Theme: God’s Shining Countenance upon Us
This week’s lessons teach us of God’s gracious intention to call a people for himself from every nation, and of our great privilege and responsibility to make the gospel of Christ known to them.
Scripture: Psalm 67:1-7
When a section of a psalm begins and ends with a similar verse, phrase or emphasis, scholars call it an inclusio. This is a literary device that sets the included subject matter apart and gives it emphasis. We have two such “inclusions” in this psalm, one within another. The second, middle, stanza is set apart in this way and is the clearest example because it begins and ends with the same verse: “May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you” (vv. 3, 5). The less apparent example is the psalm itself which begins and ends with the prayer that God might bless Israel and that the God of Israel might be known and feared among the Gentiles (vv. 1, 7).
The Aaronic blessing. The language of verse 1 is drawn from the great Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6. Numbers is an important part of the law which God gave Moses to give to the Jewish people during the years of their desert wandering after they left Egypt, and part of it is this blessing. The text says that God told Moses to have Aaron bless the people, saying, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (vv. 24-26).
A shining face is the opposite of an angry or scowling face, and a face turned toward someone is the opposite of a face turned away in indifference or disgust. A shining face implies favor, the favor of the one whose face is shining, and it implies the friendliness of warm personal relationships too. So what is meant by this blessing is something more than what we normally think of when we ask God to “bless us.” Usually all we mean is that we want God to help us to succeed at something or enable us to make money or give us the job, house or car we desire. But while such forms of material blessing are not excluded by the Aaronic benediction, they are only part of it and a lesser part at that. The great part, the all-desirable part is that God would himself enter into a gracious personal relationship with his people.
This is what real blessing is, of course, if we think of it in a right manner. As I implied above, we usually think that God has blessed us if we get to be rich. But Jesus overthrew that narrow, selfish idea of blessing when he asked the crowds pointedly, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul” (Mk. 8:36)? If spiritual blessing, which is to know God, does not lie at the base of all our blessings, including the possession of material things and of a happy life, then these other blessings are hollow and may even be a dangerous deception and a snare. On the other hand, to know God and be favored by God is the greatest blessing anyone can experience either in this life or afterward.
This, then, is the blessing alluded to in the opening sentence of Psalm 67. But it is not the only psalm that does this. The Aaronic benediction found in Numbers 6:22-27 is echoed in several other psalms, such as Psalms 4:6; 29:11; 31:16; and 80:3, 7, 55. The only significant variation from the original benediction is that in Psalm 67 the speaker identifies himself with those who are to receive the blessing: “bless us” rather than “bless you.”
Gentile salvation. The point I have been making, that the shining face of God is to be thought of as God’s entering into a personal, gracious relationship with his people, is made abundantly clear in verse 2. For the purpose of the blessing on Israel is that “your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations,” that is, that the Gentiles may come to possess the same blessing possessed by Israel, which is to know God. Or to put it in other words, it is that the nations of the world might come to hear and believe the gospel and so be saved.
Define inclusio. What makes up the inclusio in our psalm?
Where does the language in verse 1 come from?
What’s the significance of a “shining face”? Describe the real blessing of the Aaronic benediction.
What does the phrase “salvation among all nations” teach?
Read Genesis 12:1-3. What blessings does God promise Abraham? Why does he receive these blessings (v. 3)? How does this passage teach the same thing as Psalm 67?
What things would you list as blessings you’ve received from God? Is your relationship with God on that list? Where does it rank?
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Numbers: An Overview.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)