Shepherd My Sheep

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:22-27 ESV

At this point, God switches His focus back to Aaron and his sons, whom He had appointed to serve as priests. Aaron was the older brother of Moses (Exodus7:7) and had served at his sibling’s side ever since the days when God commissioned them to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. Moses was the God-appointed deliverer but Aaron was to serve as his brother’s mouthpiece.

“Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. – Exodus 4:14-16 ESV

In those days, Moses had been living in the land of Midian, having left Egypt out of fear for his life. In an attempt to protect a Jewish slave from mistreatment by an Egyptian, Moses inadvertently killed the oppressor and was forced to run for his life. It was while he was in Midian that he received God’s call to deliver the people of Israel. And, at the same time, Aaron, who was still living in Egypt, received his own divine commission to come to his brother’s aid.

The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. – Exodus 4:27-31 ESV

Later in the book of Genesis, Moses records the point at which God set apart Aaron and his sons to serve as priests. This was long after the people of Israel had made their miraculous escape from slavery in Egypt.

“Call for your brother, Aaron, and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Set them apart from the rest of the people of Israel so they may minister to me and be my priests. – Exodus 28:1 NLT

These men were given the privilege and responsibility of serving as God’s mediators and ministers. Their role was defined by God and could not be performed by anyone else in the Israelite community. As members of the tribe of Levi, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar were doubly set apart. They were part of the Levitical cast whom God had chosen to serve in the place of all the firstborn males of Israel, but they were also the clan that would serve as priests within the tabernacle of God. And God ordered Moses to perform an elaborate ceremony that would consecrate them for their new role as His servants.

“Present Aaron and his sons at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and wash them with water. Dress Aaron in his priestly garments—the tunic, the robe worn with the ephod, the ephod itself, and the chestpiece. Then wrap the decorative sash of the ephod around him. Place the turban on his head, and fasten the sacred medallion to the turban. Then anoint him by pouring the anointing oil over his head. Next present his sons, and dress them in their tunics. Wrap the sashes around the waists of Aaron and his sons, and put their special head coverings on them. Then the right to the priesthood will be theirs by law forever. In this way, you will ordain Aaron and his sons.” – Exodus 29:4-9 NLT

God went on to tell Moses that Aaron and his sons would serve as priests for perpetuity. Unlike a Nazirite, whose service to God was voluntary and temporary, the Aaronic priesthood came with a mandatory and lifelong commitment.

“Yes, I will consecrate the Tabernacle and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will live among the people of Israel and be their God, and they will know that I am the Lord their God. I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:44-46 NLT

As priests, their role was essential in maintaining the holiness of God’s people. One of their primary responsibilities was to offer sacrifices to God in the tabernacle, ensuring that the sins of the people were atoned for so that God’s presence would remain within their midst.

“Whereas Nazirites generally undertook their vows for a short period, the priests were always there pronouncing this blessing at the close of the daily morning service in the temple and later in the synagogues.” – Gordon J. Wenham, “Aaron’s Rod (Numbers 17:16-28).” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 93:2 (1981):280-81.

After providing the requirements concerning the Nazirite vow of service, God ordered Aaron and his sons to pronounce a blessing on the people of Israel. This three-fold blessing was not intended to be a one-and-done event. In prescribing the exact wording of the blessing, God was giving Aaron and his sons an outline for determining all future blessings. God was revealing His heart for the people of Israel and was delegating to His priests the authority to speak on His behalf.

“Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.” – Numbers 6:27 NLT

These men were to love the people under their care in the same way that God did. They were to be servant-shepherds, calling down the blessings of God upon the flock over which He had given them responsibility. They were to view their commission as a gift from God and a high and holy calling.

“But only you and your sons shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and what is inside the veil, and you are to perform that service. I am giving you the work of the priesthood as a gift…” – Numbers 18:7 BSB

The apostle Peter shared similar words with the elders who served the congregation to whom he wrote.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.– 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

God gave His priests the authority to “bless” His sheep. They were ordered to pronounce a divinely inspired promise of future blessing upon a people who were preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

“May the Lord bless you
    and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26 NLT

“This blessing, like the preceding Nazirite legislation, deals with the purification of Israel. As the nation prepared to move out toward the Promised Land, God gave this benediction to the priests to offer for the sanctification of the people. God’s will was to bless all His people, not just the Nazirites. The priests were the mediators of this blessing from God to the Israelites.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Numbers

For the people of Israel to enjoy God’s protection, grace, favor, and peace, they would need to remain holy and pure. And that would only happen if the priests carried out their God-ordained assignment to shepherd the people well. By dictating the content of the blessing, God was providing His undershepherds with a glimpse into His heart. The prophet Isaiah painted a vivid picture of Great Shepherd’s gentle and caring demeanor.

He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads the nursing ewes. – Isaiah 40:11 BSB

And Aaron and his sons were to “bless” the people in the same way. Words would not be enough. Saying it would be insufficient. In a way, God was demanding that His priests be the conduits through which His protection, grace, favor, and peace flowed. And if they did their job faithfully and rightly, the presence of God would remain within the camp of Israel, and the people of God would be blessed. But if they failed, the people would suffer.

Years later, long after the people of Israel had conquered and populated the land of Canaan, the priests of Israel would fail to do their jobs and bring down His wrath rather than His blessing. And He would indict them for their dereliction of duty.

“The shepherds of my people have lost their senses. They no longer seek wisdom from the LORD. Therefore, they fail completely, and their flocks are scattered.” – Jeremiah 10:21 NLT

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for…” – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

And the prophet Ezekiel provides a stinging rebuke from God against the derelict shepherds of Israel.

“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 ESV

Rather than providing protection, grace, favor, or peace, God’s shepherds had fleeced the flock of God. They had abused, used, and abandoned God’s people, bringing down curses rather than blessings. And God held them responsible.

So, when God ordered Aaron and his sons to bless the people, He was expecting far more than just lip service. He was demanding actions in keeping with the words.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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