THE BLESSED PRESENCE OF GOD’S PROTECTION, FAVOR AND PEACE MEET ALL OF THE NEEDS OF THE BELIEVING COMMUNITY
Here is the classic OT benediction passage. I can remember as a child my pastor frequently closing sermons with this text. It has such a melodic flow to the language. It is succinct and yet profound in its theology and practical application. I have a special affection for these verses. What a comfort to bask in the great blessings which we enjoy from our gracious God. These blessings are all-encompassing and sufficient for the magnitude and variety of both personal and corporate needs in the believing community. The Apostle Paul sums up the same sentiments in his characteristic closing benediction of “Grace and Peace.”
Timothy Ashley: Aaron’s blessing (vv. 24–26) is surrounded by a framework that identifies the divine author of the directive and the human mediator of it (v. 22), states the priestly duty to pronounce blessing on the people (v. 23), and tells the outcome of such a blessing (v. 27). The blessing itself is a prayer that God would grant his gracious presence and watchcare to his people. This is expressed in three poetic lines of unequal, increasing length. In the liturgical tradition of Israel (and of the Church) the blessing (or benediction) concludes the service of worship and serves as a promise of God’s blessing on the worshipers as they go into the world. An example of a concluding benediction is Lev. 9:22, which climaxes the worship service that culminates the whole revelation of the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, and the priesthood (Exod. 25–Lev. 9). . .
Blessings in the OT vary widely in their construction and contents. One should distinguish between the blessing, which calls for future goodness, and the beatitude, which looks to the blessings that presently exist (Ps. 1:1–2); one should also distinguish between the blessing in which God is the giver of the good gifts and the praise speech in which he is the receiver of praise for those good gifts.
Gordon Keddie: It is no accident that this blessing is recorded in the Word next to the Nazirite law. Holiness and blessing are inseparable. Indeed the blessing of God precedes our desire to do his will, undergirds our present obedience and rewards and reinforces us for future discipleship.
Thomas Constable: This blessing was three-fold, and each segment contained two parts. In each case the second part was a particular application of the general request stated in the first part. The first part hoped for God’s action that would result in the people’s benefit in the second part. The three blessings were increasingly emphatic. Even the structure of the blessing in Hebrew is artful. Line one consists of 15 letters (3words), line two of 20 letters (5 words), and line three of 25 letters (7 words). . .
The first blessing is the most general (Numbers 6:24). God’s blessing is His goodness poured out. The priest called on Him not only to provide for His people but to defend them from all evil.
The second blessing is more specific (Numbers 6:25). God’s face is the revelation of His personality to people. It radiates as fire does, consuming evil and bestowing light and warmth, and it shines as the sun, promoting life. God’s graciousness refers to the manifestation of His favor and grace in the events of life.
The third blessing is the most specific (Numbers 6:26). Lifting up the countenance refers to manifesting power. The priest called on God to manifest His power for His people. Specifically this would produce peace (Heb. shalom). “Shalom” does not mean just the absence of aggravation. It is the sum of all God’s blessings.
“The two main elements in the oracle are “grace and peace.” It is probable that the Apostle Paul based his salutations on this oracle.” [Note: The NET Bible note on 6:22.]
(:22-23) PROLOGUE – COMMAND TO BLESS ISRAEL
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:’”
I. (:24) GOD’S BLESSING AND PROTECTION
A. God’s Summary Blessing
“The LORD bless you,”
Brueggemann: In the Old Testament, God’s blessing comprised material bounty like those included in the positive side of covenant sanctions (Deut 28:3–14): wealth (Gen 24:35), posterity (Gen 28:3; Deut 1:11), land (Gen 35:12; 48:3–4), fertility, health, and victory (Deut 7:12–16), and strength and peace (Ps 29:11). The New Testament focuses the expectation of blessing on those who demonstrate an eschatological kingdom lifestyle (Matt 5:3–12), and that blessing rests first on the pious “poor” (Luke 4:18; 6:20).
J. Ligon Duncan: Before this blessing is given, the children of Israel are assembled, getting ready to leave on a dangerous journey across the desert. Many of them were going to die in the wilderness. They were going to be assaulted by enemies. They were going to face thirst and starvation. They were going to face division and dissention, and before they begin this arduous, dangerous, adventurous journey, God goes before them with a blessing, and nothing would have been more comforting to them than the guarantee of God’s sovereign blessing. That in and of itself plays into the whole story of Numbers, because over and over what will the people of God doubt in the wilderness? They will doubt God’s purpose to bless them. Isn’t it ironic? Before they ever set out, God says to them through Aaron ‘Let Me just make one thing perfectly clear’ — if you can remember President Nixon using that phrase: “Let me make this perfectly clear…” — now here’s the Lord, who does not lie, saying ‘Let me make one thing perfectly clear!’ And He pronounces this blessing, and if they could have just believed that, how different the story of Numbers would have been. It would have been an entirely different book if they had believed what God said in this passage. But how kind of God to give them these kinds of assurances before they ever set out. . .
