Summary: An ancient benediction delivers power and blessings today.
“Living in a Post-Easter World: The Shining”
What is the greatest blessing you could receive this week? For that matter, what is the greatest blessing you’ve ever received? For God’s people, Israel, freedom from slavery in Egypt had to be at the top of their list of blessings. You’d think, in fact, that what God did in freeing them would have sustained them for a long time to come. But we know it did not; they began to grumble, complain, and lose faith almost as soon as they set foot in the desert. They were in need of a reminder of who and whose they were – that they belonged to God who would never abandon them. So God spoke to them through a benediction– one He still speaks to us today.
Consider the CHARACTER OF THE BENEDICTION. It’s helpful to review when it was spoken. THE CONTEXT WAS preparation for THE WILDERNESS. Israel stood between the Exodus from Egypt and entry into the Promised Land. It would be a long, testing journey and God knew they would grumble and complain. So God wanted to affirm them and remind them of their special, spiritual identity and of their privileges as God’s people. So He shared this benediction with them.
To do so GOD ESTABLISHED THE ROLE OF THE PRIEST. After the Priest offered the sacrifices on behalf of the people he would face them and hold his hands high to remind them the words he was speaking came from God. Just as the blood of death on their doorposts was a sign of life, so now the hands stained with blood were stretched out with the blessing of life. It was God’s way of laying His hands upon their heads. As such, these were more than just words – power and life were bestowed through the benediction.
So just what does THE CONTENT OF THE BENEDICTION mean? Let’s begin by considering what it meant FOR ISRAEL. The benediction contains three couplets. The first is “The Lord bless you and keep you.” The keys words are BLESS AND KEEP YOU.
For God to bless means that God is coming down to His people to show them favor, to give them significance, to bestow prosperity, to endow them with gifts, and to protect them. It’s like one little girl’s description of an elevator. She said, “I got into this little room and the upstairs came down.” Israel stepped into the wilderness and God came down in blessing. Israel could have felt much like John Donne, who wrote, “We are God’s tenants here, and yet here He, our landlord, pays us rents – not yearly, nor quarterly, but hourly and quarterly; every minute He renews His mercy.” Remember how Jeremiah put it (Lam. 3:22-23)? “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
God blessed His people by keeping them. The word ‘keep’ brings to mind the shepherds who put thorn bushes around the sheep to protect them. God was saying he would put a hedge around His people to protect them from harm and prevent them from wandering. God keeping his people was a favorite theme of the Psalmist. Listen to Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 91 has much the same theme. When the priest said, “The Lord bless you and keep you” he was giving the Israelites the assurance that THERE IS NO MOMENT WHEN GOD’S EYE IS OFF YOU, OR HIS ATTENTION IS DISTRACTED FROM YOU, OR HIS CARE FOR YOU FALTERS. What a blessing for Israel – and for us!
The second couplet of the benediction is “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The key words are FACE SHINE AND BE GRACIOUS. The shining face would bring to mind Moses’ experience of being in the presence of God on the mountain (Ex. 34). Because God’s face shone so brightly, Moses face did as well – so much so that he had to wear a veil when he returned to the people for it was too brilliant for them. The shining face represents intimacy with God. Much like solar energy, God’s shining face radiates life and power.