The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
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.
The book of Numbers lies between Leviticus and Deuteronomy and tells the story of Israel’s wandering in the desert for 38 years from Mount Sinai to Mount Horeb on the border with canaan, the promised land. There are as you might expect lots of rules - similar to Leviticus and Deuteronomy and indeed Exodus the regulations for being a faithful Israelite are laid down in painstaking detail. It is called the book of numbers because of the census found in chapter one : here is a sample :
“And so he counted them in the deserts of Sinai:
“From the descendants of Reuben, the first born son of Israel :
All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, one by one according to the records of their clans and families. The number of the tribe of Reuben was 46,500.”
And this formula continues for the tribe of Simeon, Gad, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan, Asher and Naphthali. There follows a description of how all these men are lined up in battle - Frankly this book is an unlikely bedtime read - one is more likely to look for Isaiah, Ruth, Jonah or Genesis ….
But then we come to this evening’s reading which follows some detailed rules of how to be a Nazarite. To be honest with you I did not know it was here - this poetic paragraph in the middle of the bulk of the book. It would be easily missed but that it stands out from everything before and the lists of offerings that immediately follow: again one for each tribe:
“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon, son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah:
His offering was one silver plate weighing a hundred and thirty shekels, and one silver sprinkling bowl weighing …. And this goes on for a little while.
Not only does it stand out but this is a blessing that I tend to use for informal services or perhaps a service of Baptism where there are lots of young people and so to find that its origins lie in one of the books written by Moses is a discovery. There is to my mind a celtic feel to it :
Compare for example:
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall softly on your fields
Until we meet again
May God hold you
In the hollow of his hand.
Which also has those references to sun and being held.
All of which goes to show that the Bible can still surprise us - that this library of books, history, law, prophecy, stories, songs, poetry and pictures is rich beyond measure and is really the only book we need on that desert island -
And now the Aaronic blessing as conceived by John Rutter