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The prepared text for today’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below.  You can also listen to the audio of this morning’s sermon at this link.  There are a few differences, but they are minor.  Indeed, the sermon audio is shorter than usual–but that certainly is not the blessing.  I closed worship with the blessing in this text from Numbers but before doing so I reminded the congregation of something I’ve said before–that the Jewish people didn’t speak the personal name of God (YHWH) but instead would say the Lord and so when Jesus is called Lord we are identifying Him with YHWH.  Thus I encouraged them to hear the blessing in that light.  Next Sunday we will explore Numbers 7, however I will not read aloud the entire chapter.  Therefore, I would suggest that it is helpful if you read the whole chapter between now and then.  There is a reason that the chapter is long and I don’t want you to miss the effect (nor affect) that it makes.  If you have already heard all of these sermons on Numbers, further reading that would be edifying is my commentary on the book.  That commentary begins at this link.  I’ve included the image below because I thought it looked cool…

Usually when people count their many blessings they are numbering the many things that they have or their relationships with other people. We feel blessed when we have a home, car, money, food, and any number of material things. We feel blessed when we have a happy home – when our spouse is a source of joy and we have a good relationship with our children. But true blessing is found in the Lord God alone. We saw with the Nazirite vow that the person taking the vow would abstain not only from wine but from everything that comes from grapes. Wine was associated with joy. So the person taking such a vow was willing to go to extreme lengths to turn away from this life’s pleasures and joys. If such an outward display was also an inward reality, then the person making such a vow was finding their enjoyment and satisfaction in God alone. The outward display was a reminder to Israel that they were to find their joy and to be satisfied in the Lord God rather than to find their joy and satisfaction in other people or in health and wealth. Indeed, the outward display was a reminder to Israel that they weren’t any different than the surrounding nations – they weren’t living a life that was completely consecrated to serve the Lord at all times. Jesus would later tell His disciples not to worry about food or drink or clothing “for the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt 6:32). Indeed, the Gentiles sought after food, drink, clothing, riches, lands, houses, horses, chariots, power, pleasure, and all of the kinds of things that people usually associate with blessing. The people of ancient Israel weren’t any different. If they had been, then there would be no need for Nazirite vows. I pointed out last Sunday that we never read in the New Testament about Jesus taking a Nazirite vow because He didn’t need to – He was and is different. He was and is always completely consecrated to the Father. He always finds His joy and satisfaction in our Heavenly Father alone. He was willing to drink the cup of suffering and let the Father’s will be done. But Israel, being confronted with the bad news of her sinful hearts through three case studies showing sin as defilement, transgression, and unfaithfulness, and then being confronted with the reminder that she wasn’t a Nazirite at heart, knowing that she is a fallen sinner in need of salvation, then hears these words of Good News:

Numbers 6:22-27 

  1. The Good News is that God is determined to bless His people.
    1. They didn’t deserve to be blessed—just the opposite, they deserved to suffer all of the covenant curses. The case studies show it. Israel was defiled by coming into contact with the realm of death and deserved to be exiled from God—to be cast outside the camp. Israel transgressed the law of God as one person sinned against another in many different ways. She had broken faith with the Lord and deserved the covenant curses for breaking the covenant. Israel was unfaithful to her husband the Lord God for she went after other gods and deserved the covenant curse of barrenness. Like Adam, Israel was a fallen people. And in history God would pour out the curses of the covenant upon Israel and ultimately upon the true Israel named Jesus on the cross. It was the death that she deserved. (But despite the fact that Israel was an unfaithful bride,…)

    2. God was determined to bless His people. He spoke to Adam and Eve and told them the good news of salvation that would come through childbearing for one day the seed of the woman would mortally wound the serpent. He spoke to Israel and told them, “YHWH bless you and keep you; YHWH make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; YHWH lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). He told the sons of Aaron, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I (emphatic—I, myself) will bless them” (Num 6:27). The Lord God promised, “I will bless them.” (Thus, yes, God would pour out the covenant curses upon His people and ultimately upon Jesus on the cross, but those curses would be followed by the blessings of the covenant for He will bless them. This is the gospel of Aaron and Moses. But what exactly does this blessing entail?)

