|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
85:1-7 The sense of present afflictions should not do away the remembrance of former mercies. The favour of God is the fountain of happiness to nations, as well as to particular persons. When God forgives sin, he covers it; and when he covers the sin of his people, he covers it all. See what the pardon of sin is. In compassion to us, when Christ our Intercessor has stood before thee, thou hast turned away thine anger. When we are reconciled to God, then, and not till then, we may expect the comfort of his being reconciled to us. He shows mercy to those to whom he grants salvation; for salvation is of mere mercy. The Lord's people may expect sharp and tedious afflictions when they commit sin; but when they return to him with humble prayer, he will make them again to rejoice in him.
Verses 1-3. - The thanksgiving. God is thanked for two things especially:
(1) for having granted his people forgiveness of their sins (vers. 2, 3); and
(2) for having, partially at any rate, removed his chastening hand from them, and given them a return of prosperity (ver. 1). Ver 1. - Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land; or, "thou art become gracious" (Kay, Cheyne) - a preceding time during which God was not gracious is implied (comp. Psalm 77:7-9). Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. It is most natural to understand this of the return from the Babylonian captivity; but possible that some lighter affliction may be intended, since שׁבות is used, metaphorically, for calamities short of actual captivity (see the comment on Job 42:10).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land,.... The land of Canaan, which the Lord chose for the people of Israel, and put them into the possession of it; and where he himself chose to dwell, and had a sanctuary built for him; and therefore though the whole earth is his, yet this was his land and inheritance in a peculiar manner, as it is called, Jeremiah 16:18, the inhabitants of it are meant, to whom the Lord was favourable, or whom he graciously accepted, and was well pleased with and delighted in, as appears by his choosing them above all people to be his people; by bringing them out of Egyptian bondage, by leading them through the Red sea and wilderness, by feeding and protecting them there; and by bringing them into the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, and settling them in it; and by many temporal blessings, and also spiritual ones, as his word and ordinances; but especially by sending his own Son, the Messiah and Saviour, unto them; and which perhaps is what is here principally intended:
thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob; or, "the captives" (m) of Jacob; in a temporal sense, both out of Egypt, and out of Babylon; and in a spiritual sense from sin, Satan, and the law; the special people of God often go by the name of Jacob, and these are captives to the above mentioned; and redemption by Christ is a deliverance of them from their captivity, or a bringing of it back, for he has led captivity captive; and in consequence of this they are put into a state of freedom, liberty is proclaimed to these captives, and they are delivered, and all as the fruit and effect of divine favour.
(m) "captivam turbam", Junius & Tremellius; i. e. "captivos", Gejerus, Michaelis.
The Treasury of David
1 Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.
2 Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered an their sin. Selah.
3 Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.
4 Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.
"Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land." The self-existent, all-sufficient Jehovah is addressed: by that name he revealed himself to Moses when his people were in bondage, by that name he is here pleaded with. It is wise to dwell upon that view of the divine character which arouses the sweetest memories of his love. Sweeter still is that dear name of "Our Father," with which Christians have learned to commence their prayers. The Psalmist speaks of Canaan as the Lord's land, for he 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 close to his great barque, and experience a sacred community in the tossings of the storm. It is our land that is devastated, but O Jehovah, it is also thy land. The Psalmist dwells upon the Lord's favour to the chosen land, which he had shewed in a thousand ways. God's past doings are prophetic of what he will do: hence the encouraging argument - "Thou hast been favourable unto thy land," therefore deal graciously with it again. Many a time had foes been baffled, pestilence stayed, famine averted, and deliverance vouchsafed, because of the Lord's favour; that same favourable regard is therefore again invoked. With an immutable God this is powerful reasoning; it is because he changes not that we are not consumed, and know We never shall be if he has once been favourable to us. From this example of prayer let us learn how to order our cause before God.
It is clear that Israel was not in exile, or the prayer before us would not have referred to the land but to the nation.
"Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob." When down-trodden and oppressed through their sins, the Ever-merciful One had looked upon them, changed their sad condition, chased away the invaders, and given to his people rest: this he had done not once, nor twice, but times without number. Many a time have we also been brought into Soul-captivity by our backslidings, but we have not been left therein; the God who brought Jacob back from Padan-aram to his father's house, has restored us to the enjoyment of holy fellowship; - will he not do the like again? Let us appeal to him with Jacob-like wrestlings, beseeching him to be favourable, or sovereignly gracious to us notwithstanding all our provocations of his love. Let declining churches remember their former history, and with holy confidence plead with the Lord to turn their captivity yet again.
"Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people." Often and often had he done this, pausing to pardon even when his sword was bared to punish. Who is a pardoning God like thee, O Jehovah? Who is so slow to anger, so ready to forgive? Every believer in Jesus enjoys the blessing of pardoned sin, and he should regard this priceless boon as the pledge of all other needed mercies, He should plead it with God - "Lord hast thou pardoned me, and wilt thou let me perish for lack of grace, or fall into thine enemies' hands for want of help. Thou wilt not thus leave thy work unfinished." "Thou hast covered all their sin," All of it, every spot, and wrinkle, the veil of love has covered all. Sin has been divinely put out of sight. Hiding it beneath the propitiatory; covering it with the sea of the atonement, blotting it out, making it to cease to be, the Lord has put it so completely away that even his omniscient eye sees it no more. What a miracle is this! To cover up the sun would be easy work compared with the covering up of sin. Not without a covering atonement is sin removed, but by means of the great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, it is most effectually put away by one act, for ever. What a covering does his blood afford!
"Thou hast taken away all thy wrath." Having removed the sin, the anger is removed also. How often did the long-suffering of God take away from Israel the punishments which had been justly laid upon them! How often also has the Lord's chastising hand been removed from Us when our waywardness called for heavier strokes! "Thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger," Even when judgments had been most severe, the Lord had in mercy stayed his hand. In mid volley he had restrained his thunder. When ready to destroy, he had averted his face from his purpose of judgment and allowed mercy to interpose. The book of Judges is full of illustrations of this, and the Psalmist does well to quote them while he intercedes. Is not our experience equally studded with instances in which judgment has been stayed and tenderness has ruled? What a difference between the fierce anger which is feared and deprecated here, and the speaking of peace which is foretold in Psalm 85:8. There are many changes in Christian experience, and therefore we must not despair when we are undergoing the drearier portion of the spiritual life, for soon, very soon, it may be transformed into gladness.
"The Lord can clear the darkest skies,
Can give us day for night,
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Ps 85:1-13. On the ground of former mercies, the Psalmist prays for renewed blessings, and, confidently expecting them, rejoices.
1. captivity—not necessarily the Babylonian, but any great evil (Ps 14:7).
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