George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 85

1. Title

These Korah psalms (see notes, Psa. 84) belong to the reign of Hezekiah.

2. Structure

A prayer for national forgiveness
1-3, 8-13.
The prayer answered

The author is quite probably Isaiah (note the stress on the Salvation of Yahweh — s.w. Isaiah — vv. 4,7,9).

3. Day of Atonement

This is not just any Day of Atonement, but a unique occasion in Hezekiah’s time. Note especially Isaiah 58:1,3-8,10-13; 59:2,3,9-12, and Psalm 84, Par. 5.

Favourable is the Hebrew ratzah, often used of acceptable sacrifice.
Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. This is all quite obviously relevant.

Selah has special association with sacrificial offering (Vol. 1, p. 15).
That thy people may rejoice in thee. The Feast of Tabernacles followed a few days after the Day of Atonement.
God... will speak peace unto his people. This is the high-priestly blessing:

“The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Num. 6:24-26).

And (even) to his saints. Especially to the faithful remnant.

But let them not turn again to folly. This is the Hebrew; the Greek (LXX) has: “To those who turn to him in their hearts” (cp. RSV; NEB).
That glory may dwell in our land. “Dwell” is Hebrew shaken; i.e., the “Shekinah” Glory.
Truth shall spring out of the earth. The s.w. occurs in Isa. 58:8, in a Day of Atonement context. In LXX, the s.w. occurs in Luke 1:78 — “the dayspring (anatole) from on high”: the “rising”, or “dawn”, or “branch” — with reference to the king-priest (s.w. Jer. 23:5; Zech. 3:8; 6:12).
The way of his steps. The Hebrew is like “the way of his bells” (cp. Exod. 28:33,34): the high priest in the Most Holy.

4. Historical setting

Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land. So favorable, in fact, that the Assyrian invasion was swept away in a single night.

Thou hast brought back the captivity 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 Isaiah (see references, Psa. 81, Par. 4).
Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people. Most of the nation had shared in the apostasy of Ahaz.
Six separate expressions of God’s anger against His people.
O God of our salvation. In the light of Isa. 37:36, what better name for so gracious a God!
Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? That is, instead of in the false religions encouraged in the preceding reign — hence also v. 8: Let them not turn again to folly (i.e., to the vanity, or emptiness, of idolatry).
That 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.
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. This may be 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).
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. 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).

5. The Last Days

The relevance of this psalm to the bringing in of the kingdom is more than obvious; and the close parallel between Hezekiah and Christ (see Psa. 80, Par. 4) heightens the connection.

Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy Land. Compare Isaiah 35; Lev. 26:4,10; and many other Messianic prophecies.

Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. 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.
Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sins. Here is a forgiveness that is only possible in the real sense of the term when there is true repentance (Matt. 23:39; Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 30:1-3; Acts 3:19,20; Psa. 81:13,14; etc.).
Thou hast taken away all thy wrath, which has been expressed against them through long centuries.
Thou hast turned thyself... turn us. Compare the same reciprocal actions in Psa. 80:7,14.
Wilt thou not revive us again?

”And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest” (Ezek. 37:3).
God... will speak peace unto his people. Reconciliation at last! Isa. 52:7 (Rom. 10:15); 57:18,21; 59:20,21 (Rom. 11:26); Hag. 2:7,9; Zech. 9:10.
Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:6-10): that glory may dwell in our land. The Glory that was seen departing the temple and the city (Ezek. 10:4,18,19; 11:23; Acts 1:9) will then return to dwell permanently in the Land (Ezek. 43:2; Zech. 2:5; 14:4; Acts 1:10,11).
Note the ABBA structure: i.e., mercy = peace, and truth = righteousness.

Mercy and truth is a common Old Testament phrase for the Covenants of Promise, now brought to complete fulfillment (Mic. 7:20; cp. Psa. 86:15; 89:14). This mercy (grace) and truth have been manifested in the Word made flesh (John 1:14-18). These divine attributes parted company at the fall of the first Adam, and have only met again with the coming of the last Adam!

Righteousness is Paul’s synonym in Romans for salvation.

Peace (shalom) is joy, fellowship, and reconciliation with God: i.e., “good will toward men” (Luke 2:14)! Compare Rom. 5:1; Acts 10:36; Matt. 5:9; Eph. 2:14.
Truth shall spring out of the earth. The seed sown will yield its increase (v. 12) in faithfulness springing from the soil of human nature.
Our land shall yield her increase. The unparalleled blessedness of the New Age.
Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps. Walking in Christ’s steps can now be only an ideal (1 Pet. 2:21), but then it will be a glorious reality.

“The climax [of Psalm 85] is one of the most satisfying descriptions of concord — spiritual, moral, material — to be found anywhere in Scripture” (Kidner).
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