Bible Commentaries
Psalms 85

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


To the chief Musician, A Psalm for the sons of Korah.

Of the date and occasion of this psalm there can be no doubt. It belongs to the captivity, after the decree of Cyrus. Ezra 1:2-4. The first effusion of joy upon the publication of the decree for the restoration of the Jews was expressed in Psalms 126:0, (which see;) here it appears chastened with the care and practical discouragements of the vast labour and delay of collecting together the scattered people from the various provinces of the empire, and resuscitating the nation. The sudden falling off from the introductory thanksgiving to the languishing complaint of Psalms 85:4-7 is fully accounted for by the discouragements which the first colonies met from the magnitude of the work of reconstruction and the hostility of the neighbouring tribes, as recorded in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Inattention to these considerations has caused much needless diversity of opinion as to the historic interpretation of the psalm. Several points of agreement between it and Habakkuk 3:0 are noticeable. As to the subject-matter, the wonderful favour of God in the liberation of the Jews by the decree of Cyrus is acknowledged in Psalms 85:1-3; the human discouragements still in the way of reviving the nation find vent in Psalms 85:4-7; but a hopeful confidence in the answer of prayer and the fulfilment of divine premise quickly dispels the cloud, and the prophet looks steadily toward the consummation of the national re-establishment, Psalms 85:8-13. The psalm is reckoned as the first of the Korahitic Jehovah psalms, and is marked by its lofty tone of prophetic consolation, and its deep vein of spiritual truth. On title, see notes on Psalms 84:1, and title.

Verse 1

1. Thou hast been favourable unto thy land The first three verses are an acknowledgment of national restoration. The six verbs in those verses are in the past tense, but it is the recent past. “Favourable,” here, is generic, the particulars follow. “Thy land” refers to Leviticus 25:23, “The land is mine;” hence no title in fee simple could be given from one to another.

Brought back the captivity Turned the captivity; brought back the captives, a description which could apply only to the restoration under Zerubbabel. Ezra 1:2-4. It does not necessarily imply that the exiles had already reached their own land but that they were set free by Cyrus.

Probably, however, the first colony had already reached Palestine. Ezra 2:1; Ezra 2:64

Verse 2

2. Forgiven the iniquity… covered all their sin Strong expressions. “Forgiven,” literally, is borne away where sin is conceived as a burden of the conscience, and the bearing it away an expiation. Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:12. The figure is based upon Leviticus 16:22.

Covered A Levitical term signifying to atone, expiate; for when God covers sin he cancels it. This view presents sin in its legal answerableness.

Verse 3

3. Taken away all thy wrath Thou hast gathered in all thy wrath. It was an emanation from God, and, having accomplished its end, it is now recalled.

Verse 4

4. Turn us Lead us back. The spiritual sense of convert is implied, of which the literal restoration was a symbol. Having confessed the favour of God to his land, the psalmist also confesses (Psalms 85:4-7) the utter inability of the nation to re-collect itself, and revive its polity, without the specific leadership of God. The natural shrinking of the human heart from great trials discovers itself in these plaintive outcries, like “Lord, save us: we perish,” (Matthew 8:25;) but faith resumes her sway, (Psalms 85:8,) and serenely conducts us to the close.

Verse 5

5. Wilt thou be angry with us for ever The obstacles to the return of the exiled Israelites appeared insurmountable. So the joy of the passage of the Red Sea was soon damped by the discouragements of Marah and Rephidim. Exodus 15:23; Exodus 17:1. It was over twenty years after the edict of liberation by Cyrus before the temple was built, and nearly one hundred years before Jerusalem was much populated and the city walls restored.

See on Psalms 87:0. Thus human selfishness and unbelief retard the work of God! On “forever,” see note on Psalms 33:11

Verse 6

6. Wilt thou not revive us Wilt thou not turn and quicken us, or, preserve us alive? See the same prayer offered by the prophet Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:2) when he foresaw this sad condition of Israel.

Verse 8

8. I will hear I will put myself in the attitude of attentive listening to what God Jehovah will speak in answer to my petitions. So Habakkuk 2:1. Compare “Praying… and watching thereunto;” Ephesians 6:18.

For he will speak peace He will “surely” answer, (Psalms 85:9,) and as surely give the thing I ask.

Folly A general term for dulness, stupidity, sluggishness; often, as here, with the added idea of perverseness, obduracy, impiety. The “folly” of Israel was in casting off the counsel of God, and turning to idols. Of idol worship they were now for ever cured by the terrible scourge of the captivity. The sense is, that God will not withdraw from his people if they do not first forsake him.

Verse 9

9. That glory may dwell in our land The “glory,” here, is especially used in reference to the ark of the covenant, as formerly containing the holiest symbols of their religion, and the sign and pledge of Jehovah’s presence and favour. See 1 Samuel 4:21-22; Leviticus 26:11-13

Verse 10

10. Mercy and truth are met together The “mercy” of God can never operate apart from his “truth” they are inseparable. See Psalms 25:10; Psalms 40:11; Psalms 61:7.

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other Their agreement and public manifestation have been simultaneous. “Peace,” which is the essence of the answer sought, (Psalms 85:8,) is now made to appear in its eternal union with “righteousness.” The harmony of the divine attributes in the moral government is thus declared. In moral government, and in redemption, “mercy” and “peace” can never be granted but upon the grounds of “truth” and “righteousness.” Men must abjure all sin, and aim to fulfil all righteousness by a holy life and obedient walk with God, if they would be approved of him. From Psalms 85:10, throughout, the psalmist unfolds the answer of his prayer as faith already receives it.

Verse 11

11. Truth shall spring out of the earth The “truth” of God shall take root in the hearts of men, and come forth to perfection. Matthew 13:23; Mark 4:26-28.

Righteousness shall look down The parallelism running throughout this beautiful picture, supposes the earth the hearts of men responsive to the divine gifts. “Mercy,” “truth,” “righteousness,” and “peace” must all descend, primarily, from heaven, as the free gift of God, but they must reproduce themselves in the hearts of men, through repentance and faith, like good seed sprouting in the earth. The figure seems borrowed from Isaiah 14:8, which see.

Verse 12

12. Give that which is good An expressive term, comprehending all that is intrinsically excellent and opportune.

Yield her increase One of the greatest blessings to an over-burdened and poor population, always accepted as God’s special token of care. Psalms 67:6; Leviticus 26:4

Verse 13

13. Righteousness shall go before him That is, shall, as a herald, go before God. Psalms 89:14.

And shall set us in the way of his steps Literally, And shall set his feet to the way; that is, God shall set his feet to “the way” which his “righteousness” prepares, or in which, as a herald, it leads; and, by implication, if we would receive the blessings referred to in the previous verses, we must walk in the same steps. Thus we learn that there can be no individual or national peace and prosperity without the “truth” and “righteousness” of God being implanted and living in the hearts or men.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 85". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.