A Psalm of Deliverance; Songs and Sighs
Psalm 85:1-13
Lord, you have been favorable to your land: you have brought back the captivity of Jacob.…

A part of the nation had returned, but to a ruined city, a fallen temple, and a mourning land, where they were surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies. Discouragement had laid hold on the feeble company, enthusiasm had ebbed away, and heart as well as faith had been lost. This psalm accurately reflects such a state of things, and is reasonably taken as one of the earliest post-exilic psalms.

1. The first portion presents one great fact in three aspects, and traces it to Jehovah. The restored Israel had been sent back by the conqueror as a piece of policy, but it was God who had done it, all the same. The blessed fact is joyously announced in ver. 1, and the yet more blessed fact of forgiveness, of which it is a token, in ver. 2. The word rendered "forgiven" implies that sin is regarded as a weight, which God lifts off from the pressed-down sinner; while that for "covered" regards it as a hideous stain, which He hides. Our sins weigh us down, and "are rank, and smell to heaven." Ver. 8 ventures still deeper into the sacred recesses of the Divine nature, and traces the forgiveness to a change in God's disposition. His wrath has been drawn in, as, if we may say so, some creature armed with a sting retracts it into its sheath.

2. God turns from His anger, therefore Israel returns to the land. But the singer feels the incompleteness of the restoration, and the bitter consciousness suddenly changes joyous strains to a plaintive minor in the second part (vers. 4-7). "Turn us," in ver. 4, looks back to "brought back" in ver. 1, and is the same word in the Hebrew. The restoration is but partially accomplished. Similarly the petitions of ver. 5 look back to ver. 8, and pray that God's wrath may indeed pass utterly away. The prayers are grounded on what God has done. He does not deliver by halves. He is not partially reconciled. The remembrance of the bright beginning heartens the assurance of a completion. God never leaves off till He has done. If He seems to have but half withdrawn His anger, it is because we have but half forsaken our sins.

3. The third portion brings solid hopes, based on God's promises, to bear on present discouragements. In ver. 8 the psalmist, like Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:1), encourages himself to listen to what God will speak, "2 will hear," or, rather, "Let me hear." Faithful prayer will always be followed by faithful waiting for response. God will not be silent when His servant appeals to Him, but, though no voice breaks the silence, a sweet assurance, coming from Him, will rise in the depths of the soul, and tell the suppliant that He "will speak peace to His people," and warn them not to turn to other helps, which is "folly." The peace which He speaks means chiefly peace with Himself, and then well-being of all kinds, the sure results of a right relation with God. But that peace is shivered by any sin, like the reflection of the blue heaven in a still lake when a gust of wind ruffles its surface. Vers. 9-13 are the report, in the psalmist's own words, of what his listening ear had heard God say. First comes the assurance that God's salvation, the whole fulness of His delivering grace, both in regard to outward and inward evils, is "nigh them that fear Him." They, and only they, who keep far away from foolish confidence in impotent helps and helpers shall be enriched. That is the inmost meaning of God's word to the singer and to us all. The acceptance of God's salvation purifies our hearts to be temples, and is the condition of His dwelling with us. The lovely personification of vers. 10-13 have passed into Christian poetry and art, but are not rightly understood when taken, as they often are, to describe the harmonious meeting, in Christ's work, of apparently opposing attributes. Mercy and faithfulness blend together in all God's dealings with His people, and righteousness and peace are inseparable in His people's experience. These four radiant angels dwell for ever with those who are God's children. In ver. 11 we have a beautiful inversion of the two pairs of personifications, of each of which only one member appears. Truth, or faithfulness, came into view in verse 10 as a Divine attribute, but is now regarded as a human virtue, springing out of the earth; that is, produced among men. They who have received into their hearts the blessed assurance and results of God's faithfulness will imitate it in their own lives. Conversely, righteousness, which in ver 10 was a human excellence, here appears as looking from heaven like a gracious angel smiling on the faithfulness which springs from earth. Thus heaven and earth are united, and humanity becomes a reflection of the Divine. Ver. 12 presents the same idea in its most general form. God gives good of all sorts, and, thus fructified, earth "shall yield her increase." Without sunshine there are no harvests. God gives before He asks. We must receive from Him before we can tender the fruit of our lives to Him. In ver. 18 the idea of Divine attributes aa the parents of human virtues is again expressed by a different metaphor. Righteousness is represented doubly, as both a herald going before God's march in the world, and as following Him. It makes His footsteps "a way "for us to walk in. Man's perfection lies in his imitating God. Jesus has left us "an example" that we should "follow His steps."

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: {To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.} LORD, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.

WEB: Yahweh, you have been favorable to your land. You have restored the fortunes of Jacob.

The Joy of Trustfulness
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