“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 upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26, NKJV)
The above verse is probably the most familiar verse in the Bible. On Sunday mornings in many churches it is the final benediction or blessing before people leave the service. On the Sabbath (Saturday) in synagogues around the world, this particular blessing is also used as a way to end the service. However, it doesn't stop there, but is also carried on into the home. For example, on Friday night when the Sabbath starts, parents say this blessing over their children. Today, Jews who are in attendance for morning prayers will have this blessing said over them by the rabbis.
Do you remember when Spock would say, "Live long and prosper" when addressing someone in the Star Trek universe? Leonard Nimoy (the actor who played Spock) was Jewish, and it was from the rabbis in his synagogue that he first saw the sign of the spread fingers. In fact, he told a story where, as a young boy, he was admonished never to look at the rabbis while they were saying this prayer. Why? According to Jewish tradition, the Divine presence would shine through the fingers of the priests as they blessed the people, and no one was allowed to look out of respect for God. Interestingly, the symbol of the spread fingers is the letter Shin in the Hebrew alphabet, which is the first letter in Shaddai (El Shaddai means the All Sufficient God) and it is the prayer above where the priests/rabbis would spread their fingers.
But what is so special about this blessing in particular? This blessing is said in Jewish traditions a number of times. For example, besides being used as a benediction, it is used during Jewish weddings when the couple stand under a chuppah (a canopy), where they would be blessed by their parents or the rabbi in attendance. It is also used during the circumcision ceremony (brit milah) when a baby boy is eight days old. So there are many ways the blessings is used, but it began with a command from God to Aaron (Moses brother) that it was to be a blessing from God said over the people of Israel. Originally, it was said only by the priests (the kohanim) of God, but nowadays it is accepted that people will use it as a blessing on their loved ones.
So let us look at this verse closely, because I want you to be able to grasp the important significance of such a blessing. One thing I want to stress is that the priests were not giving their own blessing. This was a blessing from God Himself. The priests/rabbis were merely the means in which to transmit this blessing. This is confirmed by the verse immediately following the blessing. "So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them" (Numbers 6:27).
There are three parts to this blessing:
The Lord Bless You and Keep You
What does it mean "to bless"? The word bless in Hebrew conveys the idea that our weaknesses are strengthened by God's strength. In fact, the root word for bless is barukh and means to kneel, or humble ourselves as an act of adoration. So in our weakness we kneel before God and He blesses us, or strengthens us through His mighty power. The blessing above when said as a benediction at the end of a service is meant to convey the idea of sending us out into the coming week with the strength of God resting on us. To accomplish what we cannot do on our own, because we are weak.
Most Hebrew prayers begin with Barukh atah Adonai, "Blessed are You Lord," which reminds us of God's power and strength, at the same time humbling ourselves before Him. So, Numbers 6:24-26 does not mean that God is humbling Himself, it means He is imparting His strength to us by passing on His blessing of strength. And the first verse goes further. Not only is God blessing us with His strength but He is "keeping" us within His care. 'Keep' in Hebrew is shamar and means to "keep, watch over, guard or protect." So these first words of blessing from God mean, quite simply, that God is blessing us with His strength and watching over us. This does not mean we will never experience tragedy. It simply means God's eye is upon us, watching over everything we do and blessing us as we carry out His work here on earth.
The Lord Make His Face Shine Upon You, and be Gracious To You
The Lord said in Exodus 33:20 that no one could look at Him at live (survive). So what does it mean when He wants to "make His face shine upon us"? This is an incredible statement from the God of creation to His children. 'Face' in Hebrew is paniym and it has a variety of meanings, like "favour, countenance, presence or person". So in this blessing from God, He is making His presence or favour shine upon us. God's Holy Spirit, is an ever present light within our hearts that searches out and knows us intimately. Nothing can be hidden from Him. 'Gracious' in Hebrew is chanan and means "to show favour or mercy." So, the second half of this blessing is God bestowing His light or presence upon us and showing us His mercy or favour.
The Lord Lift up His Countenance Upon You, and Give you peace
The same word for face is also the same word for countenance. So what is the difference here? Picture a father lifting his child up into his arms and gazing lovingly upon him. That is what God our Father is doing here. He is lifting his face, his countenance upon us with that same kind of love. And what does a father who loves his children want for them above all else? Peace, contentment, joy, good health. This blessing from God is an amazing example of how He views His children. How can anyone who believes in God therefore, not reciprocate with complete adoration and praise to the One who blesses us so freely? The next time you hear this benediction in church let the importance of who this blessing is from wash over you. It is not just something the minister or priest says as the end of the service. This is a blessing from God above, meant for His children. Receive it with joy and thanksgiving and take it with you throughout the week, remembering that God will never leave you, nor forsake you. You are His child and He loves you very much.