Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Priestly Blessing

Leslie Basham: What is a blessing? Listen as this woman explains it from her own experience.

Listener: At the end of my dad’s life when he was in the hospital, the family was gathered around him. He asked to hold his one and only great-granddaughter. When she was placed in his arms, he quoted Numbers 6:24-26, “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” (NIV). I was real proud of him for doing that, that his mind was so focused upon the Lord and leaving a legacy.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, the author of A Place of Quiet Rest, for Wednesday, January 3, 2018. 

Nancy wants to offer a benediction for 2017 and a blessing for the year ahead. You've probably heard those words before—benediction and blessing—but do you really know what they mean? Nancy will provide fresh insight in the series, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: In some of your churches, if you have a church bulletin with an order of worship printed out, you may notice that sometimes at the end there appears this word: benediction. What do we mean when we say they’re doing a benediction at the close of a service? It’s a blessing, a benediction. The word benediction means "blessing, to speak well, to speak words of peace or blessing."

I want us to look today at one of the most wonderful benedictions in all of God’s Word. There are a number of benedictions in the Scripture. At the end of many of the New Testament epistles, you’ll find some wonderful benedictions, and they administer encouragement to us.

At the end of 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 16:23–24). At the end of Romans, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom. 16:20).

So over and over again in the Scripture we see benedictions—somebody speaking a word of blessing. I can just picture, as is the case in some churches, where the minister may even lift his hands as Christ lifted up His hands as He was getting ready to go back to heaven at the end of His earthly ministry.

He lifted His hands and held them over His disciples and spoke words of blessing to them. It was in that case a farewell blessing, which is how we often use it at the end of our church services and how it appears at the end of many of the New Testament epistles.

When we come to the Old Testament, there’s one blessing in particular that is especially well known. I’ve heard this blessing many times over the years. I’ve said it to others. In recent days, I’ve been studying it myself and have found so many riches and insights from the Lord that have ministered special blessing to me. I want us to take some time and study this benediction, this blessing.

If you have your Bible, turn to Numbers chapter 6. I want to read beginning in verse 22 through the end of the chapter. Numbers 6, verse 22,

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, 'Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.' So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Now, let’s just take that apart word by word, phrase by phrase. When you study the Scripture, that’s the way you do it. You just meditate on one phrase or sentence or part of a sentence at a time and ask the Holy Spirit to help you think of other passages of Scripture that relate to it, that shed light on it, to understand what it is that God is saying. Then as we study, we ask Him to make application to our own hearts.

This is a priestly blessing. God spoke to Moses, and He said, "This is what you are to tell Aaron and his sons to do." Now who was Aaron in relation to Moses? Aaron was Moses’ older brother. But Aaron also had a very special role. He was the first High Priest of Israel. So God says to Moses, "Go to your brother and tell him that as a priest over My people he is to bless them." He is to give a priestly blessing.

Some people call this the Aaronic blessing. It means it came through Aaron. Aaron is to bless the people of Israel and this is what he is to say to them as the blessing.

Now, as we study this blessing, we’ll see that it’s based on a covenant relationship. The people who are being blessed are not the Moabites or the Ammonites or the Hittites or all the other "ites" living in the land of Canaan where the children of Israel are headed.

There is some sense in which God does put blessing on the just and the unjust. He sends rain on those who are His children as well as those who aren’t His children and sunshine. There’s some common graces, common blessings that God gives to all, but there are certain blessings that God reserves for those who are His children.

This was a special blessing for Israel. I believe it is a blessing, as we get into the New Testament, that can be applied to us as the children of God as well.

Notice that this blessing is not initiated by the priest. God initiates it. We see that God is the source, the fountain-head of all blessing. Blessing is God’s idea. God thought of it. He thinks of it. He’s the one who initiated blessing with the children of Israel. He’s the one who initiates it in our lives.

The immediate context here is that the children of Israel, as we walk with them through the book of Numbers, are in the wilderness. They just left Egypt where they were slaves for 400 years. They’ve been delivered by God through the shedding of the blood of the Passover lamb. God has delivered them out of Egypt. He’s taken them through the Red Sea, delivered them from their enemies, the Egyptians. They have been to Mount Sinai where they have received the Law of God, and now it’s time for them to go into the Promised Land.

What God knows at this point that the children of Israel don’t know is that they’re going to spend the next thirty years—two million Jews, perhaps—traipsing around through this barren desert land. God knows that they are going to need this blessing.

God knows what wilderness you’re in right now. God knows what wilderness you may be walking in a year or two or thirty-eight years from now. God tailors His blessings to exactly what He knows we need at that moment and in that season of life.

What were the children of Israel going to need in that wilderness? Well, they were going to need protection. They were going to need provision. Who was going to feed all those Jews? Where were they going to get food to eat? In fact, they asked God at one time, “Can You prepare a table in the wilderness?” How do you feed two million people in a desert without fast food restaurants?

