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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 85

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 85

The contents of the Psalm are made up of a prayer on the part of the people, for deliverance during long protracted misery. The prayer rises first in Psalms 85:1-4, upon the foundation of the early grace of God; after this it is more fully developed in Psalms 85:5-7, and thus the number seven of this first strophe is divided into a four and a three. The second strophe, which contains the promise of deliverance, consists exactly of the same length. Only there is wanting a verse at the conclusion, which, as in Psalms 81, is to be supplied from the title; and we are thus reminded of Habakkuk 3:19, where the usual appendage borrowed from the titles of the Psalms stands at the close.

It has been generally supposed that the people gives thanks in Psalms 85:1-3, for restoration from captivity; and after this, in Psalms 85:7, prays to the Lord to complete the work which he had begun, to remove entirely his anger from the people, and to put them in full possession of deliverance. But the idea that Psalms 85:1-3 refer to restoration from captivity, depends altogether upon a wrong translation of the phrase שב שבות in Psalms 85:1. This never means to bring back the prisoners, not even, to turn the captivity, but always to turn back to the prison, that is, to the misery (comp. at Psalms 14:7; and this translation is especially demanded here by the שוננו in Psalms 85:4, and the תשוב in Psalms 85:6. The clause at the beginning “thou hast shown thyself merciful to thy land,” is altogether against the reference to the Babylonish captivity. “These words,” remarks Claus with correctness, “appear much rather to suit a time when the people dwelt in their land, and had been visited with severe punishment.” Further, the forgiveness and the sheaving of favour in Psalms 85:1-3, are of a universal character, just as then the wrath is completely removed, so in Psalms 85:4-7 the people still lie completely under wrath. Psalms 85:1-3 cannot therefore be considered as referring to events of recent occurrence, but to transactions of a remote age. Luther correctly gives: thou who hast been gracious in the days of old. The people cannot be considered as praying at Psalms 85:4, &c., that the Lord would complete a work, which, according to Psalms 85:1-3, had been begun, but that he would anew act at the present time as he had done in the days of old.

The Psalm will not bear an historical exposition. The description of the distress out of which the people had been delivered, is conveyed in terms which are entirely general; and in like manner, there are no individual references in the representation of the relations of the present. In the confident expectations entertained of deliverance, the prominence given to peace would seem to point to an oppression which had arisen from enemies; while, on the other hand, “the land gives it increase,” especially when viewed in, connection with the fundamental passage, Leviticus 26:4, appears to indicate that the distress had arisen from a failure of the crops. We are hence entitled to draw the conclusion that the Psalm was designed for the use of all times of protracted distress—of all times in which men did not witness the fulfilment of the promise of Leviticus 26:3-13; the bringing to remembrance of which was evidently the design of the second part. The time of composition cannot be determined; the title, “To the Chief Musician by the sons of Korah, a Psalm,” gives as little clue to this as it does to the contents of the Psalm.

Verses 1-4

The introduction, Psalms 85:1-4, is entirely similar to the introduction in Psalms 9, and also in Psalms 40 : compare also Psalms 83:9-12. There cannot be given any more solid foundation for a prayer in which it is desired that God should do something, than to appeal to what he has already done, inasmuch as, just because he is the unchangeable God, those deeds which proceed from the necessity of his being, partake of a prophetic character.

Ver. 1. Thou didst manifest thyself gracious, O Lord, to thy land. Thou didst turn back to the prison house of Jacob. Ver. 2. Thou didst take away the iniquity of thy people, thou didst cover all their sins. Selah. Ver. 3. Thou didst take away all thy wrath, thou didst cease from the fury of thine anger. Ver. 4. Turn back therefore to us, O God, our. Saviour, and cause thy wrath against us to cease.

Every man is left at liberty to think upon one of great examples of the divine compassion in the days of old. The pause after Psalms 85:1, pointed out by the Selah, is intended to bind Psalms 85:2 and Psalms 85:3 closely together, and in this way to intimate that everything said of the early grace of God was only designed to serve the object of giving a basis to the prayer for new grace. The השיב stands in Psalms 85:3, absol. to cease from, as in Ezekiel 18:30, Ezekiel 18:32. It is evident from Ezekiel 14:6, that this usage is properly dependant upon an omission,—to turn back the face or the heart: compare on such frequent omissions of the object in Hiph. Ew. § 239: Maurer’s translation, “thou hast stilled in part thine anger,” is not only “unnatural,” but is contradicted in one breath by the Psalmist: all their sins, all thy wrath. Allusion is made to Exodus 32:12, where Moses says to God: turn back from the fierceness of thy wrath. This prayer was at that time graciously heard.

The שוב , with the accusative has always the sense of to turn back: compare at Psalms 14:7. The עמנו belongs to the verb: make it in our case to cease; compare מעמו , from beside him, so that it is no longer near him, in Psalms 89:33. To connect the noun with the verb of indignation by the עם , is not usual.

Verses 5-7

Ver. 5. Wilt thou then be angry with us for ever? prolong thine anger to all generations? Ver. 6. Wilt thou not turn back, quicken us, and shall not thy people rejoice in thee? Ver. 7. Let us behold, O Lord, thy mercy, and give us thy salvation.

On Psalms 85:5, Berleb.: “The question supplicates as at Psalms 77:7, or is put in this mournful form, with a view to move the heart of God, who, in virtue of his fatherly love, could not possibly fail to return a favourable answer.” Michaelis: “while thine anger on other occasions lasts only one moment,” Psalms 30:5: comp. Exodus 34:3, Exodus 34:6.

The תשוב in Psalms 85:6 cannot, from Psalms 85:1 and Psalms 85:5, be construed as an adverb, it rather stands in immediate connection with תחיינו : on this word comp. Psalms 80:18; Deuteronomy 32:39; Hos. 6:21 The return of God is the indispensable condition and means of quickening. The “thy people” contains the basis of the prayer. To rejoice in their God (comp. Psalms 5:11, Psalms 40:16) is essential to the being of the people of God.

Verses 8-11

Ver. 8. I will hear what God the Lord speaks. For he speaks peace to his pious ones, only that they return not; to foolishness. Ver. 9. Truly salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Ver. 10. Mercy and truth meet each other, righteousness and peace embrace each other. Ver. 11. Truth springs from the earth, and righteousness looks from heaven.

It is not the Psalmist that speaks in Psalms 85:8, but the people, as in the fourth and following verses, and in the whole psalm; and the answer is got by the same party from whom the question and the prayer had proceeded. האל is equivalent to “our God,” comp. Psalms 20. The “for” contains the basis of the zeal and the joy ( I will hear) with which the people prepares to listen. The church has already observed, that the answer to her prayer is a favourable one. In reference to the speeches of God, the Berleb. Bible: “Dost thou ask how this happens? Know that it happens in the simplest and surest of all ways, by his own holy and good spirit, when he imparts to the soul such good instruction and impression as that thus it learns to know his will. He speaks, therefore, nothing else than what already stands in the Bible, and only brings to remembrance what he had already said, and caused to be written. He explains it, points it out, and applies it to the condition of souls and to all circumstances.” It has been already observed, that the address of God here is, in particular, nothing else than a repetition of Leviticus 26:3-13. If that passage be compared, it will immediately be perceived, that by the peace nothing else is understood than protection against enemies, with which in that passage also the fertility of the land is conjoined as the second gift of a gracious God. The clause designed to be read with emphasis “ to his saints,” following up the expression of a previous verse, “to his people,” and the still more definite clause, “and they may not return to foolishness,” i.e., “but that only they do not return,” indicate that as the fundamental promise, so here everything expressly and repeatedly is made dependant on obedience to the commandments of God, and also that the promise drawn from it is throughout a conditional one, the new salvation rests throughout upon the foundation of the new obedience. Comp. Psalms 80:18. Inasmuch as this was always imperfect, the people of the Old Testament never obtained full possession of the blessings here promised.

The אך in Psalms 85:9 is the particle of assurance: comp. at Ps. 58:12.

On the ( Psalms 85:10-11) 10th and 11th verses many errors have been fallen into in regard to the subject matter, from not observing that the language from the relation in which the passage stands to the first part cannot possibly apply to anything else than to the gifts of God: we have there what the Lord has formerly fulfilled and ought now to perform, and here what he is about to perform, exactly in accordance with “he speaks peace to his people,” of Psalms 85:8, and with the fundamental passage.

The mercy in Psalms 85:10 is the mercy of God, the truth therefore can be nothing but his truth. For both the mercy and the truth of God occur thus bound up together, (comp. for example Psalms 25:10; Psalms 40:11; Psalms 61:7), and if the truth were to be viewed in connection with men, it would be necessary to define it more exactly. [Note: Cocceius: “the former denotes paternal love and its gifts, the opposites of anger, enmity, and condemnation, the latter the exhibition and the fulfilment of the promises.”] The meeting each other, and the kissing, denote simultaneous appearance and friendly agreement. The righteousness, as is evident from the parallelism with the first clause, and Psalms 85:11, is not subjective righteousness, but righteousness as the gift of God, the matter-of-fact proclamation of righteousness; comp. at Psalms 23:3.

The righteousness springs out of the earth, Psalms 85:11, as to its consequences, in the rich increase, which God, always consistent in word and deed, gives to the land; comp. “our land gives its increase,” Psalms 85:12, which serves as a commentary. To “the righteousness looks down from heaven,” that is, descending in blessings upon the people of God, we have there the corresponding clause, “the Lord gives what is good.” Isaiah 45:8 is parallel and probably dependent upon this passage: “Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness, let the earth open, and let it bring forth salvation, and let it cause righteousness to spring up together.”

Verses 12-13

Ver. 12. The Lord also gives what is good, and our land gives it increase. Ver. 13. Righteousness goes forth before him and makes her footsteps a way.

On the second half of the ( Psalms 85:12) 12th verse comp. Psalms 67:6. Here as there the words are from Leviticus 26:4.

The way to the right interpretation of the second half of Psalms 85:13 has been obstructed by perversely interpreting righteousness in a moral sense. Righteousness makes her footsteps for a way (comp, Isaiah 51:10), and thus we are enabled to walk in the ways of righteousness and salvation, comp. at Psalms 23:3.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 85". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-85.html.
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