I shared these thoughts with some colleagues recently, and I wanted to post them here, too.
The past few weeks I have heard many people say things like “God Bless You” or “Have a blessed New Year” or similar. I confess that I have said this, too… And I would want to pray God’s blessing upon your 2011, yet before I do I would like to share with you some thoughts I had on the Aaronic Blessing (May the Lord bless you and keep you, May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto, may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.)
“May the Lord bless you and keep you…”
Bless you – give you everything that you need (even in exceeding abundance) to love God and to serve God fully.
Keep you – protect you in the way that Psalm 139 portrays: before and behind, above and below, a hand upon you so that you would know God’s presence in any and all situations and circumstances.
“May the Lord make his face to shine upon you…”
Does this phrase carry connotations of “feeling God’s pleasure” like the warming sun? (yet could this not also be said for the ‘countenance’ part later on, too?) I have read this phrase in the Psalms before, yet connected with it in a new way recently when I read “Shine your face upon us that we might be saved.” Psalm 80 uses this phrase multiple times. As I prayed recently and thought of this prayer for deliverance and salvation, the image that came to mind was from The Lord of the Rings – Gandalf returns on the third day to the stronghold overrun with enemies and shafts of light from the rising sun beam out from behind him as he crests the hill swooping down to deliver the people… a powerful image.
“and be gracious unto you…”
May God forgive, be patient, have mercy, be generous towards you. May you experience in God the generous hospitality demonstrated by Abraham to the three strangers and by the father to the prodigal son.
“May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you…”
In times past I have seen this in different ways. At times, the scriptural image comes to mind of God singing over his children with songs of deliverance and songs of delight…songs of God’s love for us. At other times the image I have is of Eric Liddel in Chariots of Fire – “And when I run, I feel God’s pleasure!” It is a picture of God smiling toward us. Wow.
Recently, though, the image I have is that of a King welcoming a subject into his presence. I thought of Esther approaching the king, yet the king needing to lift his scepter in order to approve and welcome her into his throne room. As God’s children we can approach God, and God will allow us to approach. Further imagery comes from Hebrews: “Seeing as we have a great high priest, then let us boldly approach the throne of Grace…”
“and give you peace,” or a better translation “and set upon you shalom.”
When I lived in Israel I studied parts of this prayer in Hebrew, and I feel like I gained a broader picture than most translations offer. The verb translated ‘give’ actually has connotations of ‘set upon’ like when Elijah sets his mantel upon Elisha – a heavy, weighty, impactful, noticeable placement. This is more than a “have a nice day” well wishing. This is a prayer of blessing that asks God to set upon us Holistic Peace that will forever after change the way we live in this world.
So, as you enter into 2011,
May the Lord Bless you and Keep you,
May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you,
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And set upon you Shalom. Amen!