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May 5, 2013
Psalm 67

Psalm 67 is a Psalm of national thanksgiving. There is a hint of a harvest context in v. 6 or the references to the nations could suggest some ancient New Year festival (at such times Israel was exhorted to be joyful, cf. Deut. 16:15; Lev. 23:40). Beyond this the context is unclear. The psalm is full of petitions although of a general nature. The psalm continues themes from Psalms 65 and 66. Verse 1 recalls the Aaronic blessing (Num. 6.25) often used in Christian worship or prayer while the refrain (vv. 3, 5) may also be familiar to many. Variation in the tense of the verbs in the psalm also creates ambiguity. Verse 6a, which is in the past, stands alongside several future petitions. The psalm could anticipate ongoing thanksgiving as well as thankfulness for past blessings.

The Psalm begins in vv. 1-2 by attending not to human experience but to God and to God’s grace. It is God’s grace and presence that precedes reference to human activity. Reference to ‘his face’ (v. 1) speaks of God acknowledging ‘us’, as distinct from being turned away. It also indicates that what is normally hidden from human sight is revealed and in a beneficial way (‘shine on us’). Compare the Sinai story where Moses was not permitted to see the face of God (Exod 33:12-23). The purpose of this blessing is that humans may be agents in the world of divine blessing (v. 2). Without this deep sense of purpose, any desire of ours for blessing lacks legitimacy. We know the greatest blessing of God for ourselves when we experience being a blessing to someone else.

The fact that God not only acknowledges us but causes divine light to shine upon us meets the need of the faithful to see things as God sees them. This divine light that shines on us makes known the way of God. This ‘way’ encompasses the idea of divine ‘will’ but is a much richer notion. Life with God is far more than obeying a set of rules to please a distant God; rather it is a dynamic journey of faith in the company of God in which the way of God is made known as we go. All nations are to witness the way of God, the ‘saving power’ of God, in the journey of the faithful. We might often understand God’s saving power (v. 2) in terms of deliverance from some threat or enemy. However, we might be wise to think of this divine ‘saving power’ in terms of transforming love, as suggested by the Gospel story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

Out of a sense of the equity of God as judge, the psalmist is lifted up with a sense of joy in God offering and calling for praise in song (vv. 3-5). The refrain in vv. 3 and 5 encloses the call to earth to praise God who judges and guides the nations with equity. It is difficult to know whether some human experience of the community of Israel lies behind the writer’s affirmation of divine justice and equity, or whether it is only repetition of an ideal concept. For the modern reader, this affirmation raises some questions. One is whether the idea of God as judge has meaning any longer. But the notion of God as judge also brings to mind questions of what is appropriate human action, how is that determined and on what basis can anyone speak out against injustice of any kind. It establishes a point of reference outside human power and authority. In this sense the notion of God as judge not only has significance but is an imperative in our world.

Finally, in the concluding section of the psalm, vv. 6-7, the psalmist reveals what has prompted their call to the peoples to praise God and for God to bless them. God has already blessed them in terms of a good harvest, of wheat and barley, grape and olive and fig etc. (v. 6). Thanksgiving for the fruit of the earth is an important aspect of acknowledging our creatureliness and dependence in life. The parallelism in v. 6 clearly shows that the psalmist considers the increase of harvest as a divine blessing. God is to be seen in the workings of all creation, even though nature and the weather will not always produce the expected harvest. The challenge to the faithful is to perceive the blessing of God even in circumstances that are painful rather than fruitful. The hope of the faithful is that God will continue to bless in all aspects of life, all people and creatures.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

The refrain in vv. 3 and 5 could be used by itself as a call to worship. Alternatively, vv. 3-5 could be used as a responsive call to worship:

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
Verses 1-2 could also be adapted slightly as a final blessing in the service:
May God be gracious to you and bless you
and make his face to shine upon you,
that God’s way may be known upon earth,
God’s saving power among all nations.
And the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Spirit,
Be upon you now and forever.
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