How to bless: The Lord Bless You and Keep You (Num 6.24-26) ‣ Praying Through the Bible

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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.

Numbers 6.24-26 (REB)

Background to this blessing

This prayer is a blessing (sometimes called a “benediction” from a Latin word meaning “to speak well”). The one who speaks this prayer asks God to protect, favor, and grant peace to the person or persons who receive it.

It is first uttered during the Israelite’s preparations for their march through the wilderness. The context, before and after the prayer, is of a unique nature for the Israelites. Much like the laws and the prayer in Leviticus, it is stressed that the Israelites belong to God; since He is holy, they must also be holy. In their daily lives they are to act, think, and speak with that in mind. This includes performing certain rituals to remind themselves of whom they belong to, and to avoid things that defile the relationship with God. To be holy means to be “set apart.” It is important to note that they are not “set apart, pure, and holy” because they keep the rules. Rather, they keep the rules because God has pronounced them “set apart, pure, and holy.” In other words, God did not say “do these things, and you will be holy,” but “I have pronounced you holy—now go live like it.” This is clear in the words that immediately follow the prayer: “they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Meaning of the blessing

This is a powerful and formal prayer, stating that God has adopted the Israelites as his people and that He will protect them, bless them, and give them peace. Moreover, God tells Moses that when the priests use this formula to bless the people, God will bless the people. (Again we see the concept of people being able to speak for God, like an ambassador.)

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