Wellbeing in the Wilderness (Numbers 6:22-27)

Sinai desert

Big Idea: It may not feel like it, but we can experience God’s blessing even in the wilderness.

I want to take you back with me some three thousand years.

You are in the desert. You’re one of 600,000 people trying to get by in a very inhospitable place. It’s like the worst camping trip ever. I love camping as much as anyone, but one of the best parts of camping is going home and enjoying the comforts of home.

But this is like the camping trip that never ends. The trip was supposed to be two weeks long, but it has turned into a forty-year journey. However, our kids, not us, will be the ones to reach the final destination.

I want you to imagine being with me on a particular day that’s not a very good one. You’re hot. It’s close to 30 degrees Celsius. You think back to before you entered the wilderness. Life was tough then, but at least you had better food. There’s not much water around, and you’re thirsty.

This is your life. This isn’t a temporary setback that you will overcome. Things will never get better than this for you. You will spend your whole life moving tents and recalling your last delicious meal from a long time ago while struggling to survive in the wilderness. Eventually, you will die. This is your life, and it’s never going to get better.

But that morning you’re close enough to see Aaron, the high priest, raise his hands over you, and hear him bellow these words:

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.
(Numbers 6:22-27)

The tension we might feel is: this blessing sounds great, but what does it mean when you're living in the wilderness waiting to die? What is the meaning of God protecting us, shining his face upon us, and giving us peace in the middle of the wilderness?

We're going through Aaron's blessing in this series. We've been studying these words that have been used for thousands of years, given by God as a blessing to his people. God promises to provide and protect us in the wilderness. He comforts us by showing us his face and being gracious to us. We’re going to continue exploring what this means as we look at the third line of the blessing today.

But, at some point, we have to face this tension. This blessing seems way too exalted for our circumstances. Life was tough in the wilderness as they first heard this blessing, and it’s going to be tough for some of us to hear this blessing too.

A Summary of the Blessing

Let's quickly remember what the blessing is about.

It's only three lines. Each line builds on the one before. It starts with a trickle and builds to a crescendo. It goes from 3 to 5 to 7 Hebrew words.

In each of the three lines, God is the subject. He takes action. We are the recipients. And the action he takes is essentially that he has a favorable attitude towards us:

  • He blesses
  • He makes his face shine
  • He lifts up his face upon us

That’s the first part of each line.

The second part wishes that God does something positive for us:

  • He protects
  • He’s gracious — not just in attitude, but in terms of taking action for us in a gracious way
  • He gives wellbeing

This is God’s heart for us. And because of who God is, the always accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish. This is what he intends to accomplish in our lives.

Today we’re looking at the third line of the blessing in which God lifts us face upon us. It’s the opposite of God turning his face away from us. In other words, God looks at us favorably. He looks at me favorably. If you are in Jesus Christ, he looks at you favorably too.

Pause there. I can’t quite get my head around this.

There’s a paragraph in Marilynne Robinson’s book Gilead. The main character is a preacher, and he says this:

I had a dream once that I was preaching to Jesus Himself, saying any foolish thing I could think of, and He was sitting there in His white, white robe looking patient and sad and amazed. That’s what it felt like.

I can relate to that, can’t you? I think that’s how many of us picture God looking at our lives: patient, sad, and amazed. Deep down, we feel that God must be deeply disappointed in us at best.

But God comes along and says that he looks favorably upon his people. He doesn’t look upon us with disappointment. He’s not shaking his head sadly when he looks at you. He looks at you favorably. His heart is one of favor and delight in you. That’s what the first part of the third line tells us.

Christian, this is how God sees you. Spurgeon puts it well:

You know that he is not frowning upon you. He is reconciled unto you; you are reconciled unto him … as God looks upon Christ, and upon you in Christ, you are well beloved in him. Well now, as it has been, so it shall be; for if God once makes his face to shine in the sense of his favour, he never takes that favour away. You may not see it; you may think he is angry with you, and in another sense he may be; but legally, and so far as concerns the law and its power of condemnation, there is not a single thought of anger in the mind, or feeling of displeasure in the heart, of God towards any one of those who rest in Jesus.
You are accepted in the Beloved. God seeth no sin in Jacob, neither iniquity in Israel. As he looks upon them in his Son, he sees them without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.

This is how God looks at you today if you are in Christ Jesus.

This leads to the second part of the third line of the blessing: “the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” God doesn’t just look favorably on you. There’s more. He gives you peace: shalom, which is not just the absence of conflict but “fullness of life and wholeness in all areas of life: material, familial, societal, and religious” (Timothy Ashley).

