Hello everyone today I would like to introduce to you Carole Anne:
Carole Anne Hallyburton began His Own Heart Ministries as a weekly devotional blog during her days as a graduate student of Christian Education at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary – Charlotte, where she also served as student body president for two years. In addition to her master’s degree from GCTS, Carole Anne holds a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. She teaches ancient Hebrew language, reviews books for B&H Publishing Group, Paraclete Press and Crossway USA. She additionally serves on the Board of Advisors for Bible Journey, LLC, a producer of online curricula for churches, small groups and individuals.
Sometimes it cuts like a knife and breaks a person’s heart.
It tops the proverbial list as one of the most all-at-once difficult things to do.
But then again – at times – it’s the only scriptural thing to do: choosing to respond with grace to a less-than-graceful situation. Consider the source, as my maternal grandmother often said. And let it go. Walk away.
Did you know, in fact, that Jesus Christ set just such an example for us on several New Testament occasions? One in particular involved the fateful decision of the rich young ruler who approached Him in search of eternal life (see Matthew 19:16-30). While Scripture doesn’t record that He did so, I can almost see our Savior concluding the conversation with something like, I’m so sorry you like this, but go your way in peace.
And of course His tantamount demonstration of the principle is seen in His response to those heinous accusers who mucked, taunted, humiliated, abused the Savior in His darkest hour as He hung on the cross. With thorns piercing His head, nails driven heartlessly through His hands and feet – and shouldering a world of false accusations, lest we forget – He asked that God the Father forgive [those accusers], for they know not what they do (Luke 23-24).
Never, ever in my humanity will I begin to possess even the purity that resides in the tip of one of the fingers on those beautiful, nail-scarred hand of Jesus, but the rich young ruler, the cross and several other scenes from Scripture rolled like a film through my mind late last fall. Numbly I turned from the grave of my beloved paternal grandparents. Just two weeks earlier, I had been excited while out with friends to find the ornamental vase on the military headstone empty – I’d waited patiently for several years to place flowers there. Since no one has a legitimate claim on the vase or the stone (Granddaddy earned them himself for his service to America in Tokyo Bay, Japan, during World War II), I went straight from the cemetery, purchased two sprawling, gorgeous bunches of artificial sunflowers and placed them. I wish you could have seen them.
But barely a week passed and my spirit went numb when – again with friends – I found this new bouquet replaced by a mini-poinsettia arrangement. The numbness later gave way to what felt like a knife twisting deeply into my stomach when, ironically, I learned that there was footage of the sunflowers being removed and replaced with the new arrangement. Although what I saw on the footage merely confirmed what I had to that point suspected, it was difficult to fathom there in black and white. Suspicion is simply suspicion until one is faced with undeniable fact; and when a fact what I saw emerges, it devastates.
Been there yourself? No fun, is it? I’ve learned over the years that a spiritually intimate communication system with Jesus can and will go a long way in carrying God’s child through the mire of devastation, betrayal and heartbreak when dreaded suspicion turns to cold hard truth. So take heart: there is a workaround.
But it demands that God’s child make the difficult-yet-deliberate choice to step back from human emotions, grit her teeth, hit her knees and ask Christ to lead the way. It’s a challenge that grows easier for the Christ-follower who has fallen in love with Jesus as opposed to simply loving Jesus out of some obligation. That’s a whole different blog post, though.
By His grace and to His glory, He enabled me to hedge my feelings about the flowers and the frustration and ask for grace to process them all in His way for His purpose. Within the hour, He brought the Aaronic Blessing to mind (Numbers 6:24-26). Also called the Aaronic Benediction, it contains the words used by Aaron and other priests as a sending-forth of Old Testament Israelites from worship services in the tabernacle and is still used to dismiss many of our church services today. Yesterday, however, it was the ancient Hebrew rendering of the passage – in other words, what it meant to its original audience instead of America’s perception of it today – that God had me to apply in response to the situation at hand.
