I’m reading in Numbers, the fourth book of the Bible. I don’t recommend Numbers as the place to begin if you’re new to the Bible. There’s a lot that either doesn’t make sense or that makes too much sense and you wonder, How did that get in the Bible?? But once in a while you come upon a sparkling gem of a passage, like Numbers 6:24-26. “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.” I read those beautiful and familiar words this morning. I remembered this as the “Mizpah Benediction”. I wondered why it was called that because I couldn’t find the word “Mizpah” anywhere in or near this passage.
This prompted a little research. I quickly learned that I was wrong. The “Mizpah Benediction” is not in Numbers, it is in Genesis. And It’s not the one that begins. “The Lord bless you and keep you . . . ” It’s the shorter one that goes, “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from another” (Genesis 31:49). There isn’t much of a story behind the Numbers 6 benediction (surely it has a more graceful name?) It just appears at the end of a chapter about shaving heads and wave offerings. The Mizpah benediction on the other hand is part of a well-known story. It’s the story of Jacob, in particular the part about his working for Laban to earn the hand of Rachel in marriage. Jacob and Laban have not behaved honorably toward each other. (I’m leaving out a lot of detail.) Their parting is not a happy one. In fact Laban chases after Jacob to forcibly bring him, Rachel, and much of his property back. When they finally make peace and agree to go their separate ways they build a pillar they call Mizpah. The Hebrew means “watchtower”. (Is that where the Jehovah Witnesses get the name for their magazine?) It’s Laban who speaks the benediction to Jacob: “The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent from each other.” He goes on to say that what he really means is that Jacob had better take good care of his daughters (yes, he was married to two of them) because even though Laban would no longer be able to keep an eye on him, God would. So it’s really more a warning than a blessing.
Don’t know if you’re much interested in all that, but in any case, may I leave you on this glorious Monday morning with these twin benedictions?
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.
The Lord watch between you and me , when we are absent one from another.
Hope we’re not “absent one from another” for long. See you Sunday!
Pastor John Watts