Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Priestly Blessing

Part of my Bible study lesson this week was to look at the Priestly Blessing and try to put it into my own words.

Numbers 6: 24-26
The Lord Bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

 I have always loved this blessing, because the sentiment is so beautiful. Actually, I'm not sure I could have told you what the sentiment really was.  I loved the sound of this blessing.  And each time I've heard it I've had vague ideas about what it means and what its purpose is.  I took for granted that having the Lord bless you would be a good thing.  Blessings are like presents, kind of.  At least they were to me.  And being kept has always had this connotation for me of being cared for, without having to contribute anything to the effort, beyond the satisfaction the keeper took in, well, keeping.  As for the rest of the blessing, I wasn't sure what a face shining upon someone might mean, but I knew that being gracious generally meant being thoughtful and forgiving, which sounded good to me.  And I had no clue what lifting up a countenance upon someone would even look like.  So, clearly, my favorite blessing was super special to me.    

I have heard this blessing at almost every church service I have attended since I was a small, small child, and when asked to put it in my own words, I drew a blank.  I really didn't know what I was being blessed with when I heard it.  That is so sad!  Because this is the blessing of all blessings, my friend!  Given to us straight from the mouth of God.  And all these years it's been laid out before me, and I've walked right over it, looking to move on to the next thing.  If that isn't convicting, I don't know what is.  So, if you are the praying type, please say a prayer that I learn to slow down and pay real attention to what God is offering me in my life.  That I might recognize and seek out His blessings wherever, and whenever, they come along.  Even when they're inconvenient to my plans.  Especially, then.

So what is the big deal about this blessing?  After quite a bit of thought and reading and research, and yes, some prayer, this is my personal, sometimes heavily influenced*, interpretation of this incredible blessing! 

Before we can even begin to understand what it means, first we have understand that to receive this blessing we must have faith that it comes from God and is meant for us personally.  The receiver of  the blessing is singular in each stanza, just as we are singularly called to faith in Christ.  Secondly, to receive this blessing we have to acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  More, we have to faithfully follow and obey the Lord, which has the added benefit of increasing our faith!  How about that!  And finally, it is important to recognize that being a child of God is a honor.  The moment we declare ourselves to be a child of God, we become a testament to who He is in the world.  And that was probably the biggest wake up call moment for me when researching this blessing.

One of my favorite things about God is that when we step out in faith, He always shows up and meets us there.  That is never so apparent as in this blessing!  When we follow Him in faith and submit to His will for us by recognizing His sovereignty and His plan for us, He invites us to be with Him.  To dwell with Him.  And it's an offer He makes to every one of us, no matter our past or our station in life.  By worldly standards that is unheard of!  So what exactly is He offering us when we step out with Him in faith?

"The Lord Bless You and Keep You"
In some ways, I think the first stanza of this blessing is a restating of God's promise to protect his people and make them strong.  In Genesis we saw God promise Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that a mighty nation would grow from their families and that the nation would be God's own chosen people.  Genesis also showed us that the family of Jacob rejected God's chosen leader for them and ended up in captivity, as slaves in Egypt.  They broke faith with God and paid the price.  So, here we are, many years later, and God is giving Moses this blessing for the Israelites and the first thing He offers is blessings.  All the blessing of prosperity that God had offered to Abraham and Jacob are being offered again.  And furthermore, He is offering to bless them by keeping them.  I had to look up what that would have meant to them, and so what it means to us, and what it comes down to is that our humanity makes us weak.  Very few of us has the strength required to maintain our own holiness.  None of us has it without the intersession of Christ.  So, to be kept means, not only to be guarded and protected from the physical dangers of living in a fallen world, but also to be shielded from the spiritual dangers as well.  When we walk in faith with Christ, and by walk I mean live our lives to embody and reflect that faith, we are offered the eternal blessings of God and His strength and protection.  Sometimes that will mean our physical protection, but it will always mean our spiritual protection, so that we can be preserved for eternity with Him.  How awesome is that?!?!  God knows us and he knows our weaknesses.  He knows the temptations and traumas of living in this world and he offers us the assurance that through our faithfulness He will guard our hearts, so that we may one day abide in His holy presence!  Talk about blessings!

"The Lord Make His Face Shine Upon You and Be Gracious Unto You"
I think sometimes we modern day Christians take for granted that at one time God actually lived with and among the Israelites.  It's hard for us to imagine, not only what that would look like in modern times, but also what it would mean.  I think in many ways people today are not so different than those ancient Hebrew tribes.  Even with God dwelling among them there were still those who doubted His sovereignty, His provision for them, His promises.  And God dealt with them harshly.  And by harshly, I mean he sent plagues and fire to consume them.  Sometimes when I'm reading in Exodus and Numbers I have the thought that maybe God's punishment for idol worship or ungratefulness was a little over the top.  I wonder where His compassion was, and then I recognize that I am reading the Word through the lens of the politically correct, unaccountable, entitled society that we live in.  In truth, God's greatest desire was to be in relationship with His people and to live with them, among them.  It's crazy to me to think that God desires to be with us in such an intimate way, Him being who He is, and we being so broken and unworthy, but He does.  The problem is that God is Holy and for us to survive His presence we must also be Holy.  This seems an impossible requirement, and in truth, it is.  It is.  Without the redemption offered by the sacrifice of Christ, it is.  And what is true now, was true then, which is that what is in our hearts is valued.  The gift of this stanza  is that it offers God's people a chance to be with Him, despite our unholiness, our brokenness, our sin.  When we walk in faith with God, and by walk in faith, I mean live our lives in a way that reflects who He is, He will show us His grace by making His face shine upon us.  Well, what does that mean?  Simply put, it means that by grace He will make His presence known to us.  We will see His glory and He will be with us.  And the more our faith grows, the more we will know Him.  What an important distinction!  As our faith grows, God will reveal Himself to us more.  Not the other way around, which is how I think we sometimes want it to be.  But lucky for us, the path to faith is through faithful obedience, so if we desire a closer relationship with God we know what we need to do!

"The Lord Lift Up His Countenance Upon You and Give You Peace"
This is probably my favorite stanza of the Priestly Blessing.  It just says so much about the character of our God.  In the first stanza we see God blessing us with prosperity and protection, seeing to our physical and spiritual needs.  In the second stanza God offers us redemption through His Grace and a way to be in community with Him.  But in this third stanza He simply expresses the pleasure He takes in our obedience and faithfulness.  Lifting up one's countenance is, apparently, the ancient Hebrews way of saying that He smiles at us, which I just LOVE.  When we are faithful, when we live out that faith, when we enter into a relationship with God, he is pleased, and it makes him smile.  And he rewards that pleasure with peace.  A peace that passes all understanding, as they say.  I have witnessed that peace.  You can tell when you meet someone who has that kind of peace.  They are set apart.  They are the fishers of men in the world, because that kind of peace is a lure to the broken and suffering.  And God offers it to each of us!  Every day, as we step out in faith, as we follow where he leads us, as we welcome Him into our hearts, as we come to know Him more, he offers us His peace.  HIS peace.  Which is so much more than worldly peace.  His peace isn't shaken by illness or financial calamity or a flat tire.  HIS peace is abiding and true, and I want it.         

 * By heavily influenced I mean that I was greatly inspired by the thoughts and research shared in this piece:      Aaronic Ben

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