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Psalm 85

Prayer for the Restoration of God’s Favor

To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.

1

Lord, you were favorable to your land;

you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

2

You forgave the iniquity of your people;

you pardoned all their sin.Selah

3

You withdrew all your wrath;

you turned from your hot anger.

 

4

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,

and put away your indignation toward us.

5

Will you be angry with us forever?

Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

6

Will you not revive us again,

so that your people may rejoice in you?

7

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,

and grant us your salvation.

 

8

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people,

to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.


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1 O Jehovah! thou hast been favorable to thy land. Those who translate these words in the future tense, in my opinion, mar their meaning. This psalm, it is probable, was endited to be sung by the people when they were persecuted by the cruel tyranny of Antiochus; and from the deliverance wrought for them in the past, they were encouraged to expect in the future, fresh and continued tokens of the divine favor, — God having thereby testified, that their sins, however numerous and aggravated, could not efface from his memory the remembrance of his covenant, so as to render him inexorable towards the children of Abraham, and deaf to their prayers. 474474     “Ou, si est ce que.” — Fr. marg. “Or, Yet.” Had they not previously experienced such remarkable proofs of the divine goodness, they must necessarily have been overwhelmed with the load of their present afflictions, especially when so long protracted. The cause of their deliverance from captivity they attribute to the free love with which God had embraced the land which he had chosen for himself. Whence it follows, that the course of his favor was unintermitted; and the faithful also were inspired with confidence in prayer, by the reflection that, mindful of his choice, he had shown himself merciful to his own land. We have elsewhere had occasion to remark, that nothing contributes more effectually to encourage us to come to the throne of grace, than the remembrance of God’s former benefits. Our faith would immediately succumb under adversity, and sorrow would choke our hearts, were we not taught to believe from the experience of the past, that he is inclined compassionately to hear the prayers of his servants, and always affords them succor when the exigencies of their circumstances require it; especially as there remains at all times the same reason for continuing his goodness. Thus the prophet happily applies to believers of his own day, the benefits which God in old time bestowed upon their fathers, because both they and their fathers were called to the hope of the same inheritance.

2 Thou hast taken away the iniquity of thy people. It was very natural for the faithful to feel alarmed and perplexed on account of their sins, and therefore the prophet removes all ground for overwhelming apprehension, by showing them, that God, in delivering his people, had given an irrefragable proof of free forgiveness. He had before traced this deliverance to the mere good pleasure and free grace of God as its source; but after it was wrought, the iniquities of the people having separated between them and their God, and estranged them from him, it was necessary that the remedy of pardon should be brought to their aid. In saying that their iniquities were taken away, he does not refer to the faithful being reformed and purged from their sins, in other words, to that work by which God, sanctifying them by the Spirit of regeneration, actually removes sin from them. What he intended to say he explains immediately after. The amount, in short, is, that God was reconciled to the Jews by not imputing their sins to them. When God is said to cover sins, the meaning is, that he buries them, so that they come not into judgment, as we have shown more at large on the 32nd psalm, at the beginning. When, therefore, he had punished the sins of his people by captivity, it being his will to restore them again to their own country, he removed the great impediment to this, by blotting out their transgressions; for deliverance from punishment depends upon the remission of sin. Thus we are furnished with an argument in confutation of that foolish conceit of the Sophists, which they set forth as some great mystery, That God retains the punishment although he forgive the fault; whereas God announces in every part of his word, that his object in pardoning is, that being pacified, he may at the same time mitigate the punishment. Of this we have an additional confirmation in the following verse, where we are informed, that God was mercifully inclined towards his people, that he might withdraw his hand from chastising them. What answer in any degree plausible can be given to this by the Sophists, who affirm that God would not be righteous did he not, after he had forgiven the fault, execute punishment according to the strict demands of his justice? The sequence of the pardon of sin is, that God by his blessing testifies that he is no longer displeased.

4 Turn us, O God of our salvation! The faithful now make a practical application to themselves, in their present circumstances, of what they had rehearsed before concerning God’s paternal tenderness towards his people whom he had redeemed. And they attribute to him, by whom they desire to be restored to their former state, the appellation, O God of our salvation! to encourage themselves, even in the most desperate circumstances, in the hope of being delivered by the power of God. Although to the eye of sense and reason there may be no apparent ground to hope favourably as to our condition, it becomes us to believe that our salvation rests secure in his hand, and that, whenever he pleases, he can easily and readily find the means of bringing salvation to us. God’s anger being the cause and origin of all calamities, the faithful beseech him to remove it. This order demands our special attention; for so effeminate and faint-hearted in bearing adversity are we, that no sooner does God begin to smite us with his little finger, than we entreat him, with groaning and lamentable cries, to spare us. But we forget to plead, what should chiefly engage our thoughts, that he would deliver us from guilt and condemnation; and we forget this because we are reluctant to descend into our own hearts and to examine ourselves.

