God’s Word for You
Numbers 6:22-24 The Lord bless you…
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, July 2, 2021
22 The LORD told Moses 23 to speak to Aaron and to his sons and to tell them to bless the Israelites with these words: 24 The LORD bless you…
We call this the Aaronic Blessing today, since it was given to Aaron. There are some things about the blessing in general we should notice, and yet I would like to walk through the blessing itself phrase-by-phrase, to ponder each phrase and at least some of the things God promises and gives to his people, through the High Priests in the days of the tabernacle and temple, and through the presiding ministers in these latter days of Christ and his Church.
The blessing has three parts, and because of this we recognize it as a Trinitarian blessing. The final phrase of the command (verse 27) tells us that these things come to us through God’s name, and that by putting his name on us, his Church, God blesses and protects us.
Each of the three parts is further divided into two halves. In each pair the first part is a general blessing and the second part is a special application of that blessing for the people. Also, the three pairs build in a crescendo (Keil says “an ever-increasing emphasis”) toward the final, ultimate blessing of everlasting peace. In this way, the blessing echoes the pattern of the days of creation, since each of the first three days presents a general blessing and forming on God’s part, and each of the three later days modifies and applies those blessings in the same order as the first days: sun, moon and stars modify the earlier light and dark (Genesis 1:14,3); fish and birds fill the sea and sky (Genesis 1:20,6); animals and man fill the land (Genesis 1:24-26,9).
“The LORD bless you.”
I am struck by three things in this first blessing, two of which are common to all of the blessings. The two that are shared are not redundant, however, but are applied in different and wonderful ways.
1, The source of blessing is the LORD. This is God using his name, Yahweh, which means “He Is.” This is also the name God uses when he makes covenants and promises, the God of grace, of free grace, of faithful grace. His graciousness is not earned but given; it is not deserved but brings that which would deserve it, which is to say that what God looks for in us, he gives to us. He is like the husband in the Song of Solomon who wants to praise his beautiful bride, and he praises those things she does not have any control over, her eyes, her lips, her temples (Song 4:1,3). She (the Church) has not gouged out her eyes or damaged her lips or temples, and God does not want us to throw away our faith or damage the gospel and the doctrine he has given to us: “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16); “You did not renounce your faith in me” (Revelation 2:13). God gives us faith, and then he looks for that faith (Luke 19:15).
2, The word “bless” means to call down God’s gracious power and to give or provide benefits. If we turn again to the picture of Christ and the Church his bride in the Song of Solomon, she counts her blessings in familiar ways: “I delight to sit in his shade, he has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love” (Song 2:3,4). The “shade” God gives is protection in all its forms, the “banquet hall” is the providence God gives through the bounty of the earth, food, raw materials, material wealth and other things. “His banner over me” must include many things such as the unseen protections God gives through his angels (Daniel 10:13, 1 Kings 22:19), but most especially this banner of love is the gospel of Christ’s love, and forgiveness through his blood. These are only some of the ways God blesses us. We see this in its clearest and purest way in the Means of Grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. The marks of the true church are the clear preaching of the gospel and the correct administration of the sacraments. When these things are lost or forcibly removed, they are missed more than any other blessings.
A common refrain we hear in our church comes from people who say, “This church sounds like / feels like the church I grew up in. I’ve missed it so much!” What do they mean? They have come from churches that embraced social causes, political movements, feminist agendas, and things like that. But in every case, and with no exceptions, those things were done at the cost of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified. It is the message of the forgiveness of sins through the cross and the physical resurrection of the dead that those poor people have been missing all these years, because the social causes they were told to applaud had no room for the atonement of Calvary; no room for the empty tomb; no room even for the historical meaning of “no room in the inn.” Everything becomes an allegory when the cross is emptied of the atoning blood of the Lamb’s sacrifice. When a church dares to remove that blessing, the people agonize and groan for its return: “You have dealt with me because of all my sins; my groans are many and my heart is faint” (Lamentations 1:22).
3, Here and all throughout the blessing, the word “you” is always the second person singular, not plural. This is the difference in the greeting in Ruth 2:4, where Boaz calls out to the many harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” and he uses the plural “you” (Hebrew -chem) meaning all of them. They reply, “The LORD bless you!” and they use the singular “you” (Hebrew -cha), meaning him, alone. So here in the benediction, it is “you, mister,” or “you, sister,” and not “all of you.” This is unexpected, startling, and worth remembering for a lifetime. As Aaron’s hands went up with palms spread toward the people, he was addressing two million Israelites, and yet God’s blessing was not going out to them in a general way, but specifically and individually to each and every one. This is the same thing that happens today. The minister’s hands rise up at the end of the service and he addresses all of the people assembled, but while doing so, he addresses each and every one individually. Each worshiper should think as the words are spoken, “My minister said, ‘The Lord bless you,’ and he means, ‘The Lord blesses me. This is the blessing my Jesus gives to me.’”
This includes all the blessings of the text, and all the blessings that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings: the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and everlasting joy in heaven. It also means God’s special blessings here on earth, since he promises to look after us and to provide whatever we need. It is the Lord’s Prayer answered. It is the Creed fulfilled. It is the curse of the Garden overturned forever. It is, for each of us, eternal and everlasting peace in Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith