10 Things You Should Know about the Most Famous Blessing in the Bible

10 Things You Should Know about the Most Famous Blessing in the Bible

This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

Aaronic Blessing

The most famous blessing in the Bible is arguably the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24–26.

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.

Since it is the most frequently used benediction in Protestant worship, it’s quite possible that this Scripture text is the one you’ve heard most often in worship. Here are ten things you should know about this most famous blessing.

1. God’s face is a major biblical motif.

The story of the Bible could be summed up as a story of faces—God making us in his image with faces, us hiding our faces in shame, wrestling with God to see his face, seeing God’s glory in the face of Christ, and living in the hope of glory until we see God face to face. As Luther thought the Psalms “a little Bible,” it’s possible to think of the Aaronic Blessing as “a little gospel.”

2. It is a word of grace.

In its immediate context it follows redemption and consecration (Num. 5:1–6:21), meaning that it is a word of God’s grace in response to a people under grace committed to being a holy nation. God saved Israel out of bondage before he gave them the Law, and the people consecrated themselves in response. The Aaronic blessing wasn’t earned, but with it came the great responsibility to bear the name of God (Num. 6:27). Therefore, it is a benediction, a “good word” from God which both affirms our standing and exhorts us to be holy as God is holy.

3. It is a “stairway to heaven.”

The number of words and consonants in each line (3/5/7 and 15/20/25, respectively) show a progression toward a face-to-face encounter with God, forming verbal stair steps into God’s presence. The first part of each line is the cause for the effect which follows, incrementally raising us up to that most blessed state of peace, shalom.

4. It is not a prayer.

A prayer is a word from the people addressed to God, but the Aaronic Blessing is a word from God to us through his appointed messenger. Since it is the promise of God shining his face on us, it’s appropriate to look up to receive the benediction when God’s minister pronounces it. This is why God’s minister should memorize several benedictions so he can raise both hands and look God’s people in the face when he pronounces the blessing.

5. It is not a doxology.

Whereas a doxology such as Jude 24–25 is a word of blessing spoken by us to God, a benediction is a word of blessing spoken by God upon us. We should bless the Lord at all times (Ps. 34:1) and it is a good thing to give thanks to him (Ps. 92:1), but we shouldn’t forego God’s benediction when we gather for worship by confusing it with a doxology.

6. It is a gospel blessing!

Its blessing is ours in greater measure under Christ, for while under the old covenant no one could see God’s face and live (Ex. 33:19), under the new covenant we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Therefore, when the Aaronic blessing is pronounced over us today, it is a word of gospel blessing!

The Aaronic blessing wasn’t earned, but with it came the great responsibility to bear the name of God.

7. It hasn’t always been so famous.

Up to the Reformation, the mass concluded with a benediction based on 2 Corinthians 13:14. Luther’s Trinitarian hermeneutic—his Christological reading of Numbers 6:24–26 and Psalm 67:6–7—and his belief that Jesus pronounced the Aaronic blessing at his ascension led him to incorporate it into his liturgical reforms. The practice spread to the other continental reformers, though the Anglican liturgy maintained the Roman benediction.

8. It should cause us to shine our faces on others.

To be in God’s “image and likeness” includes our bodies as well as our souls. God first created us with faces before shining his face on ours. As James cynically chided his readers, how we treat God’s image in others is a direction reflection of how we relate to God (James 3:9). Knowing God’s favorable countenance upon us should not only revolutionize our understanding of where we stand with God, but it should also revolutionize our view of our neighbor since our neighbor shares in the same image of God. Our acts of mercy toward others—our faces shining on our neighbors—is the means by which we love God. When those whom Christ rejects at the final judgment ask, “When did we see you?” Jesus answered, “As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matt. 25:45).

9. It is a foretaste of our highest good.

The summum bonum, the highest good of any human, is the beatific vision, to see God. For the Psalmist, God’s hidden face brought despair (Ps. 13:1; Ps. 44:24; Ps. 69:17; Ps. 88:14). There is one thing he would seek after—to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord (Ps. 27:4). To see God’s face is God’s gracious invitation (Ps. 27:8) and therefore should be our passionate pursuit (Ps. 27:4). Under the new covenant, not only did Jesus tell us that whoever has seen him has seen the Father, but Paul declared that the glory of God has been unveiled in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). This means that through the word of God and the illuminating work of the Spirit, by faith we see in part that “lovely source of pure delight.” What Moses longed to see but could not (Ex. 33:20) has already been revealed in the glory of God become flesh (John 1:14). What the Aaron blessing declared prospectively is now being granted us progressively as we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another by gazing in faith upon Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

10. It sends us on mission.

It is a great reminder when pronounced at the end of worship that we are to live every moment of life Coram Deo, before the face of God. As we go into the world, we do not leave the presence of God, for by his benediction he has set his name on us (Num. 6:27).

The Aaronic blessing, the most famous blessing in the Bible, explains why faces are so important to us. It’s because they are important to God. God made us with faces so his could shine on ours.

Michael J. Glodo is the author of The Lord Bless You and Keep You: The Promise of the Gospel in the Aaronic Blessing.

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Author: Michael J. Glodo

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