PSALM 85 OVERVIEW
Title. To the Chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah. There is no need to repeat our observations upon a title which is of so frequent occurrence; the reader is referred to notes placed in the headings of preceding psalms. Yet it may not be out of place to quote Nehemiah 12:46 . In the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God.
Object and Occasion. It is the prayer of a patriot for his afflicted country, in which he pleads the Lord's former mercies, and by faith foresees brighter days. We believe that David wrote it, but many question that assertion. Certain interpreters appear to grudge the psalmist David the authorship of any of the psalms, and refer the sacred songs by wholesale to the times of Hezekiah, Josiah, the Captivity, and the Maccabees. It is remarkable that, as a rule, the more sceptical a writer is, the more resolute is he to have done with David; while the purely evangelic annotators are for the most part content to leave the royal poet in the chair of authorship. The charms of a new theory also operate greatly upon writers who would have nothing at all to say if they did not invent a novel hypothesis, and twist the language of the psalm in order to justify it. The present psalm has of course been referred to the Captivity, the critics could not resist the temptation to do that, though, for our part we see no need to do so: it is true a captivity is mentioned in Psalms 85:1 , but that does not necessitate the nation's having been carried away into exile, since Job's captivity was turned, and yet he had never left his native land: moreover, the text speaks of the captivity of Jacob as brought back, but had it referred to the Babylonian emigration, it would have spoken of Judah; for Jacob or Israel, as such, did not return. The first verse in speaking of "the land" proves that the author was not an exile. Our own belief is that David penned this national hymn when the land was oppressed by the Philistines, and in the spirit of prophecy he foretold the peaceful years of his own reign and the repose of the rule of Solomon, the psalm having all along an inner sense of which Jesus and his salvation are the key. The presence of Jesus the Saviour reconciles earth and heaven, and secures to us the golden age, the balmy days of universal peace.
Divisions. In Psalms 85:1-4 the poet sings of the Lord's former mercies and begs him to remember his people; from Psalms 85:5-7 he pleads the cause of afflicted Israel; and then, having listened to the sacred oracle in Psalms 85:8 , he publishes joyfully the tidings of future good, Psalms 85:9-13 .
Verse 1. 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 Padanaram 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.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. This beautiful psalm, like some others, has come down to us without name or date; the production of some unknown poetic genius, touched, purified, and exalted by the fire of celestial inspiration; a precious relic of that golden age, when the Hebrew music was instinct with a spirit such as never breathed on Greece or Rome. It is interesting to reflect on the anonymous origin of some of the psalms; to remember how largely the church of God is indebted to some nameless worthies who wrote for us hymns and spiritual songs, full of richer strains than were ever poured forth by the most illustrious of pagan name. These holy men are passed away, they have left no record of their history; but they have bequeathed legacies of rich, varied, and inspired sentiments, which will render the church debtors to them to the end of time. John Stoughton. 1852.
Whole Psalm. This Psalm may be thus divided: Psalms 85:1-3 , express the thanks of the people for their return from captivity; Psalms 85:4-6 , their prayer for their own reformation; in Psalms 85:7 , they pray for the coming of Messiah; Psalms 85:8 contains the words of the High priest, with God's Gracious answer; which answer is followed by the grateful acclamation of the people, to the end of the Psalm. To prepare for this interpretation, let us observe, how very strangely the words are expressed at present -- I will hear what God the Lord will say: FOR he shall speak peace unto his people. But surely, God could not be consulted, because it was unnecessary; nor could the High priest possibly say, that he would ask of God, because he knew what God would answer; especially, as we have now a question to God proposed, and yet no answer from God given at all. Under these difficulties we are happily relieved; since it appears, on satisfactory authorities, that, instead of the particle rendered for, the word here originally signified in or by me, which slight variation removes the obscurity, and restores that very light which has long been wanted. The people having prayed for the speedy arrival of their great salvation; the High priest says, (as it should be here expressed), I will hear what the Almighty sayeth. -- Jehovah, BY ME sayeth, PEACE unto his people, even unto his saints: but let them not turn again to folly. Whereupon, as the Jews understood peace to comprehend