God’s Shining Face

God’s Shining Face

I want to begin this morning by asking you to think about someone you know and admire. What about them makes you feel this way? I imagine that what draws many of us to others are qualities we see in their character. Perhaps it’s kindness; or generosity; integrity; or a sense of humor; or their being hard-working; or honest; or thoughtful; or their ability to keep their word. At least these are some of the qualities that draw me to others. And in thinking about this person, isn’t it the case that at some level you seek their approval? Or if not their approval, at least their input? When we’re in the midst of trying to make a decision or are in need of processing some circumstance in our lives, I imagine we all have people whose opinions we seek; whose judgments we trust.

Now can we—and do we—do the same with God? If someone were to ask you, “What is it about God that you love and admire?” or, to say the same thing in another way, “What is it about Jesus that you love and admire?” If you had to name the top three characteristics about God—about Jesus—that draw you to him, what would they be? And since he is a Person, we can similarly ask: Do we desire his approval? Do we seek and value his input into our lives? Do we seek his opinion? Do we trust his judgment? Do we read and reflect upon and seek to obey the Word he has left us to guide our way and point us to himself?

Last week as we looked at Psalm 148,[1] we saw there how the psalmist called all creation, from the highest heavens to the deepest oceans to all things that on earth do dwell, to sing, “Hallelujah!”; to sing out, “Praise the LORD!” And the reasons given for doing so were because God is our Creator. And he is our Sustainer. And he is our Redeemer. Therefore he is worthy of receiving praise from his entire creation.

Well the psalm, the song, we’re considering this morning, Psalm 67, is also focused upon praising God. And its opening verse may sound familiar: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—” These opening words hearken back to the days of Moses when the LORD told him to teach Aaron and his sons how to bless the Israelites. In the sixth chapter of the book of Numbers we read how they were to say to them: “24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”[2] As we read in the book of Leviticus, at this time God’s blessing in general was contingent upon following his decrees and being careful to obey his commands.[3] And it was comprised of various components. For this agrarian society God’s blessing included:

having successful harvests,[4]

having peace and success in war,[5]

increasing their numbers,[6]

and, most important of all, God’s blessing meant that he would be their God and so dwell and walk among his people.[7] All of these were expressions of God’s graciousness, of his giving to his people above and beyond what they deserved, by blessing those who were called by his name. And God’s grace and blessing are what the psalmist invokes as he begins this psalm.

But of all of the various facets of blessing the psalmist could have chosen, he focuses upon God’s presence, asking that God would “make his face shine on us.” Now for God to make his face shine on us is for him to look upon us approvingly. It indicates that God has taken notice of us and is treating us favorably. He is facing us, looking toward us. We see David using this very language in one of his psalms as he similarly asked of the LORD, “Let the light of your face shine on us.”[8] And if God’s shining face is an indication of his looking upon us with favor, we can see its opposite in yet another psalm of David as he cries out, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”[9] When God’s face shines upon us, we know his presence and favor; when he hides his face from us, it is as if he has forgotten us.

In this metaphor God’s favor is further emphasized by the use of the word “shine” which immediately brings to mind the sun and all of its warmth. What can be better than feeling the sun shining upon us, especially on a cold and windy day? So, too, in those cold and bitter times in our lives, we seek the warmth of God’s shining face; we seek the warmth of his smile; we seek the warmth of his presence. We see this refrain repeated in another song, Psalm 80, written during a time of great suffering when God was seemingly absent. Therefore the psalmist three times beseeches the LORD,

“Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”[10]

And a second time the psalmist cries out, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”[11]

And yet a third time the psalmist cries out on behalf of his people as he ends his song by imploring yet again, “Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”[12]

Again, to see the face of God is to know that he is near at hand. It expresses a closeness to him. And the closer we get to him, the more we will know and be blessed by his presence.

And as in Psalm 80 so, too, the author of our psalm makes a connection between God’s face shining upon his people and the salvation he offers. For in verse 2 a reason for asking that God be gracious to us—and bless us—and make his face shine upon us is “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” As we enjoy telling others about those we know and admire; as having these friends meet other friends can increase our joy, so we should seek to tell others about our gracious Savior and LORD. For to know God is to love him. And knowing and loving him should cause us to seek and pray that others who don’t yet know him may transition from being strangers to God to becoming part of God’s family. But though we may remain focused on a small-scale, individual level as we seek to reach out to family and co-workers and neighbors and friends, the psalmist is thinking big. He desires that God’s way may be known over the entire earth, his salvation among all nations.

Yet that God and his ways be known throughout the earth; that his salvation be known among all nations should be our desire and prayer as well for he is a God like no other. And whereas this Memorial Day Sunday we should cherish the freedoms our soldiers have died to maintain, including the freedom for people of all faiths to worship or not worship,[13] nonetheless we need to be aware that the more diverse our country has become, the more many have come to view Christianity as but one religion among many with no religion being understood to contain the only standard of truth with respect to who God is and what he expects of us. And living in such a time when we are exposed to and have access to religious systems and ideas throughout the world, it’s easy for us to fall prey to this common way of viewing God in our day.

Yet we must resist this impulse for this outlook is completely foreign to what the Old and New Testament Scriptures teach. For from beginning to end what God has disclosed in his Word is that he is unique from all other idols and pretenders to God’s throne. For we see him making a nation for himself from one man, Abram[14]—later to become Abraham.[15] And years after Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, became Israel,[16] God disclosed himself to yet another one of his servants, Moses, as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”[17] In other words, in the polytheistic world of the Ancient Near East, God was making clear to Moses that he was the very God who had appeared to his servants Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. And years later Jesus Christ, too, accepted the unique authority of this God of Israel, in teaching how “…in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.””[18] Therefore Jesus’ disciples as well identified the God they worshiped as being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.[19] The God who made us and made a people for himself; the God who sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins isn’t just any old god; No, he’s the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and salvation is found uniquely in him.

This is made clear when just before God disclosed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we’re told that he said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”[20] And we know, of course, that Jesus similarly spoke of himself as being the great “I am,” thereby identifying himself with the very God who had disclosed himself to Moses using these very words. As John tells how Jesus came to make this proclamation, initially Jesus was accused of being demon-possessed[21] for saying to his fellow Jews, “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”[22] They then pushed back saying, “Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”[23] And in part of his response to them Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”[24] So now not only had Jesus claimed he could offer eternal life to any who obeyed his word but he also claimed to have existed even at the time in which Abraham lived. To which those around him exclaimed, “You are not yet fifty years old…and you have seen Abraham!”[25] Their disbelief was understandable for they didn’t realize that the one who stood before them wasn’t just a man but was, in fact, God in the flesh. And it was at this point that Jesus replied,  “Very truly I tell you…before Abraham was born, I am!”[26] Therefore they sought to inflict upon Jesus the penalty for blasphemy according to Jewish law[27] as “they picked up stones to stone him.” But Jesus slipped away.[28] Again, as in the Old Testament God didn’t identify himself as being any old God, so, too, our Lord Jesus didn’t identify himself as being one with just any old god; No, he identified himself as being one with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But Jesus did more than identify himself with the God who disclosed himself in the Old Testament by way of his prophets. He also claimed that he was the way, the truth, and the life; that he was the only way to our heavenly Father[29] since he was one with him.[30] And, this too, was what his disciples would go on to teach. Speaking of Jesus Peter proclaimed, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”[31] And so, too, Paul taught saying “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” [32]

Again, the point in all of this is that Scripture calls us not only to worship the God who has made us; and who disclosed himself to us

by way of his prophets in the Old Testament;

and supremely in his Son, Jesus Christ;

and through the teaching of his apostles in the New Testament.

But Scripture also calls upon us to make the ways of this one and only God known to those with whom we dwell upon this earth for his salvation for all people and nations is available through no other.

This desire and hope for salvation is expressed in verses 3–5 of our psalm, with verses 3 and 5 serving as mirror-image bookends repeating the refrain: “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.” As we saw last week, to praise God is to “express one’s respect and gratitude toward [him], especially in song.” And so this psalm, and so this song, is doing. It’s expressing a desire and prayer that all peoples and nations might know God and thereby express their respect and gratitude to him for who he is and what he has done. In thinking about who God is we too often miss out on the fact that, again, to know him is to love him. Yet as suggested in verse 4, if the nations only knew God, they would “be glad and sing for joy.” For God rules “the peoples with equity” and guides “the nations of the earth.” God hasn’t given up on his image-bearers whether individually or corporately. And so we should pray and do all we can that others might know him and his salvation. We should pray and do all we can that others might be glad and sing for joy, knowing the good and just and gracious God who made them and desires to save and rescue them from all that causes suffering and harm.