Five times in this tiny little passage God makes it amply clear that He and He alone is the one who is capable of blessing His people. He is the only source of the only blessing that is worth having. And my friends, I want to suggest to you, especially in light of the theme of grumbling and distrust in the book of Numbers, that if the children of Israel had understood just that one truth adequately, it would have totally changed the story of the book of Numbers. If they had simply understood this: God is the giver; He’s the source of blessing; nothing that He doesn’t give do we need; what He gives is all we need. If they had understood that one thing, the whole story of Numbers would be different.
B. God’s Protection
“and keep you;”
Note that the emphasis is both corporate and personal
Timothy Ashley: The keeping or preserving power of God (basic to the root šmr) can be seen in widely separated contexts in the OT. God has the power to guard and preserve his faithful servants alive, no matter where their paths lead (see, e.g., Gen. 28:15; Exod. 23:30; Josh. 24:17; Ps. 12:7; most of the stories in Dan. 1–6 have this as one of their themes). God can watch over his servants in battle (1 Sam. 30:23), and gives his watchcare for his own (e.g., Ps. 91:11; 127:1). God is also faithful to keep (šmr) his covenant with his people and his steadfast covenant loyalty and love (ḥeseḏ) with them (Deut. 7:12; Neh. 1:9; 9:32; etc.), not because he must but because of his grace.
II. (:25) GOD’S FAVOR AND GRACE
A. God’s Favor
“The LORD make His face shine on you,”
R. K. Harrison: The “face of God” is another way of speaking about His personality. . . if the Lord’s presence is radiating divine favor in the midst of His people, they can confidently expect Him to pour out His covenant mercies upon them. . . Miller regards the shining countenance of God as a positive presence for help and favor and as a sign of the friendly and beneficent nearness of God who is gracious in His assistance as He turns to help human beings.
B. God’s Grace
“And be gracious to you;”
Timothy Ashley: “Grace” describes the attitude that issues in kindly action of a superior party to an inferior one in which the inferior has no claim on the superior. Graciousness is a fundamental aspect of Yahweh’s character, as both Old and New Testaments abundantly witness. Even though the placement of this passage emphasizes the keeping of various laws and rituals, the keeping of the law does not force God to be gracious. In fact, if the inferior party deserves the kindness, it would not be grace but payment. Yahweh is sovereign and he will show his grace when and to whom he wills (Exod. 33:19).
III. (:26) GOD’S PRESENCE AND PEACE
A. God’s Presence
“The LORD lift up His countenance on you,”
R. K. Harrison: by lifting up the face God is in fact looking directly at His people so that they may receive the benefit of His full attention. The result is salom, which means peace, prosperity, completeness, health, safety, general well-being, and so on. Peace in the context of the Aaronic benediction does not mean the absence of war but rather the product of a spiritually mature, healthy, and integrated personality that serves God and man to the full. Most of the occurrences of the word describe the state of fulfillment that results from God’s presence.
B. God’s Peace
“And give you peace.”
Warren Wiersbe: Peace involves quietness of heart within us, spiritual health and spiritual prosperity, adequacy for the demands of life, and the kind of spiritual well-being that rises above circumstances. George Morrison defined “peace” as the “possession of adequate resources,” which is what Paul had in mind when he wrote Philippians 4:6-20.
(:27) EPILOGUE – PROMISE TO BLESS ISRAEL
“So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”
Roy Gane: In this structural pattern, the Lord’s putting his name on the Israelites (v. 27a) is the functional equivalent of giving them well-being (v. 26b). Implied is reinforcement of the idea that through their connection with God, whose name represents his Presence and character (cf. Deut. 12:5, 11, 21; Ezek. 20:9, 14, 22), his people receive well-being.
Dennis Cole: The pronouncement of the prayer by the priests will confer the Name of Yahweh upon the children of Israel. As Allen states, “The prayer is designed to help the people experience the reality of the blessing of the Lord whose delight is to bring that blessing near; his promise is that he will do just that very thing.” The Name Yahweh carries with it the covenantal promise of his divine presence with his people, even through the deserts of Sinai, Paran, and Zin, and into the Promised Land. In the land of his blessing, which Israel will inherit as his possession, the people will experience the fullness of his blessing of security, prosperity, wholeness, and well-being.
J. Ligon Duncan: The way that God is going to mark His people is with a blessing–not with a brand, not with a bond, but with a blessing. That’s going to be His mark of ownership. How do you know that these are My people? I’ve put My name and My blessing on them, that’s how you’re going to know that they’re My people. And so this blessing shows us God as a bountiful giver, and a strong protector, and a faithful friend, and a forgiving Father, and a reliable partner, and a generous provider, and a unique owner.