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One of my wife’s and my favorite Bible passages is commonly known as the “Aaronic Blessing,” “Aaronic Benediction,” or “Priestly Blessing.” If you have a religious heritage based in Judaism or a liturgical Christian denomination, such as Methodist or Episcopalian, you have certainly heard it pronounced over the congregation by the rabbi or pastor, usually at the end of the service:
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
‘The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.’
So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” — Numbers 6:22-27
I feel led of the Holy Spirit to unpack this passage and others to explore just what it means to be blessed by God.
The first tidbit I want to point out from this passage is in the final verse:
So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
In this verse, God is actually branding His people. I’m not referring to the practice of branding an animal with a red-hot piece of steel as performed by ranchers on their livestock, but the term as used in modern advertising parlance. When we talk about “branding” in that sense, we are referring to “the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design.”
God hand-selected the descendants of Abraham to be His chosen people, the ones designed by Him to distinctively bear His name. They would do so by proclaiming through both word and example the existence, character/characteristics, morality, and goodness of the One True God through their worship and observance of His Law.
The second half of this branding process is the final clause of that sentence: “and I will bless them.” Not only would God brand Himself by means of a people whose behavior would be a light and example for all to see, but He would also bless His people so mightily onlookers would be amazed at their quality of life.
All this would literally advertise The Most High God before a lost and dying humanity wholly given over to idolatry, self-exaltation, and sexual licentiousness.
Christ-followers have since inherited that mantle. We, too, have been branded by our Lord and Savior. However, rather than His Person and message being advertised through our law-keeping, this would instead be characterized by our selfless devotion to Him, as well as self-sacrificing love toward one another and the lost while losing the ethnic trappings/limitations of having to be Jewish.
A quick glance at the quality of social-media discourse proffered by those labelling themselves as Christians these days will quickly demonstrate how wretched a job we are doing as His advertisers. But I digress…
The Hebrew Amplification
All this leads us to the following question: how — in what ways — does God bless His chosen ones?
If we were to amplify the Hebrew of this passage, it would sound a whole lot more like the following (NOTE: though YHWH is used as God’s name in the original Hebrew here, in compliance with Jewish tradition I will substitute Ha’Shem — literally “The Name” — throughout):
May the Lord bless you…
May Ha’Shem reach down and make Himself available to you as your Heavenly Father so He can bestow upon you His promises and gifts. May He meet your every need to live successfully on this earth.
and keep you…
May Ha’Shem guard you with a thorny hedge of protection which will prevent Satan from harming you. May He protect you — body, soul, and spirit — as well as all of your loved ones and earthly possessions. May He also protect you from any moral corruption arising from those possessions.
The Lord make His face shine upon you…
May Ha’Shem illuminate the wholeness of His being toward you, continually bringing you to order so you will fulfill your divine destiny and purpose. May He impart His wisdom to you through enlightenment from His Word.
…and Be gracious to you…
May Ha’Shem provide you with His perfect love, intimate friendship, complete forgiveness, showering you with His favor as well as giving you favor with others.
The Lord lift up His countenance on you…
May Ha’Shem turn His head to see you, suppressing any anger towards you, lifting up and conveying the fullness of His Being to you, bringing everything He is and has to your aid, supporting you with His divine embrace.
…and give you peace.
May Ha’Shem set in place all you need to be whole and complete, so you can walk in victory, moment by moment, by the power of His Holy Spirit. May He give you supernatural health, peace, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfection, fullness, and harmony as well as the absence of agitation and discord.
One fascinating aspect of the word shalom is how it is spelled in Hebrew: shin, lamed, vav, mem. When these pictographs are read in sequence, they actually form a sentence: Destroy the authority that binds to chaos. When we take into consideration who that authority is — the god of this world, Satan — shalom literally destroys his authority to bring and/or imprison us in chaos, confusion, and disarray in any given situation!
We can safely conclude the following from all this:
- This pronouncement was commanded — not suggested! — by the One True God to be prayed specifically word-by-word over His people.
- Therefore, it is His expressed will for all His chosen ones, period.
