Scripture: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:23-27 ESV
Observation: Having outlined the requirements of the Nazirite vow, the Lord instructs Moses to tell Aaron and his sons to speak the above blessing over Israel. It is a blessing widely spoken across the Church worldwide, most often as a benediction. While it would be reasonable to assume the plural form of “you” here, it is actually the singular-collective case: addressing each Israelite as part of the whole community. Still, this prayer solely resided as a priestly function, not to be offered by anyone other than Yahweh’s appointed intermediaries.
Takeaway: The invocation, “The Lord bless you and keep you,” assumes that the covenant community knows their secure position as children of their Covenant Keeper. Thus, they would respond with the affirmation: “Yes and Amen.” And the words, “make his face to shine upon you,” would harken memories of Moses’ face shining from the near presence of the Lord. But, now Yahweh is drawing near to all his people. Thus, as theologian Ron Allen contends, “we have the splendidly suitable tie of the light of his face and the grace of his presence” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 2, p. 755).
The prayer then climatically ends with Yahweh “lifting up” his countenance (favor) on Israel, thereby invoking his peace on his people. It is a peace that goes beyond our worldly understanding of tranquility or the absence of conflict. Instead, the Lord’s peace (shalom) brings a sense of rightness, of well-being. Hence, when our Father turns his face toward his children and grants his favor, he looks fondly at them with a “gracious smile” that invokes peace, as Hebrew scholar Mayer Gruber argues in his book, “The Many Faces of Hebrew ‘lift up the face'” (page 253).
Lastly, the Lord clarifies that Aaron and his sons will put his name on his people to bless them. What does that mean to Israel? That his name, Yahweh, is itself a blessing that proclaims a right relationship with his beloved children. So what does this mean for us? That Christ, our intermediary, speaks this same blessing, placing his Father’s name on us now that we are “the righteous of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And together with the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), as we behold and delight in our Father’s smiling face, we wholeheartedly respond with one voice, “Amen.”
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for smiling upon us with the gift of your Son who has blessed us by placing your name on us as your children. Would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit in living a right relationship with you where we appropriate your grace and peace and reflect the light of your countenance on those stumbling in the darkness? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling