Lighting the Candle
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his
face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you, and give you peace.
Many will hear this beautiful benediction spoken over them today in church. It’s a favorite at weddings, funerals, hospital rooms, and most any place where people seek God’s blessing to shine on them. But strangely it was while I was walking today in the cold, darkening woods of northern Minnesota, that this benediction came to me.
It happened as I was a few thousand miles from my accustomed sunny Arizona, where the sun reliably shines for most of the daylight hours. But today, as I walked under a dark canopy of tall pine, birch, white spruce, and sugar maples, I saw trees reaching, stretching limbs skyward for the fading winter sun. They battled and competed with each other for the season’s last light; it was plainly the survival of the fittest. I realized that it would be a hard winter until the full sunlight returned with the spring. I thought then of today’s Scripture text with God’s blessing shining brightly upon us.
Today’s text pronounces God’s blessing to shine on His people bright as the warm summer sun. It is a blessing that God gave to be spoken by the priests at times of worship (Numbers 6:22-27). Bible commentators point out that this is not a prayer, but a “benediction” (literally, “to say good words”): a statement of divine approval pronounced on behalf of God over His people. This is not a mere expression of hope for the future. but a statement of fact based on what God has already promised He would do.
This blessing draws upon imagery common in Old Testament times when God is pictured as the sun: “The Lord God is a sun and shield” (Psalm 84:11). Just as the sun gives physical life and sustenance to all that lives, so God shines on us His grace and peace.
As a blessing or benediction it does not depend on us, but rather upon God’s purpose to both bless us and make us a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). God’s blessing is not something for which we have to struggle, complete, or beg, but something that God purposes to give us in Christ. While trees in the north woods of winter battle for the light of the sun, God graciously shines the sunlight of His grace upon us all the year round.
Know and rely upon this truth today: that it is God’s heart to bless you, to keep you in all your ways, to be gracious to you, and to give you His peace, (“shalom”) and well-being. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Son of my soul! Thy Savior dear,
It is not night if thou be near.
Oh, may no earth-born cloud arise
To hide Thee from thy servant’s eyes!
– John Keble
MOMENT OF SILENCE AND REFLECTION
Our loving Lord. Open our eyes today to the constant sunlight of your love. Help us today to expect your blessing, though unworthy. And doubly bless us we pray, by blessing others through us. Amen.