22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 24 ‘“The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’ 27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” (Num. 6:22-27, NIV)
Still today, many of our church services end with the priest or pastor pronouncing the so called Aaronic blessing (also called “the Priestly blessing”), before it is time for the church members to have a cup of coffee and head back home again. The origin of this blessing is found in Numbers chapter 6. God commanded Aaron and his sons, Israel’s priesthood, to speak this blessing over the Jewish people. By doing so, the priests were to “put God’s name on” the people so that God would bless them.
But is the Aaronic blessing for the new covenant church? In my opinion, only if we use it to show that everything that the blessing speaks about already has been fulfilled through Christ. The law – including the Aaronic blessing – was only a “shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17, NIV).
Very seldom we hear any preacher use the Aaronic blessing to point to the finished work of Jesus. On the contrary, it is common that we give people the impression that they do not already have what the blessing speaks about, unless we pronounce these “magical words” upon them every Sunday.
The tenses form of “bless”, “keep”, and “turn His face” in the original Greek includes past, present, and future tense in the same word, which the English language does not do justice. The literal meaning is thus that the Lord “has blessed, now blesses, and will bless” etc. The original meaning is a very powerful revelation if we know that the blessing is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Within Judaism, this blessing is used every Sabbath, but while the Jews understand the literal meaning, they do not benefit from it since they have not yet discovered the Blessor – Jesus Christ.
Let us look at the different parts of the Aaronic blessing in light of the finished work of Jesus:
”The Lord bless you…”
Ephesians 1:3 makes very clear that we already have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We who are in Christ – i.e. born-again believers who live after the cross – are not depending on the pastor or priest to pronounce the Aaronic blessing upon us to be blessed. Every blessing of God already belong to us today because of Jesus and what He has accomplished! What decides whether we walk in the blessing or not, so that it becomes a manifested reality in our lives, is that we understand how blessed we already are!
A preacher who finishes his/her services with a liturgical rant of “The Lord bless you”…, sends an indirect signal to the hearers that they are not blessed, unless these words are spoken. As preachers, we put ourselves on too high horses if we believe that the hearers measure of blessing is dependent of whether we have spoken the Aaronic blessing upon them. In practice, we make ourselves, like the priests in the old covenant, mediators between God and men. In the new covenant, there is only one mediator between God and men – Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:5). There is no blessing from God aside from Jesus, who is available to every believer. Christ in us is our hope of glory – and blessing (Col. 1:27). The blessing is found in Jesus, who lives in us!
A well-known preacher in North America wrote a book some years back with the title “You’ve already got it! So stop trying to get it!” On the cover of the book, there is a picture of a dog running around in circles chasing its own tail. That’s exactly how we Christians often behave. Instead of believing that we already have everything we need in Christ, and that we already are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, we travel from country to country trying to get hold of something we already have. The Aaronic blessing, if it is not understood in light of the finished work of Jesus, can be a contributing cause since it, in its Old Testament context, implies that we are not already blessed.
”…and keep you”
All God’s promises have become “yes and amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). God’s protection is available to us 24 hours a day because of Jesus, who is our rock, refuge and strong tower. God’s protection over our lives is not based on whether the priest or pastor has pronounced the Aaronic blessing upon us; it is based on Jesus Himself, who has promised: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). Let us trust Jesus to keep and protect us!
”The Lord make his face shine on you…”
Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 that the light of God’s face refers to the knowledge of God revealed through Jesus Christ; i.e. the gospel! Paul says that the light of the gospel has already shone upon our hearts. “The Lord make his face shine upon you” in the Aaronic blessing is a picture of the revelation of Jesus and His finished work. God has already let the light of His face shine upon us when He sent Jesus! The more we discover Jesus and His finished work, the brighter our lives will be. It is all about understanding the gospel!
”…and be gracious to you”
Do we really believe that God’s grace toward men is depending us pleading with Him to be merciful to them? Is not the gospel that God’s grace flows out toward every man on earth, because God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them (2 Cor. 5:19)? It is a mockery of the cross to believe that the blessing of the priest or the pastor affects God so that He is merciful to men. God’s grace toward mankind is based on the finished work of Jesus!
” through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God”. (Rom. 5:2)
”The Lord turn his face toward you…”
These words give the impression that God’s face at the moment is turned away, but if we only speak the Aaronic blessing over people, God will turn His face around toward them. The gospel is good news that we “who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). God’s face is already turned toward us 24 hours a day!
”…and give you peace”
Peace in the new covenant is not a result of the preacher pronouncing the Aaronic blessing. Peace is a result of the revelation that we are righteous and accepted before God through faith in Jesus, and not through our own performance!
”Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (Rom. 5:1)
Because of failures, pressure, and tough circumstances it sometimes feels as if we do not have peace. In those moments we need to turn our eyes upon the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ Himself, and our emotions will came back into balance again. Peace is found in Jesus who is our peace and righteousness!
Why do I bring this subject up – why even bother about the Aaronic blessing? What we say in our church services shape people’s faith and quality of life. Churches and preachers have a big responsibility to feed people with spiritual food that builds them up, based on Jesus’ finished work, instead of holding on to a liturgy or tradition only because “this is the way we have always done things”. There is no power in liturgy or traditions! The power is in the gospel of Jesus (Rm. 1:16 & 1 Cor. 1:24).
Are we to get rid of the Aaronic blessing altogether? Not necessarily. We can use it to point people to Jesus! That was God’s original intention with the blessing in the first place. The law and the Prophets were meant to point us to Him who was to come and fulfill everything – Jesus Christ!