Psalm 85:1
There had been great outward mercies (see vers. 1-3). Probably the wonderful deliverance of Judah, Jerusalem, and Hezekiah from the threatened might of Assyria was the occasion of this burst of thanksgiving. But the psalmist - it may have been Isaiah himself - whilst grateful, indeed, for God's deliverance, as he well might be, was nevertheless sore distressed at the spiritual condition of his countrymen (see Isaiah's denunciations of the wickedness of his people, ch. 1. and passim). There needed, therefore, to be an inward conversion as well as an outward deliverance such as they had experienced. And until this spiritual reformation was brought about, the anger of God rested on them still. Hence the prayer, "Revive us again," etc. In this psalm we have -





Lord, Thou hast been favourable unto Thy land.
A part of the nation had returned, but to a ruined city, a fallen temple, and a mourning land, where they were surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies. Discouragement had laid hold on the feeble company, enthusiasm had ebbed away, and heart as well as faith had been lost. This psalm accurately reflects such a state of things, and is reasonably taken as one of the earliest post-exilic psalms.

1. The first portion presents one great fact in three aspects, and traces it to Jehovah. The restored Israel had been sent back by the conqueror as a piece of policy, but it was God who had done it, all the same. The blessed fact is joyously announced in ver. 1, and the yet more blessed fact of forgiveness, of which it is a token, in ver. 2. The word rendered "forgiven" implies that sin is regarded as a weight, which God lifts off from the pressed-down sinner; while that for "covered" regards it as a hideous stain, which He hides. Our sins weigh us down, and "are rank, and smell to heaven." Ver. 8 ventures still deeper into the sacred recesses of the Divine nature, and traces the forgiveness to a change in God's disposition. His wrath has been drawn in, as, if we may say so, some creature armed with a sting retracts it into its sheath.

2. God turns from His anger, therefore Israel returns to the land. But the singer feels the incompleteness of the restoration, and the bitter consciousness suddenly changes joyous strains to a plaintive minor in the second part (vers. 4-7). "Turn us," in ver. 4, looks back to "brought back" in ver. 1, and is the same word in the Hebrew. The restoration is but partially accomplished. Similarly the petitions of ver. 5 look back to ver. 8, and pray that God's wrath may indeed pass utterly away. The prayers are grounded on what God has done. He does not deliver by halves. He is not partially reconciled. The remembrance of the bright beginning heartens the assurance of a completion. God never leaves off till He has done. If He seems to have but half withdrawn His anger, it is because we have but half forsaken our sins.

3. The third portion brings solid hopes, based on God's promises, to bear on present discouragements. In ver. 8 the psalmist, like Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:1), encourages himself to listen to what God will speak, "2 will hear," or, rather, "Let me hear." Faithful prayer will always be followed by faithful waiting for response. God will not be silent when His servant appeals to Him, but, though no voice breaks the silence, a sweet assurance, coming from Him, will rise in the depths of the soul, and tell the suppliant that He "will speak peace to His people," and warn them not to turn to other helps, which is "folly." The peace which He speaks means chiefly peace with Himself, and then well-being of all kinds, the sure results of a right relation with God. But that peace is shivered by any sin, like the reflection of the blue heaven in a still lake when a gust of wind ruffles its surface. Vers. 9-13 are the report, in the psalmist's own words, of what his listening ear had heard God say. First comes the assurance that God's salvation, the whole fulness of His delivering grace, both in regard to outward and inward evils, is "nigh them that fear Him." They, and only they, who keep far away from foolish confidence in impotent helps and helpers shall be enriched. That is the inmost meaning of God's word to the singer and to us all. The acceptance of God's salvation purifies our hearts to be temples, and is the condition of His dwelling with us. The lovely personification of vers. 10-13 have passed into Christian poetry and art, but are not rightly understood when taken, as they often are, to describe the harmonious meeting, in Christ's work, of apparently opposing attributes. Mercy and faithfulness blend together in all God's dealings with His people, and righteousness and peace are inseparable in His people's experience. These four radiant angels dwell for ever with those who are God's children. In ver. 11 we have a beautiful inversion of the two pairs of personifications, of each of which only one member appears. Truth, or faithfulness, came into view in verse 10 as a Divine attribute, but is now regarded as a human virtue, springing out of the earth; that is, produced among men. They who have received into their hearts the blessed assurance and results of God's faithfulness will imitate it in their own lives. Conversely, righteousness, which in ver 10 was a human excellence, here appears as looking from heaven like a gracious angel smiling on the faithfulness which springs from earth. Thus heaven and earth are united, and humanity becomes a reflection of the Divine. Ver. 12 presents the same idea in its most general form. God gives good of all sorts, and, thus fructified, earth "shall yield her increase." Without sunshine there are no harvests. God gives before He asks. We must receive from Him before we can tender the fruit of our lives to Him. In ver. 18 the idea of Divine attributes aa the parents of human virtues is again expressed by a different metaphor. Righteousness is represented doubly, as both a herald going before God's march in the world, and as following Him. It makes His footsteps "a way "for us to walk in. Man's perfection lies in his imitating God. Jesus has left us "an example" that we should "follow His steps."

