We’ve all enjoyed listening to the song The Blessing. Original recording as part of Elevation Worship latest album it has quickly been taken on by churches around the world during the current crisis. Two weeks ago a version was recorded by members of 65 different churches in the UK which has received over 2 million views on YouTube. It is truly inspiring to hear people sing a blessing over this nation and the person who started the ball rolling, Tim Hughes has been recognised by the Prime Minister for his positive contribution to the nation. Many nations have now joined in and there’s even a global one which is appropriate as a response to a global pandemic.
But what does it all mean what are the words of the song actually about? The song begins with these words.
The Lord bless you and keep you make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.
If you’ve been in a church recently you properly recognise these lines that are used at the end of many services. The practice of sending forth worshippers with this blessing stretches back thousands of years and originally comes from Numbers chapter 6 verse 24 to 27 when the priests were instructed as to how they should proclaim God’s blessing over Israel.
It’s called the Aaronic or priestly blessing and was regularly part of temple worship in Jerusalem and it’s synagogues too. And the early church inherited this practice from Jewish worship, where it also continues to this day.
The sheer ancientness of this blessing is astonishing. Modern readers will struggle to appreciate these cryptic lines because they are not rooted in an ancient world. However, a few insights from language and culture will help us to understand and meditate on them and so this week I want to take the blessing and discover the richness behind it as we focus on a different aspect each day.
Putting these ideas together, we find that the priestly blessing describes God’s loving provision and his watchful, protective gaze over his people. We hear of God’s heart for listening to our prayers and his desire to comfort and sustain us in every way. What welcome words to our troubled, anxious hearts during the Coronavirus pandemic!
The biblical text emphasizes that these words of blessing had no human author. They were not penned by an ancient psalmist or by a prophet. God himself is their originator, and he alone can fulfil them. When God instructed priests to speak them over Israel, he was making it clear that they were acting as mouthpieces, human voices to proclaim his loving intentions. God is the one who activates these words in the lives of listeners, to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.
This changes how I listen to this song and watch the video. To me, it’s not just about the Church being alive in spite of the lockdown, or the unity it displays. It’s not even about how the Church has blessed hundreds of thousands through acts of kindness although that is very important. Through this video, I think it is the Lord himself using the voice of the UK Church to express his incredible love for the world.
The blessing starts with these words – The LORD bless you. To bless is to ask God to look favourably on someone, to bestow some kind of goodness or benefit upon them.
I am going to follow in this priestly tradition and speak a blessing over you today. To ask God to look favourably on you.
May your love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, NIV)