Accede!
Thoughts and Encouragements for Wounded Helpers Joined to a Healing God

The Aaronic Priestly Blessing: God's Shining and Proud Face

André H. Roosma
updated: 2010-12-18

Science and the Bible in agreement

Many times I have seen that scientists discover something, and then one recognizes that God has given us a similar advice in the Bible, thousands of years ago.
This too, is the case with the deep meaning of a joyful, affirming and proud face of an authority figure.

mother and child affirming each other with a smile

Illustration by Ton Smits, from: Dr A.A.A. Terruwe, Geef mij je hand - over bevestiging, sleutel van menselijk geluk (Give me your hand - about affirmation, key to human happiness), De Tijdstroom, Lochem NL, 1972, p.28.

‘The umbilical cord of the soul of the child’

This terminology is given by the well known counseling expert, Leanne Payne, to the smile of a mother towards her baby. By that, she phrases what various well known psychologists have observed: a small child forms his/her identity after the look (the face) of the parents who look at him/her with gladness and affirmation, or who ‘mirror’ his/her feelings, so rendering them recognizable and expressable.1 The glad look of father or mother tells the child: “You are accepted! We are glad you are there!” Through that, the child learns to see him/herself as valuable.
And there is more. A child is not born with the ability to recognize or word his/her emotions for what they are. When parents recognize the emotions of their child and mirror them via their own face, the child learns to recognize these emotions in stead of being overwhelmed by the unknown. This gives a sort of peace: the strange things felt are not unpredictable and ‘strange’ but recognizable and identifiable. The child learns that his/her emotions can even be a source for mutual recognition and community and relationship: “I recognize your emotions; I sometimes feel the same things!
That explains the comparison to the umbilical cord: like the child is nourished and grouws physically via the umbilical cord in the pre-natal period, the soul of the child grows via the loving and affirming look of the parents, especially the mother, in the first years of life after birth.

A glad face

By the way, who doesn’t know the effect of a glad face? It makes everything lighter. If the person looking glad is an authority figure, the impact sometimes is even bigger. Is that caused by the authority? Is it because we do not expect it from authority figures? Howsoever, the teacher who looks at you with a contented smile, the manager who greets you in the hallway with a happy face - it makes us happy.

The blessing of God’s shining face

In regard of the above, I find it remarkable how God taught the priests in the Old Testament to bless the people:

“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 : 25

Perhaps you will say (like I did the first hundred times I read or heard this): “that is rather archaic language: make His face shine... lift His countenance...? What exactly does the Bible mean here?” Well, “shine” reminds me of: “light”, as in: “then we received some light on the matter”, “suddenly, the light went on”, “look at the sunny side”. In other words: “a shining face” is related to gladness, getting insight, etc... Actually, it is the extreme opposite of “a gloomy, or clouded face”. “Shine” also stands for gladness and contentment. A lifted face (countenance) similarly can be associated with being proud of something or someone, and it is the opposite of a down-cast or dejected face. But isn’t what we encounter here the same as what we were talking about above: the glad face of parents towards their child, or of a teacher who is satisfied about a pupil, or a manager who is glad with his staff member?

So, what God taught the priests was: share God’s glad face to the people of Israel; pass on His affirming look to them.
 

God knew that that was exactly what the people needed, what we as humans need to live a happy life. To know: “God, our heavenly Father, looks at us and He is glad with us!” Carefulness urges me to add that He may not be glad about all that we do (sometimes we make a mess of things), but He is glad about us – as the people we truly are (under those layers of varnish of sturdiness and imagined grandiosity).

More about God’s shining face

The observations as outlined above made me curious: if the Bible shows such wonderful things, what else does God say about the concept of a glad face? I looked in my OnLine Bible and encountered some more jewels, or actually, let’s call them: diamonds, amongst the 623 verses (!) where the word ‘face’ (or at least its Dutch equivalent) appears in the Bible.

