“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.”
How do you think God looks at you? Do you imagine Him looking at you with a smile or a frown? Do you see Him looking at you with favor, or ill will? Stay with me, because I want to show you from Scripture that God is smiling at you and wanting to bless you!
I have in mind the blessing that God commands be spoken over His people in the Old Testament book of Numbers 6:22-27. The Hebrew title for the book is Bemidbar, “In the wilderness”. God gave this blessing to sustain and support His people on their wilderness journey from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land. It is a blessing to create shalom, or peace, wholeness, and wellbeing for His people. Significantly this is a blessing and not a prayer. When we pray we are essentially asking God for a blessing, but when we bless we are conveying God’s blessing.
In the Hebrew text the blessing comes in three lines, each with a pair of verbs joined by the connective “and”. Hebrew scholars tell us that the connective “and” is better translated in this context as “that is”. So, rather than the blessing speaking six actions (bless…keep… make His face shine…be gracious…lift up His face…give peace), the blessing contains three actions, each described by a verb. It looks like this:
The LORD bless you, that is, keep you;
The LORD make his face shine upon you, that is, be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, that is, give you peace.
Each of the three clauses convey God’s blessing to His often erring, unbelieving people. The three clauses crescendo to the highest point of bestowing shalom, or true peace and wholeness. Let’s look at each of three clauses conveying blessing.
FIRST CLAUSE: The LORD bless you, that is, keep you;
The Hebrew word (barach), translated “bless”, is related to the word “knee”, and means “to bend the knee”. God’s people “bend the knee”, or bow before God to “bless” Him: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1). But in this blessing it is God who is “bending the knee” to His people, bowing down to earth to bless them, and to keep them safe. The blessing of God is summed up in His power to keep them: “Behold, he who keeps Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 24:1). The Hebrew word for “keep” means to “guard”, “protect” and “be in charge of”. As God’s people journey through a dangerous wilderness it is God’s purpose to bless and keep them safe.
THE SECOND CLAUSE: The Lord Make His face to shine upon you, that is, be gracious to you;
For the ancient Hebrews a “shining face” was an idiom for “to be in friendship with”, “to be at peace with”. To the Hebrew mind the “face of God” represented His presence with them. Thus, when we see Adam and Eve hiding from the presence of God, the Hebrew literally says they were hiding from His “face” (Genesis 3:8). In the Psalms we are commanded to come before God’s “face” or presence with thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2). To hide one’s face is to be angry, to turn away from, to punish. Thus David prays: “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger” (Psalm 27:9).
To turn one’s face toward someone is to enter an open-faced relationship. For God to “shine His face” is for His face to be like the sun illuminating the lives of His people in times of trouble (Psalm 22:24); to work deliverance (Psalm 31:6); to bring salvation (Psalm 89:15); and to teach them (Psalm 119:135).
The shining of the light of God’s face on them is for Him to make His presence known to them, to dwell with them as a friend, to engage them in open-faced companionship.
THE THIRD CLAUSE: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, that is, give you peace.
To “lift up his countenance”, is idiomatic for smiling at someone, or looking on someone with favor. Compare this with a “fallen countenance/face” denoting a frown or anger. In Genesis 4:6 the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?” In Jeremiah 3:12 the LORD promises Jeremiah, “I will not look upon you in anger. For I am merciful declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever.” In Psalm 44:3 the psalmist reminds how God brought His people to the Promised Land: “For not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory; but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, for you delighted in them.” With this third clause, we see God smiling on His children and delighting in them. This is a relationship nourishing peace.
Peace, or shalom, means far more than cessation of hostility. Shalom is based on the verb, shalam, meaning “to be finished”, or “completed”. Shalom, or true peace, thus means, “to be complete,” “whole”, and “lacking in nothing”.
Notice in today’s text God says that in the speaking this blessing God is putting his “name” on His people, joining Himself to them. Just as we write our name on a possession to mark it as belonging to us, so God writes His name on His people through the words of this blessing.
Finally, God’s purpose is to bless His people and bring them true peace, but He uses human intermediaries to convey that blessing. “You shall say to them, ‘The LORD bless you…’” Thus, Scripture commands us to “bless” others (Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9), and in that be channels of His will to bless. For example, each morning my wife Rita and I speak to each other the words of this Numbers 6 blessing. And when we say to others “God bless you”, we can mean it to be more than just a social habit, but rather a real conveyance of God’s will to bless them.
So, how do you see God looking at you right now? I hope you see God smiling at you! I hope you see His face lighting up your life! I hope you will speak God’s smile to others!
Grace and peace,
P.S. Water from Rock’s Advent devotional “And the Word Became Flesh: Daily Reflections on the Incarnation for Advent 2015” is available now. Order copies for yourself, your family and friends, study group, Sunday School class, church, etc., by using our order form.