March 21, 2007
“The Total Blessing”
Dr. Ligon Duncan III
Fourth, appreciate the context of this. Before this blessing is given, the children of Israel are assembled, getting ready to leave on a dangerous journey across the desert. Many of them were going to die in the wilderness. They were going to be assaulted by enemies. They were going to face thirst and starvation. They were going to face division and dissention, and before they begin this arduous, dangerous, adventurous journey, God goes before them with a blessing, and nothing would have been more comforting to them than the guarantee of God's sovereign blessing. That in and of itself plays into the whole story of Numbers, because over and over what will the people of God doubt in the wilderness? They will doubt God's purpose to bless them. Isn't it ironic? Before they ever set out, God says to them through Aaron ‘Let Me just make one thing perfectly clear’ — if you can remember President Nixon using that phrase: “Let me make this perfectly clear…” — now here's the Lord, who does not lie, saying ‘Let me make one thing perfectly clear!’ And He pronounces this blessing, and if they could have just believed that, how different the story of Numbers would have been. It would have been an entirely different book if they had believed what God said in this passage. But how kind of God to give them these kinds of assurances before they ever set out.
Fifthly, notice the composition. Now it's a little bit harder for you to appreciate the composition of this verse, but maybe there are some seminarians looking at their Hebrew. Look at verses 24, 25, and 26, and let me tell you something about those verses in Hebrew. In Hebrew, verse 24 has three words; verse 25 has five words; and verse 26 has seven words. So what do you see? You see the blessings enlarging, or expanding, or compounding as they go on from the first blessing to the second blessing to that third blessing. Three, five, and seven words, respectively. In Hebrew, in verse 24 there are twelve syllables; in verse 25, fourteen syllables; in verse 26, sixteen syllables. So even the syllables expand. And there are in verse 24 (in Hebrew) fifteen consonants; in verse 25 there are 20 consonants, and in verse 26 there are 25 consonants. Furthermore, if you subtract the name of the Lord from the total words used in these three statements of blessing (and the Lord's name is used three times), then guess how many words you have. Twelve, for the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a very artistically, esthetically, symmetrically done poem that conveys even in its form a lot of punch as to its meaning.
Now one last thing to note before we read it: look at the content. This is not a petition, a supplication. We ended our prayers tonight with supplications or petitions, or requests. That's a good thing to do, but notice that this is not a petition. It's a blessing. It's a pronouncement of God's favor.
Notice that God precedes His people in their needs in this blessing. You might have expected God to have commanded Aaron to lead in a gigantic intercessory prayer before the children of Israel left on the journey — supplicating, asking, petitioning, requesting God to supply their needs. And that would have been a perfectly legitimate thing to do; but here, before God's people's needs are ever laid forth, God precedes those needs with blessing. Rather than vocalizing what the people wanted, this benediction expounds what God is giving to them.
And notice in each of the clauses of the blessings in verses 24, 25 and 26, that the first clause begins with God's movement: “The Lord bless…The Lord make His face to shine…The Lord lift up His countenance….” It's the Lord's movement towards His people. And then, the second clause in each part of this blessing speaks of the Lord's activity. Now that He's moving towards His people, now that He's taking the initiative in blessing, in making His face to shine, and in lifting up His countenance, what is the activity that He is going to do for them? Keep them…be gracious to them…and give them peace. So there is a movement of the Lord towards His people, and then there is a specific activity of the Lord on behalf of His people in each part of this blessing. Now just notice these things as we hear it together.
Let's pray first.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. Above all, grant that we would hear it reverently because it comes from You; but we pray also, O God, that You would open our eyes to see the enormity of this blessing, to realize that it is ours in Christ, and to respond to it in faith. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word, Numbers 6:22:
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall 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 lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’
So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I want you to look for six things tonight as we spend an all too brief time in this extraordinarily rich passage of blessing, and here are the six things. Let me just tell you ahead of time. First, I want you to look for the source of this blessing. Secondly, I want you to see the corporate and personal character, or dimensions, of this blessing. Thirdly, I want you to see, as we look at God in this blessing, I want you to see God giving and protecting. Fourthly, I want you to see God's grace and forgiveness. Fifthly, I want you to see God's watchfulness and generosity. And, sixth, I want you to see the way that God puts His name on His people and marks us as His own. Let's look at those six things together tonight.
