May God be gracious to us and bless us;
may he make his face shine upon us
The opening words of Psalm 67 echo the priestly blessing found in Numbers 6 and are thus familiar to many of us. Over the centuries these words, originating in the tabernacle worship of ancient Israel, have been used countless times as part of the Christian worship service. Perhaps as you read this verse you imagined yourself standing amongst the congregation and hearing the preacher pronounce the Aaronic benediction with uplifted hands.
May the Lord bless you and protect you;
may the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
may the Lord look with favor on you
and give you peace
In the harsh conditions of the Sinai wilderness, God gave his people this beautiful and succinct promise. Years later, the author of Psalm 67 turned this promise into a prayer for us to take upon our lips time and again as we continually seek His blessing. With these words we ask that God show his favour to us even though we deserve his wrath; we ask that he turn his face towards us in kindness even though our sin calls for God to turn his back on us in judgment.
In the rest of the song, the poet of Psalm 67 expands on his echo of the priestly blessing. In doing so he recalls the promise God first gave to Abraham and later to the people of Israel.
so that your way may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
let the peoples praise you, God…
let the nations rejoice and shout for joy
The temptation for those who are blessed by God is to either become possessive or passive. We may fall into the false thinking that we have in some small way earned a part of God’s blessing and our chests puff up with pride. Jonah is the quintessential example of this. He cherished God’s blessing towards him and his people, but when God commanded he extend this blessing to his enemies, the people of Nineveh, Jonah refused. Why should God show favour to a bunch of sinners like them? We too can fall into the same thinking if we do not understand what grace is.
The other temptation is to become so comfortable in being recipients of God’s blessing that we fail to obey his command to extend this blessing to all peoples. We rejoice in the fact of God’s unmerited blessing on our lives and seek to live in thankfulness to God for this blessing. But in this godly pursuit, we fail to recognize one of the main reasons God blesses us and subsequently we also fail to be the blessing to the nations which we are called to be.
God blesses a particular people so that they might be a blessing to the world. This idea is as old as the world itself. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and given abundant blessing so that they might fill the earth with the glory of God. This pattern repeats itself over and over throughout the history of God’s people.
It is still the pattern today and Psalm 67 is a reminder of this. Next time you hear the priestly blessing pronounced in worship, remember the reason we are a blessed people of God. Remember that the gospel is not a candle to be placed under a bowl, but a torch to be carried to the ends of the earth.