New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Psa 85:1

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by the sons of Korah-
"By" can as well be "for", so the Psalm may still be Davidic, but is dedicated to the memory of the sons of Korah. Korah had died in rebellion against God, but his children had been preserved (Num. 26:9-11); they therefore became representative of all who had overcome bad background to worship Yahweh independently, regardless of the sins of their fathers. They were therefore inspirational to the righteous remnant amongst the exiles in Babylon. Or these "sons of Korah" may refer to a group of musicians who were to perform the Psalm, the Levitical singers mentioned in 1 Chron. 26:1,2; 2 Chron. 20:19. Or if we insist on reading "by", it could have been a Davidic Psalm edited and as it were released by a group called "the sons of Korah" during the captivity in Babylon.

Yahweh, You have been favourable to Your land. You have restored the fortunes of Jacob-
This may be an example of the 'prophetic perfect', speaking of that yet future, that being asked for, as if it had already happened. Or we could call this language 'fantasy', of the kind we may enjoy when looking forward to the kingdom age. The rest of the Psalm makes it clear that they were not at that time restored, and were still under God's wrath.

But the phrase for 'favourable to Your land' is that used of how during the exile, the land would "enjoy" her Sabbaths (Lev. 26:34,41)- until the people repented. But there is no emphasis upon repentance, just a passionate belief that God ought to remove the consequences of their sin. Likewise 'restoring the fortunes' is the phrase for 'return the captivity', which would happen only when Israel returned to Yahweh (Dt. 30:2,3). But there is no mention of the need for this returning to Yahweh.

Psa 85:2

You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. Selah-
Asaph lived at the time of the restoration (Ezra 2:41). Ps. 85 reflects how that faithful remnant believed that God had forgiven them (Ps. 85:2), and therefore they asked for His anger to cease and for Him to lead their feet in the way which would lead back to Zion (Ps. 85:4,13 RV). But we note that there is a plea for forgiveness and faith this would be granted; but little emphasis upon repentance. The prophets required that Judah 'return' to their God in repentance [s.w.] so that they might return to the land.

We also note that forgiveness is seen as 'covering' of sin. This was absolutely possible in Old Testament times, even without the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. That sacrifice was to as it were flag human attention and elicit faith in the fact that God really does forgive sin and save people. For God is not a pagan deity requiring the blood of a human before He can forgive. David spoke of the blessedness of the man like him whose sin was covered, because he had not himself covered or hid it (Ps. 32:1,5). But the exiles needed to follow the pattern of David in repentance and restoration.

Psa 85:3

You have taken away all Your wrath, You have turned from the fierceness of Your anger-
This and Ps. 78:38 seems to suggest God Himself controlled His anger, Himself turning that anger away, rather than being like a pagan deity whose anger was appeased by blood sacrifice. God turned from His anger due to Moses' intercession (Ex. 32:12 s.w.), but this is not to say that He cannot in any case turn away His anger, simply by His grace. Just as we may control our anger from within ourselves, or at other times we may do this because of the appeal of another to us, or because there is repentance from the one who provoked us. And there were times when this was the case with God (s.w. Num. 25:4; Josh. 7:26; 2 Chron. 12:12; 29:10; 30:8).

Psa 85:4

Turn us, God of our salvation, and cause Your indignation toward us to cease-
The psalmist believed that God could turn the hearts of men to repentance; for repentance is itself a gift of God (Acts 11:18). God is able to work directly upon human hearts to bring about repentance. But we wonder whether the psalmist would not have been better in confessing their sin as Daniel does in Dan. 9, and Ezra likewise; rather than as it were asking God to do the work of repentance for them.

Psa 85:5

Will You be angry with us forever? Will You draw out Your anger to all generations?-
The same words are used in Jer. 17:4 about how God's anger would indeed burn for ever because of what Judah had done. Again we enquire why there is not an acceptance of this and a confession of sin, rather than repeatedly asking simply for the consequence of sin to be taken away. It was because of this lack of repentance that the envisaged restoration didn't take place as was potentially possible.

Psa 85:6

Won’t You revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?-
The implication seems to be that they would not rejoice in their God unless He revived them, by removing the consequence of their sins irrespective of their repentance. Israel would live or be revived if they repented (Ez. 33:19 s.w.). And yet by grace, God did speak of how His Spirit would revive the dead bones of Israel (s.w. Ez. 37:5,6,9). Seeing they had not repented, this was amazing grace to even offer that. The work of the Spirit does the same today; for repentance is itself a gift of God (Acts 11:18). But like the exiles, we can refuse even that, and remain in exile from God because the old and familiar seems somehow better than revival with Him. See on :7.     

Psa 85:7

Show us Your grace, Yahweh. Grant us Your salvation-
This was the grace spoken of in :6; to revive them through the Spirit even whilst impenitent (Ez. 37:5), even though such revival was predicated upon repentance (Ez. 33:19). Such grace is the giving of salvation, but even that we have to accept and actually want it. 

Psa 85:8

I will hear what God, Yahweh, will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, His saints; but let them not turn again to folly-
The psalmist may here be finally hinting that at least he personally will hear or be obedient to God's word. But only in faith that God would grant the peace of forgiveness to His people. Such grace ought to mean that they never against turned to "folly", probably a reference to idolatry.

Psa 85:9

Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, so that glory may dwell in our land-
The glory of God had been seen by Ezekiel leaving Jerusalem and going into captivity; but the prophetic hope was that it would return. But Israel had to "fear Him" to receive that great salvation, and Ezekiel records how the exiles continued in idolatry.

Psa 85:10

Mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other-
The idea may be that God's mercy would be given to those who were faithful ["truth"] to the covenant. "Mercy and truth" often refer to the promises to Abraham, which were the basis of the new covenant offered to the exiles in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, seeing they had broken the old covenant. Peace with God would come if the people devoted themselves to righteousness. This was the prophetic vision of the psalmist, but the reality was that the exiles didn't abide in the covenant, they tried to keep the broken old covenant and rejected the new covenant. And they were hardly characterized by a love of righteousness, as the history in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Malachi and Esther reveals.

Psa 85:11

Truth springs out of the earth, righteousness has looked down from heaven-
The idea is that Israel would abide in truth, in faithfulness to the new covenant; and God's righteousness would come from heaven in faithful response to that. See on :10.

Psa 85:12

Yes, Yahweh will give that which is good. Our land will yield its increase-
The revived spiritual state of the people would be reflected in the prophesied kingdom conditions coming in the land. But there were famines when the exiles returned; this great prophetic potential was reapplied and rescheduled to Judah's final repentance in the last days.

Psa 85:13

Righteousness goes before Him, and prepares the way for His steps-
This is the language of later Isaiah about the way back to Zion being prepared. But those wonderful prophecies of restoration were precluded by the impenitence of the exiles, and their preference (for the most part) to remain in exile.