I. First, the source of this blessing.
One of the things that comes through loud and clear in this passage is that God is the only source of the only blessing worth having.
Three times in this passage it is stressed: “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.” And notice in verse 27 what God says again: “So they shall put My name on the sons of Israel…” and then the emphatic “I then will bless them.” Five times in this tiny little passage God makes it amply clear that He and He alone is the one who is capable of blessing His people. He is the only source of the only blessing that is worth having. And my friends, I want to suggest to you, especially in light of the theme of grumbling and distrust in the book of Numbers, that if the children of Israel had understood just that one truth adequately, it would have totally changed the story of the book of Numbers. If they had simply understood this: God is the giver; He's the source of blessing; nothing that He doesn't give do we need; what He gives is all we need. If they had understood that one thing, the whole story of Numbers would be different.
But let's not become the Israelites. The story of our lives would be different if we understood that God is the only one who gives the only blessing worth having. Nothing…nothing…worth having does He withhold from us. Nothing that He does not give do we need. And everything that we need, He gives. And if we really believed that, my friends, how dramatically different our lives would be. We go through life so often thinking, you know, life and satisfaction will come from this pleasure. Life and satisfaction will come from this job. Life and satisfaction will come from these possessions. Life and satisfaction will come from this popularity. Life and satisfaction will come…fill in the blank! We are running around constantly trying to stuff our hearts full of life and satisfaction somewhere else other than from the blessing of Almighty God, and if we could simply understand that God is the giver, He is the source, He is the author of the only blessing worth having, and so only God can fill us up, it would dramatically change our lives. The Lord blesses and no one else can, and no one else can undo the Lord's blessing. No one can take the Lord's blessing off of His people.
By the way, that story will come in Numbers. You remember a man is going to come to Balaam and try and pay him to do what? To take the Lord's blessing off His people. Do you think he was able to do that? No! No one can take the Lord's blessing off His people. But no blessing can come to us that's worth having, that the Lord does not give. If we would just understand that, it would radically change our lives. I wish I could spend more time just on that application, but meditate on that truth.
II. This blessing is corporate and personal.
Here's the second thing I want you to see. Notice that this blessing is corporate and personal. It concerns all the people of God, all the members of the covenant community, the whole of the nation of Israel, and it concerns the individual.
Notice that the whole context is the blessing of the sons of Israel (vs. 23). But then when the blessing is pronounced, what does it say? “The Lord bless…you.” Singular. You… you… you… you. Yes, there's a mass of two million people out there, and the Lord's blessing has a concern for all of them together, corporately; but it also has a concern for them individually and personally. You see, God's blessing is corporate and personal. He's concerned about His whole people. That's the corporate dimension. But He's also concerned about His people individually. That's the personal dimension.
And, my friends, doesn't that remind us that we can never, ever, go through this life just concerned about the Lord's personal blessing upon us? We've always got to be concerned about His blessing on all the people of God. You know, one of my favorite passages in the New Testament is the end of Hebrews 11–you know, that ‘hall of fame’ of faith. It tells you at the end of Hebrews 11 in verses 39-40, after the author of Hebrews has just told you that these people, many of whom had gone to the death because of their trust in God…he's just told you that the world wasn't worthy of them. And then he tells you in verses 39-40 that — guess what? They did not experience the realization of the fulfillment of all of God's promises. And none of God's people will, until all of us experience it together. God is so concerned for the whole of His people that He is waiting to pour out the fulfillment and the consummation of all His gifts so that all of us experience that together in the great Day of the Lord. When the Lord Jesus sets up His kingdom in all its fullness, in all its extent, it comes together. We've got to go through life remembering that. It's so easy, isn't it, to become centered upon ourselves, especially in the middle of difficult trials and to forget that there is a bigger story going on, and that God is concerned for the total well-being of all His people. Yes, thank God, He's concerned for us individually; but we must remember that there's always a big picture going on as well. God's blessing is corporate, but personal.
III. God cares and keeps.
Thirdly, God cares and keeps. This is God's giving and protecting character being displayed. God cares and keeps. You see it in verse 24. “The Lord bless you….” Now, again, that word the Lord bless you is not vague. It's encompassing and general, but it is certain and specific. And if you had been standing there with an Israelite, he would have been able to tell you very quickly (or she would have been able to tell you very quickly) that the Lord's blessing entails children and property and a safe land to live in, promised by God; and health and well-being, and the nearness of God in all of life and in time of trouble. That concept of the Lord's blessing indicates His care for His people. He cares about His people, and so He gives them the things that they need.