The English rendering of the blessing reads thus:
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
It’s actually a beautiful blessing but it’s also a blessing easily memorized and often recited without much thought. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the English words to get a grasp of their specific Hebrew meanings and images they involve: bless, keep, gracious, grant and peace. Note that I have italicized the transliterations following their Hebrew forms below.
In the passage, the Hebrew verb ברך (barak) is written in its piel conjugation and means to show respect, to bless, at times to kneel. These definitions, though, carry a bit of an abstract flavor; by looking at other words related to the verb, we can find a more concrete interpretation for a more focused phrase. Such words include the nouns ברך (berek) meaning knee and ברכה (berakah) meaning a gift, a present. From this we can see that to bless in this case insinuates the bringing of a gift to another while kneeling out of respect. The extended meaning of this word is to do or to give something of value to another. So we’re actually asking God to bless a person by gifting him or her with something of value.
A nomadic people raising livestock, it was not uncommon for Hebrew shepherds to spend nights in a field with their flocks, away from other Israelites. In order to protect his flock, the shepherd would construct a makeshift fence of thorn bushes or brambles, thereby guarding his flock and creating a literal hedge of protection around them. The Hebrew rendering of thorn is שמיר (shamiyr), which is derived from the verb שמר (shamar), literally meaning to guard, to keep, to protect. Here, then, we’re asking God to place a stalwart hedge of protection around the person of our focus.
While most theologians tend to define grace as unmerited favor, the idea of grace takes on a slightly less abstract meaning in the Aaronic Blessing. The Hebrew verb translated as gracious in the passage is the verb חנן (hhanan) and is often grouped with Hebrew words meaning to heal, to help, to be lifted up, to find refuge, strength and rescue. From a more concrete Hebraic perspective this verb means to provide protection beyond the aforementioned hedge. To obtain protection, a member of a flock typically looks to its shepherd. We are asking Christ – the Good Shepherd – to provide a haven of comfort and safety for the subject of our prayer.
The Hebrew verb שים (siym), means literally to set something or someone down in a fixed and arranged place. Read on to learn the significance of this word within its phrase.
Ah, we have arrived at the final and often most pivotal word of the passage. Our Western culture tends to associate peace simply as an absence of war or strife, but שלום (shalom) as used in this passage has quite a varied meaning. It is derived from the root שלם (shalam) and is generally used in the context of restoring or bringing restoration to one who is missing something needed in his or her life. The verb shalam literally means to make whole or complete. The noun shalom has the more literal meaning of being in a state of wholeness, or being without deficiency. So in the phrase grant you peace, we are asking God to restore the person to physical, emotional and – most importantly by far – spiritual wholeness by setting the person down in a divinely-appointed place for said restoration to happen. That’s something that only He can do.
Now – get this – while Old Testament priests spoke blessings like this one in front of the entire Israelite congregation, the verbal conjugations in the Aaronic Blessing are specifically written in singular form, not plural. In other words, and although the blessing was spoken over a group of many, its phrases were directed at each individual within that group. In the midst of a public gathering, then, the priest recognized and blessed each person in an individual, personal manner.
The irony of this individuality struck me on that autumn evening as I quietly spoke the Hebrew version of Aaronic Blessing while thinking of the poinsettia arrangement, the sunflowers Granny would’ve loved, the ones I’ll always miss.
And – most importantly – the irony struck me as I spoke the words of the passage over the party who replaced the latter arrangement with the former. The words, at their most literal level, translate to English like so:
May God kneel before you, presenting gifts and guarding you closely with a hedge of protection. May His gaze illuminate the wholeness of His being toward you, bringing needed order to your life, giving you comfort and sustenance. May He lift up His wholeness of being and look upon you with love. May He set in place all your mind, body and soul needs – everything – to be whole and complete and restored in and through Him.
It was indeed all-at-once one of the most difficult things to do and the only thing to do: consider the source, then let it go.
Before I walked away.
(A beautiful rendition of The Aaronic Benediction, performed by Joshua Aaron and Misha Goetz, is available for listening here. May it bless you.)
Copyright 2018, Carole Anne Hallyburton. All rights reserved.