every blessing, and of course their greatest blessing, they at once acknowledged the certainty of this salvation, the glory of their land -- they proclaim it as nigh at hand -- and then, in rapture truly prophetical, they see this glory as actually arrived, as already dwelling in Judea -- they behold God in fulfilling most strictly what he had promised most graciously -- they see therefore the mercy of God, and the truth of God met together -- they see that scheme perfected, in which the righteousness (i.e. the justice) of God harmonizes with the peace (i.e. the happiness) of man; so that righteousness and peace salute each other with the tenderest affection. In short, they see TRUTH flourishing out of the earth; i.e. they see him, who is the way, the truth, and the life, born here on earth; and they even see the righteousness, or justice of God, looking down from heaven, as being well pleased. Psalms 85:12 is at present translated so unhappily, that it is quite despoiled of all its genuine glory. For, could the prophet, after all the rapturous things said before, coldly say here, that God would give what was good and that Judea should have a plentiful harvest? No: consistency and good sense forbid it; and truth confirms their protest against it. The words here express the reasons of all the preceding energies, and properly signify -- Yea, Jehovah granteth THE BLESSING; and our land granteth HER OFFSPRING. And what can be the blessing -- what, amidst these sublime images, can be Judea's offspring -- but HE, and HE only, who was the blessing of all lands in general, and the glory of Judea in particular? And what says the verse following? Righteousness goeth before HIM - - certainly, not before the fruit of the earth -- but certainly before that illustrious person, even the MESSIAH. Righteousness goeth before HIM, and directeth his goings in the way. As to the word rendered the blessing, and applied to the redemption; the same word is so used by Jeremiah, thus: Behold, the days come, that I will perform that good thing (the blessing) which I have promised... at that time will I cause to grow up unto David the Branch of righteousness ( Jeremiah 33:14-15 ). And as to the Messiah being here described, partly as springing up from the earth; so says Isaiah: "In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious; and the fruits of the earth shall be excellent and comely." But this evangelical prophet, in another place, has the very same complication of images with that found in the psalm before us. For Isaiah also has the heavens, with their righteousness; and the earth, with its salvation: "Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation." But, "let them bring forth" -- who, or what can be here meant by them, but the heavens and the earth? It is heaven and earth which are here represented as bringing forth, and introducing the Saviour of the world. For what else can be here meant as brought forth by them? What, but HE alone; who, deriving his divine nature from heaven, and his human from the earth was (what no other being ever was) both GOD and MAN. Benjamin Kennicott.
Verse 1. Thy land. The land of Jehovah the poet calls it, in order to point out the close relation of God to it, and to the people thereof, and so confirm the favour of God towards it. For this land God has chosen as the dwelling place of his people, true religion, and his own presence; this also in his own time He himself had trodden in the person of his Son, and in it He first gathered and founded his Church. Venema.
Verse 1. The captivity of Jacob. All true believers are the sons of Jacob, and the seed of Abraham; as well as the believing Gentiles, who are the sons of Jacob according to the Spirit, as the believing Jews the sons of Jacob according to the flesh; and the Church of these true Jacobins and Israelites is the land of the Lord, and the captivity here mentioned is bondage under sin. In this captivity Satan is the gaoler, the flesh is our prison, ungodly lusts are the manacles, a bad conscience the tormentor, all of them against us; only Christ is Emmanuel, God with us; he turneth away the captivity of Jacob in forgiving all his offences, and in covering all his sins. Abraham Wright.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. There is,
- Of the people of God.
- Although they are the people of God.
- Because they are the people of God. You only have I known, etc.
- Restoration from Captivity: Thou hast brought back, etc.
- The fact.
- The Author: Thou: by thine own power; in thine own manner; at thine own time.
- The cause of the Restoration; the favour of God: Thou hast been favourable.
- On account of favour past: "Thou hast."
- On account of favour in reserve.
WORK ON THE EIGHTY-FIFTH PSALM
In an old quarto volume of 788 pages, containing Expositions of several passages of Scripture, is a short Exposition of this Psalm (pp. 452-64) entitled "A Taste of the Breathings, Pantings, Waitings, and Hopes of Israel after the true Saviour, and his effectual Redemption." There is no Author's name, but some previous owner has written "John Pennington" on the title page: date 1656.