- Taking into account how all Gentile believers are grafted into that same tree through saving faith in Yeshua Ha’Maschiach aka Jesus the Christ (see Romans 11), we can also safely conclude it is God’s will for all Christ-followers, period.
Blessings or Suffering?
There are those from certain doctrinal traditions within Christendom — most notably Calvinists — who will dismiss such claims, saying, “But what about all those NT verses proclaiming how we are supposed to suffer?”
To which I respond, “This is one of the many tensions, paradoxes, and unfathomable mysteries found in Scripture which we will never fully resolve this side of eternity.” In other words, God has somehow worked it out where we get to be blessed as described above while suffering for righteousness’ sake.
I don’t know how that works, just that it does.
To see this paradox exemplified in the life of a real-life Christian believer, read Kim Phuc Phan Thi’s autobiography Fire Road. Kim is that naked little 9-year-old girl on the cover being consumed by napalm as recorded in that 1972 Pulitzer-Prize-winning AP photo.
Her book poignantly describes her incredible path of suffering over a period of decades while at the same time glorifying our precious Lord Jesus through her vivid descriptions His salvation, grace, mercy, supernatural provision, and healing power. She describes how He has delivered her from abject poverty, horrendous political oppression, intense personal pain and bitterness, as well as providing the reconciliation, restoration, and salvation of her entire family. It is an incredible testimony of God’s faithfulness to His promises — in many cases, bona fide miracles! — despite overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. For what my opinion may matter to you, this book is inspirational, transcendental, and easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, Christian or non! Several times I was reading it through tears of gratitude to and worship of our Lord.
When we look at the definition of the word “blessed” from this passage in the Hebrew lexicon, we find the following:
- bless (barak)
- to bless
Frankly, this doesn’t help our understanding much.
Looking in a modern English dictionary, we find the following among the definitions found there:
- to confer or invoke divine favor upon; ask God to look favorably on
We’re getting warmer!
One NT word for “blessed” is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where He pronounces blessings over certain categories of people. This one, makarios, literally means “happy.”
While that is cool in and of itself, that still doesn’t help us much.
The concept of blessing really comes into focus when we examine another NT word for “bless” and its definition found in the Greek lexicon:
- bless (eulogeo)
- to cause to prosper, to make happy, to bestow blessings upon
- favored of God, blessed
Eulogeo literally means “good words.” This is the word from which we derive our English word “eulogy,” a speech given at a funeral which praises the deceased’s character as well as their contributions to family, society, or both.
Remarkably, eulogeo is also the selfsame word used by Jesus when He commanded us to:
…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you — Matthew 5:44
That is a whole kettle of fish apart from the standard so-called Christian discourse on social media as well as public discussions concerning various doctrines, politics/politicians, media personalities, the education system, and other cultural hot-button issues, now isn’t it?
So let’s tug on this thread a tad more and see where it leads us:
- What happens when God speaks?
Stuff happens! Universes are flung into existence, laws of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and biology are put in place and made effective, stars are born, planets formed, living creatures are created (Genesis 1 & 2)
- What happens when God speaks good things?
Good stuff happens! See the previous list, all of which God called “good.”
- What happens when God speaks good things over His chosen people?
Good stuff happens to us!
WOW! Pause and selah that idea for a bit!
I would like to conclude with the following, expressed with the sincere desire you would receive it by faith and make it your own.
This is the will of God concerning you!
The Lord bless you, and keep you [protect you, sustain you, and guard you];
The Lord make His face shine upon you [with favor], and be gracious to you [surrounding you with lovingkindness];
The Lord lift up His countenance (face) upon you [with divine approval], and give you peace [a tranquil heart and life].’
Numbers 6:24-26 AMP
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In closing, I would like to acknowledge and express my heartfelt thanks to my close friend and beloved former Messianic Jewish rabbi, Shmuel Oppenheim, for his invaluable insights on this article. He also verified my Hebrew amplification by loaning me his Orthodox Hebrew commentaries. Shalom, Achi! — MSW
Thanks for reading!