NBC suggests the following outline:-
- Remembering, vv1-3
- Pleading, vv4-7
- Listening, vv8-9
- Expecting, vv10-13
Psa 85:1 For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm. You showed favor to your land, O LORD; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
It is good to remember past mercies. Mere nostalgia is an ‘optical illusion’ (Kidner). But to remember what God has done in the past is both necessary and right when it leads to thanksgiving and hopefulness.
‘God’s dealings are prophetic of what he will do…Many a time have foes been baffled, pestilence stayed, famine averted, and deliverance vouchsafed, because of the Lord’s favour; that same favourable regard is therefore again invoked’ (Spurgeon)
Prayer is strengthened when we can claim a common interest with our God. The reference to ‘your land’ is a strong argument in this respect. ‘The Lord chose it for his people, conveyed it to them by covenant, conquered it by his power, and dwelt in it in mercy; it was meet therefore that he should smile upon a land so peculiarly his own. It is most wise to plead the Lord’s union of interest with ourselves, to lash our little boat as it were to his great barque, and experience a sacred community in the tossings of the storm’ (Spurgeon)
Psa 85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. Selah
The greatest of mercies is the forgiveness of sins. Moses reminds us that the forgiving grace of God is to be seen against a backcloth of inflexible justice, Num 14:18-19.
Forgiveness is a great wonder. ‘To cover up the sun would be easy work compared with the covering up of sin’ (Spurgeon).
Our sins are covered, not to hide them, but to heal them.
Every believer enjoys the forgiveness of sins. Take this as a guarantee of all things needful, Rom 8:32. Conversely, beware any temporal blessing which is not accompanied by spiritual good, Psa 106:15.
Psa 85:3 You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger.
There is a divine wrath which needs to be set aside. Judgement against his own people is God’s ‘strange’ and ‘alien’ work, in which he takes no pleasure, Isa 28:21.
Psa 85:4 Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.
Psa 85:4: J.I. Packer, commenting on verses 4-6 of this Psalm, writes:- ‘These verses, which can be matched from many passages in the psalms and the prophets, beg for a quickening visitation to the community (’restore, or revive us again’) which will have a twofold experiential significance. First, this reviving will be experienced as the ending of God’s wrath, the termination of the impotence, frustration, and barrenness which have been the tokens of divine displeasure for unfaithfulness. Second, this reviving will be experienced as the exulting of God’s people: joy will replace the distress which knowledge of God’s displeasure has made the faithful feel.’ (Packer, God in our midst, 22)
Psa 85:5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations? –
There can be pain, as well as joy, in prayer. ‘Shall sons suffer for their father’s faults, and punishment become an entailed inheritance?’ (Spurgeon)
These pained questions virtually answer themselves in the light of God’s past mercies.
Psa 85:6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
God is able to revive his people.
- The Giver – ‘Will you’
- The need – ‘revive us’
- The history – ‘again’
- The prime subjects – ‘your people’
- The effect – ‘rejoice’
- The end and purpose – ‘in you’
That your people may rejoice… – ‘Joy in the Lord is the ripest fruit of grace, all revivals and renewals lead up to it. By our possession of it we may estimate our spiritual condition, it is a sure guage of inward prosperity. A genuine revival without joy in the Lord is as impossible as spring without flowers, or daydawn without light.’ (Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, IV, 86)
‘When God changeth the cheer of his people, their joy should not be in the gift, but in the Giver’ (Dickson)
Psa 85:7 Show us your unfailing love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.
‘We have seen thine anger, Lord let us see thy mercy.’ (Spurgeon)
Unfailing love – this is God’s mercy. ‘All is mercy, from first to last, – mercy that me us by the way, – mercy that looked upon us in our misery, – mercy that washed us from our sins in his own blood, – mercy that covered our nakedness and clad us in his own robe of righteousness, – mercy that led and guided us by the way, – and mercy that will never leave us nor forsake us till mercy has wrought its perfect work in the ternal salvation of our souls through Jesus Christ.’ (Barton Bouchier)
Psa 85:8 I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints— but let them not return to folly.
Take time to listen to what God has to say.
I will listen – ‘I have spoken enough, or too much; now I will hear what God will speak, and welcome his holy will.’ MHC)
‘The true attitude for a sinner to take in the presence of divine revelation is that of a listener. To enter the place of a doer before you have occupied that of a listener, is to reverse God’s order, and throw everything into confusion.’ (Quoted by Spurgeon)
A good ear is that which ‘willingly hears what is it taught, wisely understands what it hearest, and obediently practices what is understandeth.’ (Bernard)
We believe that God hears us; let us resolve to hear him.
He promises peace – Take heart from God’s promise of peace.
‘Peace’ includes the idea of health, wholeness, and well-being. The word was, of course, a standard greeting. But God does not merely wish peace, he promises it, Isa 57:18ff.
Only God can speak peace to the soul.
Beware of a false peace, which relieves the symptoms without treating the disease.
