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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 6



Verses 24-27


‘The Lord bless thee,’ etc.

Numbers 6:24-27

Nowhere is the secret of the Holy Trinity so near to breaking out of the silence in which it lay ‘hid from ages and from generations’ as in that solemn form of benediction which, by special injunction, was to be continually used by the Levitical priesthood. The words which close the injunction appear to call attention to this fact, ‘they shall put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.’ The act of benediction was to be not only a pious and kindly wish or expression on the part of the priest, it was to be in some sense sacramental. It was accompanied by a real corresponding movement of the Divine beneficence, ‘I will bless them,’ because by it the people were brought under the special protection of the God Who was revealing Himself to them: ‘They shall put My name upon the children of Israel.’ And for this purpose it was not enough to utter once the sacred name in which the covenant had been made. ‘Jehovah,’ once uttered and no more, was not the name of God in that full sense in which He desired to gather His people under its hallowing power. It must be thrice repeated.

I. ‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee.’—This is pre-eminently the blessing of the Father. It is the most general in form, and in fact includes all that is made more articulate in the clauses which follow. No good gift from God to men escapes from the large boundaries of that full prayer, ‘The Lord bless thee.’ But when it is set over-against the later members of the formula we feel that it belongs especially to the field of natural religion, to that widest domain which in a peculiar sense belongs to the Divine Fatherhood. Of course I would not for a moment suggest that the operations of the Son and the Spirit are unknown in the realm of nature and of universal providence. It was through the Word and Son of God that all things were made, and in Him all things consist; it is He Who bears all things along by the utterance of His power. It was the Spirit of God who in the beginning moved upon the face of the waters, to produce order and life and beauty. There is no dealing of the Father with creation which is not performed through the agency of the Son and Spirit. Still less true, if possible, would it be to suggest that the Father has no part in the blessings which are directly attributed to the Son and Spirit. Those glorious persons owe to Him their whole being, and every thought and purpose which they have.

II. The second member of the benediction carries us further.—It is especially the blessing of the Son—or rather let us say of the Father through the Son. ‘The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.’

I am aware that the expression is capable of a very general interpretation. The making of the face to shine upon a person might be a mere poetical, Oriental, hyperbolical way of comparing some great potentate to the sun; when his face is overspread with the clouds of displeasure, his suppliants are in gloom and distress; when his face brightens towards them, they are made happy. His favour is to them the light and the day. But we may be permitted to see more in the expression than this. I do not find that it is ever used of earthly potentates, or of any other than God, except in one passage where the context gives it quite a different turn. In the book of Ecclesiastes it is said that ‘a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine.’ There, obviously, the meaning is something quite different from that of favourable regard. In all the other passages where the expression is found it is used of God alone; and it may not unreasonably be supposed that in every case the use of it is to be historically traced to the well-known formula in which the children of Israel were by Divine appointment to be blessed.

III. But there remains a third movement of benediction which is, perhaps, not so easy to describe. The Lord is not only invoked to bless and keep as the Father, and to reveal Himself as a gracious God in the face of His Son. ‘The Lord lift up His face upon thee, and give thee peace.’ It is the blessing of the Holy Ghost.

This expression, like the former, may be said to be unique. In the Book of Job, indeed, we find once or twice used of men such a phrase as ‘Then shalt thou lift up thy face without a spot,’ where unabashed confidence is meant. Clearly this is not meant in the Levitical blessing, nor in that passage in the fourth Psalm which is based upon it, and which combines (as ecclesiastical usage has done) the second and the third benedictions. ‘Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy face upon us.’ At first it seems to add nothing further to the idea of making the face to shine upon the people, but only to repeat it in another form. It might, perhaps, be true to reply that it is often difficult to distinguish between the present action ascribed in the New Testament to the Son and the action ascribed to the Spirit Paraclete. I may hazard a distinction. The making of the face to shine upon Israel expresses more distinctly the character of the revelation made as a revelation of favour and grace. The lifting up of the face indicates rather the giving of prominence, the conspicuous display of that which is so revealed. The face of God in Christ is to be set on high before men’s eyes with steadfast insistence, as an object not to be obscured. And this is the blessed work of the Holy Ghost. Not every object, however clear in itself, speaks at once to the eye which sees it. Our senses require to be educated and instructed before we are able to discriminate justly what is presented to them. A man must be himself something of an artist or a musician, in theory if not in practice, before he can really appreciate a landscape of Turner or a symphony of Beethoven. And if this is true of the things of sense, how much more is it true of moral and spiritual things! Here we are all like little children. The outlines and the colours of a picture strike upon the little child’s eye in precisely the same way as upon your own; yet the child does not take them in until you interpret them. You take him upon your knee and point to the picture, and you say, ‘That is our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross, dying to save us; see, those are nails that are driven through His hands, and through His feet; you see how He is hanging by them with all His weight, and that is the crown of thorns upon His head; how they prick His blessed forehead! you can see the drops of blood trickling down.’

—Canon Mason.


‘In the blessing, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee,” we see the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. First blessing, “Keep thee;” expect to be kept. Blessing is God’s Fatherly heart going forth to His children (Zephaniah 3:17). Second blessing: Jehovah the Bridegroom make His Face shine upon thee (Psalms 89:15). “They shall walk in the light of Thy countenance.” Live in this continual embrace. Third blessing: “Give thee peace.” This is unbreakable peace.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 6:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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