A few verses came as a huge relief today.
They come after a chapter of one-sided, weird and just plain wrong-feeling regulations on a husband’s jealousy of his wife and suspicions of unfaithfulness (what about if a woman thinks her husband may be having an affair?) and a chapter about the consequences for a Nazirite of coming near to a dead body.
They come before a very long chapter to list the offerings of the twelve tribes of Israel (each tribe’s listed in detail, despite all twelve being identical).
In between all this come six verses that stand out, in Numbers 6:22-27.
The Priestly Benediction
22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. 27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
We still use these words in worship now. They have a wonderful rich feel to them – people feel blessed to hear them, and I think it’s only partly because they have a good rhythm and sound profound!
They’re words which call God’s blessing on people in three ways – or perhaps four. Each of the three lines begins with what we ask God to do – bless you / make his face to shine upon you / lift up his countenance upon you. Like what we’ve said about the Law, what we’ve said about prayer, like the pattern that runs through the whole Bible, we begin in blessing with what God does, not what we do or even what we hope to receive from God.
It’s the second half of each line that is about how we hope those blessed will benefit from what God does – that he will keep you / be gracious to you / give you peace. Having focussed on God to begin with, we now find how we benefit from his love, care and attention. The last verse of that passage sums it up in the same balance and flow. The priests shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
How often, when we pray for someone, do we jump in with what we know or think that they need? Should we learn more often to start by simply asking God to smile at them? After that, all sorts of things can follow, but without God’s gracious, loving gaze on them they will never be secure.
On whom can I put the name of God today? And what will God do next?