The great Aaronic blessing that God gave to the priesthood in Israel to lay upon Israel and to bless Israel was that the Lord’s face would shine upon them (Num. 6:24-26). This was an expression of the happy, blessed, and positive relationship that would exist between God and His people.
When the people had fallen into sin, or when they had fallen into misery and suffering that they could not immediately relate to sin, they had this sense that God was not as near to them as they desired. It did not seem God was blessing them as they wanted Him to. They described this as God turning His face away from them.
We could say it’s almost like an eclipse of the sun. When God turns His face to us there’s a brightness, but when He turns His face away, we experience a kind of darkness. It can be a real spiritual sadness. It can be a time of spiritual distress. It can be because of our sin, but it can also be because of the misery of the world in which we live. It should always be an occasion for us to seek Him and to try to find His face again.
The question I’d like answered is, “What exactly is going on in Psalm 39?” Near the end the psalmist says, “Oh Lord, turn your face away from me that I may be glad again” (Ps. 39:13). That’s so intriguing. I’ve tried to preach that text a number of times. I can’t quite figure it out. The psalmist seems to be saying, “Sometimes Lord, You’re so close to me that I can hardly breathe. Give me a little space.” I don’t know whether the psalmist is saying that out of faith or out of sin. It’s a very remarkable passage. It shows that, ideally, we want to be close to God. We want to have a strong sense of the presence of God, but the presence of God can be overwhelming at times.
One of the things I love about the Psalms is that they give us words in many different circumstances of life. When we’re really down and feel as if God is away from us, we have Psalm 88. In times of great joy and celebration, we have any number of Psalms. That is why we need to know the Psalms, so that we know the right ones to use in the various experiences of life.