Saturday, October 27, 2012

The LORD be with you: Blessing, promise, and the Savior

The LORD be with you.
And also with you. 
These words are familiar to Christians who worship with the ancient liturgical words passed down through the ages and down to us today. But the history behind these words tells us something about God, and how the people thought of God, and how the early Christians saw Jesus.

The Torah tells of God himself traveling with the tribes of Israel as they came out of Egypt, as they went through the wilderness, as they came into the land where once Abraham had lived. The presence of God was part of their idea of blessing, and of revelation, and of who they were as a people. So it is not surprising that we see the presence of God adopted as a greeting:
And behold Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, "The LORD be with you." And they answered him, "The LORD bless you." (Ruth 2:4)
That idea -- the idea of God's being with his people -- was mentioned time and again over the history of ancient Israel. I have selected only a short list of examples, but these should give some idea:
Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin; The LORD is with you, while you are with him; and if you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will forsake you. (2 Chronicles 15:2)

Who is there among you of all his people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem ... (Ezra 1:3)
Seek good, and not evil, that you may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as you have spoken. (Amos 5:14)
The Talmud says that this blessing -- the Lord being with his people -- became a standard part of the Jewish liturgy at the Temple in ancient times. That may be how the words passed on into the Christian liturgy.
At the conclusion of the Benedictions said in the Temple ... it was also laid down that greeting should be given in the Name, in the same way as it says, "And behold Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, "The LORD be with you," and they answered him, "The LORD bless you." (Berachoth 54a, older Mishnah portion)
 It was early in the Christian church that this greeting was also adopted by Christians:
The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16). 

But here, in the letter to the Thessalonians, it seems likely that the "Lord" Paul speaks of is Jesus; he has been referring to Jesus as Lord throughout the letter. This blessing is given in another form fairly often in the New Testament:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (Romans 16:20, Romans 16:24, I Corinthians 16:23*, Philippians 4:23, 1 Thessalonians 5:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:18, Revelation 22:21)
There are some variations of the words in other places, but this isn't intended to be a catalog. This is simply to show that, early in the Christian church, the Jewish greeting "The LORD be with you" was adapted to speak of Jesus as Lord. This blessing may have been an early part of Christian worship: in all of the verses but one referenced above, the blessing is directly followed by "Amen." (*I Corinthians 16:23 is the exception, where it is simply "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all" without the "Amen".) The general use of the same blessing followed by "Amen" so often, and from more than one author, suggests that the blessing was in common use.

So far we have looked at "The Lord be with you as a greeting and a blessing." Back in the days of the Israelite prophets, sometimes the prophets also record God speaking of himself in that way, with a promise to be with his people:
Be strong, all you people of the land, says the LORD, and work: for I am with you. (Haggai 2:4)
The Great Commission records Jesus speaking very similar words.
I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
That is not a claim someone would make if he thought himself only a prophet, rabbi, or sage. It is not a claim his followers would have attributed to him, if they saw him as only a prophet, rabbi, or sage. He is recorded as speaking of himself in the same way that the LORD did. The statement assumes a certain eternity about Jesus, to make a promise of that nature. It speaks of the early church's confidence in Jesus' resurrection and continued existence, that they should take that promise to heart. And it is yet one more instance when the church showed a very high view of Jesus -- and attributed that view to Jesus' own words.


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks. Once again, you have enlightened me on a subject that I hadn't thought about.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thank you for the encouragement.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF