Today’s passage: Psalm 67
Today’s chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Chocolate
Psalm 67 is another psalm for the community of God’s people to sing to God. It mixes worship and petitionary prayer, often in the same breath: “Lord, show the nations your greatness that they may praise you” is a prominent theme in its seven verses. It begins with a familiar-sounding blessing: “God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us” (1). Where have we heard something like that before?
There’s a passage in the Torah known as the “Priestly Blessing” (Hebrew birkat kohanim). The first portion of it reads, “The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you” (Numbers 6:24-25). Oddly, when you pull back and look at the Priestly Blessing in the context of Numbers 6:22-27, you see that God actually instructs the priests to give the blessing and tells them which words to use. In essence, God commands the priests to command him to bless the people! It’s not often you tell someone to tell you to do something, and when you created the universe and don’t have to answer to anyone, it’s even weirder.
The psalmist appears to have drawn inspiration from the Priestly Blessing to open his psalm, but he doesn’t reproduce it in its entirety or word-for-word. He only echoes the first portion of it, and he changes the “you” to an “us.” It’s not a blessing from God to the people via the priests anymore; it’s all the people together asking God for a blessing directly. Moreover, rather than “The Lord keep you,” the psalm asks, “God be gracious to us.” The Hebrew verb “be gracious” is chanan; the root sense of it that I get from Strong’s Concordance is inclining yourself towards someone, like a king stepping down off his throne to get on the level with non-royalty or an adult kneeling to get face-to-face with a child. The original Priestly Blessing in Numbers, however, uses the Hebrew verb shamar, “to guard or watch over.”
So why does the psalmist make these changes? I think it’s because it’s an invocation. The Priestly Blessing was traditionally issued after sacrifices, as a conclusion. But when the people gather together and start to sing a psalm, using “us” rather than “you” emphasizes the unity of the community; it’s an encouragement to join their voices in one song. And by using chanan, “incline yourself toward us,” the community is asking God to draw near, as if coming down from heaven to join the people.
Question of the Day: Why do you think the psalmist makes his own variations on the Priestly Blessing?