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Words: Numbers 6:24-26
Music: Peter Christian Lutkin (b. Mar. 27, 1858; d. Dec. 27, 1931)
Note: Dr. Lutkin was a highly trained American composer, teacher of music, and organist. He also served as the editor of a hymnal. The music for the present prayer hymn was written in 1900. Other than replacing the repeated “thee” with “you” the text follows the reading of the King James Version.
We’ve likely all heard the proverb, “Good things come in small packages.” It’s a reminder that size is not necessarily a measure of quality or of importance. The girl presented with a tiny ring box by the fellow proposing to her understands that, as does the grandma holding her new baby grandson in her arms.
This is a blog about the hymns and gospel songs of the English-speaking church, their history and their biblical meaning. Most of these contain three or four stanzas or verses, and some add a repeated refrain. For example:
¤ Holy, Holy, Holy has four stanzas with a total of 126 words
¤ O God, Our Help in Ages Past originally had nine stanzas, with 204 words
¤ The Old Rugged Cross has four stanzas, and 254 words (counting repeated refrains)
¤ How Great Thou Art has four stanzas, and 274 words (counting repeated refrains)
But the beautiful hymn we’ll consider now, based on a priestly benediction in the Old Testament, is contained in three verses in the book of Numbers, with a total of 32 words. The hymn version, with several repeats and an Amen, runs to 49 words. Sometimes called the Aaronic Benediction, and originally intended for the people of Israel, it is a meaningful and encouraging prayer, not only fitted to the far side of the cross, but for today as well.
Given to Moses by the Lord, the Bible verses are these:
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance [face] upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).
There is a richness of meaning in those few words. Since they are given by the Lord Himself (vs. 22), we conclude that it is the Lord’s desire to bestow blessings on His people. We do not need to beg for them, as though we have to somehow change God’s mind. He is ready and willing to bless those who come to Him in faith.
For one thing, the Lord will protect (“keep”) His children. And for Him to be “gracious” is to show His loving kindness, mercy, an divine favour toward us. The “peace” spoken of is more that a cessation of war. It involves a settled tranquility of life and general sense of well-being. The double reference to the face of God is poetic imagery meaning, “May the Lord be actively present in your life, and look upon you with favour.”
The King James and New King James versions use all capitals with “LORD” to represent Jehovah, or Yahweh in Hebrew. The threefold use of the name in the prayer perhaps suggests the three Persons of the Trinity. It is God the Father who protects (Ps. 46:1; 121:1-2; ), God the Son who brings grace (Jn. 1:16-17), and God the Holy Spirit who nurtures inner peace (Gal. 5:22-23).
As quoted on the Cyber Hymnal, American evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) said of this prayer:
“Here is a benediction that can give all the time, without being impoverished. Every heart may utter it, every letter may conclude with it, every day may begin with it, every night may be sanctified by it. Here is blessing–keeping–shining–the uplifting upon our poor life of all heaven’s glad morning. It is the Lord Himself who brings this bar of music from heaven’s infinite anthems.”
Peter Lutkin turned the words of Numbers into a melodious prayer. Though his composition has moving parts, with a bit of practice, a congregation can sing it effectively as a closing hymn. This writer also has heard beautiful choral renditions of it, concluding with an elaborate seven-fold “Amen.”
Following the Bible text quite closely, Peter Lutkin’s version says:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace; and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious, and be gracious;
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you. Amen.
1) In what ways this week have you experienced some of the things mentioned in this prayer?
2) Is this a prayer you would offer on behalf of others?