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Psalm 67

Of all the talk I hear regarding news of the country and of the world, by sheer volume two characteristics stand out most prominently. The first is fear: fear of terrorism, fear about the outcome of upcoming elections, fear of loss of privilege for the church in the US; and the list goes on. The second characteristic generally stems from fear but comes out as what I term angry aggression. I hear phrases like “carpet bombing,” “get them before they get us,” “get them out and keep them out,” or any number of comments, many of which aren’t appropriate for this forum! This angry aggression is expressed not only in regard to political and social issues but also toward others who practice their Christian faith differently. Much of the talk surrounding world, national, regional and religious issues flows directly from a perspective of “us” versus “them.”

Psalm 67 offers a word that our world desperately needs to hear. More pointedly, Psalm 67 offers a word that the church, the Body of Christ on earth, desperately needs to hear: God is God of the whole earth and God intends blessing for all peoples of the world.

The structure of the psalm presents a striking picture of its focus:

A vv. 1-2 – Request for blessing to extend to all the earth

B v. 3 – refrain calling for all peoples to praise God

C v. 4 – God is sovereign over all the earth

B’ v. 5 – refrain calling for all peoples to praise God

A’ vv. 6-7 – Request for blessing to extend to all the earth

The opening couplet of verse 1 recalls the Aaronic or priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27. In these two brief lines, Israel was drawn to remember their deliverance and calling as God’s covenant people. God’s blessing upon Israel was evidenced by deliverance from slavery and into the land of promise. But this blessing is not simply an objective gift, but “the active help of God himself.”[1] Though the two terms are not synonymous, “blessing” must be understood within the context of “salvation.” God’s blessing upon Israel resulted in salvation, as well as provision, protection, and guidance.

Verse two shifts the directional focus outward, praying for God’s blessing to serve as a sign for the nations: “that your way may be known upon earth” (v. 2a[2]). In particular, this sign is to be one that will lead others to God’s salvation: “your saving power among all nations” (v. 2b). This second couplet echoes the Abrahamic blessing of Genesis 12:1-3. God promised great blessing for Abraham, but it was blessing with an outward thrust: “so that you will be a blessing. . . . [A]nd in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2b & 3b).

I have yet to find an instance in Scripture where God blessed a person or group simply for their own sake. While those who are blessed by God certainly benefit, there is always a “so that . . . .” These exact words may not always appear, but the very nature of God as one who gives good gifts calls for all who receive to also give. As Jesus sent out the Twelve, he authorized them to proclaim and perform signs that the kingdom of God was present. They were to share what they had received: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8, NIV). Tight-fisted disciples do not give evidence of the blessing, saving activity of God in the world.

Whenever hearing or singing the lyrics of Build Your Kingdom Here,[3] I am both humbled and challenged by the lines, “We are Your church / We are the hope on earth.” This is not an claim that we are capable of changing the world by our own strength and ingenuity. Rather the song recognizes that only by the power of God will the church, the people of God, be able to do what God has called us to do. Psalm 67 bears the same message. Only as we experience and receive the blessing of God will we be enabled to “make . . . [God’s] way known upon earth” (v. 2a). God’s grace given to individuals or to groups is for the benefit of “all the peoples.”

At the heart of the psalm is a declaration of God’s sovereignty over all the earth (v. 4). God’s judgment and guidance are not confined to Israel – or to a chosen few – but are for all the nations. God as judge of all the nations seems an easier concept to grasp than God as shepherding the nations, which is the sense of “guide” in the final line of verse 4. But God’s justice is about setting to rights that which is wrong, and shepherding is an important component of God’s justice.

It is all too easy to personalize, regionalize, or nationalize God’s guidance to “me”/”us” to the exclusion of others. Yet each line of verses 2-5 is universal in focus: the first reference is to the “earth” and the remaining eight lines reference “nations” or “peoples.” The language may have seemed a bit jarring for people who often struggled to think of God as more than a national deity; that is, Yahweh is “our God” but not “their God.” And yet the implication is clear: “God will treat all the people just as God treats Abraham’s family.”[4]

The blessing of God is comprehensive as indicated in verse 6: “The earth has yielded its increase.” One of the rewards for obedience, highlighted in Leviticus 26:4, is an abundance of produce. A potent antidote to fear and anger is to look at the ways in which God has blessed us. In times of distress or disruption, focusing on what we’ve lost or on problems we face can easily consume our thoughts and energy. But pausing to look for and remember the blessings of God – past, present and even those promised for the future – can help us regain proper perspective of our calling as the people of God.

We are blessed to be a blessing. We have freely received salvation from God through Jesus Christ and the blessing we have received is to serve as a sign to all peoples. Psalm 67 calls us “to break away from all narrowness in the reception of salvation.”[5] In a world – and a church – torn by divisions of race, gender, nationality and a host of issues, we need to hear Psalm 67 with open hearts and minds. After all, it contains the message of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

God is God of the whole earth and God extends salvation to all peoples of the world.

[1] A. A. Anderson in Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51-100. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol 20. Dallas, Word Books, 1990, 157.

[2] New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.