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).
Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.
Verse 2. - Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people; thou hast covered all their sin. God's remission of punishment, and restoration of his people to favour, was a full indication that he had "forgiven their iniquity" and "covered their sins." This was so vast a boon, that a pause for devout acknowledgment and silent adoration seemed fitting. Hence the "selah," which is at the end of the second verse, not of the first, as Hengstenberg states.
Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.
Verse 3. - Thou hast taken away all thy wrath. Forgiveness of sins implies the cessation of wrath, though it does not necessarily imply the cessation of punishment. Thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger. This expresses the meaning better than the marginal rendering.
Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.
Verses 4-7. - The prayer. Two things are prayed for - first, that God will turn the hearts of his people wholly towards himself (ver. 4); and secondly, that he will complete his work of deliverance by removing the traces, that still exist, of his past anger (vers. 5-7). Israel is still in a state of great distress and weakness, suffering from the natural consequences of its sins, which keep it depressed and sad. Verse 4. - Turn us, O God of our salvation. Thou art turned to us (ver. 1); let us also be turned to thee. We cannot turn of our own mere wish to turn; we need thy helping grace (comp. Psalm 80:3, 7, 19). And cause thine anger toward us to cease. Verbally, this contradicts ver. 3, whence it has been supposed by some to come from the mouth of another speaker. But really there is no contradiction, if we understand, both here and in the next verse, by God's anger, the effects of his anger, which were still continuing (comp. Ezra 3:12, 13; Ezra 4:4-24; Ezra 9:2-15; Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:17; Nehemiah 4:1-22; Nehemiah 5:1-19).
Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?
Verse 5. - Wilt thou be angry with us forever? This is equivalent to "Wilt thou still go on punishing us?" Wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? or, "from generation to generation?" This suits well the first period after the return from the Captivity, when the depressed condition of Israel continued for several generations.
Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?
Verse 6. - Wilt thou not revive us again! literally, wilt thou not return and revive us? (comp. Psalm 71:20). So Ezra prays God to "give Israel a little reviving in their bondage" (Ezra 9:8). That thy people may rejoice in thee. The "revival" and "rejoicing" came in Nehemiah's time, when the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem was kept "with gladness, both with thanksgiving, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps" (Nehemiah 12:27).
Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.
Verse 7. - Show us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation. Compare the devout petitions of the Church morning and evening, "O Lord, show thy mercy upon us. And grant us thy salvation" (Order for Morning and Evening Prayer).
I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.
Verses 8-13. - The joyful anticipation. The psalmist anticipates a favourable answer to his prayer, and proceeds to note down the chief points of it. God will "speak peace to his people" (ver. 8), bring his salvation near to them (ver. 9), contrive a way by which "mercy and truth," "righteousness and peace," shall be reconciled (vers. 10, 11), shower blessings on his land (ver. 12), and guide his people in the way marked out by his own footsteps (ver. 13). Verse 8. - I will hear what God the Lord will speak; i.e. "I will wait now and hear the Divine answer to my prayers" (comp. Habakkuk 3:1, "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me"). For he will speak peace unto his people. He will give them a gentle answer - one breathing peace and loving kindness. And to his saints. And especially he will so answer the elite of his people - the khasidim, "his saints," or "loving ones." But let them not turn again to folly (comp. Ezra 9:10-14). If, after the deliverance that they had experienced, they turned again to such "folly" as had brought on their misfortunes, it would make their end worse than their beginning.
Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.
Verse 9. - Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; or, will be nigh. The answer to the prayer in ver. 7. That glory may dwell in our land. Professor Chevne asks, "What glory?" and suggests, "The true Shechinah, the manifested presence of Israel's God." But it may be doubtful whether anything more is meant than a return of earthly glory and prosperity, such as that for which Nehemiah laboured and prayed.
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Verse 10. - Mercy and truth are met together. God's mercy and God's truth are reconciled and brought into harmony. The psalmist does not say - probably does not know - how, He accepts the fact of the reconciliation, which is revealed to him (ver. 8) by faith, and boldly announces it. The explanation was reserved for the coming and teaching of Christ. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. "Righteousness" and "peace" are synonymous with "mercy" and "truth." Here they are personified - "represented as angels in human form" (Cheyne).
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Verse 11. - Truth shall spring out of the earth (comp. Isaiah 45:8). One result of the reconciliation of God's mercy and truth shall be a growth of righteousness among men. The pardoned people of God shall bring forth much fruit. And righteousness shall look down from heaven. God's righteousness "looks down from heaven" (like the sun), to draw up and mature the feeble plant of man's righteousness, which, without it, would come to nothing.
Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.
Verse 12. - Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good; i.e. shower blessings on his laud, both spiritual and temporal. And our land shall yield her increase. Other crops may be included, but the special reference is to a large increase of good works.
Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.
Verse 13. - Righteousness shall go before him. Prepare the way, i.e., for the restoration of the people to God's favour (compare the first clause of ver. 11, and the second of ver. 12). And shall set us in the way of his steps; i.e. cause his people to walk in the way marked out by his footsteps - i.e. by the indications of his will either in nature or in the written Word.