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

This psalm present to us genuine piety in three aspects.


1. Restoration to their country. "Thou hast brought back," etc. He brought them from Egypt and from Babylon.

2. Absolution of their sins. "Thou hast forgiven," etc. When sin is forgiven it is "covered"; it does not reappear any more in producing suffering and anguish. Its guilt and power (not its memory) are crushed.

3. The cessation of penal afflictions. "Thou hast turned thyself," etc. Genuine piety can recount such blessings in the past as these, and even of a higher order. "The presence of present afflictions should not drown the remembrance of former mercies."


1. The sense of estrangement from God. "Turn us, O God of our salvation." Departure from God is our ruin, return is our salvation. The separation between man and his Maker arises, not from His turning from man, but from the turning of man from Him.

2. The sense of the displeasure of their Maker. "Wilt Thou be angry with us for ever?" This really means, Wilt Thou afflict us for ever; shall we be ever in suffering? God's anger is not passion, but antagonism to wrong.

3. The sense of deadness. "Wilt Thou not revive us again?" etc. They had been politically dead (Ezekiel 27.), and they were religiously dead. Such are some of the evils they deprecate in this psalm; and for their removal they now implore their God.

III. ANTICIPATING THE GOOD OF THE FUTURE. "I will hear what God the Lord will speak." Piety here fastens its eye on several blessings in the future.

1. Divine peace. "He will speak peace unto His people." He will one day speak "peace" — national, religious, spiritual, peace to all mankind.

2. Moral unity. "Mercy and truth are met together," etc. These moral forces, ever since the introduction of sin, have been working, not only separately, but antagonistically; and this has been one of the great sources of human misery; but in the future they will coalesce, unite.

3. Spiritual prosperity. "Truth shall spring out of the earth," etc. From the hearts of men truth shall spring as from its native soil, and it shall grow in stately beauty and affluent fruitage. And "righteousness shall look down from heaven," delighted with the scene.


It is true that the God of nations has His special calling and election for each of the races of mankind. To quote Bishop Westcott: "History on a large scale is the revelation of the will of God; and in the history of the greatest nations we may expect to find the will of God for them. They are themselves the record and the retribution of their past, and the prophecy of their future." We Englishmen must be blind and thankless, indeed, if we fail to recognize God's ordination in our own history, God's warnings and promises in our fortunes. Surely He has been favourable unto this land of ours, until every acre of it is holy ground. To us also God has granted prophets, and captains, and reformers in long succession to "bring back our captivity," until freedom means more in England to-day than it means anywhere else in the world. And upon us, too, God has laid the burden of a duty and destiny which we still only half discern. He has given us a charge which we can never fulfil abroad except as we become faithful to our vocation at home. To realize the very hand of the living God laid on our nation to-day humbles us into awe and seriousness and searchings of heart. The proud vision of Empire fades into a solemn sense of the Divine Imperator who ordains our inheritance for us; because the kingdom, and the power, and the glory are His own.

(F. H. Darlow.)

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