This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Numbers 6:22-27
Dear church family,
You hear pastors say it all the time. Some of you bow your head for it. Others hold out your hands. And others look up to the Lord. One man used to say “Pastor, when you pronounce the benediction, let the words drip like honey.” Receive these words like a rich gift from God:
Num 6:24 “ ‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you;
Num 6:25 the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
Num 6:26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.” ’
We don’t sit in church because we’re so good and God doesn’t give us his blessing because we’re so good. No, it’s because we know we aren’t that good that we feel so blessed to receive God’s benediction! That’s why it means so much to us.
The Meaning in General
But what does it mean to hear this blessing or to receive it? Why is it so special?
Well, as background, we should understand, is that this passage records the benediction which God appointed for dismissing the people at the close of the daily service. Leviticus 9:22 says,
Lev 9:22 Then Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them.
Lifted hands signify that the words are not just the priest’s but that they come from God. One man writes, “The priest was the mediator, not the initiator.” In fact, when the people gathered for worship, the priest offered sin offerings and fellowship offerings, making atonement. And in that way he was reconnecting the people with God, restoring their fellowship with him. And when that was done, he raised his arms and pronounced the blessing from the Lord.
The verb voice for the word “bless” is in what is called the jussive voice, meaning it is an oracle, records one scholar. “It’s not a wish or a prayer. It is a declaration of what the Lord imparts. It is as binding and sure as a patriarchal blessing which once said officially could not be taken back. The priest here is then pronouncing the word of the Lord, declaring to the congregation the outcome of the atonement.”
In fact, he writes, “The repetition of the name ‘Lord’ or ‘Jahweh’ three times expresses the great mystery of the Godhead—three persons, and yet one God.” Furthermore, it is believed that “the expressions in the separate clauses correspond to the respective offices of the Father, to ‘bless and keep us’; of the Son, to be ‘gracious to us’; and of the Holy Ghost, to ‘give us peace.’ So our triune God is looking to bless his people.
Yes, congregation, this blessing communicates the Lord’s desire “to invest His people with His name,” says one commentator. What does that mean—investing people with his name? Well, having the name of the Lord rest on you, so to speak, is another way of saying, “may the Lord live among his people and meet all their needs.” In that sense, this blessing “captures the very essence of what it means for Israel to be the people of Yahweh—a source of blessing that makes God’s gracious presence known.” (Strickland) You see, when Israel received the blessing and when we receive it still today, it is God’s promise to be with us and his call for us to be a blessing wherever we go. We are to carry his name with us. In that sense, it’s a lot like baptism. The mark of baptism is always on you and me, reminding us that God is with us and we are called to live under the power of God for all to see. We are blessed to be a blessing! That’s the Lord’s point in giving his blessing to Israel and to us.
In a very simple sense, the Lord’s blessing is his way of showing us that he wants nothing but the best for us. He commanded Aaron to give this blessing after every temple service because he wanted it to be clear by repetition that God gives his blessing for our good. And that’s just like all of God’s commands. God doesn’t tell us do certain things just to take away our fun or something like that. No, boys and girls, when God commands us to obey our parents, it’s for our good because parents are supposed to care for us and protect us and keep us safe. And when the Lord says keep Sabbath, he does that for our good because he knows that we can’t function fully when we work day after day and never rest and never refocus our lives on him. Like a good parent, he even set the example for us on the week he created the world. The Bible says on the seventh day the Lord rested from his labor.
For this reason, the Lord commanded Aaron to bless the people. It is essential for us to know that God is with us all the time. And that gets us to the more specific meaning of this blessing.
The Meaning More Specifically
My friends, Aaron’s blessing gives us three things to bless our lives as we head into the world each week. The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord be gracious to you and the Lord give you his peace.
The Ancient Hebrew Research Center translates the blessing this way:
Yahweh will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection, Yahweh will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you bringing order and he will beautify you, Yahweh will lift up his wholeness of being and look upon you and he will set in place all you need to be whole and complete.
That sounds a bit different than the straight English reading. But the English word “bless” comes from the Hebrew barak which means "to kneel". A berakah is a "blessing" but more literally, the bringing of a gift to another on a bended knee. When we bless God or others, we are in essence bringing a gift on bended knee. A true king is one who serves his people, one who will humble himself and come to his people on a bended knee.
Isn’t that amazing? And doesn’t that just fit perfectly with what we know of God, particularly through Jesus? It was Jesus himself who said,
Mt 20:28 …the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Isn’t that amazing? This is how Jesus came to bless us. He came on bended knee to serve his people! What a king! What a Saviour!
And like a good king, he keeps us. The Hebrew word for "keep" is "shamar" which literally means "to guard". A related word is "shamiyr" which means "thorn". This refers to the time when shepherds were out in the wilderness with their sheep and would build a corral for the sheep constructed out of thorn bushes. That would protect the sheep from predators, keeping them safe. So writes a contributor to this Ancient Hebrew Research Center I mentioned, “With this more Hebraic concept of Hebrew words we can now read the beginning of the Aaronic blessing as, "Yahweh will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection".
Picture our Lord protecting us. Satan recognized it when he talked to God about Job. He said,
Job 1:9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.
This protection for us means we can live and prosper under God’s care, like sheep can live safely in a corral their shepherd builds for them. This is God’s daily care and provision for us.
The second blessing goes a little deeper. It is for the Lord to be “gracious” to us. “This word depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.” So here God sees our real need. This goes beyond just physical needs. We all like good health and food, but what we really need is God’s grace. After all, we are all sinners. Isaiah put it this way:
Is 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
And the NT tells us there is no one righteous, not even one. So we’re lost without God’s grace. It is the grace of God, bought for us through Jesus, that saves us.
