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The Blessing

Over the past year, many of us have come to love “The Blessing”.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Recently, Richie sent me this article which gives an insight into its place in our history:

“More than thirty years ago, at a site just south of Jerusalem, archaeologists unearthed two rolled-up pieces of pliable silver, about the size of a credit card. Delicately etched on each plaque were words from this priestly blessing.

These small silver plaques predating 700 BC hold the earliest written citations of Scripture ever found. Perhaps they also bear witness to what must surely have been a primordial longing of our species—the desire for peace.

But what exactly is peace? When most of us think of peace, we think of an absence of conflict or the sense of tranquillity we sometimes feel after a walk in the park or a day at the beach. But the Hebrew word “shalom” is far brawnier than the English word “peace“, encompassing these ideas and more. Shalom contains the idea of completeness. It is the sum of all the blessings God can bestow—healing, prosperity, soundness, well-being, good relationships, perfection. It is what happens when God shines his face on you, when he turns toward you in all his greatness and brings you good.

After the daily sacrifice, the Israelite priests would extend their hands to pray this blessing over the people. As the priests prayed, it became customary for them to leave an opening in their fingers and for the people to cover their heads with their prayer shawls. They did this to express their reverence, believing the cloud of God’s presence was hovering over their heads and its light was streaming through the open fingers of the priests.”

For the Jews, a blessing was not just a wish that things would go well, but “a solemn, deliberate act through which specific and concrete advantages are conveyed“.  The Blessing is not only spoken by a priest.  It is something God himself gives to us in very tangible ways. 

It is easy to gloss over the words when we hear them rather than fully receive God’s truth in our hearts by faith.  But when we give ourselves time to reflect on the words, we recognise the many blessings of God contained in these three simple phrases. God chooses to keep us in His love, acting as our strong defender. His face shines on us with pleasure. His grace is sufficient for us – through Jesus, all our wrongdoing and shortcomings are forgiven when we turn to Him. The “God who sees” looks down at us and pours out His shalom – that complete peace that comes as we wait in His presence.

It’s worth looking at the next verse too; the Voice translation puts it well. “Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.” In the New Testament, we are called God’s holy priesthood, so as we bless others in the name of the Lord, we can be assured that God will look down at them and bless them too. What a privilege to share in God’s work of blessing. 

This week, “may the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  And may we, as a royal priesthood, pronounce blessing on our families, our friends, our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, and have the joy of seeing what God will do as a result.

Richard

7 March 2021

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