In the play, Fiddler On The Roof, a young Jewish peasant was able to buy a sewing machine and go into business. Overjoyed, he gave a party and invited the entire village. Naturally the old rabbi and his youthful assistant were guests. In the midst of the merriment, the young tailor inquired of the young rabbi, “Will you bless my new sewing machine?” “No!” Said the novice rabbi. “We have blessings for people, even for cows and crops and homes. But there is no blessing for a sewing machine.” About then the old rabbi came over to see what was being discussed. They told him about the blessing and the sewing machine. “Father, is there a blessing for my new machine?” The young man asked earnestly. The old rabbi hesitated for a moment. It was obvious he’d never pronounced God’s blessings on a sewing machine before. He looked at the machine. He looked at the earnest young man’s face. Then he looked at the questioning crowd that had begun to gather. “Yes,” he said. “Yes! There is a blessing for the sewing machine. There is a blessing for everything!”
Such is the spirit of the Bible. There is a blessing. Yes, there is a blessing for everything! And our text for today is one of the most beautiful benedictions of all. It is a blessing for people.
The Lord Bless You!
The first part of the text says, “The Lord bless you.” The Lord do what to you? “Bless you!” That sounds all rather “stained glassed” and leaves many of us wondering if, indeed, we even want to be blessed. But perhaps it will help to see that many newer translations of the Bible render the word “blessed” as “happy”. “The Lord make you happy!” This part of the text simply means that the Lord will order your affairs so that you will have joy.
Actually, behind the Hebrew word for “bless” is a word picture of a camel made to kneel down so the driver can load him with every good thing so the camel can join a caravan and carry riches to others. So, when the Bible says, “The Lord bless you,” it is saying, “The Lord make you to kneel down like a camel so He can load you with every good thing to carry out to others.” It is as Psalm 68:19 says, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits.” (K.J.V.)
Study, if you will, the power of the blessing in Jacob’s life (Genesis 25-32). His father blessed him and that brought a birthright, an inheritance. At Bethel the angels blessed Jacob with a vision of Jacob’s ladder and that brought the beginnings of a covenant with God and a more honest Jacob. Then again in the creekbed at Penuel, Jacob wrestled with another angel. And hoping to get another blessing he said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me!” It was there in the creekbed at Penuel that Jacob was blessed again, this time with the most powerful blessing of all. For Jacob’s name was changed to Israel and he limped away a new man! Clearly, God kept blessing Jacob, making him to kneel down and piling it on like a camel being loaded, until Jacob could carry the good things of God out to others.
Yes, blessings are powerful. Jewish people know this for a fact. That’s why you find so many Old Testament fathers like Isaac, Moses, and, yes— Israel, pronouncing a blessing on their children. I confess as a father that I blessed my children. Many nights I’ve gone into their rooms just before they fell asleep. There I placed my hands on their heads and quietly said, “The Lord bless you and keep you . . . ” This was such a habit in my home that when I skipped it my children noticed. One night Bryan, my then three-year-old, was crying. Checking on him I found him fed, dry, and warm. Yet still he cried. When I bent over him, Bryan took both my hands and placed them on his head. He was begging for a blessing. Like Jacob he was wrestling and saying, “I won’t let you go until you bless me!”
This is the attitude we should have in worship. The Benediction is the last part. It is the point when God puts His hands on our heads and blesses us! Never! Never leave worship without first receiving the benediction! There’s power in the blessing of God. Wait for it. Pray for it. Wrestle for it! And, like Jacob, it too will change your life.
The Lord Keep You
Passing on, the second part of the text says, “The Lord . . . keep you.” Now, we know what this means. You’ve seen a stray dog that has no master. He is lonely, mangy, underfed, tick infested critter. Compare him to a dog that is kept. He is clean and healthy. He eats decent food. He is loved. Get the picture? “The Lord keep you.”
Again and again in Scripture God’s relationship to man is pictured as that of a shepherd who cares for his sheep. Didn’t Jesus say, “I am the Good Shepherd?” John 10:11. And read again, if you will, the twenty-third and one hundredth Psalms. They are simple testimonies of the Good Shepherd’s care. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” “We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” So, “The Lord bless you and keep you.” Now do you see? We are not like a stray dog or an unkept lamb. God cares. And He is our guardian.
Make His Face To Shine
The third part of the blessing says, “The Lord make His face to shine upon you.” I once asked an eight year old girl what it means here when it talks about God’s face shining. And she said, “He must need makeup. My mommy always says that when her face gets shinny she needs makeup.” Actually, this part of the text means God will look upon you with favor. When someone makes his face to shine upon you he is looking upon you with favor, with good pleasure.
Remember how God’s face shown upon Moses on Mt. Sinai? When Moses returned to camp the people noticed how his face shown with the radiance of God! And did you know that our faces in Christ can literally shine like that too? Romans 12:10 tells us to be “Aglow with the Spirit.” That means that God’s face, His holiness and character, can literally shine through us.
