Living in the Blessing of the Lord

Humanity is a vulnerable condition.  Every now and then life has the tendency to throw us a curve ball – some unexpected crisis or hardship one could not prepare (enough) for.  Retrenchment. Cancer. Depression. Divorce. Death of a loved one. Others times it’s not one big thing, but the perpetual business of life that leaves one with a sense of being overwhelmed, feeling faint.  And God knows that we need strength, need courage put into the heart.  Humans have a constant need for encouragement.

For the wilderness-wandering Israelites, roaming through nothingness, forever vulnerable to what the warm winds of the day blow their way, God instituted a daily encouragement that would shape their self-understanding.  During their forty years of wandering, and the generations of believers that would follow, worshipers would daily hear the blessing of Yahweh and be reminded of Who He is, and how He relates to them, to us.

Numbers 6:22-27  “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.””

Every day, at the conclusion of the daily offering, the priests pronounced this blessing over Israel as a daily reminder of the reality of their life with God.  And this is what got engrained in their corporate identity through this practice of daily encouragement.

generous

Our God is a blessing God – a generous God. Because their wilderness wandering warned them of the harshness of our fallen world, the people of God were regularly reassured that God is generous in giving, uninhibited in his kindness towards them.  “He opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing.”[1]  It is marvellous to note that the words “the Lord bless (Heb. bârak) you” implies God bowing down to serve one’s need.  It is almost unbelievable, but we see this servant-disposition of God manifest in Jesus bending the knees to serve his disciples.[2] He is the one who invites you to “cast all your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you!”[3]  We can be assured that “He who did not spare his own son for us… who much more will he not also freely give us all things?”[4]  Surely, our God is a generous God!

protective

Our God is a keeping God – a protecting God. Meandering through the desert with families and livestock, dwelling in tents, the Israelites felt the vulnerability of our earthly existence: defenceless against the storms and winds, the wild animals and barbaric tribes.  Therefore the priests reassured Israel daily that they need not fear: God watches over them.

“Indeed, he who watches Israel neither slumbers nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”[5]

Years later, when a small group of exiled Israelites returned to a devastated Jerusalem without the security of city walls, surrounded by hostile nations, the Lord again reassured them that “I will be a wall of fire all around.”[6]  Today we too can find rest in that our God is our protector!

friendly

Our God is a smiling God – a friendly God. Every day as they gathered, the nation heard “Israel, your God is not an angry God! His face is beaming as he looks at you!” Indeed, God delights in his people,[7] is pleased with all his children.  Especially during this time of testing in the wilderness[8] Israel needed reassurance that God loves them and is pleased with them, that difficulty does not imply displeasure. God is friendly and accepting, his face is beaming with delight over them.  Our God is friendly!

forgiving

Our God is a gracious God – a forgiving God. Daily Israel would gather at the tabernacle of the Holy God who dwelt among them, bringing daily offerings to atone for their failure to live up to His covenant with them.  In the presence of a holy God, and in the hearing of his law, our sinfulness is striking. Therefore, God instructed this daily reminder that He is indeed “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”[9] and that “he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”[10]  Our God is gracious, “His mercies are new every morning – great is his faithfulness!” [11]

So we too are invited to not hide in guilt or shy away because of shame as our ancestors in the Garden[12] but rather to “confess our sins – he is faithful and just[13] to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[14]

interested

Our God lifts up his face – He is an interested God.  To a people who used to be poor slaves, foreigners, nobody’s, it could be easily feel that God (also) has no concern for them, does not notice them, and is not interested in them.  Therefore the Lord said:

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”[15]

“and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[16]

Indeed, God is interested, emotionally invested, attentive and engaged.  When one of his children approach him, God drops all in his hands, lifts up his face and gives his attention on you, because he delights in you.[17]

life-giving

Our God desires our peace – he is a life-giving God. The Hebrew word Shalom here means welfare, prosperity, wholeness, fullness of life.  And for people who used to live in terror and oppression of slavery, this was almost unbelievable!  Prolonged hardship dampens hope and can drop a man in depression and despair, therefore the Lord instructed a daily promise of his desire and intention to prosper his people – to give them “overflowing life”![18]  They needed to hear that God “delights in the well-being of his servants”[19]  and therefore fosters “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”[20] Years later, at the time of Israel’s exile, the Lord again reminded them of his promise of peace:

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, My steadfast love will not be shaken and my covenant of peace shall not be removed from you… all your children will be taught by the Lord and I will give the my peace”[21]

By this repeated blessing, the priests “put the Lord’s name on them” (verse 27), meaning to immerse them in the Lord’s nature or character.  These blessings firstly intended Israel to know what God is like and how they relate to him, and secondly, as the know him the become like Him.[22]  Israel would increasingly embody the nature of God and imitate him in his behaviour to become a generous people, protecting the vulnerable, being friendly, interested in and generous to all, creating environments where peace reigns for all.  As Israel live in the Kingdom of God, so Israel would model and manifest the Kingdom of God to all.  This is God’s design and desire for his people.     

The instruction of blessing ends with he promise “I shall bless them” (verse 27).  This gave the priests of Israel confidence to freely speak of the nature and desire of God, because the Lord Himself guarantees to be faithful to his character, saying “You speak it, I will perform it”.

Do you believe this?  You can – God is faithful and powerful enough to perform this blessing for you!

[1] Psalm 145:16

[2] John 13:3-14.  See also Philippians 2:4-8.

[3] 1 Peter 5:7.

[4] Romans 8:32

[5] Psalm 121:5-8

[6] Zechariah 2:5

[7] Psalm 36:8

[8] Deuteronomy 8:2

[9] Psalm 86:15

[10] Psalm 103:10

[11] Lamentation 3:23

[12] Genesis 3:8

[13] God is faithful – always ready to forgive

[14] 1 John 1:9

[15] Deuteronomy 7:6

[16] Exodus 19:6

[17] Psalm 147:11

[18] John 10:10

[19] Psalm 35:27

[20] Jeremiah 29:11

[21] Isaiah 54:10, 13

[22] Refer to Philippians 3:10

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