Can you explain the Aaronic Blessing?

Can you briefly explain the Aaronic Blessing?
The Aaronic Blessing is in 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

The order of worship in a Reformed church is not accidental. Besides the sermon, Reformed liturgy includes the salutation, assurance of pardon, and benediction - all three are blessings. Most will recognize the Aaronic Blessing as part of the benediction. The word "benediction" comes from the Latin bene, meaning "good" and dicere, meaning "say." So, scripturally a benediction refers to "good words" from God or his covenant representatives toward his people as a blessing.

The richness of this "Blessing" (Num 6:23) begins with its structure. Each line of the Blessing increases by two Hebrew words (from 3 to 5 to 7) and by five Hebrew letters (from 15 to 20 to 25). So, the Blessing forms a "crescendo," that is, a gradual increase in the intensity of the Blessing to its high point of "peace" (Hebrew, shalom).

The word "Lord" (Hebrew, Yahweh) is mentioned three times in the Aaronic Blessing. This should automatically remind the Christian of the Trinity (cf. 2 Cor 13:14). However, the meaning is even richer. The priests were commanded to invoke "the name" (Num 6:27) of the self-existent covenant-keeping eternal God three times upon the people. "Yahweh" (YHWH) is swimming with meaning. Meditate upon his name:

Yahweh +
Gen 22:14 Yahweh Jireh The Lord will Provide
Exod 17:15 Yahweh Nissi The Lord is My Banner
Judg 6:24 Yahweh Shalom The Lord is Peace
1 Sam 1:3; 17:45 Yahweh Sabbaoth The Lord of Hosts
Exod 31:13 Yahweh Maccaddeshcem The Lord Your Sanctifier
Psa 23:1 Yahweh Ro'i The Lord My Shepherd
Jer 23:6 Yahweh Tsidkenu The Lord Our Righteousness
Ezek 48:35 Yahweh Shammah The Lord Is There
Judg 5:3;
Isa 17:6
Yahweh Elohi Israel The Lord, the God of Israel

So, to invoke the name of God upon the congregation was to remind them of who he is (his character), what he has done (his faithfulness), and what he promises to do (his covenant).

Though given to the entire congregation, this blessing is personal; the Hebrew word "you" is singular, not plural. The very name of God invoked upon "you" personally!!! The holy, holy, holy God (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8) is blessing, blessing, blessing (Num 6:24-26) "you."

We should already be standing in awe. However, what does the Blessing mean?

Numbers 6:24

The Lord bless you
and keep you

"Bless" (Hebrew, barach) is from a related Hebrew word berech meaning to "adore," or with the piel stem as we have here, "to adore on bended knee." God blesses his people with plenty; (1) prosperity (Gen 28:3); (2) victory (Deut 7:12-18); and (3) strength (Psa 29:11), et. al. However, his greatest blessing is that of Shield, Helper, and Savior (Deut 33:29).

"Keep" (Hebrew, shamar) means "to guard or protect." While God's people are to keep God's covenant (Exod 19:5) by loving him (Deut 6:4-9) and obeying his commands (Exod 20:6), we cannot keep ourselves from the evils of this fallen perverse world. God will guard us (Rom 8:31; 1 John 2:1; 4:4; 5:4). He will protect us (Psa 91:11; 121:7; Phil 4:7). This reminds one of Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, "... Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one ..." (John 17:11-12).

Numbers 6:25

The Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you

The word "shine" (Hebrew, or) means, "to shed light" or "illuminate." "God is light" (1 John 1:5). God says that his light, his face, will light you. God's face turns toward his people is his love, mercy, grace, and salvation resting upon them (Psa 27:1; 44:3), as opposed to his face being hidden representing despair, destruction, and even death (Lev 17:10; Deut 31:17-18; Job 13:24; Psa 27:9; 34:16).

God's face is a metaphor for his loving presence. When God's face shines, blessing and deliverance come. This in part means that he is constantly protecting us (Psa 31:16), bringing help in the time of trouble (Psa 22:24), restoring us (Psa 80:3), is our constant source of joy (Psa 89:15), and blesses his people with his presence in his eternal Word (Psa 119:135). As the Apostle Paul wrote, "For God, who said, ""Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

God's presence among us is all of "grace" (Hebrew, hanan), or his showing favor to us. This Hebrew word is an elaborate word-picture creating the image of two parties; one who has a marvelous gift to give and the other who is in serious need of the same gift. Behold the radiant picture of the warm heartfelt concern on the part of the Giver. His gift is not given because of anything that the recipient has earned or negotiated for, but purely out of compelling generous mercy; it is the Giver's unmerited and unlimited love for his children. God willingly favors his children with his love, mercy, grace, presence, and other blessings entirely because he chooses to pour his mercy upon them! (2 Pet 1:3-4).

What kind of grace is this, in which the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth should tabernacle among men? (cf. John 1:14; Rev 21:3). He that is enthroned in the heaven of heavens dwelt among us (Psa 11:14; 103:19). It is upon this very earth that God dwelt, granted his divine presence, and his glory was seen. Here he made the ultimate sacrifice (John 15:13). What marvelous grace is this? He made his face shine upon us; and continues to do so!!!

Numbers 6:26

The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace

Once again, we see an emphasis on the Lord's face. Normally the face of the one doing the requesting is lifted up. However, here we see a reversal? The King's face is lifted up. Why is God's face lifted up? Because he is not frowning upon his children (cf. Gen 4:6; Jer 3:12); he is rather smiling in favor upon them (cf. Neh 8:10; Job 8:21; Psa 16:11; 126:2; Gal 5:22-23). For instance, Noah was a pleasure to the Lord (Gen 6:8).

"Peace" (Hebrew, shalom) in context carries with it far more than just the thought of the cessation of hostility. There is a sense of "completion" or "wholeness." In its New Covenant application, it is a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7) because of our relationship with Christ (Rom 5:1). Here we see a covenant of peace or friendship (Num 25:12; Isa 54:10). Abraham obeyed God, walked in his presence, and was the friend of God (Isa 41:8; Jas 2:23). As Jesus says, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). Friends of God? Yes, friends! You can talk to him, walk with him, and be with him. You can share your deepest darkest times, as well as those that are overwhelmingly joyful. He always listens, he, unlike so many that we call friends upon this earth, always genuinely cares.

There are echoes of the Aaronic Blessings throughout Scripture. Psalm 67:1 says, "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah" (see Psa 67:6, 7). In Psalm 121 there is a "keeping" (or "watching over") characteristic consistent with the Blessing (Psa 121:3, 4, 5, 7, 8). In the New Covenant, we observe many benedictions, such as Romans 16:25-27; Ephesians 6:23-24; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, etc. However, Jude 1:24-25 appears to be a clear echo of the Aaronic Blessing. Christ ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb 7:25). Some even see a close parallel in Jesus' High Priestly Prayer and the Aaronic Blessing:

John 17
Num 6
John 17:1 glorify your Son Bless and Keep Num 6:24
John 17:11-12 keep them in your name Bless and Keep Num 6:24
John 17:15 keep them from the evil one Bless and Keep Num 6:24
John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth be gracious to you Num 6:25
John 17:21 that they may all be one be gracious to you Num 6:25
John 17:24 I desire that they also, whom you have
given me, may be with me where I am
Smile and friendship Num 6:26
John 17:26 that the love with which you have loved
me may be in them, and I in them
Smile and friendship Num 6:26

The Blessing of yesterday is for today too. When the benediction is given, stretch out your arms and look towards heaven and receive the Lord's blessing. As a son or daughter of Almighty God it is yours personally.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).