The Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:22-27)

thePsalmist on May 18th, 2010

One of the great mountain peaks of Old Testament theology is this passage in Numbers 6:22-27. Here towers a mountainous peak of theology, majestically rising above the clouds pointing directly to heaven. The chapters and verses around it are the foothills which slope gently up to these words:

22 The LORD spoke to Moses: 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 The LORD bless you and protect you;
25 the LORD make His face shine on you,
and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD look with favor on you
and give you peace.
27 In this way they will put  My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
The Holy Bible : Holman Christian standard version. 2003 (Nu 6:22–27). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.
I chose this passage as part of our sermon series on “Peace” because I believe that in it we see something quite profound – namely, the ultimate result of being blessed by God is that we receive peace. But this is a profound peace, a wholehearted Shalom of Yahweh.
Here in this context, an ancient people long before Christ and deeply set into an awestruck and fear filled relationship with Yahweh, we see talk of God’s face shining upon His people. Yet at this stage in their relationship with God anyone who gazes upon God’s countenance should be utterly consumed by His holiness and their sinfulness. The face of God was perhaps not so much a blessing as a curse!
Here in the depths of the Old Testament and the heart of Judaism lies this miraculous glimpse of God’s true nature. It is perhaps a first glimpse at God laid bare before His people, the compassionate, gentle God being presented before a people locked in a harsh reality. Here God is telling Moses that THIS is how He, Yahweh, wants to bless the people (Num 6:22). This is God choosing to do this, it is Yahweh’s own choice and no one has asked Him to do it. Moses hasn’t come up to Him and said “Now then Yahweh, can I call you ‘Yah’? I’ve been thinking that you might have a small image problem going on. All this warmongering, sacrificing, scaring type stuff isn’t doing you any good. You need to think of something which is going to cheer people up a bit!”
No, this isn’t a spin-doctored press release or media savvy re-imaging going on. This is just God being raw, being true to Himself, and unleashing upon an unsuspecting people something deeply wonderful. …SHALOM!
The Lord bless you and protect you!
BLESS YOU – this is what this is all about. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing with components to it. Not just the sort of thing you say to someone in the street when they’ve sneezed “Oh, bless you!”, something meaningless but polite. No, this is a blessing with real flesh on the bones. A people fighting for survival in a harsh landscape get told “The Lord BLESS you and PROTECT you!” That’s a blessing with substance right there. Protection coming from Yahweh himself, the creator, the majestic and triumphant King of all. He Himself is offering protection to His people. When you’ve got that sort of protection, when God Himself is your bodyguard then you will for sure know peace. Wouldn’t you? If God is truly protecting you is there anything in this world which could cause you NOT to be peaceful?
Shalom here is about physical, military, and national peace. A lack of strife and an absence of trouble. More than that it is the presence of real and lasting security. It is a blessing. It is peace.
Yahweh goes on “The Lord make His face shine on You and be gracious to you!”. Woah! FACE!? SHINE!? …on ME?! …No thank you! The full radiant splendour of Yahweh obliterating my feeble sinful existence. What have I done to deserve that? There’s no way I could stand under such an onslaught of unbridled holiness. I might as well go and shove my head in the centre of the sun in the name of getting a ‘bit of a tan’.
Aha! But look at what the shining of God’s face is coupled with…GRACIOUSNESS! God’s resplendent glory is enough to obliterate the unworthy, but His GRACE is the antidote to that outcome. It is of course the grace mediated by Christ Himself which allows us eternal access to the Father. Grace alone, and nothing else. Here back in Numbers 6 we see a foretaste of that immense work of God on the cross. Grace! …but grace with a purpose. Not just grace for the sake of it, another empty meaningless word. This again is grace with flesh on the bones. Just as “Bless you” meant something in the previous verse so “being gracious to you” means something here. Grace here is the vehicle by which we enter into the very presence of God. No longer far off and apart from the source of life, but brought right in close, …even face to face with our creator – the creator who has already said he wants to bless us and protect us, now ushers us into His presence. In fact in the NIV and the ESV the word translated as ‘protect’ in the HCSB is rendered ‘keep’ … ‘the Lord …keep you!’. This then coupled with the notion of God’s grace allowing His face to shine upon us sets up an image of a Father enveloping His beloved children in His arms …KEEPING us safe, KEEPING us to Himself, for Himself even. An image in which we are loved, cherished, protected, blessed, …and gazing deep into the eyes of such a wonderful Father. …an image of true peace, of real SHALOM!
And this is pushed further into our mind’s eye with the verse “The Lord look with favour on you … and give you peace!”
How is it that we should be bestowed with God’s favour? He is the holy and majestic one. It is we who should favour Him surely? …”What is man that you are mindful of Him…?” Who are we? Why should God bother with us at all? and yet … and yet He does! He loves us so much because He is love! He is not just Yahweh the terrible, but Jehovah Jireh, God our provider. He is our Father and through Christ His Son he will in centuries to come after this verse display the most perfect example of what these words mean.
Through Christ He will win for His people a true and lasting peace which no one can destroy.
Ultimately though the blessing of God, the meat on the bones of what “bless you!” means, is that we should know peace! And that peace is not a peace which is within US, it is a peace which is within HIM … and it becomes part of us by virtue of us being indwelt by Him through His Spirit and brought near to God through Christ the Son.
Peace – perfect peace! Shalom! …the perfect blessing of God!

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