How does this work? Well, look at the moon. It has no light of its own. It is but a dead barren sphere. But when the sun shines on the moon it is illuminated. It literally reflects the sunlight. We Christians are like the moon. Ours is a borrowed light. When we live in God’s presence, when we walk in His light, our entire lives begin to glow with God’s goodness. His face shines in ours!
Listen to the challenge of Isaiah 60 here. “Arise, shine; for your
light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.” Isn’t that good news? Do you believe it? God is saying that we are not eclipsed in Christ. His light shines on us. And we can reflect his glory. Yes, “The Lord make His face to shine upon you.” This is the blessing of the Lord.
Now this,“The Lord . . . Be Gracious Unto You.”
Grace. Isn’t that a beautiful sound. It makes a splendid name for a woman. But more than that, it describes God’s action toward man. Grace literally means, “God’s unmerited love.”
Didn’t we once see this illustrated in a children’s sermon? The pastor called all the wee ones forward, and as they sat around him he began to hand out silver dollars. When each child had one, he began to ask, “Why did I give you that dollar? Did you earn it? No. Did you deserve it? No. You have that dollar simply because I wanted you to have it. And that’s like God’s love for you. We do not earn it. We certainly do not deserve it. God simply loves us because He wants to.” And that is the meaning of grace. It is God’s unmerited love. And it is one of the most transforming powers in the world!
You’ve no doubt seen how some people treat their dogs. Why, they act like they were one of the family. They talk baby talk to the dog. He is coddled and toilet-trained. He even eats his meals in the dining room. They treat them like a human being. And what happens? The dog begins to act like a real person. He literally becomes one of the family. And isn’t that just the way of God with us? Even though we are sinners, even though we resist all authority, even though we don’t deserve it, God loves us. He chooses to treat us like children. He calls us to sonship by repentance and faith. And after such treatment don’t we actually begin to act like His children? That, my friends, is the transforming power of grace. And it is part of the blessing. “The Lord be gracious unto you.”
Lift Up His Countenance
Passing on from the fact that we are blessed, kept, aglow with God’s light and good pleasure, and treated gracefully, we come to this. “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you.”
Frequently, the Old testament speaks of God as hiding His face from His people (Is. 57:17, 2 Chron. 30:9). We humans call this practice “shunning.” When we get angry we simply shun those we’re mad with. And here the text is saying to us that in the blessing of Christ God is not mad with us. He has not hid His face. We have access to Him.
Remember when you were a child how your daddy would be sitting in his big easy chair? Usually he’d be reading the news when you walked into his room. And you wanted to visit with him. You wanted to tell him about your broken roller skate or about the school field trip. But there was that newspaper in the way. His face was buried in it. So you cleared your throat and he ignored you. You tugged at his sleeve and he said, “Not now, son.” So you sat and waited. And finally he put the paper down and looked at you. Into his lap you leaped in a wink. And there looking right into his face you talked and talked! Now do
you see it? “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you.” That means that you have access to God. You don’t even have to have an appointment. He’ll pay attention to you when you pray. He’s not so busy that he doesn’t have time to look upon the likes of you.
And so we come to the last portion of our text. “The Lord . . . give you peace.” And this peace is far more than just the absence of war. It is the Hebrew concept of peace embodied in the word, “Shalom.” This peace means the absence of everything harmful and the presence of everything helpful. This peace means a kind of heavenly engineered environment in which you may thrive, an atmosphere in which you will be nourished to your full potential. It means peace with God, peace within yourself, peace with your neighbors, and even peace with the environment.
To get a picture of this kind of peace go into a greenhouse. There each plant has a kind of shalom. The very carefully controlled sunlight, temperature, and moisture levels provide each plant with the kind of environment in which it thrives. This is what God is seeking in our world. By bringing men and women to the new birth by faith in Christ, and by using those same people to work, to minister in the world, God is building His kingdom more and more. And it is a shalom kingdom. It is a kingdom wherein people are nourished and provided with all that is necessary for their growth.
It is true that perfect shalom, perfect peace, is beyond the reach of sinful mean. This kingdom of God is not like Babel, built from the ground up. It is, rather, built from heaven downward. And here is as good a place as any to remind you that we look for this kingdom to be fully established at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Until then, however, we mustn’t sit idly by. We can work to make this world better until Christ returns to make it the best. We can work to make the world more harmonious until Jesus Himself returns to bring perfect harmony.
Are You Blessed?
A few years ago my wife kissed me goodby at the door and handed me a letter to mail on my way to work. Driving to the post office I could taste her lipstick on my lips. Parking the car, I hurried inside, and, as my hands were full of keys and books, I carried her letter in my mouth. Putting my books and keys down, I took the letter to the drop box and noticed a kiss printed in lipstick on either side of the envelope! The kiss my wife had given me was now on the envelope! What we’ve got here in the text is something like that too! It is a blessing given by God to Israel, His chosen people. And now in Christ it is transferred to us as well. It is literally the kiss, the affection, the guidance, the very care of God upon our lives. And it is all ours in Jesus!
Lord, bless me that I might be a blessing to others in Christ. Amen.
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