Sweet Seasonal Songs of Salvation

Dear fellow-worker

What does Psalm 67 have to do with the birth of the Messiah and Jewish mission?

The Hebrew poet begins the psalm by asking God, in terms of the Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6:24-26, to be merciful to Israel, to bless the Jewish people and to cause his face to shine on them so that his salvation might be known among the nations. Was the psalm simply a reiteration of the high priest’s blessing or was the writer granted a special insight that enabled him to see that Israel had not yet experienced the blessings of Numbers 6 in their fullness?

In Genesis 12:2-3, God promised Abraham that he would bless him and make him a blessing. In Abraham all the families of the earth were to be blessed and in his commentary on Psalm 67, Derek Kidner writes, ‘If a Psalm was ever written round the promises to Abraham, that he would be both blessed and be a blessing, it could well have been such as this.’

The Jewish scholar Israel Abrahams, in his Annotations to the Hebrew Prayer Book, Pharisaism and the Gospels, says Psalm 67 is ‘a prayer for salvation in the widest sense, and not for Israel only but for the whole world. Israel’s blessing is to be a blessing for all men . . . if Israel has the light of God’s face, the world cannot remain in darkness.’

Israel is the only nation ever to have come into existence for the benefit of the other nations and from that perspective Psalm 67 is one of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. For a start, it is a remarkable proof of the reliability of Scripture. The fact that in virtually every country in the world the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is worshipped by Gentiles is an answer to the prayer of the psalmist.

Although the High Priest pronounced the blessing of Numbers 6 on God’s people at every festival, the fact that Israel’s neighbours still worshipped idols of wood, stone, silver and gold and served their gods through child sacrifice and sexual orgies was evidence that God had not blessed Israel to a

degree that drew the pagan nations to himself; his face was not shining with a radiance that shone beyond the borders of Israel; his grace had not been poured out liberally enough for it to flow to Edom, Moab, Syria, Lebanon and other lands. Why? According to 2 Corinthians 1:20, ‘Whatever the promises of God are, the “Yes” and the “Amen” are in [Messiah], to the glory of God’ (Daniel Gruber’s translation). Like every other divine promise, the Aaronic blessing could find its ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ only in the Messiah.

The first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel feature three songs of salvation, sung spontaneously under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by Mary, Zechariah and Simeon. When Mary, the mother of the Lord, was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Son of God, she sang of being ‘blessed’ because of the great things the mighty God had done for her (1:48-49) and of the help that had come to Israel through the ‘mercy’ (1:50, 54) of which God spoke to Abraham (1:54-55).

In his Spirit-inspired song, the father of John the Baptist blessed ‘the Lord God of Israel’ (1:68) because he had raised up a ‘horn of salvation’ through whom he would perform the ‘mercy’ promised to Israel’s patriarchs (1:72). Salvation had come through the ‘tender mercy’ of God through which the light of God was beginning to dawn on those sitting in darkness to give them ‘peace’ (1:78-79). And Zechariah’s son would go before God’s ‘face’; God’s face would be on John the Baptist (1:76).

In verses 29-32 Simeon sings of ‘peace’ and ‘light’, and in Luke 2:14 the angelic host who appear to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem speak of ‘peace’ to all. Uppermost in the songs are

‘mercy’, ‘blessing’, the ‘face’ of God and his ‘light’ and ‘peace’ – the very blessings included in the benediction of Numbers 6:24-26 and the prayer of Psalm 67:1-2.

Messiah had come and in him the

promises of God to Israel’s patriarchs were becoming ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’. In his earthly ministry Jesus’ focus was ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ but at the end of Luke’s Gospel, having blessed Israel, the Messiah sent his apostles to preach ‘repentance and remission of sins . . . to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47).

In Acts 3:26, Peter announced to a crowd of unbelieving Jews: ‘To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.’ Salvation could not have been preached to the Gentiles until God first showed mercy to Israel, blessed them and turned his face to them. And if the blessing God intended to bestow through Abraham on the nations was salvation, could the blessing he had in mind for his people Israel be anything less than their national salvation?

Psalm 67 envisages blessing for Israel followed by salvation for the nations followed by further blessing for Israel: ‘Then the earth shall yield her increase; God, our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.’

Paul appears to have had Psalm 67 in mind when writing Romans 11. The psalm seems to be the framework around which the apostle builds his case for Israel’s future salvation. God kept his word to the patriarchs by sending the Messiah but only a remnant within Israel truly believed in him. The sending of salvation to the Gentiles was with a view to provoking Israel to jealousy for the blessing they had rejected. And in this way all Israel (as opposed to a remnant) will be saved.

Jewish people will soon celebrate Hanukkah, the festival that commemorates the victory of Judah the Maccabee over the Syrians and the return of light to the ancient temple. As we read those

wonderful salvation songs of Luke 1 and 2, let us pray for the time when all Israel will see the light and experience in their fullest sense the blessings pronounced over them by the high priests; those blessings that preceded our salvation and of which Mary, Zechariah and Simeon sang so long ago.

This article first appeared in the Winter Herald 2013

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