If you’ve been in church recently and made it until the end of the service, chances are you’ve heard the words of the section of Scripture we’re looking at today — Numbers 6:22-27. I know — there are a ton of differences in worship styles between all sorts of different kinds of churches, but this is one place where there isn’t all that much difference.
You see, this is one of those places in the Bible where God gives us a perfect example for how to do something that it’s pretty hard to improve on. Just like churches across the denominational spectrum pray the Lord’s Prayer (you know, the one Jesus gave us when his disciples asked for a lesson in prayer), it’s also hard to get any better than the blessing about which God said, "This is how you are to bless the Israelites."
"The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).
A perfect blessing. Of course, my version of Microsoft Word doesn’t think so. As I type this, it tries to tell me that my subjects and verbs aren’t agreeing. I don’t care. This is how God said to give a blessing. You see, it is a little bit of unusual grammar. What we’re looking at here are 3rd person imperatives. In English, we’re more used to the 2nd person imperatives, or commands: "you do this or that!" But this is a command that we are giving to someone else about you — and that someone else here is God. So in words that God himself tells us to use — we are giving commands to God.
Next week, we’ll look more specifically at what commands we’re giving him, but for now, I just want to focus on this concept. God wants us to give him these commands. God wants us to hold him to his promises.
And that is a key point. He wants us to hold him to his promises, not to whatever we feel like commanding. You know that God works all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). That doesn’t mean that it is what we think is good. He sees the big picture. He knows what is for our best, even when we don’t agree. Like the parent disciplining the child, no child would choose that, but no good parent would let the child opt out of it because the parent knows that the discipline is for the child’s good in the big picture.
Sometimes we don’t know what is for our good. But God does. And when he tells us what that is, he expects us to expect it of him. Hold God to his promises.
So when God tells you, "Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you." Hold him to that. Expect him to be with you always — and you’ll soon realize, he is. When God tells you that, "The blood of Jesus…purifies you from all sin," (1 John 1:7) demand it like David: "Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast Spirit within me" (Psalm 51).
When God’s word tells you that your baptism is the tangible proof of a "good conscience toward God" (1 Peter 3:21), hold God to that and he has to look on us "crowned with love and compassion" (Psalm 103) instead of covered in the filth of our sin.
That’s how powerful this blessing is. When God gives his word, he has to keep it, because he is God. So realize, when you hear this blessing — it is not a "hope" or a "wish." There is no "might," "ought" or "maybe." But God’s promises have bound him. The Lord has to bless you and keep you. He must make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord is forced to look on you with favor and give you peace. Hold God to those promises. In Christ.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.