The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.
– Numbers 6:24-26
Last week Art Lindsley referenced Hebrew poetry found in the Bible to give a more complete picture of flourishing. He referred to a blessing found in Numbers that gives us profound insight into the many facets of flourishing. It is this blessing and these facets of flourishing that I want to further explore with you today.
Three, Five, and Seven Important Words
At the end of Numbers 6 we see God giving Moses a blessing for the priests to use to bless God’s people (Numbers 6:24-26). This “priestly blessing” has often been described by biblical scholars as the perfect Hebrew poem.
The blessing is composed of three sentences. Each sentence is a separate blessing, which is composed of two parts.
In the original Hebrew, the first sentence is only three words, the second sentence is only five words, and the final sentence is only seven words.
The numbers three, five, and seven have significant meaning in the Bible:
Three is the number of completion or perfection and unity:
- Three is the number of persons in the Trinity.
- Many significant events in the Bible happened “on the third day” (see Hosea 6:2, for instance).
- Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish (Matthew 12:40).
- Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted three years (Luke 13:7).
- The name of God is used three times in this priestly blessing.
Five is the number associated with grace:
- Five types of offerings are detailed in Leviticus 1-5.
- David chose five smooth stones as he went to meet Goliath (I Samuel 17:40).
- Jesus feeds the 5,000 with five loaves of barley (Matthew 14:17).
Seven is the number of God, divine perfection, or completeness:
- God created the earth in seven days (Genesis 1).
- God’s Word is pure, like silver purified seven times in the fire (Psalm 12:6).
- Jesus taught Peter to forgive 70 times seven (Matthew 18:22).
- Seven demons went out from Mary Magdalene, symbolizing total deliverance (Luke 8:2).
Looking at the structure of this priestly blessing, we see God’s grace (symbolized by the number five) surrounded by his perfection (symbolized by the numbers three and seven).
Three Biblical Blessings
There is even more to this blessing:
- “The Lord bless you and keep you” – here we see a blessing for material success or flourishing. Not only does the blessing ask to grant material prosperity, but also that it be protected. The blessing asks that God not only give you an increase, but that this increase should be protected from loss.
- “The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you,” goes beyond physical blessing and asks for spiritual flourishing. This part of the blessing requests that God grant you enlightenment, that you may understand the correct path to choose. It embodies the very essence of the Gospel. The last part of this sentence is often translated “and give you grace.”
- “The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” is the request for the ultimate blessing, that of shalom. While the first two lines deal with blessing in this temporal realm, this last line points to the eternal realm. Perfect shalom existed in the Garden before the Fall, and will be completely restored by Christ at his return. We who have tasted the grace of the Prince of Shalom will live forever in a new heaven and new earth where once again perfect shalom will be restored.
Of the three blessings in this poem, material flourishing is fairly easy to come by. That is why its blessing consists of only three words. The spiritual blessing of grace is more difficult, and therefore it requires two more words.
However, these blessings in the temporal realm only give us a taste of true shalom, which is the most difficult to realize and comes at great cost. Therefore the final blessing requires the most words, a total of seven, and the ultimate sacrifice. This is the ultimate blessing.
The gospel, when understood in its fullness, is not solely about individual happiness and fulfillment; it is not “all about me.” As Tim Keller writes, “It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world; it is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew all things.” It is about the restoration of shalom.
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