Summary: God blesses us and causes us to be a blessing to others. We need to learn what it means to bless, and to let people know we are blessed.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
In Fiddler on the Roof, a man from the Jewish village of Anatevka asks the Rabbi, “Is there a blessing for the Czar?” The Rabbi responds: “A blessing for the Czar? Of course. May God bless and keep the Czar...far away from us!”
Blessings are part of daily life. Someone sneezes and we automatically say “Bless you” without thinking. It's just something we say...but a blessing is more than mere words. So what does it mean?
The Hebrew word for “blessing”, “Barocha,” means “to bow the knee.” It conveys respect, indicating that those we bless have value. The Bible says that we also bless God, which means we express our awe, wonder, reverence of Him. Blessings in the Bible were given at times of meeting and parting, or at significant life events--birth, marriage, death, and the blessing of children about to make their own way. Jewish children receive a blessing at their bar or bat mitzvah (equivalent of our Confirmation). We might bless a new house, a new job. I was given a blessing when I was ordained, and later when I went off to war.
A blessing is a also a way of expressing thanks, as we do by saying grace. British author G.K. Chesterton noted: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, dancing and grace before I dip my pen in the ink.” I've learned from this to thank God before kayaking (and not just to keep the sharks away). We recognize God's blessings and are grateful. We can ask Him to bless all that we do...and if we can't, maybe it's something we shouldn't be doing!
Blessing is something God does to make us who we are, as in His promise to bless Abraham in Genesis 12, to make his name great...and blessing is something we can do. Isaac pronounced a blessing on his son Jacob in Genesis 27: “May God give you of heaven's dew and earth's riches.” When Jacob wrestled with the angel in Genesis 32 he cried out, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” From ancient Egypt to ISIS, Jews have lived with the threat of extermination, but God has blessed and kept them and will continue to keep Israel. Every nation that tried to destroy Israel was defeated. God assured Abraham that He would bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who curse them.
The NT Greek word for “blessing” means “to speak well of” someone; to wish them a fortunate life, for their material and spiritual prosperity. We're in need of a good word from others. I knew soldiers who got nothing but criticism, never a kindly word, even when they performed well. One soldier said to me, “Chaplain, getting praise is like getting paid.” At the end of church, our Benediction is a blessing, a parting word that means more than dismissal. We depart with God's blessing.
In Numbers 6, we find the blessing Moses instructed his brother Aaron to give Israel. It is the most quoted blessing in all Scripture. Aaron was the first High Priest. When Jewish priests offered words of blessing, they would form their hands in the shape of the Hebrew letter Shin, to represent the name “El Shaddai” or “Almighty God.” Jewish actor Leonard Nimoy adapted this for his Vulcan blessing on Star Trek: “Live long and prosper.” Today a Jewish wish for God's best is often conveyed by the Yiddish phrase “Mazel Tov.” It is both a congratulation and a blessing.
We say a blessing over our food, to acknowledge the Source of our provision. In so doing, we set our meal apart. Lunch is no longer ordinary, even if it's just a peanut butter sandwich! We may ask God to bless something we hope to do. In so doing, we're acknowledge His sovereignty and our reliance on Him.
Jews bless God for their Sabbath rest. They greet the Sabbath with a prayer: “Blessed are You, Lord God, Sovereign of the universe, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to light the candles of Shabbat.”
The Priestly Blessing of Numbers 6 is a gift, an offering that enriches both the giver and receiver. God's face “shines” on us because He is our light and life. This blessing is that we may walk in the light of God's love.
To wish God's “face” to shine upon someone is a way of saying, “May God look upon you with kindness and benevolence.” So “face” means “favor.” To turn one's face away is a sign of rejection. When we're blessing someone we're expressing truth about God. But there's no magic in a blessing; a blessing is not a “spell.” It is simply a way of conveying our hope for God's best, for someone's happiness and welfare.