It is a tradition within the Church of God that the second Sabbath after the end of the Feast of Tabernacles there is in local congregations the blessing of the little children, either those children born within the previous year who are old enough to attend services (all but the youngest) or those young children of parents who are new to the faith. Some decades ago, this blessing was done at the Feast of Tabernacles when there were few congregations, but the length of the ceremony and the number of children became so large that it was decided to hold the ceremony at the local congregation by the ministry of the congregation, and the second Sabbath after the Feast of Tabernacles was chosen to make sure that families are able to return after the Feast, because it is difficult sometimes for people to return if the Feast ends, as it did this year, near the end of a week. Rather strikingly yesterday, as our pastor and our new local elder were preparing to bless the two little ones who kept our congregation from being particularly unproductive this year, he referenced the priestly benediction to the children of Israel in Numbers 6:22-27, a passage that I had not heard of being referenced in this particular way before.
Numbers 6:22-27 reads as follows: “ And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: “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 upon you, and give you peace.”’ So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” Now, when I read this passage, I tend to think of the children of Israel as being a reference to the entire people of Israel as God’s children rather than being specifically directed at the little children of Israel as it was being directed to the little children of our congregation yesterday . I tend to have in mind the people of Israel leaving slavery and on their way to the promised land, lacking in confidence and faith and being slaves in their hearts and minds long after they have been freed from the oppression in their bodies. So it is in our world too, in that people remain influenced and sometimes even defined by the horrors and oppression and abuse that they have suffered long after they are no longer subjected to it.
Yet there is no question about the application of this verse to literal children. I cannot read the priestly benediction applied to little children being blessed by their ministers without thinking about my own early childhood. Perhaps it is unfair for this to be so, but it is so. For it was thirty-six years ago that I too was one of those unhappy babies being brought by my parents before the ministers to be blessed in a ceremony not unlike those held yesterday in congregations all over the world. What words were whispered over my head as I was held in someone’s arms. What sort of fond wishes for God’s protection and blessings were asked? Was the message personally tailored based on the pastor’s awareness of my family, or was it a more general sort of prayer full of the cliche of someone who was going through the motions and making a general wish for well-being and that God would help me to grow up to be a godly man, as, God willing, has been the case. I certainly cannot remember as I was only an infant, and it is unlikely that anyone else remembered the precise words of the blessing either.
Certainly, little children need all the blessing and help from God that they can get. In looking at the two little ones being blessed, one of the children was the fourth children of an intact family, and the other child was brought by his grandmother, and by a mother who looked young and who I cannot remember having ever seen before. I wondered, in the latter case, where the men were–where was the child’s father and grandfathers? Sometimes what is missing is just as important, if not more important, than that which can be seen. Among the most important and most serious areas where little children need protection is within their own families. Most of the harm we suffer comes from people close to us, from our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, the people we interact with on a regular basis in our jobs and congregations. In the same way, most of the harm we do is to those who are close to us as well, for the same reasons–proximity can be a great blessing and also be a great danger as well.
Perhaps it is worthwhile to reflect that it is the same way with God, at least in part. The priestly benediction asks for God to bless and keep the children of Israel, to make his face shine upon them, to be gracious, to give peace, yet having the countenance of God upon someone is not an unmixed blessing. To those whom God loves and who are obedient to Him, the face of God is a glorious vision of what we are slowly becoming as God works with us and as we grow to show more and more of the family resemblance of being His children. On the other hand, if we are rebellious to God and hostile to his ways, the thought of God’s face being on us and His presence being in our lives is not something we look forward to. Our expectation is not of graciousness in such circumstances, but rather harsh judgment. Even the graciousness, for example, of the father of the prodigal sons towards the younger son who repented in his heart and returned to his father, depended on that repentant heart allowing the son to feel and see the love and grace given to him. It is a terrifying thing to reflect on how our perception of God’s love and grace might depend on how we see Him, mediated through the way that we see authority figures like parents in our own lives. It makes one wish, like the psalmist of Psalm 80, who largely repeats the same plea three times, in verses 3, 7, and 19: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!”
 See, for example: