This psalm is titled To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. These sons of Korah were Levites, from the family of Kohath. By David’s time it seems they served in the musical aspect of the temple worship (2 Chronicles 20:19).
Like several psalms, Psalm 85 (in some ways) seems to fit the period of Israel’s return from exile; in other ways it does not. Alexander Maclaren noted, “The book of Nehemiah supplies precisely such a background as fits the psalm. A part of the nation had returned indeed, but to a ruined city, a fallen Temple, and a mourning land, where they were surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies.” Even if this psalm belongs to an earlier period (such as the end of Saul’s reign), God’s people find themselves in this place from time to time, and this beautiful psalm is appropriate.
A. Gratitude for favor and restoration.
1. (1-2) Brought back from captivity and sin.
LORD, You have been favorable to Your land;
You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.
You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people;
You have covered all their sin. Selah
a. You have been favorable to Your land: The psalmist finds relief in God’s care for His land. Notably, the territory of Israel is called Your land. The Bible understands that all the earth belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1), and yet there is an undeniable way in which Israel is His special possession, with God having a special regard for His land.
b. You have brought back the captivity of Jacob: Many think this phrase means this psalm was written after the Babylonian captivity. This is possible, and some psalms clearly date to this period (such as Psalm 79). Yet the idea of Israel being in some kind of captivity also suits some other periods, such as the period of Philistine domination in the later years of Saul’s reign (1 Samuel 28-31).
i. “Israel is not pining for past glories, which are often an optical illusion…but remembering past mercies. This is realistic; it is also stimulating: it leads to prayers rather than dreams.” (Kidner)
c. You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people: The psalmist was not only interested in the land, but more importantly in relationship with God. The iniquity that once hindered relationship was now taken away. The idea was so important and precious to the psalmist that he repeated it in different words according to the style of Hebrew poetry.
i. Forgiven, covered: “He uses two significant words for pardon, both of which occur in Psalm 32:1-11. In Psalm 85:2a, sin is regarded as a weight pressing down the nation, which God’s mercy lifts off and takes away; in Psalm 85:2b, it is conceived of as a hideous stain or foulness, which His mercy hides, so that it is no longer an offence to heaven.” (Maclaren)
ii. Forgiven their iniquity: “Thou hast borne, or carried away, the iniquity. An allusion to the ceremony of the scapegoat.” (Clarke)
iii. All their sin: “All of it, every spot, and wrinkle, the veil of love has covered all. Sin has been divinely put out of sight.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3) Rescued from God’s righteous anger.
You have taken away all Your wrath;
You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger.
a. You have taken away all Your wrath: The psalmist found peace in the satisfaction of God’s wrath. Once they were the righteous subjects of God’s judgment, and now they were delivered from it. There is special beauty in the words all Your wrath, speaking of a complete work.
i. As with the previous verse (covered all their sin), this looks forward to the complete work of Jesus on the cross, where He satisfied God’s righteous requirement to the full with a once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10).
ii. “Some of the strongest salvation language in Scripture is present in these verses. ‘Covered their sins’ describes what is meant by atonement. ‘Set aside your wrath’ is what is meant by the word propitiation.” (Boice)
b. You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger: There is great relief in knowing God’s anger has passed. This is especially true when considering the fierceness of His anger.
B. Prayer for continued favor and restoration.
1. (4-5) A prayer for restoration.
Restore us, O God of our salvation,
And cause Your anger toward us to cease.
Will You be angry with us forever?
Will You prolong Your anger to all generations?
a. Restore us, O God of our salvation: The psalmist began by thanking God for return and restoration. In light of that past goodness, the psalmist now prays for continued and present restoration.
b. Will You be angry with us forever? Psalm 85:3 thanked God for the turning of His fierce anger. That work in the past was the basis of this prayer, “Lord do it again.”
2. (6-7) A prayer for revival.
Will You not revive us again,
That Your people may rejoice in You?
Show us Your mercy, LORD,
And grant us Your salvation.
a. Will You not revive us again: This is a simple and wonderful prayer for revival. It recognizes that revival is not man-made, but given by God. Yet it also recognizes that one may and should pray for revival, and pray with godly expectation.
i. This prayer for revival “…implies that the people were alive once, have died in a spiritual sense, and now need to be given spiritual life again. This is what the church almost always needs, and it is how revivals come.” (Boice)
ii. The context tells us when to pray for revival.
· We should pray for revival when we remember the great things God has done in the past (as in Psalm 85:1-3).
· We should pray for revival when we sense we are under a cloud of divine displeasure or an evident lack of blessing (as in Psalm 85:4-5).
iii. The context tells us who to pray for.
· In praying for revival, pray for the pastor. Ask God to personally revive him, to strengthen him against temptation and discouragement, and to fill him with faith. Ask God to bless the pastor’s work with great spiritual power. James McGrady is an example of a man who made the most of getting his congregation to pray for him. He was the man so ugly that he attracted attention. McGrady came over the Allegheny Mountains to minister on the frontier of Kentucky. He had three little box-like Presbyterian churches. McGrady described the work during the winter of 1799 as “…for the most part weeping and mourning with the people of God.” He promoted a once-a-month concert of prayer with other churches, but he asked his people to pray for him when the sun set on Saturday for half an hour and when the sun rose on Sunday for half and hour. McGrady was no specimen as a preacher – he had a bad voice and people noticed his awkward gestures in preaching. But in 1800 there came a flood of blessing, with meetings as large as 25,000 people.