And then notice He not only cares, He keeps. “The Lord…keep you.” That is a reminder of God's guarding and His protecting. It's a pledge, it's a promise, that He will guard and protect you.
Many of you know the song, or at least one stanza of the song, Now Thank We All Our God by heart. Go back and look at that. If you don't have a hymnal, buy one and take it home. (If you do have a hymnal at home and it has “First Presbyterian Church” on it and you didn't pay for it, don't tell me…and certainly don't tell Bill Wymond!) But open it up to No. 98, and look at Now Thank We All Our God, and look at the first stanza and the second stanza, and look at how they talk about the Lord's blessing and the Lord's keeping. And then go read the story of the man who wrote Now Thank We All Our God. I’ll just save the surprise for you to find out when you do that. But this is a promise that the Lord will guard and protect us. And think of how relevant that was with the children of Israel heading out into the dangerous wilderness, and how relevant it is for us when we are treading the valley of the shadow of death, living life in a fallen world, surrounded by innumerable enemies; and powers and principalities, and rulers, world forces of darkness seeking to sift us like wheat, crouching at our door, waiting to devour us. And here is the Lord saying, “I will keep you.”
IV. The Lord delights and forgives.
And, fourthly, notice the Lord delights and forgives. “The Lord make His face to shine on you.”
I think you understand what is being talked about here. This is a picture of the delight of the Lord in His people. He delights in His people. It's an indication of His pleasure in His people. It's an indication of His presence and His communion and His approval of His people. Think of a grandchild coming to visit a grandparent, and the delight that that child experiences in seeing the delight of that grandparent in that child, and you get a feel for what's being said here. “The Lord make His face to shine upon you.”
And remember that this was a personal experience of Moses. Moses knew what it was to have the favor of God so come upon him that when he came down from the mountain his own face was shining — to the point that it scared the Israelites and he veiled his face, because he had experienced the favor and the approval and the affirmation and the encouragement and the pleasure and the communion with the living God. God delighted in him. And think how important that was to Moses, because Moses throughout his ministry had to look at the faces of his people when they did not delight in him, and he had to remember that it was not his job to desire them to delight in him, but it was his job to take care that the delight that he sought was his Father's delight in them, so that he could serve their best interests even when they didn't delight in him. And isn't that so important for us to understand?
John Piper recently wrote:
“Would you pray with me that hundreds among us would embrace being hated for the sake of love? If your driving motive [Piper goes on to say] in this life is to be liked and loved, you will find it almost impossible to be a Christian. Missionaries are people who have decided that being loved by God is enough to enable love. We don't need to seek the approval and the liking and the affirmation of others. It may feel good, but it is not essential. Loving, not being loved, is essential.”
Now that's a provocative thing to say, and we have to give it all kinds of qualifications, but you understand what he's getting to. If you know the approval of the Father, it enables you to love the world even when the world hates you. But if you want the approval of the world, you may have to cease loving the world in order to get it. Cease loving the world except in the way that God calls you to love them: loving them in the sense of telling them the truth, telling them the gospel. We live in a tolerant society that's very intolerant, and one of the things that this tolerant society won't tolerate is people who tell them, “One way! Jesus Christ! Heaven or hell devolves on Him, on your trust in Him.” They hate that message, and they may very well hate you even for believing that message, much less telling them. But if you love them like God wants you to love them, you will believe and tell them that message. The only way you’ll be able to do that is if you long for the delight of the Father's face more than you long for the delight of the world's face towards you. In other words, the only way that you can really love them is to not care whether they love you or not. The only way that you can really love them is to know that your Father loves you, and therefore you are ready to take their hate for the sake of love. And we learn this right here in Numbers 6. I hasten on….
“The Lord be gracious to you.” This is a pronouncement; it's a promise of forgiveness. And I want you to just pause and think for a second. The children of Israel are where? They’re at Mount Sinai. What had happened literally just a few weeks before this?
