Moses’ Blessing

The following is a post by the pastor of my home church Myers Park UMC and my friend, James Howell.

In 1979, archaeologists made a startling discovery: a pair of tiny, delicate, beautiful scrolls, both just 1 inch wide, and 4 inches long, crafted of silver, dated to the time of Jeremiah and Isaiah! The words etched on the scrolls were the memorable verses from Numbers, chapter 6:

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.

We believe people – probably wealthier people – wore these like amulets, a little decorative badge of holy words, conjuring divine protection; others probably placed these on the body of a loved one during burial.Oct 24

Some Methodists know this as the “MYF blessing” from youth group days; others may be familiar with the John Rutter setting – sung by the Westminster Abbey choir at the wedding of Prince William – or the Peter Lutkin arrangement.

The historical context from the days of Moses is this: God makes provision for “Nazirites.” A Nazirite (Samuel, Samson, and John the Baptist are examples) was a leader set apart by meticulous observance of a holy life, not cutting his hair or drinking wine. After delineating a complex ritual for the Nazirite (including burnt offering, cakes and libations), the Lord tells Moses how the people are to be blessed, with poetic eloquence.

What is fascinating for us might be that the blessing doesn’t say May the Lord bless me, but May the Lord bless you. Too many of our prayers are about me and my concerns, and we forget the centrifugal force of a deep life with God: may the Lord bless you – and not just the You I might happen to like, but really anyone out there, the person I pass in the hallway, the annoying coworker, the individual who has hurt me. Even those we like: can we find the way to bless them in the Lord’s name instead of simply thinking Hey, there’s somebody I dig? What if we think of our giving to the Church, or our investing our time and selves in mission, as a realistic way to be that blessing to You, not just living for Me? What if we could commit this blessing to memory, and think it when we are out and about, when we are tempted to lose our cool with someone, when we wake up with somebody or hit Send in an email?

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.


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  • Rad Mcgauhey

    What a great and godly way to show Christ’s unconditional love to all those around us today! As we plead for this blessing on all around us we will also be keeping with the directive to “pray without ceasing.” We can never conceive of those who God has great plans for and need this blessings from his people!

  • Asburian Guest

    This is a copy of a Christian amulet in the Duke Univ. Archives. It was worn by an early Christian, wrapped around a neck thong. It is a copy of the Lord’s prayer (from Matthew, with the addition).

    There is something about these ancient, written prayers that makes me feel connected and in communion with the saints.

  • Eric

    This resonates well with what you wrote in ‘The Gospel Code’ about the Gnostic writings of the second century. God bless you and yours. Eric.