· In praying for revival, pray for the congregation. Pray for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation, not only on the preacher.
· In praying for revival, pray for other churches in your community.
· In praying for revival, pray for the community in general, that Jesus would answer the promise of John 16:7-8, sending the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin.
b. That Your people may rejoice in You: Praying for revival means praying that God’s work among His people would cause them to find their joy in nothing else than in Him. So we pray:
· Full of confidence, knowing that God can revive.
· Full of boldness, pleading with God for revival.
· Full of humility, desiring God’s glory and praise.
i. “The words before us teach us that gratitude has an eye to the giver, even beyond the gift – ‘thy people may rejoice in thee.’ Those who were revived would rejoice not only in the new life but in the Lord who was the author of it.” (Spurgeon)
c. Show us Your mercy: Revival is a work of God’s mercy. It isn’t earned or deserved. God graciously grants true revival.
d. Grant us Your salvation: True revival demonstrates that salvation is God’s work. Jonah saw a great work of revival in Nineveh, flowing from his embrace of the great principle: Salvation is of the LORD (Jonah 2:9).
C. Confidence in God’s response.
1. (8-9) Hearing God’s word of peace.
I will hear what God the LORD will speak,
For He will speak peace
To His people and to His saints;
But let them not turn back to folly.
Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land.
a. I will hear what God the LORD will speak: In the last section of this psalm, the psalmist expressed surrender and submission to God. The proper attitude of the believer praying for revival is to surrender to the authority of God’s word.
i. “‘I will be silent. I have spoken to him; now I will hear what his answer is. I will hold my ear attentive to listen to his voice.’ O my dear hearers, when you are willing to hear God, there are good times coming to you!” (Spurgeon)
b. For He will speak peace: The psalmist was confident in the goodness of God, and that God would speak peace to His humble, surrendered people and to His saints.
i. “The gospel is accordingly styled by St. Peter ‘the word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ.’ Acts 10:36.” (Horne)
ii. “He that will not hear the gospel of peace, shall never know the peace of the gospel. If you will not hear the Holy Spirit when he warns you of your sin, neither shall you hear him revealing peace through pardon.” (Spurgeon)
c. But let them not turn back to folly: Humility and surrender are proper attitudes for God’s people. They should turn to Him in true repentance, and not turn back to folly.
d. His salvation is near to those who fear Him: The humble and surrendered people of God enjoy the nearness of His salvation. As God moves among His people this way, glory may dwell in our land.
2. (10-13) The good righteousness of God.
Mercy and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
And righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Yes, the LORD will give what is good;
And our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before Him,
And shall make His footsteps our pathway.
a. Mercy and truth have met together: In beautiful terms the psalmist describes the salvation God brings to His people. It might seem that mercy and truth are set against each other, with mercy looking to grant pardon and truth determined to condemn. In God’s great work of salvation, mercy and truth have met together.
i. Mercy and truth have met together: The word here translated mercy is the great Hebrew word hesed, which often has the idea of grace or loyal love. This verse may have been the inspiration for what John later wrote: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
b. Righteousness and peace have kissed: Even as mercy and truth meet, so righteousness and peace greet each other warmly. It might seem that righteousness would condemn me and prevent God’s shalom (peace) from ever reaching me. In God’s great work of salvation, His righteousness and peace are the best of friends.
i. “These four divine attributes parted at the fall of Adam, and met again at the birth of Christ…. Mercy was ever inclined to save man, and Peace could not be his enemy; but Truth exacted the performance of God’s threat, ‘The soul that sinneth, it shall die’; and Righteousness could not but give to every one his due.” (Horne)
ii. “Now, Where did these meet? In Christ Jesus. When were they reconciled? When he poured out his life on Calvary.” (Clarke)
iii. Paul later expressed this idea in Romans 3:26: That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. At the cross, God demonstrated His righteousness by offering man justification (a legal verdict of “not guilty”), while remaining completely just (because the righteous penalty of sin had been paid at the cross). God could be only just, and simply send every guilty sinner to hell, as a just judge would do. Only God could find a way to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
c. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven: God pours out His truth and righteousness. They seem to spring forth from creation itself. Prophetically, we may say this refers not only to the reconciliation started at the cross, but also has in view its completion at the end of the age, when creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
i. “The devil is the great disrupter. He has brought disharmony to the universe. God brings harmony. In these verses four great attributes of God meet together…and then, like conquering generals, they march side by side to a victory that is the sure and certain hope of God’s people.” (Boice)
d. Righteousness will go before Him: Righteousness so marks God that it goes before Him, as the tail of a comet goes behind the comet. God’s righteousness is so rich that it also makes His footsteps our pathway – the pathway of His people.
i. “The psalmist began with a reflection of God’s past acts of salvation and leaves a canonical hope in the progression of redemption, as God’s ‘righteousness’ advances his kingdom.” (VanGemeren)
ii. His footsteps our pathway: “God’s march…will leave a track wherein his people will joyfully follow.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org