The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: 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 they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
I had long missed the Bible’s distinction between a prayer and a blessing, and therefore missed one of the most important, transformative spiritual disciplines: blessing others.
Saying a blessing over someone is more than just another form of prayer. While a prayer makes a request, a blessing imparts. Prayer is speaking to God, and a blessing is God speaking through us. The words we say in a blessing are more than just our words, they are God’s. And when God speaks, His words are creative and powerful; just look at the Creation story in Genesis 1! “And God said…And God said…And God said…And God said…” God’s words do not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11) but accomplish what they say. So when we pronounce God’s blessing over others those words are more than “a wish but actually convey God’s blessing on the recipient.” (Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery)
Thus we find the Bible filled with people blessing others in God’s name (Gen. 24:60, 27:27-29, 47:7; Exod. 39:43; Leviticus 9:22-23; Joshua 22:6-7; Ruth 3:10; 2 Sam. 2:4-6; Psalm 128:5-6, 134:3). The Lord Jesus and the apostles even command that we speak words of blessing to those who curse and revile us (Luke 6:28; Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12).
Today’s blessing is taken from the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and her wilderness wanderings. Despite the Israelites’ stubborn unbelief God’s purpose is to bless them, and He gives this blessing to be said over them. Note in today’s Scripture text that God says by speaking these words of blessing He will put His “name” on His people and “will bless them.” This blessing was then spoken over the people after every morning sacrifice and on feast days.
This blessing also became a weekly family blessing as every Sabbath parents would place their hands on their children’s heads and speak blessing over them. They might also whisper something personal into their children’s ears, conveying God’s special favor on them and honoring them as holy to the Lord. Today in Jewish homes this Sabbath blessing varies from family to family but is based on this blessing from Numbers 6. Touching the child’s head or holding little ones in the lap are considered essential for conveying a physical sense of God’s blessing.
In the Gospels people brought their children to Jesus for a blessing and that “he might touch them” (Mark 10:13). So Jesus took the children up “in his arms, laid hands on them, and blessed them”, or, literally the Greek reads, “eulogized them” (Mark 10:16). He spoke over them the Father’s words of love and favor.
The spiritual discipline of blessing others is practiced throughout Bible times and much of Church history; it can add much to our life of faith today. How wonderful it is for wives and husbands to bless each other, holding each other and conveying God’s Words: “The LORD bless you and keep you…” Parents might personalize this blessing for each child as was done in Bible times. What a great way to conclude bedtime prayers and tucking in bed our little ones! Teenagers headed out the door for the day could get a touch on the shoulder and hear the words, “The LORD bless you and keep you…” Home Bible studies might conclude with these powerful words that impart God’s blessing. Church elder meetings, vestry meetings, or board meetings could be blessed in God’s prescribed way of blessing. Coffee at Starbucks could be capped off with this blessing. When I was a chaplain at Mayo Hospital we had a day in which chaplains went through the hospital blessing the hands of those who served — nurses, doctors, technicians, housekeepers, etc. It was wonderful!
I have enjoyed looking up different translations of this Numbers 6:22-27 passage. You too could go on line and check out different translations of this blessing from The Message, The New International Version, The Revised Standard Version, etc. Why not choose one translation of this blessing that you especially like and memorize it. Speak the words of this blessing over people you love, and speak it even for enemies as Jesus commands us to do. In this the time of Jesus’ New Covenant, all followers of Jesus are “a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:10), empowered by God to convey His blessing. As we bless others in the name of God, we also find ourselves wonderfully blessed!
The Lord bless you and keep you,