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The Priestly Blessing - Numbers 6:22-27 - notes

22) Addressed rather than literal spoke to for variety, and also to highlight the fact that the opening phrase represents a solemn introduction to the following instructions. It is used fairly often through the Pentateuch to mark out a distinct section from its context.

23) banâyv is here rendered his sons as we do not learn if Aharon had daughters - if he did only the sons appear to have shared in the priestly rituals. In later verses, benêy yisrâ’êl is rendered children of Israel rather than using sons again, as there is no warrant for assuming only men are intended here.

24) The next three verses show a variety of patterns and structures. The verbs may be taken either as imperfect (he will bless) or jussive (may he bless or let him bless). The latter seems preferable in the context.
The development of the content goes:

  1. verb - Yahweh - verb
  2. verb - Yahweh's face towards you - verb
  3. verb - Yahweh's face towards you - short clause involving verb

The closeness and directed attention of Yahweh's face is, then, profoundly important here.

The phrases increase in length - 3 then 5 then 7 words, and compared with the above sequence are as follows:

  1. 1 - 1 - 1
  2. 1 - 3 - 1
  3. 1 - 3 - 3

Wherever you is found in these phrases, it is the singular form, not the plural.

The first verb in each phrase may be seen as more action-at-a-distance - the second involves Yahweh's more active involvement in the recipient's life.

Here we have the two verbs bless and watch over / keep. Bless is rooted in the idea of acknowledging dignity in the recipient, and the verb can also be used for kneeling. Watch over has the sense of observing, guarding or protecting.

25) The two verbs used here are cause to shine / make to light up and show favour / be gracious. The first is the Hiphîyl (causal) form of be / become light. The concept of deity shedding light on humanity is a common ancient near eastern one, and parallel examples may be found from the third millennium BCE to the first. A similar idea is found in Exodus 34, when Moses' face was radiant after speaking with Yahweh. The second suggests an active movement to show grace (chên) and related words suggest the idea of yearning or inclining towards another.

26) The words here are lift up and appoint peace. The lifting up is not of the Israelites but of Yahweh's face, again highlighting the importance of his focused regard towards his people. Appoint could also be translated set, place, establish, ordain, or other similar words and has the air of a formal and specific action taking place. Other uses range from applying determination to a task, to appointing laws, to establishing a nation. Peace (shâlôwm) suggests a complete state of well-being and wholeness.

27) Establish my name over could also be place my name on or a variety of similar expressions. This can be seen either:

  1. as a direct implication of the spoken blessing (ie "by saying this they will have established my name...") or else
  2. as a secondary action subsequent to it (ie "after saying this they will then proceed to..").

I have a slight preference for the latter. The verb used here, establish, is the same as is translated appoint in the previous verse.
The emphasised ’anîy, I, is here taken to mean that the effect of establishing Yahweh's name over them changes the active agent of blessing. Up until this point it has been the priests who were blessing (v23): at this point Yahweh takes responsibility for the blessing.