“Thou dost show me the path of life; in Thy presence [literally: before Thy face] there is fulness of joy, in Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Psalm 16 : 11; cf. Acts 2 : 28
“For You have made him most blessed forever; You have rejoiced him in the gladness in Your holy face.”
Psalm 21 : 6 (MKJV)
“Look to Him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.”
Psalm 34 : 5

And about Jesus (the Truth) it is metaphorically written (about the early days, before He came to this earth):

“When I was a son with my Father, tender, the only one in the sight of my Mother, – then I was beside Him, like a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him [literally: before His face] always,...”
Proverbs 4 : 3; 8 : 30

These passages of Scripture speak of the enormeous enjoyment of life stemming from learning to rejoice in God’s glad look at us. It gives us energy. It drives out old, false (poisonous) shame that others may have laid upon us by the way they treated us. God, the Most High, does not agree with everyone who looks at me with a condescending look, He does not agree with anybody who abuses me, nor with anybody who doesn’t see me as valuable! “Didn’t you see His face? All of His face says that I – and yes, you too – that we are o.k.!”

Hunger for God’s shining face

When I came to realize more how much I needed such a glad face 'above me' and how good it was to me, my hunger for it started to increase. And that hunger has stayed with me. It reminds me of what David said:

“You give a stirring in my heart, “Seek His face!” My reaction is, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.””
Psalm 27 : 8 (my translation)

We can unite ourselves with Jesus and with David. God wants to be found by us. He likes us to see the smile on His face.

The joyful blessing of a glad face is mutual!

A mother who greets her child with a glad face and with delight, will more often be rewarded with a smile of her child, than a mother who greets her child always grudgingly. But it also works the other way. The relationship between mother (or father) and child is two-sided from the very beginning! A child who looks up to mom or dad with delight, will more often see a glad face in return.
Perhaps this is a very human thought, but it appears to me that this also counts for our relationship with God. Anyway: doesn’t He deserve our glad face, given all that He has done for us? I think I recognize this in the Psalms, where it says frequently:

“Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into His presence with singing!”
Psalm 100 : 2
“Let us come before His presence [literally: before His face] with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with songs of praise.”
Psalm 95 : 2

I find it remarkable that the Greek word for ‘blessing’ (eulogeo) is the same as that for ‘praising’. God blesses (eulogeo) us with His smile like an emotionally and relationally healthy mother would do her newborn (or older) child; and we praise (eulogeo) God with our adoring smile like that child gives joy to his or her mother by returning a contented smile.

Even more: the blessing of God Who is glad and proud

Above, I already discussed how God looks towards us with gladness, and what that means to us – especially when we feel broken or violated. We saw how God ordered Aaron and the priests in Israel to bless the Israelites with His smile. That we read from Numbers 6 : 25. I made the comparison with the glad smile of a healthy father and mother towards their baby.

The piece about the blessing, from Numbers, says even a lot more. Let’s have a closer look at that and draw some more lines to the meaning this all has for us.

“The LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and his sons,
In this way you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
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.

“So shall they put My name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Numbers 6 : 22-27

Preceding the blessing with God’s glad face it just says: “The LORD bless you and keep you”. The people were to experience that God was in favor of them, and that He wanted to bless them – for the Israelites this idea was connected to prospering and being happy. And He wanted to keep and protect them. In my mind that calls forth images of a shepherd who cares for his sheep and supports them. Sometimes it can be necessary that he stops them in their tracks when they approach a dangerous cliff, or when they want to eat plants that are not healthy for them. He is also there for them to care for them and to protect them from predators. He cares that they get sufficient food, drink and rest. Etcetera.
That is about the introduction of this blessing.

Then comes the part on God’s glad face that I discussed above, coupled to the concept of grace. I didn’t say that explicitly, but of course it is from His grace that there is a happy smile on God’s face when He looks at us. The blessing with Gods smiling face fundamentally is a blessing with God’s grace.

