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Visiting my wife’s family, I passed by my father-in-law’s office. He looked up from reading his Bible and, after telling me how meaningful he found these words, he spoke them over me:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24–26)

I felt strangely moving. Strange, because these words are so familiar to me. I’ve memorized them. I’ve spoken them over our congregation as a benediction. I’ve had them spoken to me as part of a congregation. But never has someone looked at me and blessed me, individually, with these words.

Although we should know better, many see God as being harsh and picky, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. Reading through Scripture, I find the opposite. God is holy and just, and his judgment, when it comes, is deserved. I once read the Bible in 40 days, and summarized an emphasis that hit me with full force: don’t mess with God. God’s justice and holiness is a reality every human must face.

But, if anything, the message of Scripture is that the God of holiness is determined to bless his people, even though they seldom miss an opportunity to mess things up. That’s why I find this blessing in Numbers so striking. It reveals God’s heart for his people. God blesses people who don’t deserve to be blessed.

No matter how hard we try, we can’t bless ourselves. We need blessing to come from outside. Someone has to give us what our hearts long to receive. We spend our lives pursuing the blessing of others.

Instead of working for it, God simply gives it to us. He uses his servants to pass on this blessing. In Israel’s day, God gave Moses the privilege of passing on this blessing to Aaron and his descendants as part of the priestly duties. Today, as a kingdom of priests, we get to bless other believers in God’s name. It’s the privilege of every pastor and every Christian.

And here’s the blessing we get to pass on from God: that God protects and delights in his people. I’m struck especially by the image of God’s face shining upon us, and of God lifting up his countenance upon us. “This is the heart of blessing: to have the Lord delight in us so much that it is as if his face shines whenever he sees us,” writes Iain Duguid. “Blessing is not just that our faces shine when we look at the beauties of God, but that he delights to turn his face toward us and look at us. Blessing is our heavenly Father’s face beaming as he looks upon us. Can you imagine God delighting in you in this way?”

I wonder how often I’ve heard or said these words without really thinking of them. Despite our sins, God is determined to bless his people — to not only protect them, but to delight in them. What we need most is what God offers freely, even though we deserve none of it.

What an amazing God. What a soul-satisfying passage. What a privilege we have to remind each other of the blessing that God has given us.