Over the past few months, the song "The Blessing" has taken the world by storm. The original video with Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes at Elevation Church has over 22 million views. It has been sung by over 100 virtual choirs around the world, from the UK to New York City to the Bay Area to Malaysia, where I'm from.
The song is based on an ancient Israelite high priestly blessing. But it becomes even more powerful when you understand how priests in ancient Israel revealed a very different God than their pagan neighbors and how the prayer of blessing comes to a stunning fulfillment in Jesus. Here's a bit more about that.
The earliest archives of world religion show that priests provided two main things: access to gods and the acquisition of their blessing on many different endeavors. A priest would petition the gods for favors, rain, victory in battle, and more. A priest had special access because of his own restricted way of living.
Priesthood in Israelite religion, as recorded in the Old Testament, had some similarities. But it also had four huge distinctions:
First, the God of Israel was the only God you needed to talk to. There was no need to run around completing a long to-do list of errands at various temples for various blessings for various needs. One God was sovereign over all. If you came to Him, He was enough.
Second, the God of Israel was not fundamentally an angry god. He gets angry, but He is love. When Moses asked for a glimpse of God, “the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’” (Exodus 34:6). This is who the God of Israel is: loving, compassionate, and gracious. He doesn’t view humans as a nuisance to be tolerated for the tasks they take off His plate; He isn’t looking for opportunities to strike them down. He is slow to anger but abounding in steadfast love.
Third, because the God of Israel is compassionate and gracious, He forbade human sacrifice. While not every religion in the ancient Middle East required human sacrifice, many did, and we are hard pressed to find places where it is forbidden. But the Old Testament provides a long and famous story about the God of Israel asking for a display of devotion in the only language for devotion that a pagan would understand—child sacrifice—and then revealing Himself as the God who provides the sacrifice He requires. This is where God becomes the God of Abraham, by showing Himself as the God who provides.
Fourth—and this is where it gets really good—the God of Israel provided a sacrifice specifically for the removal of guilt. The most dramatic way sin was dealt with in Israel’s worship came on the day of the year known as the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest would first offer sacrifices to cleanse himself. Then he would select two goats. After laying hands on one goat and imparting to it all the sins of the nation, the priest would lead that goat out into the wilderness. Do you catch the meaning of the act? The goat took the blame and was led away—a picture, an enacted parable, of God removing all guilt from His people. The second goat was sacrificed and its blood was sprinkled on the altar inside the holy of holies. This goat took the punishment—a picture of God allowing the people to be spared judgment.
These elaborate and symbolic acts were found only in the Israelite religion. Their God was the only god who made a way to deal with sin, guilt, and shame.
God doesn’t just want to give us the surface blessings of material increase and victories in life. He wants to give us the core blessing: the blessing that erases our guilt and shame, the blessing that deals with our sin. You get the feeling that Israel understood this. One of the well-loved songs exclaims, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).
You see, even in the brokenness of our own sin, we can find a blessing that removes guilt. When we place our sin-broken lives in the hands of Jesus, that brokenness becomes the brokenness of repentance. And then the blessing of forgiveness flows into us.
All the stuff about goats, priests, temples, and sacrifices was just a foreshadowing of what was to come.
There is one Priest who was also the sacrifice and, in fact, also the temple.
He was so great that He summed up in Himself all the three main components of old Israelite religion. And in doing so, He brought it to its fulfillment, to its culmination, and to its closure.
His name is Jesus. Jesus, the great high priest. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice. Jesus, the true temple.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was so excited about the way these symbols and elements of Israelite worship came to their fulfillment in Jesus that he could hardly contain himself. Like a good preacher, he began by asking rhetorical questions, hoping for an “Amen”:
If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood
of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13–14, CSB)
There was an old blessing, a prayer, that the high priest in Israel would say over the people of God:
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26).
Because of Jesus, every word of that blessing is now true for all who belong to Him. It is no longer a petition but a proclamation.
Hear it over you: “The Lord blesses you and keeps you; the Lord is smiling at you; the Lord is turned toward you and gives you peace.”
Jesus is the high priest who made the high priest’s prayer come true.
Jesus is how God has brought you peace.
[This blog was an excerpt from "Blessed Broken Given: How Your Story Becomes Sacred in the Hands of Jesus", which released one year ago today.]