Our text then continues with another oldfashioned expression: “The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”. What does it mean that God lifts up His face? An answer to this question we find almost daily in the world of sports. When an athlete – let’s say: John or Irene – has just won a world championship or even a local match, he or she stands straight up, proud and glad, with his or her face somewhat lifted upward. When the (healthy) father and/or mother of this John or Irene is being interviewed a little later by the local television station, they too stand proudly with a glad and shining face: “Yes, that is our son, our daughter! Fantastic, hey;!”
The opposite we see when our John or Irene or their sportsclub is beaten by a newcomer. Both John or Irene and their parents do not look proudly, their faces lifted up, but they look ‘down’ – in the literal and figurative sense.
Whether we loop ‘up’ or ‘down’ says something about our feelings. The former expresses ‘yes, wow, what a hero!’; the latter is tied more to ‘down’ feelings of shortcoming.

Back to our text. So the priests were asked to bless the people with the joy on God’s face as a sign of His grace, as well as with the pride on God’s face. That can be compared to the glad and proud face of a healthy father or mother who says to the child: “You are welcome! We are glad with you! We are proud of you just the way you are!” Like that fatherly or motherly smile helps the child to see him- or herself as valuable, so God wanted and wants to help the Israelites as well as us to see ourselves as valuable.
Therefore, this line from the blessing is coupled to the Hebrew concept of ‘peace’: ‘shalom’. This concept encompasses more than our concept of ‘peace’; it includes an inner satisfaction, a deep happiness that can hardly, if at all, be influenced by what happens ‘at the surface of our existence’. When we slowly but steadily grow in knowing: ‘God rejoices in me and is proud of me’, all the rest is a little less important. There comes a flooring in our existence.
And there is still more. That’s what the last part of the cited Bible passage is all about.

Name and identity; grace and peace

Perhaps, in response to all that I wrote above, you might say: ‘Yes, but then you don’t know how I ruined everything’, or: ‘well, what I have experienced in life...’, ‘God will no longer be so glad or proud about me’. Then, I have good news for you. Has it occurred to you that this passage from Scripture does not include any conditions? It doesn’t say: “If the Israelites do such and such... than you can bless them so and so”. It just says: “In this way you shall bless the people of Israel”. God’s gladness and pride are based on His peace and His grace.

The last part of the quoted passage about the call from God to Aaron and the priests to bless, says: “So shall they put My Name upon the people of Israel.”
‘So’ - that is to say: by blessing the people with God’s glad and proud look, so will they do what? Put God’s Name upon them... what does that mean?
To understand the full meaning of this, we have to go back to those times for a moment. In those days someone’s name meant something. A child was not given the name of his grandfather or her grandmother, or a name that sounded nice, but the name expressed something about the person’s very being. Often parents expressed in the name they gave the child something of what they whished for the child, or something of the child’s character that was already visible at his or her birth. When this passage speaks of the name of God, it speaks about His Person, His very Being, Who He is; you might say: about His identity. Since about 300 BC in Israel the people didn’t use the Name of God (with the characters יהוה - YHWH or IAUA in our letters) directly anymore, instead they used an expression like ‘the LORD’, ‘He Who Is’, ‘The Name’, ‘The Eternal, blesssed be He’ or ‘The Almighty’, out of respect for His godliness, and out of erroneous fear of using His great and holy Name in vain.

God knows how we have messed things up. He knows that we didn’t deserve His proud smile. Yet, He considers us worthy to look at us with that proud smile. Because we have been created after His image, and He longs to restore that image in us. Isn’t it such that we just badly need God’s intervening blessing and something of His identity when we have made a mess of our life? In Nehemiah 8 the remainder of the people, just returned from exile, hear God’s Word and they become sad, because they see to what extent they owe their misery to their own sins or the sins of their ancestors. But then God tells them that they may seek refuge in the shelter of His joy.

“Then he said to them, go eat the fat, and drink of the sweet, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared. For this day is holy to our LORD. And do not be sorry, for the joy of יהוה is your stronghold.”
Nehemiah 8 : 10-11 (boldface added)

It’s just when we say: ‘Yes, God, I need you!’ that God is there with His glad smile to connect His Name – so: Himself – to us and fill us with His identity; precisely like I said in the beginning: via His face that expressed grace and peace.
Therefore the priests are ordered to bless the people with a blessing that we didn’t deserve, but that God does desire to give us! A blessing that puts God’s identity upon us ‐ an identity of worthiness and delight, of love and gladness, of selfcontrol and faithfulness, of empathy and humility (cf. Galatians 5:22; see also Leviticus 26:13 [New Living Bible] where God – The I AM – promises to bless the people of Israel with an awareness of worthiness and take away their shame and slavery). Such that we are enabled to grow towards that glorious image of God, that delightful future that He has in store for us. From that grace and peace, that finds its origin in God Himself, we can become whom we were meant to be and we can manage life as it presents itself.

That blessing I pray unto you too!

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.

So I put God’s name upon you, and God will bless you.

Pastoral counseling

All that I have discussed above, is very significant in pastoral care.
How many are there, who - from their own experiences with parental figures or from a defective theology - can only think about or imagine God with a distracted or even angry face? How different is the picture that God paints us through His Word, as depicted above.
Of course there is also God’s anger about sin.2 But through Christ we know that He carried the burden of that anger at the cross and dealt with it forever in that way. What God teaches us also through His Word, is that we, as pastoral workers and spiritual leaders, are called to bless people with the glad look on God’s face – His delighting eyes, His gentle smile – full of recognition and full of love, gladness gracefull acceptance.
And we can encourage them, to envision or imagine God’s face this way, as well as look back up to Him with gladness.3
Through this, God will nurture their souls, like an unborn baby is nurtured through the umbilical cord.


Footnotes:

1See for example: Frances Thomson-Salo, Campbell Paul, Ann Morgan, Sarah Jones, Brigid Jordan, Michele Meehan, Sue Morse and Andrew Walker, ‘Free to be playful’: therapeutic work with infants, Infant Observation Journal: The International Journal of Infant Observation and its Applications, Vol 3, 1999, p.47-62.
The authors of this article write a.o.:
We want here to say something about the power of gaze and of play to have a therapeutic effect on the infant. Mothers describe how, after delivery, their baby fastens on to them with their eyes from the moment of being handed to them, trying to take in with sight someone who was already known long ago in a different way. This cross-modal perception contributes enormously to the emerging sense of self. Genevieve Haag and her colleagues (1994) describe observers watching premature babies and after the observation the readings showed the oxygen saturation was significantly improved, as the infant feels held in the observer’s gaze. Observation is also used by Margaret Cohen (1995) with premature babies, and the nurses tell her, ‘The babies like you coming.’ Infants are aware of the special quality of the clinician’s gaze, with its thoughtfulness and playfulness. Looking in order to understand the infant’s experience is felt differently from simply looking at the infant. ‘Looking thoughtfully at’ an infant, whether as part of an infant observation or as part of clinical work, will most often be enough for the infant to feel they have received something of value, to introject as a good object. When the infant knows someone has come to look at them, trying to understand them, gaze becomes tremendously important in the development of self and other. Current research (Schore, 1994, 1996) bears out the infant’s need to be in contact with a thinking mind for optimal development.
Deborah A. Lott, Brain Development, Attachment and Impact on Psychic Vulnerability, Psychiatric Times Vol. XV, Issue 5, May 1998. The author refers to Allan N. Schore (A.N. Schore, Early organization of the nonlinear right brain and development of a predisposition to psychiatric disorders, Development and Psychopathology, 9, 1997, p.595-631) as follows:
Schore conceptualizes psychobiological attunement as “direct right brain to right brain communication” in which the mother’s right brain, “involved in the unconscious expression and processing of emotional information,” serves as a template for the infant’s developing neural circuitry. ...
... numerous psychotherapy outcome studies have shown that when patients recount what was most helpful about psychotherapy, they don’t often recall specific interpretations or insights. What they remember is the quality of the relationship, the way it felt to be in the room with the therapist or to share a mutual gaze – experiences reminiscent of early attunement.
2See also my article on The Centrality of the Cross – at the Cross, Jesus carried the penalty of all our rebellion against God, all iniquity, etc. As such, it is the basis for God to do justice and yet be grace-full to us.
3See also the materials by John Piper, below.

