by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 2/19/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch the complete worship service, click the link just below:
Please open your Bibles to Numbers chapter 4.
This is another sermon in the series I’m calling “Finding the Heart of God.” I’m encouraging everybody – if you want to take the time to do it – to read through your Bible this year following our Bible reading plan. Even if it’s mid-February, jump right in to where we are now. You’ll find a copy of the plan on our greeters table or on our church website. And you can always look in the bulletin to find the “reading range” for the week ahead.
I’ve called today’s sermon “Three Blessings.” As we get into talking about them, you’ll probably notice that the more correct title would be “Two Invocations and a Blessing.”
As I was reading through the book of Numbers, I noticed that there were three statements (at least three) which were designed to be spoken aloud in the hearing of the people. And I think that each of these three statements – when we translate them into what’s happening in our lives today – are very important ones which help us discover more about the heart of God.
But first I’d like to show you something I found really fascinating, here in Numbers Chapter 4. That’s the thing about reading the Bible again, even if you read it before, you always discover something new. Part of it is that on the latest read-through, you’re more mature. It’s been a while – maybe years – before you read the same passage before, and now you have more life experience to compare it to.
Now, I knew already that the Israelites were a group of traveling campers, and that they were traveling with a sacred tent and its sacred contents which was where God’s presence was. And I knew that the tabernacle tent was packed up and carried along with the sojourners.
But it wasn’t until I read through Numbers 4 that I saw exactly how this happened. As you know, the ark of the covenant was so sacred that nobody except maybe just the High Priest could look at it, or even be in its presence. So somehow this sacred object needed to be readied for travel.
Let’s just look at how this was done, here in chapter 4. I think will learn a lot about God’s heart just by reading about the thoughtful detail He provided even about what you might consider a mundane “moving routine.”
I was counting up last night, and if I have my facts straight, Shelley and I have moved seven times during our married life. Each time there was a lot of packing things in boxes, and rolling those boxes with a handcart up onto the back of a moving truck.
But watch the careful packing instructions about the tabernacle.
Numbers 4:1 – 5 NKJV: Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the children of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ house, from thirty years old and above, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting. “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come, and they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it.
And that, right there, answers a very important question: how did they get the ark ready for transport? Well, from what it sounds like here, Aaron and his sons walked into the holy place, and took the curtain which concealed the ark, and just walked toward the ark and draped that same curtain over it. And they probably kept their eyes averted from the ark as they did that.
Notice what else happens (and remember, these are the very words of God Himself. This is how He wanted it done.):
Verse 6: Then they shall put on it a covering of badger skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles.
If you’re using the New International Version this morning, you’ll notice that instead of “badger skins, the NIV says the “hides of sea cows.” The English Standard Version says “goatskins,” and the New Revised Standard Version cautiously says “fine leather.”
The bottom line is that nobody really knows exactly what the Hebrew word means. So “fine leather” is probably a good compromise.
Anyway, you notice how carefully everything is treated? Let’s keep reading.
Verses 7 – 15: “On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread shall be on it. They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of badger skins, and put it on a carrying beam. “Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of badger skins; and they shall insert its poles. Then they shall take all the utensils of service with which they minister in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of badger skins, and put them on a carrying beam. Also they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it. They shall put on it all its implements with which they minister there—the firepans, the forks, the shovels, the basins, and all the utensils of the altar—and they shall spread on it a covering of badger skins, and insert its poles. And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is set to go, then the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them; but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. “These are the things in the tabernacle of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.
That’s a lot to keep in mind as you’re ready to depart on a journey from a place you will probably never be back to. You have to have everything carefully packed, and wrapped, before you set out.
And you can imagine that all around that tabernacle, and hundreds and probably thousands of tents, families were going through the same packing process. Kids were desperately searching for toys they did miss late. Mom’s were making sure that all the cooking pots were nested together, trying to remember if they loaned any of them to a neighbor.
And in the midst of all this bustle, and maybe even squabbling, allowed clear voice rings out over the desert air. To find what that voice says we need to turn to Numbers chapter 10.
Numbers 10:33 – 35: So they departed from the mountain of the LORD on a journey of three days; and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them for the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the LORD was above them by day when they went out from the camp. So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: “Rise up, O LORD! Let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.”
When I think back on the time Shelley and I have moved, there came a moment when the rental truck was packed, and I was just about to climb into the driver’s seat and started up, what would it have been like if somebody would’ve said in a loud voice, “Rise up, O LORD! Let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.” What you think that would’ve been like?
Do you know what that would’ve done? It would’ve startled me, and startled Shelley too. We would’ve stood there, shoulders aching from all that packing, but those words would have immediately lifted our minds from the stress of the moment, and would’ve reminded us just to it was who had the right and the power to be a Leader in our lives.
As I mentioned before, this is not technically a “blessing.” It’s actually more of an invocation, a calling out for divine aid. It seems as though these are words that Moses wrote, or decided on. At the beginning of the journey, he wanted to remind the people that God was their leader, and that God could deal with their enemies.
In fact, let’s make that Sermon Point One. Here’s the first inivocation-slash-blessing we’re looking at:
This first blessing or invocation is, “Rise up, O Lord.”
And notice that Moses asked the Lord not to destroy these enemies, but to cause them to run away, to flee. That’s very interesting, because in Deuteronomy 7:20, God promised to hornets toward any nation whose land he was giving the Israelites, and that the people would flee.
This evidently happened, because in Joshua chapter 24, verse 12, God speaks about it in the past tense. He says, “I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow.”
You see, people who do things the world’s way don’t even think about the Lord. Some people might be ignorant that God is indeed interested in helping and leading us. Or they might suspect that if they allow the Lord into their lives, he might have some opinions about the direction they’re going. So the average unbeliever just goes blindly forward, assuming that he or she is one of the fittest who will survive.
