God’s Gracious Face (Numbers 6:22-27)


Big Idea: God blesses us by letting us behold his glory, and it deeply satisfies our souls.

What is the most beautiful, soul-satisfying thing you have ever seen?

Maybe it was the eclipse. I was listening to the story of a retired astrophysicist nicknamed Mr. Eclipse. As a teenager, he was amazed by an eclipse and decided to spend his life traveling the world to see as many as possible. He’s travelled to Canada, Australia, Bolivia, Antartica, China, and India to see eclipses. For him, eclipses are kind of the organizing principle of his life. Listen to some of what he experiences as he watches an eclipse:

I think it's a sense of belonging, belonging to this incredible universe, both belonging and a humbleness — that how minuscule we are, and yet we're a part of this fantastic cosmic wheel of motion in the solar system. You almost get a three-dimensional sense of the motions of the Earth and the moon around the sun when you see this clockwork displayed right in front of you, this mechanics of the Eclipse taking place. It's almost like it lifts you up off the planet and you can look back down at the solar system and see how it's all put together.

Why would someone dedicate their life to watching eclipses? Because there’s something deeply beautiful and satisfying in those two or three minutes of the totality of the eclipse, and our souls are desperately hungry to see something that satisfies our souls.

Maybe it’s not an eclipse for you. But I’ve looked at mountains and sunsets and oceans with a sense of wonder. I’ve stared up at the sky and stared for an hour on a clear, dark night at the vastness of the Milky Way.

But you don’t even have to go that far. Sometimes it’s enough to look into someone’s face. As Andy Crouch says:

All our lives, what we really have been looking for is blessing. We once lay on a mother’s breast, looking for a face. We were not looking for magic because we did not need it. All we needed was a person. One day we will come to the end of our lives. Whatever magic medicine managed to do will have come to an end. Our need at that moment will be just what it was the moment we were born.

We were born looking for a face, a person. We will die looking for a face. Better than an eclipse or a mountain or a sunset is the ache we have to see and be seen, loved, and blessed.

You and I were made for this. Our whole lives are a desperate search for this. And this is exactly what God offers us in the blessing we just read.

The Blessing of God’s Face

We’re taking a short look at a blessing that God has given. This blessing comes from the heart of God himself. It’s a three-thousand year old blessing for the wilderness, a blessing that we still need as much as ever today.

Last week we looked at the first line of the blessing: “The LORD bless you and keep you.” This is like the start of the trickle as each line gets deeper and richer. But it’s still amazing. It speaks of Jehovah’s protection: if you are one of his people, he is active in your life, both providing you what you need and protecting you from evil. There is not a moment that he is not actively at work in your life, watching over you and keeping you by his omnipotent power.

But today we come to the second line of the three lines in this blessing: “the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”

This is a blessing, again, in which God acts and we receive. And what does the Lord do? He does something that’s so important that it’s included in the next line of blessing as well.

What is this part of the blessing about? It’s that we catch a glimpse of the face of God, and that it satisfies us.

Let me give you some background, because this is an important theme in Scripture, and one we may not notice at first. And we have to go back almost to the beginning to see it.

In Genesis 3, sin entered the world and caused catastrophic damage in every area of life. One of those consequences is found in Genesis 3:8: “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

The word “presence” there is face. After sin, Adam and Eve hid themselves from the face of God. They were created to live in the presence of God, seeing the face of God, but after sin they had to hide themselves. Since then, we’ve suffered all of the effects of sin in every area. We no longer live in harmony with the world and with each other. We’ve experienced deep brokenness in every area of our life. Thorns and thistles. But the greatest consequence is that our relationship with God has been broken. We’re no longer able to live before the face of God, which is the very reason we were created.

And so the first person who was born into this world of sin said to God, “Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden” (Genesis 4:14). Isn’t this interesting? Adam and Eve were expelled from God’s presence, and now Cain feels even more estranged from God.

Time goes on. A swindler named Jacob one day finds himself wrestling with someone. As time goes on, he realizes it’s no ordinary man. It’s God himself. He manages to get a blessing from God, and we read: “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30). Peniel means “face of God.” He didn’t see God’s face fully; God left before it was light, because no man can gaze on God’s face and survive. But for a moment, he experiences what we all ache for: to see God’s face — dimly, without much light, and just for a moment. But it was enough to change his life.