Well, a guy named Aaron had built a golden calf, and the children of Israel had worshiped a false god. Now God is telling Moses that through Aaron it was going to be pronounced that He is gracious. You think the children of Israel believed that? You better believe it! Aaron should have been a greasy spot on the desert floor, and now he is being told: ‘Before the children of Israel leave out in the desert, Aaron, I want you to tell them something. I forgive. I want that coming from your mouth, Aaron. That blessing, that promise, I want it coming from your mouth to the people of God, because you are Exhibit A. Think I'm not a kind, forgiving, gracious, forbearing God? I present to you Aaron, who has a message for you tonight: God forgives.’
Isn't God marvelous? How He drives home His grace, because Satan wants to tempt us that He is not gracious and He will not forgive us. And so He sends Aaron out to say, “May the Lord make His face to shine on you in delight, and be gracious to you in the forgiveness of your sins.”
V. God's watchfulness and generosity
Very quickly, God looks and gives (verse 26). “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you.” What that means is that God is going to pay attention to you. “The Lord lift up His countenance on you.”
Take the picture: Dad's at the breakfast table. He's reading the paper. It's The Wall Street Journal, and it's really good! But Junior wants Daddy's attention: “Dad! I built a Lego man! ... Dad! I built a Lego man! ... DAD, I BUILT A LEGO MAN!” And finally The Wall Street Journal comes down, and Dad's eyes are locked on Junior, and Junior knows that his dad cares that he built a Lego man. And here's God saying to Aaron, ‘Tell them, ‘My eyes are right on you, children. I'm lifting up my countenance on you. I'm looking right at you. I know what you need, I know what you are doing, I'm there for you. My mind is on you. I'm watching over you. My eyes are on you. Just promise them that.’’ Just like a parent pays attention to a child, the Lord is going to watch over us.
You know, John Dunn meditates on this truth, and he puts it this way:
“Though Thou with clouds of anger do disguise Thy face, yet through that mask I know those eyes, which, though they turn away sometimes, they never will despise me.”
You see, there's Dunn saying, ‘Lord, I've looked into those eyes of grace. I know that Your eyes are upon me. And though, O Lord, You turn away in anger, yet I know You will not despise me.’
And then he says “The Lord give you peace”–total well-being, the sum total of all God's good gifts to His people. Not just cessation of hostility, not just cessation of warfare on this earth, but sum total of God's gifts…total well-being, total blessing.
And you know, it's so amazing, isn't it, that right before Jesus stops speaking to His disciples and goes to prayer on the night of His betrayal, what does He say to them? (John 16:33). ‘In this world you have tribulation, but I give you My peace. Don't be afraid. I have overcome the world. Receive My peace.’ And here's the Lord Jesus, who is going to experience, as Derek has so often reminded us…He is going to experience the exact opposite of the Aaronic benediction on this next day. Rather than receiving the Lord's blessing, He is going to be the object of the Lord's curse. Rather than being kept by the Lord, the Lord is going to unleash all the minions of hell upon His Son. Rather than seeing the Father's delight shining down on Him, the Father is going to turn His face from Him. Rather than knowing the gracious forgiveness of God, He is going to experience the fullness of the penalty for the total weight of our sin, by Himself. Rather than knowing the Father's eyes are on Him, He is going to cry out, “My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” And rather than knowing the total blessing of God, He is going to be pushed out into that darkness and into that chasm where there is no peace. And in doing this, He is going to guarantee the fullness of this blessing coming upon all who trust in Him. But He Himself is going to forego it for you. This is an exceedingly precious blessing. It is an exceedingly costly blessing.
VI. God puts His name on His people and marks us as His own.
Finally, here is the sixth thing (verse 27). Have you noticed that God tells Aaron to put His name on His people with this blessing? “So then they shall invoke My name…” or, literally, “They shall put My name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.” Isn't it interesting? The way that God is going to mark His people is with a blessing–not with a brand, not with a bond, but with a blessing. That's going to be His mark of ownership. How do you know that these are My people? I've put My name and My blessing on them, that's how you’re going to know that they’re My people.
And so this blessing shows us God as a bountiful giver, and a strong protector, and a faithful friend, and a forgiving Father, and a reliable partner, and a generous provider, and a unique owner. And if we would just understand this, it would change everything. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for You unmerited and undeserved blessing in Jesus Christ. We offer up our praise and gratitude, in Jesus' name. Amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.