“The Blessing” – Virtual Choir Version
By now you have likely seen one or more renditions of the “The Blessing.” Written on February 27 this year by Chris Brown, Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe, and Steven Furtick, it was first presented publicly three days later. Its overwhelmingly positive message has struck a chord with millions of people in this time of fear, confusion, and isolation. All sorts of cover versions have been produced, many of which in the form of virtual choirs, where people from various locations are united through video. The message of the song combined with the smiling faces of people of all ages connecting with one another across cities, countries, and the world, results in a powerful declaration of hope, love, and (obviously) blessing.
I can’t remember when I first heard “The Blessing,” but I didn’t give it much attention as I saw multiple versions popping up on YouTube. The cynical part of me was saying this is just another fad. Being aware of its core biblical message, I felt a little bad thinking this way. I don’t know why but I decided to watch the “Worship Together” virtual choir version (the one provided above). As it played I was getting more and more impacted to the point it brought me to tears. The reason why might surprise you.
Certainly the song is compelling for the reasons I already stated and the production is superb. The way the images of several of the adults were swapped out for children particularly moved me. But there’s still more. It was what they were singing and who was singing it.
The core of the song is the special blessing that God commanded the cohanim (English: the priests) to pronounce over the people of Israel: “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 6:24-26; ESV). God gave these words to a particular people – my people, the Jewish people – a long time ago far away from where I sit as I write this in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Now all these years later, people from the nations of the world are declaring to the world the priestly words of my people – an expression of what God promised our father Abraham about four thousand years ago: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Not all my people would find this as heartwarming as I do. Back in the 1980s, when we lived in Vancouver, BC, I met with an ultra-orthodox rabbi almost every week for about a year. He knew I was a Messianic Jew, but he was open to talk. One time I made a comment about how wonderful it was that non-Jews had brought the truth of the God of Israel to the world. He half agreed. “God yes,” he said. “The Bible no.” While he believed it was good and right for Gentiles to believe in the one true God, the God of Israel, he regarded the Hebrew Scriptures as an exclusive gift to and the sole possession of the Jewish people.
I don’t agree. While God did specifically entrust the scriptures to my people – “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:3) – it was not intended to be kept to ourselves forever. However, it doesn’t help that God-followers from the nations haven’t always handled the scriptures with the care they deserve, not that my own people have always done so either. But I suspect that the rabbi and the majority of Jewish people fail to appreciate the benefits of Jewish Scripture upon and through Christianity due to the ways it has been twisted and disregarded. This is especially the case in how the Bible has been used to justify misrepresenting and abusing the very people to whom it was originally entrusted. The effect of this is so severe that many of our people don’t fully connect with the fact that the God of the Christians is the God of Israel.
That’s why I assume that most Jewish people wouldn’t see what I saw the day I was impacted by “The Blessing.” But for me, at the moment I was able to disregard 2000 years of so-called “Christian” anti-Semitism and see the beautiful thread of God’s goodness and truth that has spread to almost every tribe, nation, and language. Those who at one time had “no hope and were without God in the world” (see Ephesians 2:12) are now carrying the power of the Jewish priestly blessing to that world (including me). Despite the historic wrongs done in Jesus’ name, this song experience captures the true essence of the Messiah’s mission. He entrusted that mission to a small group of Jewish followers, who, contrary to the social, religious, and civil structures of their day, risked their lives to bless the nations in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. And now I can hear our ancient words, sung back to me in English, French, Russian, German, Spanish, Hindi, Swahili, Albanian, Haitian Creole, Amharic, Tagalog, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Dutch, Swedish, Portuguese, and more(!) from all over the globe.
That’s not all. There’s a central aspect of this familiar message that spoke to me as never before. You may have noticed that the song is unusually long. It runs at seven minutes or more. This is mainly due to the second part of the song which begins, “May his favor be upon you / And a thousand generations” and crescendos with “He is for you” repeated over and over again, thereby dramatically emphasizing its positive nature.
How many of us have stopped to think how radical such a sentiment is, seeing that it is coming from an ancient deity? We forget or never realized how different the God of Israel was and is from other supposed gods. Historically the gods weren’t very nice. The purpose of the rituals performed by their subjects were often to appease them in order to avoid arbitrary disaster. The priestly blessing, on the other hand, demonstrates that the heart of the true Master of the Universe desires we have life, safety, goodness, favor, and peace.
Are these not the words we need to hear in these days (and every other kind of day)? Those who grasp the essence of “The Blessing” find hope and light in the midst of despair and darkness. Knowing the central positive disposition of the Creator when his creation is so threatening not only encourages us, but also makes us sources of life to others in the face of sickness and death.
But is God as positively inclined to us all in the ways the song declares? Basically, yes, but not necessarily in every case. For not everyone is on good terms with the God of “The Blessing.” If you are not, you could be. The Messiah came to reconcile us to God, so that we could know his blessing. By taking responsibility for our alienation from him due to sin and looking to Yeshua (Jesus) to restore right relationship with our Father in heaven, we can be truly blessed and be a blessing.
Then there are those who are in right relationship with God yet still have trouble connecting with the overwhelmingly positive nature of “The Blessing”. That’s why some of us need to hear “He is for you!” repeated over and over again. For all sorts of reasons some us have absorbed a great deal of negativity. Add to that the current crisis and all our coping mechanisms crumble. Thankfully, God wants us to have something much more effective than coping mechanisms. He longs for us to know his blessing.