Blessings in the wilderness

January 2010 - Round Table
by Mark Ross

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These are perhaps the best known words of the book of Numbers. The Lord prescribed this benediction to be given as Israel prepared to leave Sinai and begin the march into the wilderness. It would become a regular part of the priests’ ministry to Israel (Deut. 10:8, 21:5).

These words are familiar to us because they are a regular part of Christian worship in many places, often spoken at the close of worship services, weddings, funerals, and other special gatherings. But the very repetition which makes them so familiar, as well as their placement at the end of the service, can easily dull us to their significance, cause us to take them for granted, and treat them with indifference. By the time they are pronounced, we might already have disengaged from the service, allowing our hearts and minds to begin focusing on things that will be happening later. Indeed, by this time in the service, some have already departed, thinking that the important things are now finished, and this is just the spiritual-sounding “you are dismissed” conclusion.

Yet the words were spoken to Israel as powerful words of blessing. The formula is bounded on both sides with statements of its purpose and effect.

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