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It may be tempting to summarize this psalm as saying something like “praise God, everybody!” While it is certainly saying more than this, it is absolutely not saying anything less than this. And even this glorious exhortation has to have the ramifications fleshed out some more.
“God be merciful to us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us . . .” (Psalm 67:1-7).
Summary of the Text
We begin, as sinners always must, with a plea for mercy (v. 1). May God be merciful and bless us, and make His face to shine upon us (v. 1). This is a plea for the Aaronic blessing to be realized (Num. 6:25). The result of God’s blessing is that His way becomes known on the earth (v. 2), and His salvation spreads through all nations (v. 2). Let all the people praise God (v. 3). The nations should be glad and sing for joy, because God governs righteously (v. 4). The exhortation to praise God from v. 3 is then repeated (v. 5). As a result, the earth will yield her increase under the blessing of God (v. 6). God will in fact bless the world, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him (v. 7).
This psalm is clearly a seven-part chiasm:
A prayer for God to bless (v. 1);
God’s ways will be known (v. 2);
Let the people praise Him (v. 3);
Let the nations sing for joy (v. 4);
Let the people praise Him (v. 5);
God’s ways will be fruitful (v. 6);
A prayer for God to bless (v. 7).
His Face to Shine
God is personal. Salvation is personal. The world around you is governed personally. You are not in the midst of impersonal machinery, grinding away. The Aaronic blessing sees blessing as God beaming at you (Num. 6:25). This is a common way of understanding blessing in Scripture. A plea for salvation is cast in the form of a request to have God’s face shine (Ps. 31:16). The sovereignty of God in turning us back to Him is described three times in a row as Him making His face to shine upon us (Ps. 80:3,7,19). Teaching one of His servants His holy statutes is said to be an instance of making His face to shine (Ps. 119:15). The restoration of His sanctuary is described this way (Dan. 9:17). And never forget that when the Lord Jesus was discussing His great redemptive work that was approaching in Jerusalem, on the mountain of transfiguration, His face was shining. May the Lord’s face shine upon you.
Jews Up in Front
It is not the case that the Old Testament was for Jews, and then God decided to be a little more expansive in the New Testament, letting everybody worship Him. There were changes in the New
Testament, but that was not the nature of them. What changed was the potency of the international invitation, not the reality of it.
The Jews were the chosen nation, not in the sense of election to Heaven, but in the sense of a chosen pupil, selected to come to the front of the class to show the rest of the class how the problem was to be solved. When that student does well, he is blessed. When he messes up, he messes up in front of everybody. But the whole class is involved. Remember Melchizedek, and Jethro, and Namaan, and the residents of Nineveh, and all the Gentiles who were invited to the court of the Gentiles in the Temple.
If God does not make His ways known to us, we will walk in our own ways. But our own ways are covered in darkness. We are blind and lost. We no longer know the difference between up and down, black and white, male and female, or positive numbers and negative numbers. If God does not make His ways known to us, then we will not know them. If God does not reveal Himself to us, then we are shrouded in darkness—we are struck with a stupor, with a judicial blindness. This is not a matter of intelligence or mental rpms. This is a relational and moral reality—remember that the universe we live in is personal. Remember that you cannot like the world as it is without liking the one who made it that way. Remember also that you cannot reject Him without trying to turn the world into something else. That something else is, ultimately, the outer darkness—the one place where the Lord’s face does not shine at all.
So look at how these two parts in the chiasm match up. May the Lord make His ways known (v. 2). May the earth yield her increase (v. 6). This shows us how the right kind of knowledge is fruitful knowledge—not the vain kind that puffs up, but rather the knowledge of love, which builds up. Sin caused God to curse the ground in the first place, and grace causes God to ameliorate the effects of the curse. I had the privilege this last week to ride a combine for a bit over the Palouse hills—and had an up-close perspective on the goodness of Jesus Christ. And this is not limited to the blessings of earthly harvests either (although we should not exclude those). Educational harvests, vocational harvests, financial harvests, and spiritual and covenantal harvests are all included.
Nations Singing for Joy
The center of the chiasm highlights the point of the psalm—what is the psalmist wanting us to make central?
The nations should sing, not for amusement, not formally, and not for show. The nations are invited to sing for joy. This means that you sing because you are afraid you might burst a blood vessel if you don’t. You sing as a means of venting your heart. You sing to keep from blowing up.
And what is the cause of this kind of joy? What is the cause of this kind of joy throughout all the Gentile nations? It is the fact that the Lord governs. God judges the people righteously. When we use the word judge here, think of the book of Judges. When judges arose, it was to deliver the people. When judgment comes, the earth is put to rights. When God governs the nations upon the earth, the result is not described as mayhem for sinners, but rather as goodness, and mercy, and forgiveness, and peace, and kindness for sinners. The hills drip fatness.