5 Wilt thou be wroth against us for ever? Here the godly bewail the long continuance of their afflictions, and derive an argument in prayer from the nature of God, as it is described in the law, —

“The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin,”
(Exodus 34:6, 7,)

— a truth which has also been brought under our notice in Psalm 30:5, “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” It thus becomes us, when we engage in prayer, to meditate upon the Divine promises that we may be furnished with suitable expressions. It may seem, at first view, that these devout Jews find fault with God, as if he exhibited his character to them in a light very different from that in which he was wont to exhibit it; but the object they had in view undoubtedly was to obtain, in the struggle they were resolutely maintaining against temptation, hope of relief from the contemplation of the nature of God; as if they laid it down as a fixed principle, that it is impossible for Him to be angry for ever. We may observe, by the way, that it is evident, from their praying in this manner, that they were weighed down with such an oppressive load of calamities, as to be almost unable any longer to endure them. Let us therefore learn, that although God may not immediately grant us manifest tokens of his returning favor, yet we must not cease to persevere in earnest prayer. If it is objected, that then God has promised in vain that his anger would be of short duration, I answer, that if we entertain suitable views of our own sins, his anger will assuredly appear to be always of short continuance; and if we call to remembrance the everlasting course of his mercy, we will confess that his anger endures but for a moment. As our corrupt nature is ever relapsing into the wanton indulgence of its native propensities, manifold corrections are indispensably necessary to subdue it thoroughly.

The godly, still dwelling on the same theme, ask, in the 6th verse, whether God will not turn again and quicken them Being fully convinced of the truth of this principle, That the punishments with which God chastises his children are only temporary; they thereby encourage themselves in the confident expectation, that although he may be now justly displeased, and may have turned away his face from them, yet, when they implore his mercy, he will be entreated, and raising the dead to life again, will turn their mourning into gladness. By the word quicken, they complain that they almost resemble persons who are dead, or that they are stunned and laid prostrate with afflictions. And when they promise themselves matter of rejoicing, they intimate that in the meantime they are well nigh worn out with sorrow.

7. Show us thy mercy, O Jehovah! In these words there is the same contrast as in the preceding sentence. In supplicating that mercy may be extended to them, and deliverance granted them, they confess that they are deprived of all sense of both these blessings. Such having been the state of the saints in old time, let us learn, even when we are so oppressed with calamities as to be reduced to extremity, and on the brink of despair, to betake ourselves notwithstanding to God. Mercy is appropriately put in the first place; and then there is added salvation, which is the work and fruit of mercy; for no other reason can be assigned why God is induced to show himself our Savior, but that he is merciful. Whence it follows, that all who urge their own merits before Him as a plea for obtaining his favor, are shutting up the way of salvation.

8. I will hear what God Jehovah will speak. The prophet, by his own example, here exhorts the whole body of the Church to quiet and calm endurance. As he had burst forth under the influence of strong emotion into a degree of vehemence, he now restrains himself as it were with a bridle; and in all our desires, be they never so devout and holy, we must always beware of their running to excess. When a man gives indulgence to his own infirmity, he is easily carried beyond the bounds of moderation by an undue ardor. For this reason the prophet enjoins silence, both upon himself and others, that they may patiently wait God’s own time. By these words, he shows that he was in a composed state of mind, and, as it were, continued silent, because he was persuaded that the care of God is exercised about his Church. Had he thought that fortune held the sovereignty of the world, and that mankind are whirled round by a blind impulse, he would not, as he does, have represented God as sustaining the function of governing. To speak, in this passage, is equivalent to command, or to appoint. It is, as if he had said, Being confident that the remedy for our present calamities is in the hand of God, I will remain quiet until the fit time for delivering the Church arrive. As then the unruliness of our passions murmur, and raise an uproar against God, so patience is a kind of silence by which the godly keep themselves in subjection to his authority. In the second clause of the verse, the Psalmist comes to the conclusion, that the condition of the Church will be more prosperous: Surely he will speak peace to his people, and to his meek ones. As God rules supreme over the affairs of men, he cannot but provide for the welfare of his Church, which is the object of his special love. The word peace, we have elsewhere shown, is employed by the Hebrews to denote prosperity; and, accordingly, what is here expressed is, that the Church, by the Divine blessing, will prosper. Moreover, by the word speak, it is intimated that God will not fail to regard his promises. The Psalmist might have spoken more plainly of Divine Providence, as for instance in these terms, “I will look to what God will do;” but as the benefits bestowed upon the Church flow from the Divine promises, he makes mention of God’s mouth rather than of his hand; and, at the same time, he shows that patience depends upon the quiet hearing of faith. When those to whom God speaks peace are not only described as his people, but also as his meek ones, this is a mark by which the genuine people of God are distinguished from such as bear merely the title of his people. As hypocrites arrogantly claim to themselves all the privileges of the Church, it is requisite to repel and exhibit the groundlessness of their boasting, in order to let them know that they are justly excluded from the promises of God.

And they will not turn again to folly. The particle rendered and has usually been explained in this way: That they may not turn again to folly; as if this clause were added to express the fruit of the Divine goodness. As God, in dealing graciously with his people, allures them to himself, that they may continue obedient to him, the prophet, as these interpreters contend, maintains that they will not again return to folly, because the Divine goodness will serve as a bridle to restrain them. This exposition is admissible; but it will be more suitable to refer the sentence to the whole subject comprised in the passage — to regard it, in short, as meaning, that after God has sufficiently chastised his Church, he will at length show himself merciful to her, that the saints, taught by chastisements, may exercise a stricter vigilance over themselves in future. The cause is shown why God suspends and delays the communications of his grace. As the physician, although his patient may experience some alleviation of his disease, keeps him still under medicinal treatment, until he become fully convalescent, and until, the cause of his disease being removed, his constitution become invigorated, — for to allow him all at once to use whatever diet he chose, would be highly injurious to him; — so God, perceiving that we are not completely recovered from our vices to spiritual health in one day, prolongs his chastisements: without which we would be in danger of a speedy relapse. Accordingly, the prophet, to assuage the grief with which the protracted duration of calamities would oppress the faithful, applies this remedy and solace, That God purposely continues his corrections for a longer period than they would wish, that they may be brought in good earnest to repent, and excited to be more on their guard in future.




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