The Encounter at Sinai Part 2
The Priestly Blessing – Then and Now
As the people of Israel made their way onwards from the powerful miracle of the Red Sea, en route on their journey to the Promised Land, they passed through the vast wilderness of Sinai. There God spoke extensively to His people through Moses, which is now preserved in the Torah. The addresses by Moses to the people during this vital period of Israel’s history laid the foundation for how they as a nation of people were to conduct themselves in their new season of freedom from slavery, as they followed God’s presence in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.
A large portion of God’s instructions to His people had to do with the role of the priesthood (Aaron and his sons) of the tribe of Levi and how they were to represent the people before God. Unlike any of the other tribes, the Levites’ personal provision and livelihood would come from the whole of Israel as those in the priestly tribe gave themselves to performing their service in the Tabernacle.
The attention given to the role of the priests is extremely significant, both in its length and also in its spiritual significance. The priests were to maintain the administration of the covenant between the God of Israel and His people – a weighty responsibility that was the highest priority of the people as they traveled toward Canaan. So detailed were the Levites’ responsibilities that sixteen chapters in the book of Exodus (chapters 25-40) were almost entirely devoted to the commands by which the Tabernacle construction itself and the priests’ ministry within it were to be established.
The following books of the Torah (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) continued the unfolding of God’s direction for His people as together they grew into a small but mighty nation. God’s presence among them was what distinguished them from the other nations, and was the foundation for Moses’ intercessory plea before God on their behalf (Exodus 33:16) at some of their darkest moments of rebellion in the desert.
To be certain, the people of Israel were not perfect or blameless in their observation of the commands that God gave to them. There were many failings and even outright resistance at times to God’s law. But God had purposed in His heart to establish the people of Israel as a testimony to His character and to His plan. He had purposed to bless them even in spite of their stumblings.
In Numbers 6, the heart of God comes into full view in His instructions to the Levites to invoke blessing continually upon the people of Israel. Even as Psalm 133:3 says that God commanded a blessing on a people who walked in unity, God declared that the action of blessing the people was not an option or merely a nice sentiment, but a command:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “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.” ’ So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
These defining words established a culture of blessing that has endured through the generations. No matter what trials the people of Israel would go through, the strength of this command to bless each person and family in their midst was an anchor to sustain them through difficult times.
As we look at our world today, is it not our greatest strength as well to walk in a culture of blessing, under the authority of God’s unchanging grace and favor? Let us learn these lessons from the priestly prayer and implement them continually in our families and communities.
- The Lord bless and keep you
As we pray for each other, we must remember that ultimately it is God who blesses. Every one of us is a fallen human being who does not always represent the heart of God in our interactions. But God is always a God of blessing who works through a redeemed people – and it is His powerful blessing that prevails even in times of shaking, moral instability, and uncertainty.
Additionally, He promises to keep His people – to sustain them through every trial. As Psalm 121:4 says,
What a great comfort to know that the God of Israel watches over His people continually, to bless and keep them!
- The Lord make His face shine upon you
It is the light of God which shines in the darkness, and this light brings comfort even in the most tragic of days. 1 John 1:5 says,
“God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”
At all times, He by His very nature stands in opposition to anything that would try to enshroud or overtake us, exposing those things that are evil.
Specifically, the priestly prayer declares that it is God’s face which shines upon us – the appearance of His character that represents His very presence. Therefore, by encountering His face we receive the blessing of His presence that expels the works of the enemy.
- The Lord be gracious to you
All of us need the grace of God in our lives! Without His grace we have no hope in this imperfect world. The transferring of His graciousness ensures that to live in His blessing is not based upon our merit as individuals.
No matter how we may have stumbled in our lives, the grace of God is available to every repentant heart, enabling us to get back on the right track. What a powerful blessing that is!
- The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
God is the only Being in the universe who has never lost a battle to fear, depression, or discouragement. When we pray for the Lord’s countenance to be lifted upon those around us, we are calling forth the utter confidence that God has in Himself to bring a good result in any and every situation.
God’s countenance carries with it the love, honor, faithfulness, and majesty that surround His personhood. With that reality operating in our lives, we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
- The Lord give you peace
Echoing these words centuries later, Jesus said to His disciples,
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
When we bless others with the peace that God gives, we impart His shalom – which encompasses a deep and abiding wellness, the assurance of His nearness, and the safety and peacefulness that only God can bring.
God’s peace is not circumstantial; it is available equally in both joyful and tumultuous times. By conferring that blessing on others, we are declaring over them, as the priests did among the people of Israel in the wilderness, that God’s presence is the highest authority in the world, and that to live under that authority means to live in the shalom that God experiences continually.
These ancient words of God’s commanded blessing have never lost their potency or effectiveness – just as Adonai Himself is the same that He always has been throughout all generations. May we remember and activate His culture of blessing in our own lives, to keep and sustain both us and our children.