To whom does God speak peace? – To his people, his saints. ‘Carnal men speak peace to themselves on account of some supposed goodness in themselves. And unsound professors steal peace from God’s promises, such as Isa 55:7; Hos 14:4. But an upright heart will not be satisfied without hearing God speak peace to his heart by his Spirit.’ (John Berridge) See also Jer 8:11.
If we return to folly, our peace will be shattered.
Psa 85:9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
God’s deliverance is nearer than we think. Let us not be ruled by the appearances, but by the promises. The dark cloud has a silver lining. God’s deliverance is near; nearer, no doubt, than we think.
‘We have not to go about by a long round of personal mortifications or spiritual preparations, we may come to the Lord, through Jesus Christ, just as we did at the first, and he will again receive us into his loving embrace. Whether it be a nation under adversity, or a single individual under chastisement, the sweet truth before us is rich with encouragement to repentance, and renewed holiness’. (Spurgeon)
Would we see God’s glory in our land? Then let us fear him, and seek his salvation. ‘The object of the return to grace will be a permanent establishment of a better state of things, so that gloriously devout worship shall be rendered to god continuously, and a glorious measure of prosperity shall be enjoyed in consequence. Israel was glorious whenever she was faithful – her disobedience always followed her disloyalty’. (Spurgeon)
Psa 85:10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Kidner points out that the older translation – ‘mercy and truth’ – suggests a meeting of opposites. But he inclines towards the view that the idea here is of ‘a settled state of discord rather than the act of resolving a state of discord’. Love and faithfulness ‘are partners, not opposites’.
There is a happy meeting-place of divine qualities. They meet together in the character of God. ‘If we take truth and righteousness for god’s justice in punishing, mercy and peace for his graciousness in pardoning; yet they meet together in all his ways unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For as the mercies of the wicked are full of cruelty, so the very judgements of god upon his servants are full of mercy. In his wrath he remembers pity; punishing a little, that he may pardon a great deal; destroying the flesh only to save the spirit, 1 Cor 5:5…It was good for Joseph that he was a captive; good for Naaman that he was a leper; good for Bartimaeus that he was blind, and for David that he was in trouble…All things are for the best until the faithful…’ (John Boys)
They meet together in the work of Jesus Christ. ‘In him, the attributes of God unite in glad unanimity in the salvation of guilty men…God is as true as if he had fulfilled every letter of his threatenings, as righteous as if he had never spoken peace to a sinner’s conscience; his love in undiminished splendour shines forth, but no other of his ever-blessed characteristics is eclipsed thereby.’ (Spurgeon)
‘Mercy and peace are on one side; truth and righteousness on the other…They meet together on the way; one going to make inquisition for sin, the other to plead for reconciliation. Having met, their differences on certain considerations are adjusted, and their mutual claims are blended together in one common interest.’ (Adam Clarke)
‘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 extracted the performance of God’s threat,—”The soul that sinneth, it shall die; “and Righteousness could not but give to every one his due, Jehovah must be true in all his ways, and righteous in all his works. Now there is no religion on earth, except the Christian, which can satisfy the demands of all these claimants, and restore an union between them; which can show how God’s word can be true, and his work just, and the sinner, notwithstanding, find mercy, and obtain peace.’ (George Horne)
‘How God can be just and yet justify the ungodly, how he can condemn sin and yet let the sinner go free, how he can declare and manifest his awful righteousness, and yet be righteous in bestowing life on the guilty, how he can magnify the law and make it honourable, while yet its penalty is not borne by transgressors but by their voluntary substitute, are but a few of the hard problems, which find solution in the cross of Christ.’ (Plumer)
They meet together in a reformed people. This verse was the text of Thomas Goodwin, at the opening of Parliament, January 27th, 1659, when Richard Cromwell was installed as Protector.
‘The prevailing concept…is that of concord; vast, unspoilt and rich in life’ (Kidner)
Here are the pillars of a well-ordered state: ‘Goodness and fidelity, justice and concord (which are the principal glory of a kingdom) meet together, like ancient friends, which have long been absent, and embrace each other’ (Patrick).
Since these things spring from God, and the divine nature, they are the great characteristics of Christ’s kingdom, Psa 89:14; 72:1f; Isa 32:14.
Psa 85:11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
We may yet hope for a time of prosperity. ‘This is a delicious scene. Earth yielding flowers of truth, and heaven shining with stars of holiness’ (Spurgeon) ‘Earth carpeted with truth, and heaven canopied with stars of holiness’.
Here is a picture of spring-time for the people of god. The green shoots of faithfulness sprout on the earth, which had been barren. At the same time the warm light of righteousness, which has long been hidden by clouds, shines down from above. Cf. Jer 6:1; Mal 4:2.
Psa 85:12 The LORD will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.
Psa 85:13 Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.
If, says Kidner, the foregoing verses seem static, then this final verse is active. ‘We are roused from basking to following’.
Righteousness leads the way as God’s herald. All of god’s works, whether of punishment or salvation, are done in righteousness. ‘All the steps of the Redeemer were in righteousness. He did not deny the justice of God, nor ignore the penalty of his law; but redeemed us from it by satisfying divine justice.’ (Plumer)