Reaching into the Psalms: 21. God’s Glory on us
Psa 4:6b Let the light of your face shine on us
We finished yesterday’s study asking at one point, can we stand before God’s gaze and have a clear conscience about the way we use our money and the attitudes we have? And then we come to the second part of verse 6 which raises various thoughts.
God Sees: The first thought, following the use of the words, ‘God’s gaze’ reminds us that God’s eyes are always on us. Intriguingly it was Hagar, Sarai’s servant who focuses this for us first: “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Gen 16:13) as, in the desert she realised after an angel came, that she might have been alone, but God saw her and her plight. The psalmist expands that to include everyone: “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind.” (Psa 33:17). Then in the famous burning bush incident, the Lord’s starting point is, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.” (Ex 3:7)
The fact that God sees us is both comforting and scary. It is comforting when we think that He watches over us all the time to protect us (see Psa 121) and it is rightfully scary to think that He sees all we do (see the example of Gehazi and Elisha who saw by the Spirit where he went).
God’s Presence: But in the context here, I believe David is using the expression in v.6b to simply mean the Lord’s presence. He has been acknowledging the words of the people, wondering where the Lord is, where the signs of His blessing are, and so his obvious request is simply that the Lord will come and make His presence known. But of course wherever the Lord appears, His glory is seen, that brightness that shines forth from Him, and where that glory shines it brings the blessing of the presence of the Lord with it.
God with us: I have spoken many times in recent series about the presence of the Lord because it seems it is a crucial issue for the church today. There is a sense that God is everywhere (see Psa 139) but we know very clearly that most of the time we are not conscious of Him being there. Yet there are times when He manifests His presence so that although that we do not ‘see’ Him, we sense His glorious and amazing presence in the room with us, and suddenly everything is different. I was in a church service fairly recently (and sadly this doesn’t often happen) but the moment the two musicians struck up, the Spirit within me leapt and I instinctively thought, “Oh my goodness, the Lord is here!” There are such times when He transforms the present with His presence and it is a real transforming. Your spirit lifts, joy flows forth and worship pours out. The sense of His glorious presence releases all those things instinctively. It is truly a case of Emmanuel, God with us.
His face? Why the reference to His face? Perhaps it is the same thing that we see when we gaze into the face of someone in front of us. There we may see love or even hatred but the face reveals so much about the one before us. Sometimes, it seems, all their thoughts, their feelings or their attitudes in respect of you are revealed in their face. The face is the focus of the person towards us. Watch friends or family meeting a loved one, waiting at the other side of the barrier at Airport Arrivals. Their faces say everything. Yes, body language may contribute but it is the face that communicates most to us.
‘Seeing the face’ of the Lord refers to access to Him. In a later psalm David was to write, “the upright will see his face,” (Psa 11:7) and when he felt separated from the Lord he cried, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psa 13:1). Similarly it means personal encounter and elsewhere David wrote, “be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.” (Psa 27:7,8) Indeed again and again we see David using this terminology.
Elsewhere we find, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (Ex 33:11) But then we find that when Moses did meet with the Lord like this, when he left the Lord’s presence his face shone with the Lord’s glory (see Ex 34:29-35) and it is that picture that the apostle Paul uses of us: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:17,18) See the language, we “with unveiled faces”. There is a sense whereby with the open relationship we now have with the Lord through the work of Christ on the Cross, and His presence within us by His indwelling Holy Spirit, this openness brings about a transformation in us as encounter Him.
And that brings us back to verse 6. In the face of the unbelief in the nation, in the face of the grumbles about His absence, David asks the Lord to come afresh and make His presence known in the midst of His people again, because he knows that, even in accordance with their history, when the Lord did that it brought about transformation. And that is what you and I need, that is what our churches need, and that is what our communities need, the transforming presence of the Lord Himself, and in our case that transformation of church and community will be as it comes in and through us.