This excerpt from a study done by Chuck Rennie in 2008 is still useful today.
A Theology of Benediction – Part II by Chuck Rennie
Is it proper for our churches to conclude the service with a pronouncement of benediction? Isn’t this practically the same as concluding with a prayer? I intend to argue that it is more like a sermon than a prayer–a pronouncement from the King rather than a request of one believer on behalf of another. It is “a pledge of that divine benevolence which is the source of our salvation.” The nature of the benediction may rightly set this proclamation apart as the true capstone of the sermon.
The nature of a benediction, not unlike a sermon, is twofold: Word and Spirit. In other words, this doctrine takes form within the context of the ministry of the Word. A very interesting example of this twofold relationship is revealed in the example of Balaam in Numbers 22. Balaam, who was a seer, was asked by Balak the king of Moab to curse the Israelites, for he feared them on account of what they had done to the Amorites (22:1-6). However, “God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed'” (v.12). However, Balak tempted Balaam with a bride, thinking that it was for him to decide who to bless and who to curse, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road with a sword drawn (2:13-22). The irony is that Balaam, the ‘professional’ seer, could not see the Lord, yet the donkey could see him and knew not to cross his path (2:23-34). After the LORD had opened Balaam’s eyes the LORD said to him, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak” (v.35). The Lord was zealous to bless his people and Balaam, the minister of the Lord, was only authorized to speak the Word of the Lord–a blessing rather than a curse (22:38; 23:11-12). Balak again sought to persuade Balaam, but he replied, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it” (23:19-20). Again, Balak asked Balaam to forget that he even brought up the matter, saying, “‘Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.’ But Balaam answered Balak, ‘Did I not tell you, saying, All that the LORD says, that I must do’?” (vv.25-26).
Balaam may have thought that the destiny of the nation rested in his hands, but rather it was the angel of the LORD who guaranteed the blessing of his people, in spite of what Balaam may have intended (Num 22:31-35). Therefore, God’s blessing was not dependent upon Balaam’s intentions, but rather upon the LORD’s intentions revealed in his Word. If the LORD had said “bless my people,” Balaam was to pronounce the LORD’s blessing; and that which the LORD speaks necessarily comes to pass.
Another example of the twofold nature of benedictions may be observed in the blessing Jacob pronounced upon Joseph’s sons (Gen 48:14-19). Jacob went out of his way, crossing his hands over one another, to lay his right hand upon Ephraim’s head and his left upon Manasseh (v.14). This concerned Joseph greatly, for Ephraim was the younger of the two (vv.17-18). But Jacob responded, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations” (v.19). How did Jacob, though nearly blind, have the insight to bless Ephraim over Manasseh? It was the Holy Spirit who presided over Jacob’s word of benediction in order to secure the destiny of the covenant line.
In summary, we do not hold the destiny of God’s blessing in our hand. Balak overstated the case when he said of Balaam, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Num 22:6). The examples of both Balaam and Jacob demonstrate that it is only God, by Word and Spirit, who is able to confer his blessings. Balaam and Jacob could only bless those whom the LORD had already set apart for his blessing (22:13; 23:20). Knowing, then, that God had set his blessing upon his people, both Balaam and Jacob could, not merely pray for, but boldly proclaim God’s intention to bless. Balaam was righteous to conclude, “Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it” (23:20).