When I served as Assistant Pastor of the Baptist Church, in Scotland, one of the first things I wanted to do was memorize Numbers 6:24- 26. Why the priority to memorize Numbers 6? This is because our Pastor would repeat this scripture as the benediction, at the close of every service.
I knew, as the young assistant from America, I would be leading the services when he was away. I realized that you just don’t read the benediction in the Highlands of Scotland. No way! You look directly at the congregation, raise your hands and you “pronounce” the benediction, loud and boldly. This meant that I had to really get to know Numbers 6:24-26. It would not be good to “mess up” on the blessing!
I learned this blessing and was able to pronounce it: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26) Pronouncing the blessing went well for me every time, but I always remained a little worried when I came to the, “lift up his countenance” part.
When I got over the intimidation of memorizing and pronouncing this verse, I realized its great significance. This is the blessing that God himself gave through Moses for Aaron to bless the Israelites. It was the blessing pronounced by Aaron, and later those who held his priestly office, at the public assemblies.
Our passage, Psalm 67 is derived from this Aaronic benediction. The Aaronic blessing is contained in the seven verses of Psalm 67. But here, Psalm 67 goes beyond the blessing in Numbers 6. Here in Psalm 67 we find the purpose of God’s blessing. This purpose, for all the peoples to know salvation, is what makes Psalm 67 one of the foundational scriptures as the Biblical basis of Missions. Psalm 67 is a glorious Missions song. Psalm 67:1 -7
I) Why to all nations? First Bless Us! (Vs 1-3)
Some Psalms are intended for individual worship. In these Psalms the individual worshipper of God should be alone pouring out his heart to God. Other Psalms are for corporate worship, when the assembly collectively gives praise. This Psalm is for corporate worship.
Psalm 67 was probably sung corporately every year at the Feast of Pentecost. As Christians, at the mention of Pentecost, we immediately think of Acts Chapter 2. Our minds take us to the time when the Holy Spirit came in power. This great event happened when Israel was celebrating the Pentecost Festival, thus we call the coming of the Holy Spirit Pentecost. This festival is also referred to as the Harvest Feast.
It came fifty days after Passover. We could compare our American Thanksgiving Holiday in November as something similar for us, as to what the Pentecost was for Israel. A time we thank God for the blessings he has bestowed upon us. The most Basic prayer for any of us is to ask God to bless us. We ask, “Father meet my needs, Bless me!” In celebrating the harvest, there is, especially for the agricultural society, a keen sense of dependence on God. Give us the rain and the sunshine needed to grow the crops and sustain our life. Protect us from natural disasters. A calamity that will destroy them is just a natural disaster away.
God is praised at the Harvest Feast. God has blessed Israel with an abundant harvest. But this kind of cry to God is not limited to the agricultural society. Everyone is crying to God, “help me, heal me, sustain me, Oh God, bless me!” Even the animistic societies are looking for a blessing. There is a basic human need to be blessed by God.
The tribal, wherever they are, might not have a biblical view of God, but they share the basic desire expressed in this verse, Bless me God! The desire to be blessed by God is shared by all people in all places, of all religions.
The next aspect of this scripture though, is unique. The Hebrews don’t stop with their desire to be blessed. They don’t ask God just for mercy, grace and for God’s face to shine on them, like Aaron’s blessing. Here in Psalm 67 we find the deeper meaning behind God’s blessing.
That through those God has blessed, others will in turn be blessed with the salvation God gives! This Psalm reveals God’s missionary purpose that all nations may know God’s salivation! Here in this missionary Psalm the name used for God is different than what was used in Aaron’s blessing.
In Numbers Chapter 6 the reference for God is YHWH or Jehovah (strong # 3068). This name is Israel’s covenant name for God. It is an intimate name for the relationship Israel enjoyed with God. Numbers Chapter 6 is a blessing for Israel, the covenant people. In Psalm 67 the Hebrew name used for God is Elohim (Strong # 430).
