Chapter & verse: Numbers 6:22-27
Alison Gray examines the Aaronic blessing
One of the beautiful and inspiring things to come out of lockdown was a wave of recordings of the blessing prayer, from singers and musicians around the world. Singers and musicians covered Elevation Worship’s song, ‘The Blessing’. There is something powerful and captivating about the words of the so-called ‘priestly blessing’, the Aaronic blessing in the book of Numbers. It seems timeless. An inscription of the prayer was discovered on tiny silver amulets in a grave dating from the sixth century BC (pictured), indicating that the prayer was understood to have protective qualities.
The prayer has held a central place in Jewish and Christian liturgies since antiquity. In Hebrew, the structure of the prayer builds from three words in the first line, to five words in the second, to seven words in the final line – a real crescendo of blessing! Three times the Lord’s name is invoked, and we can see the significance of this in verse 27, which makes it abundantly clear that although it is Aaron and his sons who will pronounce the blessing, it the Lord who blesses. In biblical times, names were considered to represent identity and presence. (See Deuteronomy 12:11 for example.) Names were imbued with power.
‘May the Lord bless you and keep you.’ The word ‘bless’ is difficult to translate but the prayer as a whole, in a sense, unpacks its content. The Hebrew verb ‘bless’ is possibly related to the word for ‘knee’ (perhaps because when you blessed someone, in those times, you knelt before them, or they knelt before you?) ‘Keep’ is often used to describe God watching over Israel (for example in Psalm 121:4). It has the sense of preserving or guarding…
Alison Gray is Tutor in Old Testament Language, Literature and Theology for Westminster College, Cambridge
This is an extract from an article published in the October 2020 edition of Reform