Psalms: Blessed to Bless the Nations
The book of Psalms, the songbook of God’s people, bursts with strong emotions directed toward the Lord of all creation. Joy, lament, hope, desire, desperation, mourning, wonder, and a wide range of human attitudes and experiences in relation to God are on display. One of the central themes in the Psalms, though, is the desire of God’s people to be blessed. Over and over, we see the Psalmists cry out for blessing, for steadfast love, for mercy, and for the presence of God. There is a deep desire to be known and seen and blessed the Holy One of Israel.
We know that God does indeed bless his people richly. He bestows grace upon grace. His paternal love shines forth with a passion to give good gifts to his children. But why does he bless? What is the deepest foundation of his motivation to bless an unworthy people? And what should our motivations in asking blessings of God be? What should be the root of intentions in pleading for blessing?
Psalm 67 provides some answers. In the first two verses, the Psalmist eloquently expresses a desire for the people of Israel to be blessed by God:
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” (Psalm 67:1-2)
The first verse echoes the Aaronic priestly blessing given in Numbers 6:24-26 that the High Priest would pronounce over the people of Israel. Surely, God’s people need his face to shine upon them. They need to see him in his glory and grace. They need his blessings and his bright presence leading them on. Yet, the request for blessing is not merely one rooted in selfish neediness. Psalm 67:2 reveals a deeper reason for wanting to be blessed—”that your way be known on the earth, your saving power among all nations.” This line reflects Israel’s ultimate purpose as God’s chosen people. In a special way, they were to be blessed by God in order to bless the nations around them. They were to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), serving as God’s representatives to the world. Through Israel, God’s way and his power to deliver were to be revealed. As God blessed them with his presence and grace, they were supposed to channel that out among the nations as a display of God’s character and holiness. When the nations looked at Israel, they were to see a glimpse of the beauty of the face of God.
This becomes even more evident as we continue reading in Psalm 67:
“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! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (Psalm 67:3-7)
Does the Psalmist ask for blessing for Israel selfishly? No, his greater desire is that all the peoples know and praise God. He repeats it four times in just a few short verses. The writer here wants the nations to experience the sweet joy and gladness and fear of knowing God, and he wants God to receive the praise he deserves among all peoples in the earth. The nations cannot be truly happy unless they are praising God. All peoples and nations exist for the praise of the glorious God of Israel.
The Lord doesn’t bless us because we are good; he blesses us to make his goodness known in all the earth. When his face shines upon us and when he gives gracious gifts to us, it is for the purpose of reflecting his light to those around us. God’s blessings fill us up so that we have gracious gifts to give others in the name of God. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16 in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
This statement comes right after Jesus talks about what it looks like to be blessed by God. In light of those generous and abundant blessings, our mission is to bless others so that others may see and glorify the Father in heaven, who is the giver of every good thing.
If we only ask for blessings from God for our own sake, we are neglecting God’s glory, his global purposes in the world, and love for our neighbor. If blessings flow to our hand and stop there, we have not truly understood who God is. He is deserving of all admiration and praise, and his name should be made known among all. And if we are hiding that light or hoarding our blessings, then we portray a dangerous apathy in our hearts toward others. The nations and our neighbors cannot truly be glad and they can never have joy unless they know God and praise him. Thus, if we love God and love others, we will make him known. We will bless because he has blessed us.
Viewing blessing in this way and seeing the world in such a way should drastically change our perception of the gifts that God gives us each day. If the deepest desire of my heart is to praise God and see him praised by the whole world, the blessings of my food, my car, my house, my job, my opportunities, my talents, my money, my connections, and everything else become about fueling my part in God’s grand global mission. In all of the good things in my life, my eye is always on how this gift can be used to make God seen more clearly and worshipped more fully in the world. My aim is always that all the peoples of the earth praise God. My mission is the gladness of the entire world in God. God blesses us to bless the world so that his name is praised!
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)