They were going to need provision. They were going to need the presence of God. They were going to need God’s blessing. They couldn’t survive without it.

No matter where you or I may be walking, we really are in a place in life where we can’t make it without God’s blessing. We need His blessing and God knows that. So He sent this blessing to bring encouragement and hope and peace to His children in the midst of rigorous life circumstances.

God knew it was going to be tough. He knew they would come to places where there was no water, or there was nothing to eat, or they were threatened by enemies. God told them in advance, I’ve prepared a blessing for you. This was a blessing that was going to go with the children of Israel and cover them through all those years of traipsing through the wilderness, then on into the Promised Land and all that they would face in the battles there.

This blessing was a reminder:

  • of God’s love for His children
  • of His devotion to them
  • of His attention
  • that God was thinking about them
  • that He was mindful of them
  • that He was looking upon them
  • that He knew their needs even before they knew their needs.

They weren’t probably realizing how quickly they were going to be in desperate need, but God knew.

As this blessing is given by God through His priests to His people, it’s really a series of petitions, but it’s also a promise. It’s a promise from God that He will have favor, that He will look upon His people, that He will minister to their needs.

We’ve said that’s the immediate context: the children of Israel in the wilderness desperately in need of God’s blessing and His promises. As we open up this blessing and begin to study it together, we’re going to see that this Old Testament blessing foreshadows a very important New Testament blessing.

I think one of the key places in the New Testament where we read about the fulfillment of this blessing is in John chapter 17, where the Lord Jesus, our great High Priest, prays a blessing for New Testament believers. In an upcoming session, we’ll talk about some of the parallels between that blessing, Christ’s high priestly prayer for us, and this Old Testament blessing.

As we read this blessing that came through Aaron, the high priest, and his sons, we are reminded that we have a great High Priest. His name is Jesus. He’s the one who speaks these words of blessing to us. Not only is He the one who blesses us, but He’s also the fulfillment of the petitions in this blessing. He is the blessing. He blesses us, but He also fulfills that blessing. It’s all fulfilled in Him.

As we read this blessing, not only do we see that God blessed the children of Israel, God is blessing us with these Old Testament words and words that will be repeated in essence in the New Testament, but also we’re given a template to use in blessing others. We bless others as we have been blessed. We don’t need to have a priest to do it, an earthly priest in the sense of earthly religion because we have a Priest in heaven today who is praying for us.

This prayer, this blessing, this benediction as it appears in Numbers chapter 6, actually has two bookends. In verse 22 we read,

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to Aaron and his sons saying, 'Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them.’”

Then we have the blessing. So God says to Moses tell Aaron the priest that here’s how he is to bless the people. You shall bless the people of Israel. These are the words you are to speak to them.

Then we have the blessing. Then we have verse 27, the bookend on the other side. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel,” God says, “and I will bless them.” So God says to the priest, "You bless the people, and as you do, I will bless them."

Now, what does that say? It says to me that when we speak the blessing of God into the lives of other people, what we’re really doing is creating a setting, an opportunity in which God can actually bless those individuals. Look at it in verse 22. "You bless the people of Israel. Say this to them." Then look at the end. “And I will bless them.” Amazing.

If you think about what if God were to only do in the lives of your mate, your children, your friends the kind of things that you spoke to those people. If God were to bless or curse them in the same measure that you bless or curse the people around you; if God were only to fulfill the things that you asked for, the good wishes that you expressed, the prayers of blessing that you prayed for those people, how blessed would those people be?

You see, when we speak blessing—and you say, “Well, I’m not a priest.” Well, according to the New Testament, we have all been made priests to God. We’re not looking to some cleric to do this. This is something that as New Covenant believers we can all do. We can speak blessing into the lives of others. When we do, we actually become a channel, a conduit of God’s blessing into the lives of others.

So we have these two bookends. You bless them, and then I will bless them. Then in the middle we have this prayer, which is actually in Hebrew poetic fashion. It’s three lines, each line divided into two parts. Three couplets. “The LORD bless you and keep you.” That’s one couplet. The second one is, “The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” Another couplet. Then the third couplet, “The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Now actually these are six petitions. They’re requests. May the Lord do this for you. That’s what a blessing is.

  • May the Lord bless you.
  • May the Lord keep you.
  • May the Lord make His face to shine upon you.
  • May the Lord be gracious to you.
  • May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you.
  • May the Lord give you peace.

Notice the repetition in this blessing. That’s one of the common forms used in Hebrew poetry. First of all, you’ll notice that twice in this blessing it speaks of God’s face. The word face and countenance—they’re both the translation of the same Hebrew word, which is just the word for "face." It’s a picture of the presence of God. Twice it speaks of God’s face or God’s presence.

As we read this, we realize that when something is repeated in the Scripture, particularly in the style of Hebrew poetry, it means there’s an emphasis here. There’s something really important to notice.

