Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The High Priest's Benediction

After the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, while they were still in the desert of the Sinai peninsula, God instructed, through Moses, the High Priest Aaron and his sons as to how they were to bless the people of Israel when they came to worship and offer sacrifices.  This benediction is recorded in Numbers 6:24-26: 
The LORD bless thee, and keep thee;
The LORD make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee;
The LORD The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
You noticed, I'm sure, that I quoted from the old King James Version of the Bible.  I did this on purpose, because in this passage the Elizabethan English more accurately translates the Hebrew original.  In Hebrew the form of the verb tells the reader if the writer is addressing a group of people or an individual.  Unfortunately, in Late Modern English we have lost that distinction when we use the word you. In Early Modern English (also known as Elizabethan English), ye and you were plural for the subject and object of a sentence respectively.  When addressing one person,  the writer or speaker would use thou for the subject and thee for the object.

Well, this grammar lesson also has a spiritual lesson in the Aaronic Benediction: God is directing his blessing upon individuals in Israel.  This is not a corporate blessing; it is personal.  When a devout Israelite came to the Tabernacle to offer a sacrifice for his sins, or a sacrifice of thanksgiving, or a vow, or a peace offering, or any one of the many offerings, the priest was to pronounce the Name of the LORD upon that person in the form of the above blessing, and God assures the worshiper of His blessing.

And what a blessing!  God will make His face to shine upon the individual, lightening whatever darkness may be in the repentant sinner's heart and mind.   God will be gracious to him, granting His mercy and free favor.  God will lift up His countenance (or face, the same word) upon the worshiper. 

When God is said to look upon someone, that person is either the object of God's salvation and blessing, or the object of His judgment.  Psalm 33 conveys the first sense: 
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy, To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name. (Psalm 33:18-21, New King James Version)
The contrasting purposes of God in looking upon individuals are declared in Psalm 34: 
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.  (Psalm 34:15-16, New King James Version)
The sincere worshiper who comes before the LORD with a repentant heart, trusting in the complete, finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ for his sins, can be assured of the blessing of God's approving countenance.  And best of all, he or she can enjoy God's peace, His Shalom!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Benediction of Protection

The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day nor the moon by night.  The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.  The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.  Psalm 121:5-8

If anything characterizes our world today it is uncertainty.  The world markets are in turmoil because of unceratinty.  It is the threat of disaster more than the reality of it that causes near panic on both Wall Street and Main Street.  It is a time when trust in all human devises, personalities, and organizations fail.

That's a good time for Christians!

When we realize that only the Creator of Heaven and Earth is in ultimate control of our lives and our destinies, we can find peace and security in Him and His promises.
Psalm 121 is one of the "Psalms of Ascension" that were sung or recited by pilgrims as they ascended to Jerusalem for the seven feasts of Israel.  The journey was very long and arduous for many, and it could be dangerous.  The message of Psalm 121 would comfort and encourage the worshipers as they pressed on toward the Temple of the LORD.

We, too, can find encouragement in God's promise to protect us in our long journey to the heavenly Temple of God--what John Bunyan called "The Celestial City" in The Pilgrim's Progess.  The first and only qualification is that we truly belong to the LORD.  And we can be sure of that if we have trusted in the Savior, Messiah Jesus, and received Him.  (See John 1:12-13)

The verses above promise that the LORD will shade "your right hand."  The right hand was a metaphor for service and labor, and shade represented protection.  The LORD protects our labor and service from all circumstances, day or night.  He will keep us from all evil, physical, financial, or most importantly, spiritual.  This does not mean that nothing unpleasant will come into our lives.  But it does mean that God will not allow anything "evil" into our lives.  If He allows pain and difficulties into His child's life, He designs it for good.  "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)  He will keep (or guard) or souls. 

"The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in . . ."  All your daily business is under the watchcare of Almighty God! We can go about our work, the care of our families, and, yes, even our investing, with the confidence that God is caring for us.

We can have certainty in uncertain times, if we are God's redeemed children.  He cares for His own!