Some people have only two uses for the name of God. Either to carelessly curse, or to carelessly bless. In either case the speaker knows not what they do!
In its biblical setting, “God bless” was never said lightly. In fact it was a distinct privilege of the priests. In particular, the High Priest, Aaron. From him would come the divine blessing. It’s all taught so beautifully in Psalm 133. Here is the Psalm in its entirety, try to enter into the imagery:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
The LORD commands a blessing through the High Priest, Aaron. And that blessing is like oil poured on the head, running down to the body.
The High Priest was modelling the LORD Christ to the people. The “brethren dwelling together” is His body. And the oil, as throughout the bible, represents the Spirit. So the Father blesses the world by pouring out His Spirit onto His Son. That blessing overflows to the people.
And so it is particularly Aaron who is commissioned to pronounce God’s blessings on the people. Here is that famous instruction from Numbers chapter 6:
Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them. (Numbers 6:23-27)
To speak this blessing is to put God’s name onto the people. Just as a bride takes the name of her husband, so this pronouncement from the High Priest brings the people under God’s protective care.
And, naturally enough, this one blessing (which bestows God’s one name) comes in a three-fold movement.
First: The LORD bless thee and keep thee.
Here is the fountainhead and foundation. The word “bless” is not mentioned again in the blessing, it all comes from here. And it is secured here. The LORD will keep His people.
Second: The LORD make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee.
We have seen the “Face” of the LORD as another title for the Son of God (see here and here). The blessing of the LORD involves revealing the radiance of God’s Face. This is grace. God’s merciful initiative is expressed in this: He makes His Face shine upon us.
Third: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
The word translated “countenance” is, again, simply the word “Face.” So in this third movement we have the gracious Face not simply shining but turned upon us. This gives us our subjective feeling of peace.
Out comes the overflowing blessing, mediated through the shining Face, enjoyed and experienced as peace when that Face is turned to us.
No wonder when Paul sought to bless the church in Corinth he identified the same three-fold encounter. With the Father he associated the term “love”, with the Son he used the word “grace” and with the Spirit he spoke of “communion.” (see 2 Corinthians 13: 14)
It has always been this way. The one blessing of God comes from the loving Father, through the gracious Son who is communed with by the peace-giving Spirit.
Is the LORD’s Face shining upon you? Open the Scriptures and see: He is given to you as free as the sunshine. Today, may the Spirit lead you into the peace of Christ.
Or in other words, God bless.