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:
So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.”
I find it interesting that God went so far as to prescribe the way in which Aaron and the priests who followed would bless the Israelites. But I want to consider each component.
The LORD bless you
The word translated “bless” in this verse could also mean “kneel” or “praise”. God’s blessing sounds awesome, but it’s quite the theological notion in many ways. But the idea of God kneeling, to me, brings out the image of a father kneeling down to catch his child up in his arms. I’m a fairly new daddy, but I will gladly get down on the floor with my daughter and read or crawl around or whatever. I’m also quite fond of getting low enough for her to crawl into my arms so I can catch her up in a hug and hold her for a bit — especially after a long day. So this idea of God kneeling to me doesn’t sound submissive so much as loving. Praise is another such notion. To receive praise from men is great. To receive praise from God is AWESOME. Mark Twain once said he could live for a week on a good compliment. I wonder how long he might’ve gone on praise received from God?
and keep you
God regards each and every one of His children as a keeper. There is this notion that some people are worth putting effort into and striving to maintain a relationship with (a keeper) while others are not. God sees no such distinction. All people are worth keeping, to Him. But this blessing is more than just a reminder that God wants to keep me, it is also a request very similar to that in the prayer Jesus gave as a model — “and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” To keep us implies the idea also of keeping us holy and separate in ways that we are, frankly, unable to on our own.
The Lord make His face shine on you
Sometimes we say that a person is beaming. What we’re saying is that they are so happy and so excited that their face seems to be glowing or shining with that happiness and excitement. There are places in The Bible where it says that God will rejoice over us with singing. That, I think, is where this blessing is going with the idea of God’s face shining on me. The request is that I would be able to make God proud; that I would so fill Him with happiness and excitement that He would beam.
And be gracious to you
For every other time in life—all those times when I’m not making God proud—there is the request that God would be gracious. That God would show me grace is a blessing unlike any other and one I should never take for granted (though I often do).
The LORD lift up His countenance on you
In order to “lift up” His countenance, there must be a time when His countenance fell. To turn His gaze on me, He must first have looked away. This dovetails beautifully with the idea of being gracious to me, because grace enables Him to look again on a child who broke fellowship and made looking at me painful.
And give you peace
The only peace we really need is peace with God and only He can supply that peace. He is the offended party in everything I ever do wrong, so it is only fitting that the blessing would request that He would give me peace.
In one of those times when I feel like I’m stretching things a bit, I’m going to suggest that this might have been prescribed as it is in order to preserve a promise being made to Israel every time the high priest blessed them. So, the high priest, speaking on behalf of THE High Priest (Jesus), says “The LORD will come down to your level [kneel, take on a body like our own] and ransom you [buy back, thus keep]. He will show you his glory [and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten full of grace] and will be gracious to you [it is by grace we have been saved]. He will lift up His countenance [fallen in death, but raised in life] and give you peace [through Him (Jesus) we have peace with the Father].” Again, I may be stretching things a bit ,but God prescribed this blessing be delivered in these words for a reason. I may have the wrong reason, but there is a reason.
How do I apply this today? I am not an Israelite, so I cannot claim their promises. However, the NT tells me that God has blessed His children (including me) with every blessing; that God will keep me from all things I should be kept from (and none that I shouldn’t); that He rejoices over me; that He is oh-so-gracious to me; that He turns to me whenever I turn to Him; that He wants peace between us. Does this blessing, given to Israel, apply to me? I think, based on the contents of the NT, that it does. Not because I am an Israelite, but because the blessing says something about the nature of God (He is loving and concerned and pleased with me when I do well and gracious to me and near to me and eagerly desiring peace between us) and the nature of God never changes. Today, and every day, I need to walk in the light of this blessing and the promises tucked into it. The promise that God loves me and wants only the best for me; the promise that God is pleased to have me as His own and wants to keep it that way; the promise that God will be gracious to me and make peace between us.
This morning (or afternoon or evening or night or whenever), if anyone is reading this and is a believer, 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 on you and give you peace.”