And Moses himself could’ve simply said “okay everybody, let’s move out.” But Moses knew that God can brush away His enemies however he wants to.
And that’s what you and I need to remember, whenever we leave on a trip, whenever we leave home to go to work or to school, whatever our plans are for every day, we need to invoke the Lord’s presence. We need to say, “Go before us, Lord, smooth the way for us so that we can be clearer reflectors of Your character.”
It’s been less than 24 hours since actually spoke to someone who’s been going through a difficult time, but who told me that it is very clear to him that he’s where he supposed to be, because God allowed him to encourage someone.
Now let’s look for Moses’ second invocation-slash-blessing. Again, Moses will be calling on God, knowing that when God is near, blessings follow.
The second invocation comes in the verse immediately following the first one.
Numbers 10:35 – 36: So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: “Rise up, O LORD! Let Your enemies be scattered, And let those who hate You flee before You.” And when it rested, he said: “Return, O LORD, To the many thousands of Israel.”
So that becomes Sermon Point Two.
The first blessing or invocation is, “Rise up, O Lord.” The second—when the journey was over—wsa “Return, O Lord.”
And that second invocation is obviously just as important as the first one. When I would finally get that rental truck backed up to our new place and all unloaded, there was a new set of challenges – finding out where everything was, in deciding where to put it. And that too would occupy a lot of time and emotional energy.
But if somebody had intoned this second invocation: “Return, O Lord,” this would have a again reminded us that God has led us on the way, and He wants to remain with us now that we’re at our destination.
And notice the last part of that invocation: “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.” What Moses seems to have been doing was reminding the people that the Lord wasn’t simply coming into their own personal home. He was being asked to return to “the many thousands of Israel.” In other words, God is not just my God – he is the God of my church friends, he’s the God of believers I have never known, and He is also the God of my neighbors and my coworkers and my school classmates, even though some of them may not realize it yet.
Now we’re going to discover the third blessing – and this one actually is a blessing. You might call it an “umbrella blessing.” It’s found over in Numbers chapter 6.
And you should recognize this one right away. It’s been turned into two famous pieces of music, including one by John Rutter.
But what’s most important about this final blessing is that these are the words of God Himself. God wrote – God created – this blessing and told Moses to bless the people with it.
That means that the requests that are made to God during this final blessing our request that God told us to pray for. God stands ready to answer each of these requests. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, if even imperfect parents know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more is God willing to give us the best He has to offer.
So let’s read through this blessing. Let’s start with number 6:22. This blessing is not limited to a certain event, such as a departure on a journey or on arrival at its conclusion. This is a blessing for anytime, anywhere. And again, this is how God Himself wants to bless us.
Numbers 6:22 – 26: And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.” ’
How could we make this into Sermon Point Three?
Well, if the first blessing or invocation is, “Rise up, O Lord,” and the second is “Return, O Lord,” then I think we could say that the third blessing is “Lord, give us peace.”
Let’s take a moment to examine some of the wonderful words in this blessing. If we know it by heart, it’s easy to pass too quickly over the deep meanings. Let’s look at just a few words.
“The Lord bless you and keep you.”
Look at the word “bless.” In the Bible, that is not a weak, wimpy, misty spiritual word. According to Holladay’s A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, here are some of the ways God blessed people: “bestow power for success, prosperity, fertility:” It’s not saying that God will grant all of this to every person, but these are some of the powerful ways He blessed people in the Bible.
Another powerful word is “keep.” It’s the Hebrew word shamar. Here are just a few of the ways it’s used in the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:15, God tells Adam and Eve to “dress and keep” the Garden. Then, in Exodus 3:24, after Adam and Eve sin, God sends an angel to “keep” the way to the tree of life. Most modern versions translate it “guard,” but it’s the same word. In Deuteronomy 4:2, Moses warns the Israelites to “keep” the commandments of God. That’s that same word.
According to Holladay’s lexicon, the word shamar means, “watch, guard, be careful about, protect,” and even “observe.” So when the Lord tells Moses to bless the people by saying that he will “bless” and “keep” them, that’s already a power-packed blessing, right there.
But God doesn’t stop there.
Verse 25: The LORD make His face shine upon you . . . .
I’ve always thought this was an interesting way of saying it. “Make His face shine . . . .? But that’s literally what the Hebrew says. The word for “shine” is “illumine, brighten, make bright, kindle, the light of day.” Back in Genesis 1:3, God said “Let there be light, and there was light.” That’s exactly that same word.
And isn’t it good news that God’s face brightens when he looks at us? God makes no mention of His face darkening, but brightening. He wants to glow with love toward us. He asked us to ask Him to do that.
And the last word I’d like to look at is the last word in the blessing, “peace.” It’s the Hebrew word shalom. And listen to the way it was applied in the Old Testament. It means “Being whole, intact; prosperity, peace: ease, unaffectedness.”
That’s what God wants for us. That’s what he tells us to ask Him for. We’ve got to be careful about prosperity, of course, because Jesus talks about how dangerous the love of money is. But God wants – and He promises – what is best for us.
So what do we do, now that we have looked more closely at this famous blessing, and have remembered that its wording comes from God Himself?
Well, I think we should not only repeat it to ourselves from time to time, but I think we should sing it. I think many of you are familiar with the choral version of “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” but it’s hard to sing because there’s all those places where the choir repeats itself.
But I like this song so much that I adjusted it a little. I’ve kept the most familiar parts, and I simply omitted all of the repeats and the “amens.” I’m going to go over the piano and sing you through it, and you pick up on it really easily. Were going to do it through twice.
And as we do it, let’s remember the we are truly singing the words of God. These are words he wants us to have in our hearts, and wants us to regard as promises from Him.