Receiving the Lord's Blessing
Meditating on the benediction.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “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 turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:22-26)
Numbers 6:22-26 is known as the “Aaronic Benediction” and it was said to the people of Israel after every Tabernacle service. Some churches today say a benediction at the end of their worship services too, though many no longer practice this tradition. But whether you are familiar with the benediction or not, it is easy to miss the richness of the Lord’s blessing without meditating on it in depth.
The word “benediction” literally means “good word” (in Latin: bene = good; diction = word). So the benediction is God’s “good word” that is pronounced over His people. The imagery of this good word in the Aaronic Benediction is full of meaning. Let’s break it down verse by verse.
“The LORD bless you and keep you.”
What does it mean to be blessed by the LORD? We tend to think of a blessing as receiving a gift of some kind. But is that what this means? In a sense that is correct, but in the Bible, to pronounce a blessing over someone is really an expression of deep delight and commitment.
For example, in ancient times it was common for fathers near the end of their lives to pronounce a blessing over their sons. Perhaps the best example of this is found in the story of Jacob in Genesis 27, when he tricks his father Isaac into blessing him instead of his brother Esau. When this happened, a father was not only expressing love for his son and wishing him well, he was also committing to his son’s future success by giving him his inheritance. It was a way of saying to the son, ‘I love you, I am proud of you, and I am willing to do all I can for your future good.’
This is exactly what God is saying to His people in the benediction. It is why it says the Lord bless you “and keep you.” Not only is the Lord expressing His delight in His people, He is also expressing His commitment to achieving their future good.
“The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”
This verse and the next verse both reference the face of God. This verse in particular talks about God’s face “shining upon you.” But what does it mean for the LORD to make His face shine upon you? After all, doesn’t God see everything?
The answer is that when Scripture speaks of God’s face it is talking about His relational presence, not His omnipresence. This is why David can say in Psalm 27:9, “Hide not your face from me.” He does not want to lose his relationship with God. While God is sovereign and “sees everything” (Job 28:24), it is only His people who have His relational presence, or “His face.”
“The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
When this verse speaks of the LORD turning His face toward you, the implication is that at some point His face was turned away. Remember, the benediction was pronounced only at the end of the tabernacle service; it came only after sin had been atoned for through sacrifice. In other words, the Bible teaches that without the atonement of sin we cannot experience the relational presence of God, nor can we experience true peace.
However, Hebrews 10:10 says that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” To be a Christian, then, means to rest in the sacrifice of Jesus and to be given access to the face of God; to experience His relational presence and blessing. This is true only because on the cross Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It was at this point where Jesus experienced the loss of His Father’s relational presence for the first time, and He endured this so that we might have access to God’s face.
Because Jesus experienced God turning His face away from Him, we get to experience God turning His face towards us.
Our culture tells us that we must look inside ourselves in order to find our true worth, but underneath we all long for blessing and benediction. A lot of us struggle with loneliness and depression. Many of us have “parent wounds.” Some of us are single but long to be married. Others of us look to our career accomplishments to give our life meaning. Why? Because our hearts, deep down, long for a good word from the outside to be spoken to us, telling us that we have worth. We desperately want to matter to someone and to know that person is really and truly committed to us. This we simply cannot find inside ourselves.
But in the benediction, this is exactly what we have. It is here where God announces to us that He truly delights in us and that He is committed to us; that He blesses us and He keeps us. It is here where He tells us that we have His face—His relational presence—shining upon us and that He is gracious to us. It is here where we will find true peace by receiving the ultimate good word spoken to our hearts.
How can you take the richness of the benediction into your heart more? Look to the cross and see how much worth you have to God. Look to the cross and see what price was paid for you to receive such a blessing.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Resident with Ministry to State in Washington, D.C.