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Tamara Gill
October 29, 2006
Old Testament in Context
Homily Assignment

Got God’s Blessing?

Audience: In Ohio, I led and participated in an amazing young adult ministry. The purpose of this group was to reach out in our community to all young adults. We wanted to accept anybody and everybody with Christ’s love. Therefore, this ministry became a safe place for many people who experienced brokenness. My motto for this group was “let the broken heal the broken.” Therefore, I have written this message as an encouragement for all of them as they continue to seek God in the midst of pain and suffering, which brings the healing of hope, joy and peace. 

 

One Sunday, a man sat beside me in church. His skin was the color of melted dark chocolate. His face had a smooth complexion, relaxed from the worries of the world. His hands were calloused, symbolizing years of hard work. His eyes were wide and filled with a bright light, expecting a new surprise. He told me that after moving often from one city to the next in Africa, his family prayed together about the ministry that God had planned for them. Their listening revealed that the Lord was calling them to move from Kenya to the United States. For three-and-a-half years, they have lived in Virginia, on the other side of the world from their home. Courageously, they raise their children far away from all of their family and closest friends. Faithfully, they teach their children about the God who sent them to this new place. Humbly, they embrace a culture that is unfamiliar in language, traditions, ethnicity and lifestyles from their own. Suddenly, his eyebrows furrowed and wrinkles appeared on his forehead. With sadness in his voice, he expressed his uncertainty about the Lord’s calling. They wait and listen, but they do not hear guidance from the Spirit. He cannot explain the reasons that God brought them to this new, strange place. Then, a gentle smile overcame the look of worry as he remembered the peace that comes from God’s goodness during this time of waiting. His quiet voice uttered, “God’s timing is not like ours. I believe He has a purpose. He promised us a ministry. Now, all I can do is wait on His leading. I have much peace because I am blessed.”

Similar to the joy for God’s promise of this refugee family from Kenya, the Israelites experienced the joy of freedom from the oppression and injustices of Egypt. In Exodus, God called Moses to lead the people from the land of slavery. The Lord sent plagues and parted a sea in order to assist in this grand escape. The Israelites gave up everything that they had in order to follow the God in whom they trusted. However, in the book of Numbers, the people were waiting for forty years while stranded in the wilderness. The hot desert sun beat down on them. The miles of sand that they walked across probably seemed endless. The oldest generations of the liberated people died in the desert. The younger generations struggled to understand this God who supposedly freed the Israelites with the hope of leading them to a promised land because they only experienced a God who forced the people to remain in the wilderness. While the chosen people benefited from the Lord’s provision, they also grew weary of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. Directly in the middle of these wanderings during which they agreed to the covenants of God’s Law, counted their people and received specific instructions about worship practices, the Lord provided Moses with words of blessing to teach to Aaron and his sons. God wanted the priests to proclaim to the Israelites, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”1

Many of us have heard this blessing spoken and sung in the church. In fact, we may even be so accustomed to hearing these thirty-one words that they now simply go in one ear and out the other. Much like the Israelites, we are broken people. Our lives are filled with pain from severed relationships, addictions, poor choices, consequences, illnesses, financial troubles, job changes, misunderstandings, miscommunications, worry, selfishness, perfectionism, pride, depression and grief. We are wanderers like the chosen ones who walked in the wilderness. During these “journeys in the wilderness,” we question, call out, shout at and cry to God. We feel lost and alone as we wonder if we have somehow missed a turn on God’s path. All of us have asked ourselves the same questions as those Biblical wanderers – why is life so difficult; where is God in the midst of this hurting; and what makes this journey worth traveling anyway? With this depth of honesty, humility and vulnerability, we are called to submit to God’s understanding beyond all understanding. For all of those areas in which we seek stability, control and assurance, we are called to freely give them to the One who has the master plan. As the Lord chooses to give or take away; speak or remain silent; and take action or wait, we are called to trust fully in this ancient and yet ever-present promise: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”2

Did you listen carefully to those real words that time? What does this promise mean? These three short verses found in the sixth chapter of Numbers have impacted generation after generation of believers. This blessing originally given to Aaron comes from a Book in the Hebrew Bible entitled, “In the Wilderness.”4 In spite of their desperate conditions, this blessing exemplified extraordinary trust in God’s faithfulness.3 Each verse includes two clauses: the first clause always invites God to move toward the chosen ones and the second clause explains the results of this divine interaction with the Israelites.5 Using this description of the literary structure of this blessing we can explore the meaning of this significant text.

Numbers 6:24 states, “The LORD bless you and keep you.”6 Wandering in the wilderness certainly presented various challenges for the Israelites such as finding food, water, clothing, shelter and other belongings. Also, they could not depend on themselves for guaranteed protection from the hazardous conditions of the desert land. For this reason, the first part of this blessing indicates a promise of divine protection. This type of protection encompasses God’s blessing from Genesis 28 to Abraham in which He promised to offer land, offspring, wealth, health and prosperity. However, divine protection also extends beyond the patriarchal blessing with the promise to guard them against all evil.7 Can you remember a time when you depended on God to provide for everything in your life?

