This Psalm is a prayer for restoration after disaster. In the original version the refrain to restore and save us is repeated three times using ever grander titles to address God. The hymn writer has distilled the essence of this cry for help into four verses and ends each with the initial refrain from the Psalm.
Maybe this Psalm was written during exile. It was certainly written in a time of distress, of endless sorrow. Maybe it calls to mind a situation today which needs God’s loving gaze. The imagery used in the first two verses reminds us both of God’s immanence and transcendence. The immanent shepherd is walking with the people guiding them on. The transcendent God is enthroned in heavenly splendour. In a weakened state, the psalmist longs for empowerment, to be restored and saved, and longs for celestial light to shine in the darkness.
In the last two verses the present sufferings are described and the hope of a better times for vindication in being faithful is expressed. The Psalmist is longing for a restored relationship where God smiles on the faithful remnant and is pleased with them.
The Psalmist longs for God’s face to shine on us all. Echoing the blessing attributed to Aaron in Numbers 6, what is translated as ‘shine’ literally means to know God’s smile, rather than feel God is turning away and abandoning. The Psalmist longs to be assured of God’s pleasure rather than disdain. Bathed in the light of God’s love, rather than suffering in his apparent absence.
We can use this Psalm for ourselves, but can also use it to bless all for whom we pray:
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.
Numbers 6:24-26 (NRSV)
The Rev’d Viv Henderson, Minister of Minehead URC and Chaplain at Wellesley Hospital