And then the third part of this blessing is God’s peace, a gift that comes primarily through the Holy Spirit. Because of the Father’s care and keeping and because the Son has secured us in the grace of God, we may live in peace. This is the peace the Apostle Paul speaks about when he says,
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Mixed in that passage are words like “guard” and promises of God’s nearness along with the promise of peace which comes by keeping us focused on Christ. And that’s the Holy Spirit’s work. He keeps us resting in Christ.
Friends, the Holy Spirit enables us to believe and to know with certainty that Jesus has paid for our sins. And that gives us peace. The Holy Spirit assures us that our Lord will take care of us, no matter what, and that gives us peace. In a church sooner or later, we meet people who are terminally ill or even just seriously ill. But they have amazing peace—the peace of God which transcends understanding. The Holy Spirit guides our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, assuring us that we are in God’s hands because of Jesus. We don’t deserve God’s love and grace, but we do receive it because of Jesus. And what a tremendous gift it is to be able to have peace when the future, humanly speaking, is uncertain. What a blessing peace is when you face uncertainty. What a comfort to have peace with God, knowing that even death does not have the victory over us, though it still does create a severe sting.
God’s Gift for Life
That’s really the heart of this blessing, my friends. It is God’s gift for us to be able to live fully and freely no matter what comes our way. Our sin cannot separate us from God because Jesus has brought us back together. Our fears and weaknesses in this life have no real power because our Father in heaven has us so completely in his hand that even the hairs on our head are attended to by number. Amazing! And though Satan should throw all he has at us, like he did to Job, though trials should come, as they most certainly do in our lives, we have God’s peace in our hearts that enables us to face the future with confidence.
But as I said earlier, this blessing is intended to be a means of blessing as well. We are blessed to be a blessing. We have received this gift of God’s blessing so that we can be God’s blessing to others. It is a gift for life that we use to bring life into other people’s hearts.
Picture the Lord’s face shining on you, as you are promised in the benediction of Numbers 6. In the OT when your face would shine it was a way of saying you are happy. And happy is another word for blessed in the Old Test ment and the New. But think of the happy face of God shining on you. He’s a Father enjoying his children as he looks over them in the playground of the world.
And because we live under his smiling face, we can smile as well. And therefore our faces—and our lives along with them—can bring joy and peace and happiness to other people.
Sick people sometimes testify to the congregation—perhaps not with these words but with this sentiment—that the congregation has been the smiling face of God to radiate them. It becomes evident in our struggles that God lives among us. As we let his love shine through us, joy and happiness flow in our worship. Various gestures of love display the smiling face of God when one of us struggles with illness and receives a meal or help cleaning the house. And in the funerals when we reach out in love to one another, the peace of God shines through.
In good times too, a church shines with God’s blessings of peace. When we are enjoying after worship services laughing and talking or playing games, when we look for a lonely person to chat with or a new attender or visitor, the shining face of God shows. Our faces shine on one another as we enjoy new babies in the church. These are ways in which the blessings flow from God to each of us and then to one another and even beyond the church to those outside of it.
The book of Numbers has some stories of God’s people missing the point. They get to grumbling and complaining about this and that. As a result,the joy of their deliverance from bondage is a shadow on their faces at best. So God comes to them—and he comes to us—with a shining, smiling face and a blessing to carry us through this life with his care, his grace and his peace. So there’s nothing to grumble about. God’s face is shining and ours should be shining too.
We can be certain that God is always up to good in the church. So we don’t want to fall into grumbling and quarrelling. God hates it. He blesses us so that we will shine brightly and beautifully for all the world to see. He blesses us to be a blessing. In fact, at the end of Luke’s gospel we read that one of the last things Jesus did before returning to heaven was to raise his arms and bless his disciples. And in doing so he was calling us all to live under that blessing—free from the concerns of this world—so that we can shine with the love of God the Father, the grace of Christ and the peace of the Holy Spirit.
So whether you bow your head to receive it, hold out your hands or lift up your face, receive God’s blessings and let it drip like honey. And then let the blessing of God Almighty go with us into our daily lives. Live out of it. Know that your Father in heaven is with you now and forever.
Prayer of Response
Our gracious and loving God, we thank you and praise you for the gift of your blessing on our life. We come to you ragged and worn out by life. We know we are unworthy of your blessing but you give it to us in grace. We praise you that you love us and send us into the world with your peace. May we always know—in good times and bad—with unwavering certainty that you are with us and will never leave us or forsake us. And so may we live under your blessing and be a shining blessing to all those whose lives we touch. In the power and name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Order of Worship
BRINGING PRAISE TO THE LORD
Welcome and Announcements
* We Greet One Another
* Gathering Song: How Great Thou Art #483:1,3
* Call to Worship
* God’s Greeting
* Song of Praise: Jesus Messiah (or Out of My Bondage #428)
CELEBRATING GOD’S GRACE
Prayer of Confession
God’s Word of Forgiveness
God’s Will for Our Lives
* Song of Response: Blessed Assurance #490
HEARING GOD’S WORD
Prayer for the Word
Scripture Reading: Numbers 6:22-27
Sermon: A Holy Blessing
* Song of Response: Let All Things Now Living #453
OFFERING OUR PRAYERS & GIFTS TO GOD
Tithes and Offerings:
* Song: How Great Is Our God (or Praise God… #638)
LEAVING WITH GOD’S BLESSING
* Closing Song: Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing #320