The Lord commands AaronMoses' brother and spokesman, and Israel's first high priest. More and his sons to bless the people, promising to accomplish this through the words of the priests.
This now timeless and powerful benediction was first pronounced over God’s people at the end of a section on the purity and defilement of the camp. This indicates something of the significance of those purity laws for ancient Israel. In maintaining purity, people found themselves blessed by God. The laws were one way that God brought the “peace” (shalom) promised in the blessings. At the same time, the blessingBlessing is the asking for or the giving of God's favor. Isaac was tricked into blessing Jacob instead of his firstborn Esau. At the Last Supper Jesus offered a blessing over bread and wine. To be blessed is to be favored by God. More was never limited to this single context in Israel’s life and worship. It became a fundamental liturgical formula, which is indicated by its careful poetic structure. (PsalmA psalm is a song of praise. In the Old Testament 150 psalms comprise the psalter, although some of the psalms are laments and thanksgivings. In the New Testament early Christians gathered to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. More 67, for example, brings the language of the benediction into the worship of the community.) Extending a blessing was a powerful phenomenon in the culture of the time (see, for example, the story of JacobThe son of Isaac and Rebekah, renamed Israel, became the father of the twelve tribal families More and EsauSon of Isaac and Rebekah and the older twin brother of Jacob More). To receive a blessing marked the bestowal of favor and promise; to lose or forfeit a blessing portended a diminished future.
This particular blessing presents God’s favor in three tangible ways: blessing and security, illumination and graceGrace is the unmerited gift of God's love and acceptance. In Martin Luther's favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. More, and the sustained attention (“his countenance”) that brings peace. In times of distress, Israel frequently prayed that God look at them, see them, hear them, turn to them, pay attention to them (for example, Psalms 6:4; 9:13; 27:7; 80:14; 119:153). In Psalm 80, they pray, “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:3, 7, 19). To be in distress is, in a way, to be “invisible” to God. To have God’s gracious attention–God’s “face”–is to be blessed, precisely as this priestly benediction promises.