If God himself gave the Aaronic blessing, why make a change in the name used for God? Because in Numbers Chapter 6 God is giving a blessing for Israel. In Psalm 67 we have the purpose for God blessing Israel. That is that all peoples everywhere are blessed with God’s salvation. This name, Elohim, used in Psalm 67 is used to refer to God’s relationship to all men. There is an important change in emphasis here.
That emphasis centers on the missionary heart of God, for all peoples to know Him. Psalm 67 asks that God’s purpose come to pass. That in blessing Israel all the nations of the earth might come to know Him as well. We are blessed by God in order to bless others. Gods blessing to us is meant to be a thoroughfare not a dead end street.
When we are blessed by God others should be blessed. They should see that our God, the God of the Bible, the God of the Psalmist, the God of Abraham is the one true God. We all have a universal desire to be blessed of God, but only Jehovah God can fulfill that desire. The blessing of Psalm 67 is similar to what we find in God’s blessing to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) God blesses Abraham, that all the families of the earth may be blessed. God blesses his people that his salvation may be known among the nations (Psalm 67:2).
This Pentecost blessing asks for God to bless, but the scope of this blessing goes beyond a good crop at harvest time. God blesses with spiritual Salvation to all nations. May the People groups be glad. (Vs 4-5) There are three different Hebrew terms used for people in Psalm 67. In verse 3 the word is the plural form of am, people ammim. (Strongs # 5971).
In verse 4 the Hebrew word for people is Ieow (Strongs #3816). This is a group of individuals with a corporate identity, like the people of Israel, or the people of Syria. In verse 2 the word for nations is goyim (strongs # 1471). This is sometimes translated heathen in the King James. This refers to a nation, a heathen nation, gentiles or a people.
This blessing goes to other people besides Israel and yes, Israel is asking for God’s salvation to go to the gentile when they sing this Psalm. We usually think of nations in terms of political nations. Because of this we often interpret God’s plan by political boundaries.
When Jesus said go and make disciples of all nations it is better to understand his command in terms of People Groups, rather than political nations.
Let’s define “a people group” and an “unreached people group”. A People Group is “a significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc., or combinations of these.” For evangelistic purposes it is “the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.” An Unreached People Group is “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group.”
In Mark 11:17 Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7, my house shall be a house of prayer for all nations. The Hebrew word used is the term peoples (ammin strong # 5971). When the phrase is found in the Greek in Mark 11:17 the Greek word is the one that we use to get our word ethnic (strong # 1484 ethnos).
Our churches should be places where we pray for the people groups of the world. We can understand that Jesus has called his church (us) to pray for all people groups. Another Missionary Psalm, Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands all you nations (people groups). Clap your hands, Tibetans, Lingayats, Mina, Lambani. God has poured out his blessing that thousands of people groups will know Him. Our God is the God of the people groups! If only the unreached people groups knew what God desires for them. Let the nations be glad!
Let the unreached people groups be glad. God has in store for them what he announced at Christmas to the shepherds. The angels proclaimed it as the “good news of exceeding great joy!” God is a righteous judge. There is another crying need, a universal heartfelt plea for one who governs righteously. God is the fulfillment of all the hearts desire. Then the refrain of the mission song comes again.
We have it in verse 3 and here in verse 5. “Let thy peoples praise thee, Oh God, let all the people praise thee.” The Chorus in Vs 3 and Vs 5 uses the plural form of the word people. We can interpret this as people groups. Let all the people groups praise you. The Chorus, let the people groups praise you Lord. That chorus of Psalm 67 could be a theme song for any mission conference. It is the desire of God for all the peoples on earth to praise him. It is our privilege and mission task to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the peoples.
Our missionary task is to take the Gospel to them in a culturally relevant way so that God’s salvation will be known to these people groups (nations) and they may be glad! When we see the Missions task from the Biblical perspective of People groups we can sharpen our focus. India is one political nation, but according to the Anthropological Survey of India, it is made up of 4,600 distinct people groups. This way of looking at our world brings us the real missions challenge.
