Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us; Selah
2. that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3. Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
4. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

5. Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

6. The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
7. May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him."

This psalm has sometimes been thought of as a song of thanksgiving for the harvest. But the harvest of the land is mentioned only in verse 6. It is, above all, a prayer for the full realisation of God's blessings in all the world, and a prayer that people of all nations will come to praise God. The words of the psalm make us think especially of two Old Testament passages. In Numbers 6:24-26 we read of the way that the priests were to pray God's blessing on the people: "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." Then in Genesis 12:1-3 where we read of the call of Abraham, we have God's promise to bless him and make him a blessing, and he was told, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

The blessing of God

Notice the things for which the psalmist asks in verse 1:

a. For the grace of God. It is always right to make this the first thing that we ask from God. We come to him as sinful people, and we should come as the tax-collector rather than the Pharisee in Jesus' parable (in Luke 18:9-14), praying "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" Hebrews 4:16 says about the privilege of prayer, that we can come to God's "throne of grace with boldness", first to "receive mercy", and then "grace to help in time of need".

b. For God to bless us with his gifts, whatever our needs may be, our physical needs and our spiritual needs.

c. For his face to shine on us. This is a way that the Psalms often speak (see 4:6, 80:3, 7 and 19 and 119:135), as also that priestly blessing does in Numbers 6. The shining of a person's face is a sign of pleasure and of favour. Proverbs 16:15 speaks of the light of a king's face indicating his favour being shown to his people. So God looks with favour on those who turn to him. On the other hand, God's face is "hidden", as the Bible sometimes says, when we have sinned against him and have not repented of our sin (see Deuteronomy 31:17-18)

The praise of God

The praise of God was what mattered most to the psalmist. "Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you" is the refrain in verse 3, repeated in verse 5. There is a difference between thanksgiving and praise. We thank God for the blessings that he has given to us. We praise him when we think more of the Giver than of the gifts, and we realise who he is, Creator and Lord of all, holy and all-powerful and all-wise, our heavenly Father, our loving and gracious Saviour. We praise God when in our thoughts, our words and our lives we truly worship and serve him. "May all people everywhere honour him" is the psalmist's last words here (as in the Good News Bible).

The knowledge of God

In all the world and among all nations the psalmist wants the Lord to be known. Notice the four things that the psalm mentions that are able to be known about God.

a. God's way (verse 2). God has not left us in ignorance as to how he wants us to live. Through men and women as his messengers, and so in the Scriptures, his way is known, and all nations should have opportunity to share that knowledge. The people of Israel, who were given the law and the prophets, were to be a light to other nations showing them God's way (Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6). Similarly the New Testament asserts that Christians are the light of the world to show people the way to God (Matthew 5:16), to proclaim by word and deed the good news of the One who has called them "out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

b. God's saving power (verse 2). God has shown his love in his willingness to save us from the guilt of our sins as we turn to him, and he shows us his power to save us from all the attacks of evil and all our temptations to do what is wrong. So in Christ we come to a Saviour who is able to save thoroughly, completely and entirely, and to keep us safe permanently (Hebrews 7:25).

c. God's justice (verse 4). God is Judge of all as well as Saviour, but we know that he is perfectly just. Nations, and their leaders, who acknowledge him can see that God "judges the peoples with equity", that is, with perfect fairness. So they in their turn are called to act justly towards all. The principle here is that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).

d. God's guidance (verse 4). As shepherds lead their sheep, so God guides all those who look to him. Any one who trusts God for guidance in this way can testify from experience and say, "he leads me in right paths for his name's sake" (23:3). But also the nation that looks to God for direction will be able to say as Israel said, "in your steadfast love you led us, and guided us by your strength" (see Exodus 15:13).

The most important message of this psalm is that we who know the blessing of God should live to praise God and to share with others all over the world the wonderful good news of Jesus Christ which has transformed our lives and which can transform theirs as well.

Prayer: Use for yourself and others the prayer that we have in the blessing of Aaron in Numbers 6:24-26.

For further thought and study

a. What do you think of as God's "way" that verse 2 speaks about? Why do you think the New Testament speaks of "the Way" when it speaks of the faith and life-style of Christians? See Acts 9:2, 18:25, 19:9 and 23, 22:4 and John 14:6.

b. Remembering especially the task Jesus entrusted to his disciples (in Matthew 28:18-20, and Acts 1:8), what should we do to make God's way "known upon earth" and his "saving power among all nations"? See Romans 10:13-17.


In the heading added to this psalm, it is called a "song", and as in Psalms 4, 54, 55, 61 and 76, it is said that it is to be sung to "stringed instruments", which reminds us again of the music that the people of Israel used in the worship of God.