That’s the blessing. God is moving toward you favorably through Jesus Christ. He is blessing you, and he looks at you with delight. He’s acting in your life to protect you, bless you, and give you wellbeing. This is his heart for you.

It does lead to the question, though: what does this look like in the wilderness?

What Wellbeing Looks Like Now

I’m only going to give you a partial answer today. We’ll return to this again in two weeks and I’ll give you the rest of the answer.

Whatever this blessing means, it does not mean an absence of trouble. Right now, some of you are going through excruciating realities. You, too, are in the wilderness. You may not feel like God’s blessing is on your life. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, there may not be much hope that things will get better in the future. The realities of life can be harsh.

This blessing does not mean the absence of suffering. But it does mean that we can experience the reality of God’s favor and a sense of wellbeing and wholeness even in the middle of our suffering. These are realities that we can experience at the same time as we go through the harsh realities of life.

Here’s the reality: we will only experience the blessing that God promises partially right now. There is a day that we will be out of the wilderness when we will experience the fullness of every blessing promised in this blessing. That day is coming. Part of the tension we feel is that we will never experience the fullness of this blessing right now. We will experience it fully one day.

But we can experience, imperfectly and yet meaningfully, the realities of this blessing today in the wilderness.

What it involves is something that we learned a few months ago as we looked at Hebrews. Hebrews 11 talks about a kind of double vision. It lists a bunch of people who lived pretty difficult lives. On one hand, they looked at their problems full on. They didn’t deny them at all. They looked at calamities, unfulfilled promises, insurmountable obstacles, opposition, and all kinds of suffering. They didn’t deny them. They weren’t immune to these harsh realities. Life was hard, and they knew it.

But their spiritual double vision allowed them to see another reality: that they had “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, they saw with eyes of faith realities that you can’t see with your actual eyes. There are realities that are as true as what you see with your own two eyes, but you can only see them through the eyes of faith.

That means that you can be in the wilderness and know that God is for you. You can look at the sin in your life and also see God’s favorable disposition toward you. You can go through real suffering and yet know deep, abiding wellbeing, not because your life is problem-free, but in the middle of the problems that you’re going through in your life.

There are spiritual realities that are true even in the wilderness that you can only see with the eyes of faith.

Let me give you an example from later in Scripture.

When Jesus preached his most famous sermon, he began by identifying who is blessed in this world. “Blessed” is not just a spiritual term. Blessed means to be so favored by God that you’re happy and that you consider yourself fortunate.

And who, according to Jesus, is blessed? Not the rich who have it all now, or the happy who are content with themselves, or the arrogant, or the sophisticated. Those who are blessed are those who poor in spirit, who mourn for sin, who are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who make peace and are persecuted.

How does this make sense? It makes sense because there’s something even better than a problem-free, good life. There’s something better than five-star hotels, wealth, power, and prestige. There’s something that can bring deep peace even in the cancer ward or the funeral home. It’s something that a lot of people who have it all don’t have. It’s knowing that God is for you, that he will never leave you even in the deepest trial. It’s knowing that he’s using even your trials in the wilderness to accomplish something, even if you’re not sure what that is. It’s knowing that you are held in God’s hand no matter what happens to you.

So you can look at your trails on the one hand. Look at them without minimizing them or denying them in any way. And, on the other hand, look at this blessing, and know that every word of it is true even in the wilderness. It may not feel like it, but we can experience God’s blessing even in the wilderness.

Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed in a swimming accident when she was 17 years old. She’s lived in a wheelchair now for almost 60 years. For a while, she really wanted out of her wheelchair, but now she praises God for not healing her.

She says:

Does God miraculously heal? Sure, he does. But in this broken world, it’s still the exception, not the rule. A “no” answer to my request for a miraculous physical healing has meant purged sin, a love for the lost, increased compassion, stretched hope, an appetite for grace, an increase of faith, a happy longing for heaven, a desire to serve, a delight in prayer, and a hunger for his Word. Oh, bless the stern schoolmaster that is my wheelchair!
It’s all to the praise of deeper healing in Christ.

Can God change your circumstances? Sure. But you can experience the blessing of Numbers 6 even in the wilderness. You can know that God is providing for you and protecting you, that he is favorable toward you. You can experience a deep sense of wellbeing even in a wheelchair or wherever you are, because you are seeing what human eyes can’t: that he is at work in your life, and that he loves you, and he will bring you safely home.

Lord, thank you for Jesus, in whom all of these promises become true. Thank you that because we are in him, you look upon us with favor.

Please give us this double vision. Help us to see not only our troubles in the wilderness, but also your blessing. And then, Lord, bring us safely home. In Christ’s name. Amen.

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