Musing about mission: Psalm 67

Today some notes from an Old Testament passage….. Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us –
so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

Key mission text

This Psalm is often used as a key text in missions because of its focus on the nations and its universal perspective. It is helpful in this context as it reminds us that the whole of Scripture, not just the New Testament speaks of the way that God’s plans are for the whole world and all people.

The Psalm is often understood to be a communal song of thanksgiving. Perhaps used at a harvest festival or as a prayer for God’s blessing. Earlier commentators suggested it was used to celebrate the enthronement of the king.

In the early verses 1-2

Israel sings not just to be blessed but to be a blessing. So that God’s ways will be known on earth. So that God’s salvation will be seen among all nations.

There are echoes here from elsewhere in Scripture:

  • The Priestly blessing in Numbers where God shines his face on us; showing that God’s blessing and God’s presence are inseparable.
  • God’s blessing Abraham in Gen 12:1-2 by which all families on earth will be blessed.
  • Isaiah 40-55 where the proclamation of the Lord’s salvation is to be a revelation to the nations, leading the earth to praise God.

Ultimately, God’s blessing and presence result in God’s ways being known on earth. What do God’s ways and blessing involve? In the light of Psalm 72 we might want suggest that this involves, peace, justice and righteousness.

Then in the central verses 3-5

We have the desire that all people will praise God. They will be glad and sing for joy. Why? Because God rules justly and guides nations.

If the whole Psalm is a chiastic structure (Wikipedia explanation of Chiastic) , then V4 is the central point of the psalm.

God rules the world (that’s one of the key lessons from the Psalms as a whole). And at the heart of God’s rule is the ruler establishing justice; which is the primary responsibility of a monarch (both God and human kings). But only a sovereign God can guide the nations on the earth.

The Psalmist wants all peoples and nations to acknowledge and be thankful for God’s rule.

Finally in v 6-7

Blessing is now seen in practical ways – this psalm might well have been part of a harvest season. If so, God’s blessing will be seen in food and security. Perhaps, tying v4 & 6 together we might say that God wills justice for all including the equitable distribution of the earth’s harvest.

And again – the ends of the earth will fear God.

What do we learn?

John Piper suggests in a talk / article

  • God’s plan is to be known v2
  • God plan is to be praised v3
  • God’s plan is to be enjoyed v4
  • God’s plan is to be feared v7

Making God’s ways known involves justice (equity, right relationship)

Making salvation known brings joy

pexels-photo-5533422The Psalm also helps us to reflect that God’s plan is for all nations to praise him and worship him, to recognise his sovereignty. Mission isn’t therefore primarily about meeting needs but about seeing God’s praise extended. As Piper would put it, “mission exists because worship doesn’t”*.

Things to ponder?

  • When God blesses us, it is so that we can be a blessing. (How do we understand blessing? Is it in material terms of health, wealth, happiness or in terms of God’s presence with us, keeping us in right relationship with him and with others?)
  • God blesses us so that others can see him more clearly, so that people will see that the way to salvation is in God.
  • How is God blessing you? How can you be a blessing to others?

Note: many of these thoughts are taken from J Clinton McCann’s commentary of the Psalms in the New Interpreters Bible series, vol IV

*While Piper’s focus on God and God’s sovereignty is good, our understanding of mission also needs to take account of God’s love, his ‘sending’ of his Son and of us. While I dislike language of a “missionary God” there is something about the character of God that is expressed in sending, sharing and reaching out.

Photos by FRANK MERIÑO from Pexels

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