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!

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