I love sunlight. To sit on our patio, drinking tea, and watching the way the morning light dapples our Japanese maple, highlighting the vein pattern of each leaf—that’s a piece of heaven for me. I’m drawn to the sunlight. When there’s not enough of it, I can fall into depression. I need sunshine. We all do!
Sunlight warms us. It banishes our darkness. It reveals. It causes growth.
And it points us to the Light of the World (John 8:12), the Sunrise from on High (Luke 1:78), the Sun of Righteousness, who rises with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).
It’s no wonder then that the ancient blessing from Numbers 6:24-26 we’ve been delving into includes these words:
“The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (verse 25, ESV)
Before we look at this couplet more closely, let’s step back a moment and consider this powerful blessing as a whole. It has recently come to the forefront because a song based on this passage has gone viral. Versions of The Blessing have been popping up around the globe as believers join together to bless their cities and nations in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. It started in May with 65 churches and movements in the UK collaborating to sing this benediction over their land:
Since then, believers from every corner of the earth have been invoking this ancient blessing over their nations. Here’s one from worshippers in Zimbabwe. It’s delightful to hear this benediction declared in so many of that nation’s languages!
The blessing these believers are all singing contains three couplets, with each pair carrying a unique expression of God’s desire to benefit His people. Some commentators have suggested that each set reflects one member of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Martin Luther proposed that each couplet is intended to bless one facet of our being: body, soul, and spirit. So today, we’ll look at the second couplet, which could be considered to be the blessing from Jesus to our souls: “The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”
“Make His Face Shine Upon You”
What happens when the Lord’s face shines on us? In the same way that sunshine provides us with light and warmth and causes plants to grow, when God’s face shines on us, we are enlightened and our hearts are warmed. His light brings revelation and nourishes us, causing us to grow and flourish.
John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, summed it up beautifully in his prophesy about Jesus:
“…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 ESV)
Light in place of darkness and the shadow of death.
Guidance into the path of peace.
These are the gifts of God’s tender mercy that come to us when the Lord’s face shines on us.
Jesus’ face is shining on you right now. Take a moment to turn toward Him and bask in His presence. Feel His warmth. Welcome His light. Receive His nourishment. Listen for His words to guide you on the path of peace.
“Be Gracious to You”
There’s a beautiful Hebrew word here that is translated “gracious”: חָנַן (khaw-nan’). It literally means to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior. Can’t you just picture it? In His kindness, the Lord bends low to show us favor and mercy—to reveal His grace to us. This word is used 77 times in the Old Testament, often to depict God’s kind dealings with His people. As Jacob said, “God has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough.” (Genesis 33:11)
But חָנַן (khaw-nan’) goes the other direction, too. It also means to beg, entreat, or plead. For example, David often used this word in his Psalms to cry out to God:
- When he was languishing (Psalm 6:2)
- When he was in distress (Psalm 4:1)
- When he was afflicted (Psalm 9:13)
- When he was lonely (Psalm 25:16)
The Lord is bending down to show you kindness right now. Can you picture it? What kind of kindness do you need today? Are you lonely, distressed, languishing, or afflicted in any way right now? Tell God about it, confident that He is more than willing to stoop to you in His kindness and be gracious to you.
Next time, we’ll hear two more examples of The Blessing from around the world and look at the final couplet of this ancient benediction.
~ Kathryn Kircher