God – it is the peace of God that we need most. He gives us peace as a free gift that we could never earn (Romans 5:1). He made peace with us even when we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8-10) He gives peace like the world never can (John 14:27) and His peace passes all understanding, going deeper than any emotion and touching every aspect of our lives. We need this peace more than we’ll ever grasp, and it goes further than we could ever fathom. What an amazing gift, and what an amazing note to end on.
(this post first appeared in my Strongholds series)
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