The first six chapters of Numbers describe the sanctified ecclesia in the wilderness. Since establishing Israel as His covenant people in Exodus, God had done everything to now make them to inherit the land of promise. They had been numbered and organised into family tribes. The order of the march had been determined. The tabernacle had been constructed and sanctified and its care had been entrusted into the hands of faithful Levites. Moreover, the unclean had been removed from the camp and laws had been given urging the people to confess their trespasses and forsake any hint of jealousy they might have. They were also commanded to seek forgiveness where they had trespassed and make restitution where necessary. And finally God invited men and women to separate themselves as Nazarites in voluntary dedication and service to His work.

All of this stands as a remarkable parable of what God seeks from His people in preparation for their entrance into the kingdom. To be numbered amongst the redeemed we must be ready to walk in rank (Gal 5:25), be prepared to forgive others (Matt 18:35) and give ourselves wholly to the work (1 Cor 15:58).

At this critical juncture – at a time when Israel was declared t to inherit the land – God introduced His special blessing upon them through the ministration of the priests:

❝Yahweh bless thee, and keep thee: Yahweh make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: Yahweh lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace❞ (Num 6:24–26)

It is a blessing that transcends the language of its context. It is very different from the law which preceded it in Leviticus; a law that could only pronounce a curse upon the disobedient. It is a pronouncement that had the power to confer upon the righteous blessing, protection, acceptance, mercy and peace. It is described in verse 27 as God putting His Name upon them. It is a blessing that embraces those who belong to His family and who bear His Name.

The ideas of blessing and keeping are drawn from the life of Jacob. In Bethel, Jacob experienced a dream in which Yahweh pronounced a blessing for all families of the earth and said, “I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of ” (Gen 28:15). In response to this promise, “Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall Yahweh be my God” (v20–21).

It was also many years later that Jacob experienced God’s face shining upon him when he wrestled with the angel at Peniel (Gen 32:30). He was also able to confess to his brother Esau that God had been gracious to him as well. His words were,“Take,I pray thee,my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough” (Gen 33:11).

So when God promised His blessing upon Israel in the wilderness, He had a context in mind. He would do to the nation what He said He would do to Jacob. The blessing was the promised blessing associated with the promises made to the fathers. The keeping and peace was a protection in the way so that they would attain to the promised land. The shining of His face upon them was a token of His continual approval for them, but contingent on their prevailing faith and trust. The graciousness was an undeserved gift of goodness which would allow them to say, ‘I have enough.’

Now the wonderful thing about this blessing is that its sentiments are pronounced to believers in Christ today. In Luke 24:50–51, the Lord’s final act before he was taken up into heaven was to lift up his hands and bless his disciples. This is the same action that Aaron performed after he and his sons were consecrated for the work of service amongst God’s people (Lev 9:22–23). So it was fitting that the true high priest should pronounce the same blessing on those who are to work and minister amongst the people of God in his name. Luke does not need to record the exact words because the connection with the priestly blessing of the Old Testament is sufficient to draw attention to the blessing of Numbers 6:24–27.

It is also significant that we find echoes of that same blessing appearing in the epistles.

Constantly, Paul opens his epistles with words like this: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” They were not just customary niceties used to introduce a letter. They were designed to highlight the thoughts of the priestly blessing: “Yahweh be gracious unto thee … and give thee peace.” They expressed a desire that the Father, in concert with His Son, would work out in their lives favour and mercy, so bringing upon them that sense of peace that passes all understanding.

The apostle John went a step further when he wrote: “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love” (2 John 1:3). That blessing will only be available to us whilst we are in truth and love.

In Jude 24–25 we read these words: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”

He asks the Father to keep us and speci cally to keep us from falling. He is well able to keep us and to help us (Eph 3:20), but we have to make sure that we stay within the boundaries of the pathway.

The Greek word for keep is ‘phulasso’, which carries the idea of watching, guarding and keeping an eye upon. It is the word used elsewhere of shepherds watching over their flocks (Luke 2:8), of mighty men guarding the palace (Luke 11:21) and of God preserving Noah (2 Pet 2:5, where it is translated ‘saved’).

Whilst God promises to keep us, we should remember that it doesn’t make us immune from tragedy and difficulty. The focus of this keeping and watching is to prevent us from stumbling and falling headlong into eternal destruction. We are on a journey to the Kingdom and there are many dangers and pitfalls along the way. Temptations abound on every side and therefore that blessing from God to keep us in the way is a very real need we all have. He is able to keep us from falling but we must do our own part. If we are prepared to “give diligence to make [our] calling and election sure … [we] shall never fall” (2 Pet 1:10).

This keeping and guarding that is a guarded us in Christ is for the purpose of preserving us eternally. This was Jude’s point. God is able to present us, or cause us to stand, faultless before His presence. The opposite of falling is standing! So God not only picks us up, He makes us stand before the throne (Rev 7:9,15). In the words of Paul, His Son is prepared to present us holy and unblameable in His sight, if we are prepared to continue grounded and settled in the faith (Col 1:22–23). This will be the ultimate fulfilment of that blessing.

How privileged we are to feel the effects of that blessing in our personal and ecclesial lives. We believe that when we pray for God to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we understand that God is keeping us and watching over us. As Paul said: “ The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil” (2 Thess 3:3).

How reassuring all these thoughts are for us today. How wonderful it is to be “preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1) and “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet 1:5). We can have this wonderful con dence, therefore, that God will watch over us and keep us in His care. As the prophet so aptly put it: “ Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa 26:3).