The psalm’s final verses once more provide expressions of God’s blessing. Again, in an agrarian culture this would be, verse 6, for “[t]he land [to yield] its harvest.” If the land yielded its harvest this would be an indication that “God, our God, blesses us.” And for those of us who don’t make a living from cultivating the land, we can instead ask that God would bless us by allowing the work we do be fruitful whether this is in raising our families or in working outside of the home to help sustain and care for ourselves and those around us. For all work can and should be done to the glory of our gracious God. All work can and should be done to please and serve him. As Paul exhorts, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”[33] If even eating and drinking can be done to the glory of God as an expression of our gratitude and an acknowledgment of his goodness and greatness and provision, how much more should our work be done for his sake and in a manner that is pleasing to him?

The final verse of this psalm ends as it began by continuing to set its sights towards others. After a brief invocation, “May God bless us still,” it again provides as its reason “so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.” May God bless us; may he grant us his favor that the eyes of all nations would turn to him.

Now we know just by way of testimony that thousands have turned their eyes to their LORD and Maker. And in but the brief time—at least brief when measured by eternity—since God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, thousands have come to know him as the Savior who came to rescue us from all suffering, evil, and death, our final and most fearsome enemy. Now Scripture provides a beautiful and assuring portrait in which the final number of those who acknowledge Jesus as LORD will be, as John records in his Revelation from God, “…a great multitude that no one [can] count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…. wearing white robes and…holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And [crying] out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” [34] And John tells how “The new song”—in other words the new psalm—”the elders sang to the Lamb…” was “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God  persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”[35] And yet again John writes about the psalm sung by the victorious, namely “the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb: ‘Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”[36]

Dear sisters and brothers, this should be our testimony as well. As we ponder our gracious and loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we should freely and joyfully share with others those characteristics that cause us to love and admire him. John has mentioned but a few—God’s great and marvelous deeds and righteous acts. So, too, we should take time to ponder and share the attributes of God. For he is good—and kind—and gracious—and merciful—and just—and holy—and gentle—and compassionate—and powerful—and awesome. And though now we see but in a mirror dimly, one day we shall see him face to face; though now we know but in part, one day we shall know fully even as we have been fully known.[37] And we know, too, that whether or not they do so now, one day at the name of our exalted Christ Jesus, every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[38]

So let us seek our dear LORD and his grace;

Let us pray that his face might shine upon us;

Let us seek his guidance in our lives;

Let us be students of his Word, both the Old and New Testaments, that we might know how to live our lives in ways that please him;

And let us tell others about his goodness and love;

Let us pray with the psalmist that Jesus Christ’s salvation would continue to spread throughout our nation and all nations that by the work of his Holy Spirit the fulness of our heavenly Father’s family might come to know his blessing both now and forevermore.

Let us pray.

[1] Sermon preached on May 19, 2019, Praise the LORD! On Psalm 148.

[2] Numbers 6:22–26: 22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 24 “‘“The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

[3] Leviticus 26:3: If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,…

[4] Leviticusl 26:4–5:I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.

[5] Leviticus 26:6–8: 6 I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

[6] Leviticus 26:9: I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.

[7] Leviticus 26:11–12:I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. 12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

[8] Psalm 4:6b,

[9] Psalm 13:1.

[10] Psalm 80:3.

[11] Psalm 80:7.

[12] Psalm 80:19.

[13] The first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution begins by stating, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

[14] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[15] Genesis 17:3–7:Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

[16] This happened when Jacob wrestled with God as recorded in Genesis 32:28: Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

[17] E.g., Exodus 3:15: God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.; Exodus 4:5: “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”

[18] Luke 20:37–38 referencing Exodus 3:6. (Parallels may be found in Matthew 22:31–32: 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”; Mark 12:26–27: 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” See also Luke 13:28: “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

[19] Acts 3:13: The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.; Acts 7:30–32: 30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 When he saw this, he was amazed at the sight. As he went over to get a closer look, he heard the Lord say: 32 ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.

[20] Exodus 3:14.

[21] John 8:52: At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.

[22] John 8:51.

[23] John 8:53.

[24] John 8:56.

[25] John 8:57.

[26] John 8:58.

[27] Leviticus 24:16: anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.

[28] John 8:59.

[29] John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 3:36:

[30] John 14:10–11: 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

[31] Acts 4:12. See also Acts 10:43: All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

[32] 1 Timothy 2:5–6a.

[33] 1 Corinthians 10:31.

[34] Revelation 7:9–10.

[35] Revelation 5:9–10.

[36] Revelation 15:3–4.

[37] 1 Corinthians 13:12: 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

[38] Philippians 2:9–11.