To listen to

Kerry Alexander, YAHUWAH (Yahuah) bless you and keep you!, with images and Bible verses by MessengeroftheName; video on You Tube; music from CD My Jubilation!.

 

For further reading

See also the following Bible verses: 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalm 22:10,25-27; Proverbs 15:13; Isaiah 9:3; 23:18; 37:14; 54:8; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Isaiah 59:2; 64:7; Danel 9:17; Acts 3:19.

2006-03-03

John Piper, Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ, Crossway / Good News Publ., Wheaton, 2001.

Ken Gire, He Looks at Me with Delight, Discipleship Journal of the USA Navigators, Issue 102, Nov/Dec 1997. In this article, Ken Gire takes an intimate look at the ongoing love relationship between Jesus and you, His bride.

2007-10-28

Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a party, God’s radical plan for His family, Thomas Nelson, 1992; ISBN-10: 0849933994 ISBN-13: 978-0849933998.

Anna A.A. Terruwe, Give Me Your Hand - About Affirmation, Key to Human Happiness, Croydon, Victoria, Spectrum Publications, 1973 (translation, by Martin Van Buuren, of: Geef mij je hand - over bevestiging, sleutel van menselijk geluk, in Dutch, De Tijdstroom, Lochem NL, 1972).

Allan N. Schore, Affect Dysregulation & Disorders of the Self, W.W. Norton & Company, New York / London, 2003; ISBN 0-393-704008-4 / 0-393-70406-8 / 0-393-704076. A photocopy of chapters 2 - 4 is on-line (PDF document a document in PDF-format that can be read with Adobe Reader™).
Allan N. Schore, Effects of a Secure Attachment Relationship on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health (PDF document), Infant Mental Health Jl., Vol. 22 (1-2), p. 7-66, 2001 (see also the Introduction at p.1-6 PDF document).

Henry Pinsker, ‘The Supportive Component of Psychotherapy’, Psychiatric Times, November 1998, Vol. XV, Issue 11.

   cover of:
Desiring God

John Piper, Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ, Crossway / Good News Publ., Wheaton, 2001.

John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, Crossway Books, Wheaton Ill, 2004; ISBN 1 58134 652 2.

John Piper, Desiring God, Multnomah, 2003, ISBN: 1590521196; see also: The website on Desiring God.
See also John Piper's impressive sermon of Febr. 26th, 2006, on Psalm 43 (also as mp3 file - right click and select ‘download as’).

2006-03-27

E. James Wilder, (The Complete Guide to) Living with Men - Keep Growing and Stay Lovable, Shepherd’s House Publishing, Pasadena, CA, USA, 2004; ISBN 0-9674357-5-7.

In Dutch, I found another particularly valuable booklet of relevance:
Anna A.A. Terruwe, Geloven zonder angst en vrees, Romen, Roermond NL, 1971.

And an article by Téo van der Weele: ‘Een oog voor eenzame kinderen’, formerly at the site of the foundation De Kracht van Vrede.


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More information or suggestions

For more information, or your reaction to the above, you can contact me via e-mail: andre.roosma@12accede.nl.

Thanks for your interest!

© André H. Roosma, Accede!, Zoetermeer NL, 2003-05-18 (1st NL version)/ 2010-12-18; all rights reserved.