This is why Patrick Johnstone can make a statement that, “sixty-percent of the world’s least evangelized people live in India.” (The Commission Magazine, April 2000, page 12) Your blessings are something to be joyful about. God has blessed you so that you may bless the unreached people groups with Jesus. Your righteousness in Christ, is meant to bless the nations.
III) The harmonious Plan (Vs 6-7)
Remember, this Psalm is a harvest festival song. There is so much here about God’s plan for the nations that we have to be reminded why Israel sung this song every year at Pentecost. It was to praise God for another year of provision. It was to worship the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God will bless us as we share the blessings. God will give us an abundant harvest when we follow his divine plan. In verse 7 the phrase, “ends of the earth” (strong # 657) refers to the remote places that will know God’s salvation.
We are reminded of the missionary plan that Jesus laid out in Acts 1:8, for his disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the remotest parts of the earth. His missionary purposes extend to the remote places. Matthew Henry commented on the missionary significance of Psalm 67.
He said, “If nothing had been spoken in Scripture respecting the conversion of the heathen, we might think it vain to attempt so hopeless a work. But when we see with what confidence it is declared in the Scriptures, we may engage in missionary labors, assured that God will fulfill his own word” This is a harvest song, but not just about agriculture.
This is a song that is about the spiritual harvest and the plan and heart of God. God blesses us, in order that we bless others, the Lord our creator is worshiped and praise God, his plan is fulfilled.
God created man in the image of God. There was fellowship between God and man in the Garden of Eden. But sin damaged that relationship. Following the original sin things went from bad to worse. There was a human degeneration to such a state that God flooded the earth.
Again in the wickedness of man, following the flood man wanted the Glory for themselves that was due God. At the tower of Babel in Genesis Chapter 11, we read God scattered the people and scrambled the languages. People previously were one people speaking one language.
After the tower of Babel humanity was divided into people groups. Then God called Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3) and promised He would pour out his blessing on him to be a blessing for all the people groups (families of the earth). This promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:8). God’s purposes for all the families of the earth was continually announced in the Scriptures.
God did not set Israel apart for there own sake. They were the chosen ones through whom the Messiah for all peoples would come. This Psalm is a reminder of God’s purposes that Jesus so clearly articulated in the Great commission. Go and make disciples of all nations (peoples). When John looked at the conclusion of God’s saving activity he saw that the purpose of God fulfilled.
God’s salvation reached people from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9; 7:9) We must share the Gospel with the unreached people groups. Israel sang in Psalm 67 of their great responsibility for the nations. Their actions were far from the missionary words they sung at the Harvest festival. William Carey complained about inaction of his day. “Multitudes sit at ease with no concern about the lost. We must not be content with praying, without exercising the means for obtaining of those things we pray for.”
After Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem and resurrected on the third day he appeared to his disciples on various occasions. His very last words to his disciples are recorded in Acts 1:4-8. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit. When you receive the Holy Spirit you will receive power to by witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus ascended into heaven and the disciples waited in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost day.
Pentecost is the event where God poured out his Spirit for the church to carry the blessing to all the peoples! This Psalm may well have been sung by the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, fifty days after the Passover day when Jesus died on the cross. It was on this Pentecost, Harvest Festival day when the Holy Spirit fell to empower the Church to fulfill God’s purposes for the peoples.
The spiritual harvest began on the day of the Harvest Festival. Three Thousand were saved on that day. People heard the Gospel message in twelve languages that day. It is at Pentecost, the Harvest Festival, God enacted his announced plan to bless every tribe nation and people. God has blessed us in so many ways. We have salvation in Jesus Christ. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to share the blessing. We are part of God’s grand plan to bless all the peoples of the earth.
If we are available before God he will use us in incredible ways to spread the Gospel message to the unreached peoples. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you!