A year and a half ago, God called me into local missions. Quickly, I recognized that obeying the Lord’s will in my life would require a resignation from the camp position that provided my home, food, health insurance and income. I needed all of these basic provisions for my life, but I also desired to trust in the purpose beyond my own understanding. Therefore, in May, I resigned from the camp and seemingly “lost” everything. I packed my home into boxes and stuffed two suitcases full of the basic supplies. Then, I marveled at the ways that God used others to provide for my basic needs such as guest rooms or living room couches for sleeping, hot food for meals and financial support for this new endeavor. When I stepped out in faith, God created L.I.G.H.T. Missions, which stands for Loving In God’s Hope Together. The Lord miraculously provided for my every need as well as protected me from all doubt and fear. In this way, I embraced God’s blessing and keeping during this time of transition.

Numbers 6:25 states, “The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”8 By allowing His face to shine, God exemplifies complete acceptance and undeserved grace. In his commentary, Dennis T. Olson describes this light as “clarity, revelation, the warmth of sunshine, rescue from cold darkness, renewal of life and the brightness of joy.”9 Regardless of human sin, God offers unconditional love. Psalm 31:16 echoes this promise of unconditional love by saying, “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.”10 Also, the Psalms often refer the redemption found in God’s shining face such as Psalm 80:3, “Restore us, O God; make your face to shine upon us, that we may be saved,” and Psalm 25:16, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”11 Can you remember a time in which God’s light released you from personal darkness?

The ten months prior to God’s calling into L.I.G.H.T. Missions, I endured various types of abuse from a trusted friend, sister-in-Christ and partner in ministry. Within the Christian camp context, a person in deep pain who had tremendous power decided to blame me for her sufferings. I believed in the power of God to transform difficult life experiences into testimonies of righteousness, hope and faithfulness. I trusted in the Lord’s ability to bring reconciliation to broken relationships. Nevertheless, during these ten months, I felt like I was drowning in the middle of the stormy sea on the darkest night, one without a single star in the sky. I was terrified, confused, lonely, sad and discouraged. Nothing seemed fair, just or right. However, a day never passed during which I did not experience the light of God’s presence. Even in the midst of the most intense pain of my entire life, I witnessed the glimmer of love, grace and joy. Therefore, God’s light shone brightly upon me in the magnificence of His graciousness.

Numbers 6:26 states, “the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”12 According to the Israelites’ understanding, God offered them complete acceptance even though they did not deserve this divine favor when He nodded His head in their direction. This divine favor signified all that God chose to give to them, which only came when the Lord looked with favor upon His people.13 These resources may connect to various definitions of peace. The NIV Study Bible explains that the Hebrew Bible translates peace to shalom, which means “a positive state of rightness and well-being.”14 Dennis T. Olson also includes “prosperity, longevity, happiness in family, safety, security, good health, friendship and general well-being” in his description of peace.15 Another commentator, Walter Riggans expands this definition to include “security in life from hardships and curses; completeness and wholeness in life’s experiences; inner harmony and balance.”16 This peace can bring deep joy such as the Psalmist expressed in 30:1l-12, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me in joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.”17 This peace also can lead to profound healing. For example, the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s promise of restoration in Jeremiah 33:6, “‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.”18 Can you remember a time when peace extended into the fullness of shalom?

When I joined this young adult ministry, I had already experienced the provision of God’s keeping and the light of the Lord’s grace. However, I had not fully embraced the gift of peace. By connecting with this group of believers and non-believers, I followed the Spirit’s leading. In the beginning, I almost turned the other way because I feared trusting others again, doubted my ability to build positive relationships and struggled with the pain of vulnerability about my real brokenness. A patient God continued to point me in the direction of this ministry. Now, I realize the power of our willingness to walk beside one another in our “journeys in the wilderness.” We come together in order to celebrate the joys of grace, companionship, fellowship, laughter and love, but we also acknowledge the struggles of pain, hurt, brokenness, loss and sufferings. The Lord has turned his face upon this ministry and has brought immense peace to others. I confidently believe that God’s peace healed me in the midst of my wanderings.

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”19 Numbers 6:24-26 is not another promise full of pious hope or another sentence in which God immediately meets all of our perceived needs. Following God’s calling may mean letting go of family, friends, home, church and nation. Obeying God’s purpose may mean walking through “the wilderness” of dark and troubled times. Embracing God’s will may mean creating visions that seem impossible and holding on to hope that seem futile. Therefore, no matter who you are or what is happening in life, listen carefully to God’s blessing each day. As Eugene Peterson proclaims in The Message, “God bless you and keep you; God smile on you and gift you; God look you full in the face and make you prosper.”20 Have you received God’s blessing today?

As a group, we could respond to this message by singing #76, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” in Sing the Journey.

 

Bibliography:

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

Davies, Eryl W. The New Century Bible Commentaries: Numbers. Grand Rapids:

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.

Olson, Dennis T. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Numbers. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible In Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2002.

Philip, James. The Communicator’s Commentary: Numbers. Waco: Words Books, 1987.

Riggans, Walter. Numbers. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983.

Wenham, Gordon J. Old Testament Guides: Numbers. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press Ltd, 1997.

Endnotes

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 197.

Ibid.

Riggans, Walter. Numbers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 1.

Ibid, 55.

Olson, Dennis T. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Numbers (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 41.

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 197.

Olson, Dennis T. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Numbers (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 41.

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 197.

Olson, Dennis T. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Numbers (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 42.

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 808.

Ibid, 864 & 802.

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 197.

Philip, James. The Communicator’s Commentary: Numbers (Waco: Words Books, 1987), 88.

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 197.

Olson, Dennis T. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Numbers (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 42-43.

Riggans, Walter. Numbers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 56.

Barker, Kenneth & Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood. The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 807.

Ibid, 1173.

Ibid, 197.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible In Contemporary Language ( Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2002), 234.