As I see the repetition here—the Lord make His face to shine upon you; the Lord lift up His countenance, His face, His presence upon you—we realize that the ultimate blessing is to enjoy the Lord’s presence. The ultimate blessing is to enter into the presence of God. That’s the goal of God’s redemptive purposes, that we can have intimate fellowship with God.

So the blessing here is a prayer that you will experience God’s favor, that you will experience God’s presence. It’s stressed by the repetition of the request for His face.

Then you’ll notice in these petitions that there’s something else that’s repeated. It’s repeated three times. What is that in verses 24, 25, and 26? The name of the Lord. It repeats the name, the Hebrew Yahweh. Jehovah. Three times. I think this is an Old Testament veiled pictured of the Trinity. The Father bless you. The Son bless you. The Holy Spirit bless you. Three persons but one God.

Each of those persons has a function. It’s the Father who keeps us. The Lord bless you and keep you. It’s the Son who shows grace to us. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. That’s the ministry of the Lord Jesus in our lives. Then who is it that gives us peace? The Holy Spirit. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. So we see the ministry here of the triune God. Be blessed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

This prayer really is one of the greatest gifts that we can bestow upon others. I don’t mean by that just these words of this prayer, though it is a great benediction, but the concept of blessing others in the name of the Lord is a wonderful gift to be received from the Lord and then to extend to others. One of the greatest gifts you can bestow on your husband, on your children, on your friends is the blessing of God.

Now notice before we jump into the specifics of this prayer that this is a blessing that’s to be spoken. God said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, 'Thus you shall bless the Children of Israel: you shall say to them.’” You shall say to them. Just a little word, but I think it emphasizes that we need to use our words, our mouths to bless.

Now there are other ways you can bless. You can bless:

  • with acts of service and kindness
  • with a sweet spirit
  • with other expressions of love

But make sure that as you think about the people that God has called you to bless that you are speaking blessing into their lives.

You shall say to them, the Lord bless you and keep you.

As we look at these different petitions, let me ask you this question. If you could just ask God for four things for yourself—think of all the things you want, all the things you need, all the things you’d like to have, all the things you’d like to see God do for you—if you had to limit the list, narrow the list down to four things and you knew that God would give you whatever four things you asked for, what would be on your list?

Think about the people that you love: your mate, your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your pastor, friend. If you could only ask four blessings for your husband or for your children and you knew that God would do whatever you asked, what would be on your list?

I think that a prayer like this is helpful. I’m so glad we have it in the Scripture because it reminds us of what is really important to have on our list. This isn’t the only blessing in Scripture, and it’s not the only right thing to ask. But it reminds us that this is what really matters. This is God’s list. This is His list of how He wants to bless His people.

Wouldn’t you want to be linked up with God in saying, "I want to be blessed in the ways that You want to bless? I want to bless others in the way that You want to bless them."

So as we go through this blessing, this prayer, we’re going to see four specific blessings. It’s in the form of six phrases, but it boils down to four specific blessings that we’re asking of the Lord for ourselves and for others. So let’s just look at the very beginning. “The LORD bless you.” The Lord bless you. We’re acknowledging again here that it’s the Lord who is doing the blessing. The Lord bless you.

I often say to others . . . I sign a lot of notes. I sign them “blessings.” I often say to people as we’re leaving each other, “Blessings on you.” I’ve been reminded as I’ve been studying this passage what I’m really saying is the Lord bless you. He is the ultimate blesser. You shall bless the people. You shall say to them, the Lord bless you. He is the source of all blessing. It all comes from Him.

I think about that passage in Genesis chapter 48, where Jacob blessed his son Joseph as he was getting ready to die. He said the Lord has blessed me, and so I’m blessing you. If you want to bless others, then first you need to receive God’s blessing. You need to let God bless you. He wants to in these ways that we’re going to see and in other ways as well.

You see when we bless God, we speak well of Him. When God blesses us, He does well for us. He’s going to do these things, these requests that are asked. This blessing sums up the covenant benefits that God wants to show to His people.

The Old Testament Jews would expect a father to give a blessing to his sons. God is saying, "You are my children, and I want to bless you." So as you think about the people in your life, as you go home, you talk to your husband, to your children, say to them, "The Lord bless you." Ask the Lord to bless them and say to them "I’m praying that the Lord will bless you."

I’ll tell you what, if you don’t have anything else in life to be happy about, if you’ve been blessed by the Lord, then you have more than enough. The blessing of the Lord—that’s what makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it. May the Lord bless you.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, unpacking one of the most famous blessings in the Bible. It’s from Numbers chapter 6. That message is part of the series, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You." If you missed any of today's program you can hear it again, or read the transcript, at ReviveOurHearts.com.

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According to the Bible, we’re to ask God’s face to shine on His people. Find out what this means as Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth continues to describe the priestly blessing in Numbers chapter 6. That’s tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to you to be blessed in 2018. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.

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