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.”
“In the wilderness” is the Hebrew title (bemidbar) for the Old Testament book of Numbers. Numbers shows God’s dealing with the Israelites as He prepares former slaves to enter and possess the Promised Land. Bible scholar Thomas Constable notes that in the book of Numbers God’s provision for His people stands out, along with His patience with them, and His persistence in bringing them to the land of milk and honey (Expository Notes). Even though the Children of Israel were often disobedient and unbelieving, God was faithful to His promise to bless them.
It is significant that in this book about Israel’s Wilderness wanderings God wills to bless His people. Today’s text is commonly called the Aaronic, or, Priestly Blessing. It is to be pronounced over the people so that they might experience “peace”, or shalom, in the Wilderness. The Hebrew word for “bless” literally means, “to bend the knee” as in people bending the knee to worship or serve God. It was common to hear this word at the beginning of most Jewish blessings of God: “Bless the LORD, O my soul”. What is remarkable here is that it is the Lord God who is “bending knee” to serve His people. For anyone who might ever doubt God’s purposes in Wilderness times, here stands God’s purpose to bless.
Rather than containing six actions – bless, keep, make His face shine, be gracious, lift up His countenance, and give peace – the Hebrew grammar calls for a different reading. The blessing contains three actions, each action followed by an explanatory verb:
- 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 face upon you, that is, give you true peace (shalom)
Each clause expresses God’s purpose to bless, summed up in His keeping power: “Behold, he who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleep” (Psalm 124:1). The Hebrew word for “keep” means, “to guard, protect, be in charge of”. As God’s people make their way through the Wilderness their lives are kept safe in God’s hands.
A “face to shine upon you” is a Hebrew idiom for “to be at peace with” someone. Rather than God hiding His “face”, He dwells in face-to-face relationship with His people. To “lift up his countenance upon you” is idiomatic for smiling at someone, or looking on with favor. This means that God smiles on His people and delights in them. He is pleased when they come into the “tent of meeting” to seek Hm. This is a relationship that nourishes peace.
Peace, or the Hebrew word shalom, means far more than peacefulness or cessation of hostilities. Shalom comes from a verb meaning “to be finished” or “completed”. Shalom is to be whole, complete, lacking in nothing.
Today’s text states that by pronouncing this blessing over the people “they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them”. As you journey through the Wilderness, receive God’s blessing and name on you. And why not speak this blessing over others today; put God’s blessing and name on them!
- Do you ever doubt God’s heart and purpose to bless you? If so, why do you think that might be?
- Take a few moments to ponder bending the knee to serve God, and then God bending the knee to serve you. Pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that stir within.
- Ponder God’s original promise to bless Abraham, all his family, and all the world through him: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).