Saturday, August 10, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 67

Psalm 67 begins with a request: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us.” This verse is reminiscent of the blessing in Numbers 6:24-25 (“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.”), which is part of a formal liturgical benediction spoken by the Israelite priests upon the people. Psalm 67, then, seems to be both a prayer and a meditation based on and flowing from this benediction. It is a prayer for the whole world, for both Israel and the Gentile nations, that God may bless them and that they might know Him as He is. It is also a meditation on exactly what is means to be blessed by God.

Let's begin by taking a close look at the opening verse: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face to shine upon us.” The Hebrew word for “be gracious” is chânan, which suggests bestowing mercy, pity, and favor. The psalmist is asking God to pour His favor down upon Israel. To show them His mercy. To take pity on their weakness. He also requests God's blessing (Hebrew bârak). The verb form used in this verse is intensive. The requested blessing is to be strong, powerful, and profound. Finally, the psalmist longs for God's “face to shine upon us.” He desires the intense light of God to illuminate Israel. God's light comes from within His being. He is light itself, and wonderful things happen when that Light shines upon His people. They come to know Him better. They see themselves more clearly. They grow in understanding of the divine plan. They make better choices, conforming their lives to the Light that shines upon them. If their hearts are open to God's light, they become closer to the people He intends them to be.

In the next verse, the psalmist explains why he is asking for this blessing: “that Your way may be known upon earth, Your saving power among all nations.” Israel, God's firstborn, is a priestly, prophetic, and kingly older brother to the Gentiles, and Israel's blessing reveals God to the whole world. By observing Israel, the nations see God's way (Hebrew derek – course of life, manner, habit, character) and God's saving power (Hebrew yeshû‛âh – salvation, deliverance, victory, health, prosperity). They learn Who God is and what He does for His people. Eventually, too, they will behold God's ultimate yeshû‛âh, Yeshuah, Joshua, Jesus, the Savior of the world, Who comes out of Israel to bring all people back to God.

In verse 3, the psalmist pleads, “Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.” The psalmist longs for fulfillment, for the whole world to know and worship God as Israel does. The plea continues in verse 4: “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy...” Let the Gentiles rejoice (Hebrew śâmach) and give a ringing cry (Hebrew rânan in its intensive form). May they respond to God just as Israel is called to do. Why? Because God judges “the peoples with equity” and guides “the nations upon earth.” God treats all people with fairness when He judges. He is perfectly righteous, perfectly just. Further, He is in control. He governs (Hebrew nâchâh) all people, guiding them and leading them. The psalmist prays that the Gentiles will recognize these truths and give God the praise and worship due to Him. He is intent upon his prayer, repeating his plea in verse 5: “Let all the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.”

Verse 6 reminds the Israelites, and everyone else, that God has already blessed them: “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.” The Israelites have tasted the good things of this world, which they recognize as signs of God's favor. They have received abundance from their God (notice the possessive pronoun; the Israelites claim God as their own).

The psalm ends with a two-part prayer that sums up the previous verses: “May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere Him.” May God still bless Israel, and may that blessing lead the rest of the world to turn to Him with proper respect and worship that they, too, may receive His blessing. 

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