  2. God is determined to bless His people with a face-to-face relationship with Him.

    1. Let’s unpack the three pairs of blessing in Num 6:24-26, which show us that true blessing is found only in relationship with God.

      1. The first says, “YHWH bless you and keep you” (Num 6:24). At first we might be tempted to see this one as a summary heading for the rest – it sounds vague or generic. But to say, “YHWH bless you” is to say the opposite of “YHWH curse you.” Thus if the curse that the unfaithful bride Israel deserves is barrenness, then the blessing is fruitfulness. When we say, “God bless you,” these are not empty or wishful words – blessing is not some abstract concept it is a concrete reality. These words of blessing are performative in nature. That is, just as when the minister says, “I pronounce you man and wife,” it makes the couple man and wife, so too when the priest said, “YHWH bless you,” YHWH blessed you. But let me note it now, all three pairs in these verses repeat this for emphasis – the one doing the blessing is YHWH. He was the one who cursed the unfaithful wife in the third case study. But He is also the one who blessed the unfaithful wife Israel. The second half of this pair is “and keep you.” In Hebrew, the verb to keep is the same verb to guard. Part of the idea here is that YHWH would protect His people. Remember that the relationship between the Lord God and Israel was not only the relationship of a husband to his wife but also the relationship of a King to His vassal. Their king would keep them rather than discard them – He would protect them rather than abandon them to death at the hands of their enemies. Just know that if the king puts you outside the city walls when an enemy approaches then you are helpless, but if the king keeps you then he guards you. (Again, these words might seem a little generic compared to what follows, but the point is that the Holy One of Israel who wants to be with His people without consuming His people because of their sins says, “YHWH bless you and keep you.”)

      2. The second pair says, “YHWH make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num 6:25). True blessing is being in the presence of the Lord and having a face-to-face relationship with Him. Think of the groom as he is beaming because he sees his beautiful bride coming down the aisle. Likewise, YHWH is beaming because He sees us as His spotless bride. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we might be thinking I’m far from a spotless bride. But that’s not what YHWH sees. His church can often look like an ugly prostitute, but when she comes down that aisle she will be a spotless virgin and He will be beaming. The second half of the pair is, “and be gracious to you.” To be gracious to you means to show you favor. To find favor in the eyes of God is to be blessed. He is gracious to whom He is gracious (Exo 33:19, etc.). We don’t deserve to find favor with God. He chooses to be gracious to His people. People in the Scriptures who found favor with God are the same people with whom He walked and talked. (Again, the context is a face-to-face relationship.)

      3. The third pair says, “YHWH lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:26). To “lift up His countenance upon you” again has to do with this face-to-face relationship. Just remember with all of these blessings that the driving force in the Torah of Moses is YHWH’s desire to be with His people without consuming His people. And the second half is, “and give you peace.” We tend to think of peace as the absence of conflict but peace in Scripture (the Hebrew is shalom) is much more than being without conflict. Shalom means wholeness, completeness, or soundness (as in healthy). We don’t quite have the word in English – but peace in Scripture isn’t just that there is no conflict but that conflict has been replaced with something positive. Shalom is the lamb laying down with the lion. We will really know what shalom means when Jesus comes again and we experience it not only for ourselves in our relationship with God but we experience it in the context of the new heavens and earth. It should not be surprising then to know that shalom itself is a word of blessing. (But none of these words of blessing—bless you and keep you, make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace—none of these words of blessing are outside of the context of a face-to-face relationship with YHWH. To the contrary, true blessing is only found in such a relationship with God.)

    2. It isn’t that there is anything wrong with money or other created things or as if other people aren’t important, but they are not the source of true blessing. He might give us those things or we might have to do without them in order to do His will. But true blessing is not found in the things that the people of the world around us seek, it is found only in a personal relationship with the Lord God. And that relationship is possible because Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross, rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and poured out His Spirit. That blessing is not just a future expectation anymore, for all of those united with Christ experience that blessing already. God’s was determined to bless His people and through them to bless the world, and He has done it in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah. Amen.

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