This is what we ache for. We want back what Adam and Eve lost. We long to see the face of God. But we’ve lost our clear view of God’s face. Jacob gets a fleeting glimpse in the dark. Moses gets a glimpse, but only partially, because God tells even Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

You may not even know this is what you’re looking for, but it is what we long to experience. That’s why we have verses like Psalm 27:8:

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
(Psalm 27:8-9)

Or Psalm 31:16:

Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!

We want, we need, God’s face. Michael Glodo writes:

We need to be seen and known by God to fully know ourselves. This interpersonal, relational need is the essence of our nature and its satisfaction is found in seeing and being seen by God. God made us with faces so that his could shine on ours.

This is why the second and third lines of the blessing is so important:

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.

God is telling Aaron to bless the people with what they need most, what was lost in the garden: that they will see God’s face despite their sin, but instead of being destroyed by seeing God’s face, that they would experience his grace. Instead of being terrified by seeing God, the blessing is that they will see Jehovah’s countenance and receive his peace. That is truly what we need and long to experience.

Of course, this is partially a metaphor. God is a spirit, and God does not have a body (John 4:24). I say it’s partially a metaphor, because God the Son does have a face, and we will see the face of Jesus one day. He will shine his face upon us.

But even at the level of metaphor, the idea of God turning his face toward us communicates an important truth, and here is it is: God made us to long for his presence, to be deeply satisfied as we experience his presence.

The Fulfillment of This Blessing

So let’s talk about the fulfillment of this blessing in two parts: now and later.


Here’s how you can experience this part of the blessing now.

You and I are rebels against God by birth and by choice. We are sinners, not just because we do sinful things, but because at our core we love ourselves more than God. Because of this, we suffer all the tragic consequences of our sin, including the loss of the presence, the face of God. And yet we long for it.

We look everywhere for substitutes. Our lives are spent looking in different places for what we lost — the only thing that will deeply satisfy us, which is the deep delight of God’s face shining upon us.

But Numbers announces that God has graciously acted to save a sinful people, not because of anything they did, but simply because he is gracious. He chose them and saved them, and then he gives them this blessing: that they get what they’ve always longed for, that God turns his face on them and shines upon them, and it deeply satisfies their souls.

This is a blessing not only for them but for anyone who puts their faith in Jesus. Anyone who knows their sin and turns to Jesus with empty hands of faith, believing that he’s done everything to make them right with God, can know that God’s face is shining on them. You’ll only get partial glimpses now, but you can know that God loves you, that he looks upon you with favor. As Charles Spurgeon said:

When our Lord smiles on us, we see the face of God—that face not veiled with frowns, but bright with smiles: a face full of love and favour, a face which was once turned away, but is now turned towards us in peace. “The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.” Dearly beloved, is there any grace conceivable like the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? and is there any light conceivable like the shining of the love of God? A few moments ago the fog surrounded this place, and we seemed as if we were descending into pitch darkness; but, in an instant, light poured in through yonder windows, and there was an immediate change; and now the sun is shining upon us — a thing to be noted in this rarely sun-lit land. In this I see a symbol of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We come upon a period of gloom and deep depression, and midnight lowers upon our day; and then a breath of the heavenly wind chases away the fog, and the Sun of Righteousness rises, and the scene is changed. Let us have the favour of God, and all our troubles are less than nothing.

That is what we can experience now through Jesus. The LORD will make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD will lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

It’s also why one of the things we talk about a lot at this church is beholding his glory. Our website says, “Our goal whenever we gather as a church is to behold more of him in order to behold our God, who is the true source of all joy and life.” Friends, this is our current reality. It’s partial but significant. We get to behold God’s glory and enjoy his smile right now. It’s what he made us to enjoy, and it’s ours.


But we will enjoy it fully one day. Revelation 21:23 says, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” One day we will see God’s glory fully, and it will deeply satisfy our souls. It will be the most beautiful, soul-satisfying thing we’ve ever seen, and it will make us deeply happy.

One day, we will see the immeasurable riches of our infinite God. We will see Jesus in his glory, and it will be the sight for which we have ached. It will not be satisfying for a moment or two. It will be so profoundly satisfying and beautiful that it will satisfy our souls for eternity. It “will not be momentary or static, but eternal and dynamic — ever clearer and deeper” (David Mathis). As Jonathan Edwards said, “After they have had the pleasure of beholding the face of God millions of ages, it will not grow a dull story; the relish of this delight will be as exquisite as ever.”

That is our hope. That is what we long for. God blesses us by letting us behold his glory, and it deeply satisfies our souls. We get to experience it now, dimly, but we will experience it fully one day, and it will satisfy your soul for eternity.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada