If you could think of one intangible thing that you could give to another person as a lasting heritage, what would it be? Joy? Love? Patience? As I contemplated the ending verses of Numbers 6 today, I began to see the relevance of Peace as a lasting blessing. When we consider the condition of the world, our own nations, and perhaps even our own personal lives – wouldn’t a permanent dose of peace be a welcome commodity? I’d like to discuss the simplicity of using cross-references to explore Bible passages as we launch into this peaceful study. 😀
Does your Bible list cross-references (annotations in the verses that lead you to new verses noted in the center or bottom of the page)? If not, I’m here to tell you that you need to get a new Bible. Cross-references are the first key to opening the wisdom messages embedded in the words of this marvelous book. And if your Bible does have references, the next logical question is, “Do you use them?” If not, I’m here to tell you (in a nice way, certainly 😀 that you probably need to spend a little more time with your Bible. The regular use of cross-references, alone, will enhance your understanding and answer many of your questions. I challenge you to start mastering the use of these invaluable study aids. To demonstrate just how effective this form of Bible study is, I have confined myself to thoughts that have been generated by following my cross references.
The context of Numbers 6 is the vow of the Nazirite. It discusses the special dedication a man or woman could voluntarily take to set themselves apart for God. They committed to observing specific rituals (including abstaining from cutting their hair and from drinking alcohol) that separated them from the normal routine of daily life for a given time. At the end of the discourse of all the laws associated with the Nazirite, we come to a blessing that Aaron was commanded to speak to the sons of Israel:
The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’ “So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”
It’s such a beautiful invocation, isn’t it? It is known as “The Priestly Blessing” or “Priestly Benediction,” and is one of the most famous prayers in scripture. Interestingly, this is the oldest extant Bible passage ever found. It was discovered on an amulet in a tomb near Jerusalem from the time of Solomon’s temple – just before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketef_Hinnom) In Orthodox Judaism this blessing is recited by the priest, with raised hands, as a daily prayer. The passage is also spoken on a weekly basis by Jewish parents to their children before the Shabbat meal. In our home, we used to repeat it each night as a blessing on our sons before they went to sleep.
Let’s consider some of the hidden depths of this famous benediction. Here is an array of ideas gleaned from my cross-references –
- National and personal blessings come with obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-6)
- God blesses like a Shepherd cares for sheep (Psalm 28:9)
- “Keeping” implies directing our paths in life (1 Samuel 2:9)
- “Keeping” implies the place of favor (apple of eye) (Psalm 17:8)
- “Shining” has to do with God’s glory that shines forth above the cherubim (Psalm 80:3)
- God’s invoked Name is: The Lord of Hosts – this implies salvation of many as His goal (Psalm 80:7,19)
- God’s graciousness includes His compassionate character and His willingness to give help and comfort (Psalm 86:16)
- God’s countenance has to do with light (Psalm 4:6)
- His countenance gives gladness, peace & safety (Psalm 4:6)
- His strong arm saves – not our own strength (Psalm 44:3)
- We can walk in the light of His countenance (Psalm 89:15) – this one was a cross reference I followed from the first one above – double the wisdom 😀
- He gives deliverance and favor to those upon whom He lifts His countenance (Psalm 44:3)
- He blesses with His peace (Psalm 29:11)
- Those completed/perfected by His presence in life end up with peace (Psalm 37:37)
These are profound messages woven into this blessing! Just digging a bit has greatly enhanced my understanding of all of the beauty inherent to God’s presence in our lives. He is looking for our good, always. He desires to give us grace, favor, blessing and peace.
And perhaps the best part is that concluding part. Don’t you find it an amazing thing that God is the source of peace? Only He can bless us with true peace. Only through walking uprightly with Him. Trusting in an unfailing way in His reality and His action on our behalf. Like a sheep trusts its Good Shepherd’s provision, comfort, protection and care for all the things the silly sheep doesn’t even know it needs! He can bless us with that type of peace. So that we don’t worry – no matter what stresses or traumas enter our days. We have the Shepherd near. He desires our highest good. His glowing face shines in favor on our behalf. His strong arm is at the ready to deliver us from trouble – and ultimately to save us forever.
I find it astonishing that there is an extra special aspect of this passage in the fact that it is a benediction, not just a statement. Just as Aaron was directed to invoke (put, place, set) this blessing on the nation of Israel, so we too can place it on others. Given the context, it seems that God hoped that all of Israel would be consecrated and holy in their behavior – a nation of Priests and Nazirites blessed with His favor. We to can choose to become like the Nazirites – people who go the extra mile to reach outside their normal lives to bring honor to God. And, like the priests, we can figuratively raise our hands in blessing other people with and through His goodness.
I do hope that we accomplished some small measure of passing on that peace in reciting this blessing with our hands on the heads of our own sons each night as they were growing up. The fact that my eldest son now also repeats it to my tiny granddaughter, as she goes to bed each night, brings me great joy. The legacy of peace continues.
Each one of us can become peace seekers, peace receivers, and peace transmitters – a peace process in its truest sense. May the legacy of peace continue for each of us. One day soon the great Prince of Peace will arrive to give the Ultimate Priestly Blessing to those who walk in the light of God’s countenance! On that great day, perhaps he will even repeat these words in the past tense:
The Lord has blessed you and kept you,
The Lord has been gracious to you,
The Lord has lifted up His countenance upon you,
The Lord has given you peace.
Enter into the joy of your Lord.
Amen. Even so, come, Great Prince of Peace!
I have attached a beautiful youtube version of the Priestly blessing in the musical version I know best. It is performed by an amazing choral group called “Octarium”. Enjoy the harmony of these magnificent voices: