Tuesday, March 28, 2023

2023.03.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ Psalm 85

Read Psalm 85

Questions from the Scripture text: Into whose hands was this song committed (superscript)? Who wrote it? Whom does Psalm 85:1a address? What was His disposition toward what? What has He done in this favor (verse 1b)? What does this show that He has done to the people (Psalm 85:2)? In addition to this forgiveness and covering, what has He done (Psalm 85:3)? But what are they praying for Him to do now (Psalm 85:4a)? What are they calling Him? What do they mention three times in verse 4b, Psalm 85:5a, and verse 5b? What are they asking for in Psalm 85:6a? What do they want to do with this life (verse 6b)? What do they want Yahweh to do with His covenant love (Psalm 85:7a)? Whose salvation do they mention in verse 7b? How many people are talking now in Psalm 85:8a? What will he do now? Who will be speaking instead? What will He speak (verse 8b)? To whom (verse 8c)? What mustn’t they do (verse 8d)? What is near to whom (Psalm 85:9a)? Besides the returned people, what will dwell in the land (verse 9b)? In this glory, what do covenant love and faithfulness do (Psalm 85:10a)? What do righteousness and peace do (verse 10b)? When the glory dwells in the land, what will spring from earth, and what will look down from heaven (Psalm 85:11)? How does Psalm 85:12 describe this filling of the land with faithfulness and righteousness? Who are back to speaking in verse 12b? What will go before Him in Psalm 85:13a? And what will these footsteps of His righteousness become (verse 13b)? 

What hope may we have, when we are committing sin again, even after the Lord had restored us? Psalm 85 looks forward to the opening portion of morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these thirteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that when believers backslide, they may look back to the Lord of salvation to glorify His own character in granting them new repentance. 

After acknowledging that the Lord had shown His people mercy by restoring them from the exile (Psalm 85:1–3), the Psalmist acknowledges that the people have ill-repaid God by more sin that has provoked wrath again (Psalm 85:4-7),  and then receives from God the message that His own character is still their hope to give them both forgiveness and repentance (Psalm 85:8-13).

Past performance is indicative of future expectation (Psalm 85:1-3). When the Lord brought Israel back from their captivity (v1b), it was entirely because He was gracious (Psalm 85:1a). Apart from the Lord, the only thing that is in His people is iniquity (Psalm 85:2a) and sin (verse 2b). But it is in God that we find forgiveness (verse 2a), covering (verse 2b), and propitiation (the taking away of wrath, Psalm 85:3a; and the turning away of anger, verse 3b). 

This knowledge that restoration from the exile could only have come from something within God now gives the psalmist hope because His people are again in need of salvation (Psalm 85:4-7). Although believers experience the fierce inner battle of Romans 7:15–24, the confidence of Romans 7:25 rests upon this same “Psalm 85 logic” in Romans 5. If my salvation comes not at all from myself but from Him, and He has already begun it (cf. Romans 5:6–8), then surely He will complete it (cf. Romans 5:9–11). 

How to pray when you’re troubled (Psalm 85:4-7). The people of God are in trouble in this Psalm, but their greatest trouble is spiritual trouble. Often, a believer has peace in the midst of all of life’s storms, because he has Christ. And he knows that if he has Christ, then he is safe. The storm is working for his good. The storm is not separating him from the love of God in Christ.

But what about when we aren’t just in trouble but are troubled within? What about when we can see how much we are sinning, and we know that the troubles that we have aren’t even the tip of the iceberg of what we deserve? What if we can see our unloveliness and our peril? Where can we look for love and salvation?

God Himself. Steadfast/covenanted love (Psalm 85:7a) and salvation (Psalm 85:4a, Psalm 85:7b) are described here as something on the order of personal properties of God. They flow from God’s commitment to Himself. And this is the hope for the sinner who has provoked God’s holy wrath, because that too flows from God’s commitment to Himself.

This is a difficult concept, so let us try. God’s holiness, properly speaking, cannot be thought of as fundamentally “separation,” like many have noted. Surely, by comparison to the creatures, His holiness does indeed distinguish Him entirely! But if He is holy in Himself from all eternity, then we know that it has something other than separation at its core, for God is not separate from Himself. It is difficult to conceptualize, but we conclude that His holiness is something like the intensity of His being and the intensity of His commitment to Himself. He is completely unlike us, completely “other” from us.

So, when the psalmist notes that God is angry with their sin again (Psalm 85:5a, verse 5b, verse 5c), he remembers that for His own sake, God has forgiven and restored them before (Psalm 85:1-3). God would be unholy if He did not hate and punish sin. But God has done something that brings His holiness to bear by saving us from His wrath, rather than destroying us in it. He has taken a people for Himself that can be called “Your people” (Psalm 85:6b). And He redeems them for the purpose of their rejoicing in Him Himself—all His glorious character (verse 6b). 

There’s nothing in us to plead. It’s all in God. He restores (Psalm 85:4a). He revives (Psalm 85:6a). He shows covenanted love (Psalm 85:7a). He grants salvation (verse 7b). Yes, we must be penitent and contrite, but apart from His life-giving grace we can’t even conjure contrition. And however contrite we are, it’s not contrite “enough.” We come asking Him to renew right hearts in us; He is the One Who provides what pleases Him (cp. Psalm 51:6, Psalm 51:10, Psalm 51:17). 

God’s answer: peace and repentance in Christ (Psalm 85:8-13). Wisely, the Psalmist turns to Scripture in Psalm 85:8. He turns to what God Himself speaks. After all, if our hope is not in ourselves but in God, then the words that matter most to us are not our own words but God’s. When the Psalm turns to the singular in verse 8, it gives us a window into the Psalmist personally receiving the words of God. 

Words that he is confident will be the key to peace (Psalm 85:8b). Why? Because God’s words are for His people (verse 8c), His saints (verse 8c). The fact that He is speaking at all is already grace. And He is speaking, in that grace, because He has decided to save a people for Himself, to consecrate people unto Himself.

And He will give these people the repentance that they need. Our translation’s “but” in verse 8d takes the conjunction as adversative, implying some sort of quid-pro-quo—as if we receive peace as a reward for obedience. But “and” is almost certainly better than “but” here!

We cannot have peace while we are continuing in foolishness, so the Lord’s words are the means by which we are both forgiven and kept from foolishness. Psalm 85:13 verifies this: He forges the way of righteousness for us, and makes a path for us to walk in by His own “feet” as it were. 

As for the peace and forgiveness that He speaks, Psalm 85:10 brings us back to what we were thinking about in Psalm 85:1-3. In His salvation, all of God’s attributes hold together to save us. He is faithful to Himself (“truth,” Psalm 85:10a), yet keeps covenant love toward us (“Mercy,” verse 10a). He maintains His holy and just righteousness, while giving us peace (verse 10b). For the people of God in the presence of God, truth (Psalm 85:11a), righteousness (verse 11b), goodness (Psalm 85:12a), and prosperity (verse 12b),  come from everywhere. For, they come from God Himself.

We now know how. All of the character of God holds together in the salvation of God in Jesus Christ Himself. Particularly at His cross. For there the justice was upheld, the wrath satisfied and turned away, and His love shown. Not only is there no tension between these things, but the cross is simultaneously the greatest display of all of them. The greatest display of wrath. The greatest display of love. The greatest display of mercy. The greatest display of justice. The greatest display of holiness. The greatest display of nearness. The greatest display of God!

Where can a sinner get peace with God and to walk in the pathway of righteousness? Christ and Him crucified! No wonder the apostle was determined to be an expert in nothing else (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2). May you also be such an “expert” by faith, dear reader.

When have you been in trouble, and when have you been troubled within? What’s the difference? Who is the solution? How has He given Himself for you? Through what means does He give Himself to you? What folly is getting in the way of your peace with Him? From where does freedom from it come?

Sample prayer:  Lord, You are gracious to Your people! You have restored us, forgiven us, and hidden our sin from Your sight. You satisfied Your own wrath at the cross, where You made the greatest simultaneous display of Your love, Your truth, Your righteousness, and Your peace. So, revive Your people, we pray, O God. Give life! Give us to rejoice in You! Make Your glory to dwell among us! Help us, by Your Spirit, to walk in the pathway of Your righteousness, we ask through Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP85A “O Lord, Unto Your Land” or TPH85 “You Were Pleased to Show Your Favor”

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