The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 85

Psa 85:1


YOU SHOWED FAVOR TO YOUR LAND, O LORD: So favorable was God, in fact, that the Assyrian invasion was swept away in a single night.

YOU RESTORED THE FORTUNES OF JACOB: Sennacherib took away over 200,000 prisoners (Taylor Prism). After Isa 37:36, these would be hastily sent back home. There are many allusions in Isa (see refs, Psa 81).

(NT) The final captivity of Israel has not yet happened. They will be saved from it by Messiah himself, when invaders are swept out of the Land for ever.

Psa 85:2

Vv 2,3: Note the progression: (1) forgiveness; (2) covering; and (3) setting aside.

(NT) Forgiveness is only poss in the real sense when there is true repentance (Mat 23:39; Lev 26:40-42; Deu 30:1-3; Act 3:19,20; Psa 81:13,14; etc).

See Lesson, Selah.

Psa 85:6

THAT YOUR PEOPLE MAY REJOICE IN YOU: That is, instead of in the false religions encouraged in the preceding reign -- hence also v 8: Let them not turn again to folly (ie to the vanity, or emptiness, of idolatry).

Psa 85:8

HE PROMISES PEACE TO HIS PEOPLE: The High Priest blessing: Num 6:24-26.

(NT) Reconciliation at last! Isa 52:7 (Rom 10:15); Isa 57:18,21; 59:20,21 (Rom 11:26); Hag 2:7,9; Zec 9:10.

HIS SAINTS: Esp the faithful remnant.

BUT LET THEM NOT RETURN TO FOLLY: This is the Heb; the Greek (LXX) has: "To those who turn to him in their hearts" (cp RSV; NEB).

Psa 85:9

THAT HIS GLORY MAY DWELL IN OUR LAND: Instead of the blitz of divine power exercised against the Assyrians (Isa 17:13,14; 29:5-7; 30:27,28; 31:5-8), here is the peaceful sign of a Glory which assures Israel that they are reconciled to their God.

(NT) The Glory that was seen departing the temple and the city (Eze 10:4,18,19; 11:23; Acts 1:9) will then return to dwell permanently in the Land (Eze 43:2; Zec 2:5; 14:4; Act 1:10,11).

Psa 85:10

An indirect allusion to the marriage of Hezekiah with Hephzibah. With his illness (leprosy, most likely) the marriage would become null and void. But his recovery would bring a reunion and a renewal of marriage vows (Isa 54:1-4; 62:4,5).

This was the age-old question: how could a pure God, who could not even look upon sin, save a world of sinners?

But in God's work of salvation through His Son, two disparate (one might almost say, two mutually exclusive elements) are at work together. God's righteousness is declared and vindicated in the sacrifice of His Son (Rom 3:21-31), and on that basis -- the recognition of His righteousness, or holiness -- God is pleased also to show His mercy, in the forgiveness of sins.

Thus it is a wonderful miracle that, in and through Jesus, the truth of God and the mercy and grace of God are met together in one. This mercy (grace) and truth have been manifested in the Word made flesh (Joh 1:14-18). These divine attributes parted company at the fall of the first Adam, when God's holiness decreed an exile from the "garden" of His presence. But now they have been joined together again with the coming of the last Adam! The irreproachable righteousness of God may save sinners, and bring them "peace" (joy, fellowship, and reconciliation with Himself), without any diminishing of His absolutely righteous character, because of the mediatorship of His Son.

LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS: A common OT phrase for the Covenants of Promise, now brought to complete fulfillment (Mic 7:20; cp Psa 86:15; 89:14).

RIGHTEOUSNESS: Paul's synonym in Romans for salvation.

PEACE: Shalom is joy, fellowship, and reconciliation with God: ie "good will toward men" (Luk 2:14)! Cp Rom 5:1; Act 10:36; Mat 5:9; Eph 2:14.

KISS EACH OTHER: As two old friends, reunited after long absence from one another!

The figurative and poetic meeting of heaven and earth, in vv 10,11, is an anticipation of the advent of Jesus. In him heaven and earth are met together: Son of God and seed of the woman! Like the hymn: "Thy grace and truth became... Flesh for a saving name." The righteousness of God looked down from heaven, planted the "seed" that germinated in the "earth", ie, the soil of human nature, and from that "earth", that soil, there sprang up a Righteous Branch, the Word made flesh, the "faithful and true witness", the Amen of God, the priest and mediator of the Heavenly Father's everlasting covenant with man!

Only through that man, says Paul to the Romans, can God offer "peace" (reconciliation, justification) to sinful man, whilst not letting go (as He surely cannot!) of His righteousness and holiness.

One of the subtle beauties of these psalm verses is that word "kiss". God's offer of salvation to man may be expressed in terms of a legal contract. It may even be worked out and explained in a fairly logical manner, and we are grateful that it can be so explained. Many people need such explanations in order to accept the gospel.

But, really, the gospel of salvation as presented in the Bible bears much more resemblance to a glance of love, a tender kiss, a gentle caress... the love of a Father for a small and helpless child, the love of a husband for a devoted wife... and the love of a man laying down his life for his friends.

So... is God's plan of salvation a legal contract, or an ongoing act of love? I think it must be both.

Psa 85:11

Beautiful figurative language for the blessedness of the Year of Jubilee in which God restored almost overnight all the havoc of war (Isa 37:30,31; 61:11). This Jubilee began on the Day of Atonement (Lev 25:9).

FAITHFULNESS SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE EARTH: Sw Isa 58:8, in a Day of Atonement context. In LXX, sw in Luk 1:78 -- "the dayspring (anatole) from on high": the "rising", or "dawn", or "branch" -- with ref to the king-priest (sw Jer 23:5; Zec 3:8; 6:12).

And thus v 10 makes possible v 11... "Faithfulness springs forth from the earth" -- the Son of God comes forth from the grave, because it was not possible that the grave could hold a perfectly righteous man -- "and righteousness looks down from heaven" -- the Father smiles upon this deliverance of His Son, and upon all those sinners who in faith grasp and hold onto the feet of the resurrected Christ. Thanks be to God!

Psa 85:13

THE WAY FOR HIS STEPS: The Heb is like "the way of his bells" (cp Exo 28:33,34): the high priest in the Most Holy!

(NT) John the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah! Walking in Christ's steps can now be only an ideal (1Pe 2:21), but then it will be a glorious reality.

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