The blessings of Psalm 67

The blessings of Psalm 67

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Jan Richardson is a United Methodist Minister in the United States. She’s also a painter and a poet. And she writes blessings.

Here are two things that she had to say about blessings in the introduction to her book, Circle of Grace. ‘A blessing is a distinctive constellation of words designed to call upon and convey God’s deepest desire for our wholeness and well-being.’ And ‘Blessings illuminate the link between the sacred and the ordinary’.

Then a longer quote: ‘A blessing will not fix us. It will not, of itself, resolve the difficulty that we are in or undo harm that we have caused or received. Instead, a blessing is a channel of the Divine, a profound means of grace that has the capacity to open our eyes so that we might recognize and receive the help of the One who created us in love and whose deepest desire for us is that we be whole.’ More from Jan later.

No life is alone

Here’s another writer of blessings, John O’Donohue, who says this: ‘The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable. Each life is clothed in raiment of spirit that secretly links it to everything else.’

Psalm 67 is important. It takes a priestly blessing given to the people of Israel and widens it by adding in the universal promise given to Abraham, to give a vision of how things were meant to be right from the beginning of time.

We are familiar with it from our liturgy. In the Book of Common Prayer, it can be used instead of the Nunc dimittis. In the BCP, it’s called a Song of God’s Blessing.

Menorah Psalm

In Judaism, Psalm 67 is termed the Menorah Psalm. The menorah is the seven branched candelabra which has come to represent the Jewish people and Judaism. There is one branch of the candelabra for each of the seven verses in our psalm and the encouragement is to visualise the psalm that way and meditate upon it. A devout Jew who recited this psalm every day was credited as if they had lit the menorah in the Temple itself.

In his mercy, God both saves us and blesses us. We tend to talk a lot about salvation, and with good reason. But the OT consistently speaks about the blessing activity of God too – through fruitful harvests, health, fertility and so on. Psalm 67 talks of something that today we often neglect – asking God for blessing.

And that blessing comes through grace. That grace is amazing because it’s a gift. It’s undeserved, unearned.

The Lord bless us

On the face of it, this is a psalm of thanksgiving from the community for an abundant harvest. But crucially, it’s not just about Israel. This isn’t one of those passages where the author says thanks for looking after us God and blow everyone else. All peoples, all nations, are invited to joyfully acknowledge God’s guidance and provision. The whole world is to join in worship of its creator.

The praise in this psalm is surrounded by prayers for blessing. Verses 1 and 7 book-end what’s happening in the middle. And there’s an echo here of the blessing that the High Priest Aaron gives in Numbers 6:24-26. Again, those familiar words: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

But wait. Instead of ‘you’ in the psalm it’s ‘us’. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” Perhaps even back then there were rules about what a member of the laity could say versus that of a priest.


And the ‘us’ isn’t just the congregation or the people of Israel. We’re to think much more broadly. Verse 7 talks about ‘all the ends of the earth’. Another echo, this time of Genesis 12:3 where Abraham is promised that ‘in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

The prayer and the praise in this Psalm speak of Israel’s vocation to be a messenger of the Divine to all nations. Being a chosen people did not mean God had favourites, that they were special. Being chosen meant that they were supposed to be the chosen channel of blessing for everyone else. God blesses for the sake of mission – ‘that you may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations’.

The voice speaking this psalm is different to that in Numbers where Aaron the priest gives his blessing. The voice here is the people at large. This is a public theology challenging the inward focus of Israel. It both reminds of the blessings which have already taken place but also asks for blessings on everyone for the future.

Too self-focussed?

And we too should be challenged by that. This isn’t just a nice set of words – and we do quite like to hear a good blessing, don’t we? This should be forcing us to ask ourselves whether we the church spend too much time being self-focussed. Whether we’re happy for God to bless us ‘in here’ – but a little less comfortable with him blessing those ‘out there’. Our Mission, if we chose to accept it, should be universal. We too are chosen. Not because we’re special but chosen, like Israel, to be a channel of blessing to everyone else. A blessing to a world so often characterised by inequality and deprivation by war and nationalism.

And it’s interesting to see where this Psalm gets used in the Lectionary. It appears on the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year C and the 11th after Pentecost, Year A. In the latter, the Gospel is from Matthew where Jesus meets the Gentile woman from Tyre and Sidon – and where she seemingly convinces him that his mission isn’t just to Israel. And in the former, the Gospel is John’s where Jesus spends the last evening with the disciples before his death telling them that he’s going soon but he won’t leave them orphaned. If we’d had a Eucharist later in this service, then the Gospel would have been the one where Jesus lands in Gennesaret and heals the sick wherever he goes.

People and nations

The wonderful thing is that this psalm made it in here at all. So often, when the Bible mentions the peoples and the nations it’s in a negative way. But the editors and compilers over the centuries left this one in. This psalm which tells a different story, a different narrative.

Our world is so often characterized by racial, ethnic, national and religious strife. Psalm 67 gives a vision of a divinely willed message for all peoples and all nations, without distinction. General Synod would have done well to have meditated up on it.

When we finish our church services with the wish that the Lord’s face shines upon us, may we do so for the sake of mission. May we be as equally inclusive as the psalm as we take the hopes and prayers within it and put them into action, so that all of the world might experience God’s saving help.

Twist and turn

Jan Richardson concludes the introduction to her book by saying ‘blessings twist and turn, make their own paths, and spiral back to find us when we most need to receive them. Healing the fractured past, provoking us to act for a more whole future, opening our eyes to the God who meets us in the present’.

May the same be true for us and Psalm 67. May this Song of God’s Blessing come back and meet us when we need it most, in those ordinary moments when we most need to be opened up to eternity, perhaps healing our own fractured past and present.

And I couldn’t finish without sharing one of Jan’s blessings. It’s called ‘Beloved is where we begin’. Amen

‘The blessings of Psalm 67’ was delivered by Ian Banks at Evensong at Bury Parish Church on 23rd July 2023. And, yes, it was based on Psalm 67.



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