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 (ESV)
Another school year is coming to a close, and ‘tis the season for “moving-up” ceremonies on many levels. Even in the few minutes it took me to prepare to write this post, my Facebook news feed filled up with pictures of a recent seminary graduation ceremony. It’s a time of change for everyone from kindergarteners to university grads, and with such times of change come opportunities not only to look back, but also to look forward.
Secular graduations don’t vary that much; usually they’re fluffily generic, placing all the emphasis on the accomplishments of the students and the importance of individuality. It’s no wonder many a video has been made to poke fun at these ceremonies. Sadly enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if many “Christian” graduations held the same priorities.
Graduation finds its proper context in Psalm 67. This short and succinct song calls for God’s blessing upon his chosen people—a desire anyone can echo. But the motive for this prayer is where Christianity radically departs from the priorities of the world.
The worldly mind says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that we may grow in knowledge, and riches, and power—that we may make a name for ourselves—that our fame may ascend to the heavens.” The psalmist says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us”—why?—“that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”
How humbling it is not only to acknowledge that all our blessings must come from God, but to request these blessings in order that we may be a shining light to a dark world! The psalmist’s supreme desire is that all the peoples (v. 3) would see God’s grace on him and praise the Lord for it. And this is not merely an individual song; it applies even more directly to God’s covenant people—Old Testament Israel, the New Testament church. Psalm 67 ends with a bold recapitulation of its opening lines: “God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!”
Below, the graduating class of a Reformed Christian high school in Michigan sings the words of Psalm 67 as versified in the Psalter Hymnal.
121, “O God, to Us Show Mercy”
Psalter Hymnal number 121 is a surpassingly accurate rendition of Psalm 67. Perhaps there might be some adverse theological implications to replacing “saving power” with “saving grace” in the versification of v. 2, but this is a minor and easily correctable issue. The poetry throughout is solid and beautiful.
The tune is AURELIA, commonly known as “The Church’s One Foundation,” but interestingly authored by Samuel S. Wesley as a new setting of “Jerusalem the Golden.” It’s a reverent, pure, and fitting melody; I can’t make a single complaint. The tune’s association with the church also serves as an added reminder of this song’s application to God’s covenant people.
Whether you’re graduating this year, or attending a celebration for someone who is, are your priorities settled? Do you know why the Lord has placed you here, and what your single greatest calling is? May we go forth realizing that by God’s grace we are witnesses to the world, and through all our lives may we take Psalm 67 to heart.
The Lord our God shall bless us,
Our God shall blessing send,
And all the earth shall fear Him
To its remotest end.