Why 'May the Lord Bless You and Keep You' Is a Powerful Blessing for All Time
Why 'May the Lord Bless You and Keep You' Is a Powerful Blessing for All Time
Annette Griffin Contributing Writer
But the ever-popular Aaronic blessing that begins with, “May the Lord bless you and keep you” has deep meaning that can spiritually enrich the lives of every believer today.
In a day and age when we’re more likely to hear criticism and controversy in a public forum than anything else, the idea of blessing someone might seem a foreign concept. Even in Christian circles where we talk and sing about God’s blessings, say a blessing before meals, and casually bless each other after every sneeze, the idea of using our words to purposefully impart God’s favor upon another may seem a bit archaic. But the ever-popular Aaronic blessing that begins with, “May the Lord bless you and keep you” has deep meaning that can spiritually enrich the lives of every believer today.
What Does ‘May the Lord Bless You and Keep You’ Mean?
In Numbers 6:22-27, the Lord tells Moses that the priests, Aaron, and his sons, should pronounce a specific blessing upon the Israelites.
“May the LORD bless you and keep you; may the LORD cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the LORD lift up His countenance toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26, NAS).
This priestly blessing was a reminder to the Israelites that they were set apart unto God. The overflow of that extreme honor carried with it residual benefits. Because God prescribed the blessing, the priests could obediently administer the benediction trusting full well that God’s favor would continue to rest on the Israelite nation.
Each line of the blessing includes “the LORD” as a signifier that Yahweh, not the priests, was the One who would ensure the blessing. “By using His covenant name, Yahweh, God was emphasizing His close relationship with Israel. The Lord alone established the nation of Israel and He would continue to preserve His people,” explains Sophia Bricker in What Does it Mean ‘May the Lord Bless You and Keep You'?
In the original Hebrew, this blessing is written in clear poetic form. The first verse has three words, the second five, and the third seven. Each Hebrew word is filled with culturally significant images that make a one-to-one English translation tricky. But when we inspect the three parts of this priestly benediction from the original Hebrew perspective, the theme and relevancy of the passage come alive in a powerful way that points us to Christ.
“May the LORD bless and keep you” This kind of blessing goes far beyond any material provision. The Hebrew verb for “bless” here is barak, which means to kneel. It’s difficult, even today, for people of the Jewish faith to comprehend that their Holy God could, or would, bless them by condescending Himself to mere man.
But believers in Christ know that our Lord did just that—through Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
The Hebrew word shamar translates to “keep” in this blessing. It means to guard, protect, or preserve. The original word describes the same level of care that a shepherd provides to his sheep. The Hebrew word shamiyr, which means thorn, is a derivative of shamar. Shepherds constructed makeshift guard rails from thorny briers—shamiyr—to protect the flock from predators.
On the day of His crucifixion, a crown of thorns was mockingly placed upon Jesus’s head. These were the same thorns brought about by the sin-curse man inflicted upon himself in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-18) Jesus bore that curse for us, and took our iniquity because “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Because our Good Shepherd has redeemed us with His own blood, He is able to keep our feet from stumbling and present us to Himself faultless and with joy (Jude 1:24).
“may the LORD cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” The Hebrew word paniym means “face”. Interestingly, this word is always written in plural form. The Hebrew word for the verb “shine” means to be or become light. And chanan, the Hebrew word for “gracious,” refers to the kind of favor granted in the bestowal of redemption from enemies, evils, and sins (chanan, Strong's #2603).
3000 years after Aaron first pronounced the priestly blessing upon Israel, God sent to Earth His Son, the Great High Priest. Jesus becomes the embodiment of God’s promise and the only Way we can see God face to face. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). God’s ultimate grace was fulfilled through Christ. “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11).
“may the LORD lift up His countenance toward you and give you peace” Most people associate the word peace with the absence of conflict or war. However, the Hebrew word shalom (Strong's #7965) has the more literal meaning of completeness or soundness—a state of whole or without deficiency.
Jesus is our God-given peace. (Ephesians 2:14) Through Him we are made complete—whole and without deficiency. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
What Is the Biblical Context of the Blessing?
It’s important to remember that when the Aaronic blessing was first pronounced in Numbers 6, the Israelites only had access to the Lord through Moses. So one of the purposes of the blessing was to affirm God’s faithful love and care to His chosen people, Israel.
The blessing couldn’t have come at a better time. The Israelites sinned against God shortly after that. Their transgressions would cost them forty years of wandering (Numbers 13:34). But they had the assurance, through the blessing, that their sin would not cost them God’s love and care. Why was God faithful to His blessing even when His people were unfaithful? Because the Aaronic blessing carried the weight of Yahweh’s name. "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them" (Numbers 6:27).
The holding power of God’s blessing to Israel was unfailing from generation to generation. “For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own” (1 Samuel 12:22).
Why Do Christians Say This Phrase a Lot Today?
The Aaronic blessing is as significant today as it ever was. Even though God intended the original blessing for Israel, He wove into the very fabric of the blessing a promise for Jews and Gentiles alike.
The blessing shows God's character, faithfulness, and love for all His people, and it points to the ultimate expression of that love—Jesus.
“As believers, we can know in our hearts that God is sovereign and strong. We can believe that His plans for us, for our loved ones, are for good and that He has blessing in store as we follow after Him,” says Debbie McDaniel in A Prayer of God’s Blessing Over Those You Love.
Many Christians speak the Aaronic blessing over loved ones today to honor the sacred traditions of the past, to acknowledge the eternal nature of our covenant-keeping God, and as a demonstration of our faith in God’s sovereign provision for His people.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.