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Wednesday, June 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 85

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-13

Psalms 85:0

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

2     Lord, thou hast been favorable unto thy land:

Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.

3     Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people;

Thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.

4     Thou hast taken away all thy wrath:

Thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.

5     Turn us, O God of our salvation,

And cause thine anger toward us to cease.

6     Wilt thou be angry with us for ever?

Wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?

7     Wilt thou not revive us again:

That thy people may rejoice in thee?

8     Shew us thy mercy, O Lord,

And grant us thy salvation.

9     I will hear what God the Lord will speak:

For he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints:
But let them not turn again to folly.

10     Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him;

That glory may dwell in our land.

11     Mercy and truth are met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

12     Truth shall spring out of the earth;

And righteousness shall look down from heaven.

13     Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good;

And our land shall yield her increase.

14     Righteousness shall go before him;

And shall set us in the way of his steps.


Contents and Composition. After a retrospect of the former mercy bestowed upon the people, (Psalms 85:2-4), there is uttered a prayer for a renewed manifestation of the same mercy during present sufferings from the anger of God (Psalms 85:5-8). The intention is then announced of listening with gladness to God’s pledge of peace to His people, because its fulfilment in their deliverance was certain to those who really feared Him (Psalms 85:9-10). This fulfilment with its wealth of blessings is finally described in strains of poetic rapture (Psalms 85:11-13), which bear a great resemblance to Isa. 39:16f.; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 59:14. We receive an impression from the Psalm which compels us to assign its composition to the period succeeding the return from the Exile. There is no sufficient ground for connecting it with the peace concluded with Antiochus III (Hitzig). It is more than doubtful whether we are justified in inferring from Psalms 85:13 a season of the year long before harvest. The assumption is altogether arbitrary that the first part contains the prayer of the Church, and the second a hymn of exhortation and promise by the priests in response (Ewald, Olshausen, De Wette). The construction of the perfects in Psalms 85:2-4 as pluperfects (Ewald, Olshausen, Baur) is unnecessary. [These commentators suppose the reference to be to a period long past, and hence their view of the force of these verbs.—J. F. M.] The opinion is unfounded, that Psalms 85:5 f. recall the former prayer of the people (Hitzig), or that they contain that of those who remained still in exile as distinguished from those who had returned (Venema). If the whole psalm be viewed as prophetic (the older commentators) or as having no historical back-ground (Hengst., Clauss.), the exposition is modified accordingly. The expressions indicate a national judgment, not in conception as in Psalms 14:7, but in reality; and Psalms 85:9 b, hints that the present misfortunes of the people were the deserved consequences of their folly (Delitzsch). This idea is lost in the text of the Sept. where we have the rendering: and to those who turn their hearts to Him. [This rendering is due to a wrong conception of the word כִּסְלָה and to a false construction of the clause. This word was supposed to be capable of the same meaning as the form כֶּסֶל which once means inward parts.—Most of the English commentators agree with the view defended above. Dr. Alexander does not feel justified in referring it to any particular period He says: “The idea that the benefit acknowledged was deliverance from the Babylonish exile has arisen from a false interpretation of the last clause of Psalms 85:1, the true sense of which may be illustrated from Psalms 14:7. Captivity is a common figure for distress and God’s revisiting the captives for relief from it.” And again: “It seems to be appropriate to every case in which the fulfilment of the promise in Leviticus 26:3-13 was suspended.”—J. F. M.].

Psalms 85:11 ff. Mercy and truth are met together (præterite), and therefore appear as united and co-operating harmoniously, in consequence of God’s glory or majesty again dwelling in the land when the people should become converted to His fear. It is opposed to the context to change the compassion and truth of God into the human virtues of “kindness” and “faithfulness” (Hupfeld), or “ love and faithfulness,” (Hitzig). So also is the change of glory into “ honor ” (most). A like harmony exists between righteousness and peace, of which it is said literally that they are joined together. [It is more correct to say that it is said literally: they have kissed each other, the word being onomatopoetic, and then to present the idea of union as conveyed by that figure.—J. F. M.] They do not appear here as gifts of God, and consequences of His mercy and truth (most). Still less are they represented as human righteousness and earthly peace (Hitzig), but as heavenly attributes in their Divine union. They are rightly personified in this sense, and represented frequently in works of art as angels or messengers of God kissing each other (comp. Piper’s evangel. Kalender, 1859, p. 24 ff., 1867, p. 63). It is this righteousness thus united with peace which the Psalmist beholds as looking down from heaven well-pleased with the land, in which God’s glory dwells, and from which it causes to spring forth from Divine seeds united truth and mercy. In the next verse the dealings of the Covenant God answer to this looking down, and the grateful conduct of the nation to the merciful dealings of God. The fruit of the land, therefore, according to the context, cannot be the fruit of harvest (Hitzig) but the blessed results of reconciliation, that righteousness which walks before God and follows in His train when He manifests His presence in the land. This sense is found in the words, whether we render the last clause: and set (their steps) upon the way of His steps (Olshausen, Delitzsch in his first edition), or: make His steps a way, that is, walk in His footsteps (Hupfeld), or: conform to the ways of His steps (Ewald), or: mark, regard attentively the way of His steps (Delitzsch now), or: designate, make known the way of His steps (Hitzig). It is, at all events, wrong to translate: make their steps a way (Hengst.), or sets its steps upon the way that is, sets out upon the way, has its course, is really and truly, (most of the older expositors until De Wette). For the suffix in פְעָמָיו must refer to God, on account of the parallelism with לְפָנָיו. [The rendering of Hupfeld is probably the correct one, representing the most natural construction of the words. The apocopated form mingles an aspiration with the declaration, and does not justify us, as Perowne supposes, in giving to the whole verse the force of a desire.—J. F. M.]


1. God does not only forgive the special sins of individuals, He blots out also the common transgressions of a whole people, and removes their common guilt in the dispensation of His mercy. This gracious dealing does not, however, make provision for the future transgression of the same people. But the compassion before experienced encourages to prayer for a repeated turning away of His anger, and strengthens the hope of renewed blessing. And therefore must God’s people be mindful of the one when they are reminded of the other, and make both subserve the building up of the Church.

2. But, in order to realize this aim, it is above all necessary, that they be intent upon hearing what God says. For this purpose they do not require any new revelation from Him, but can resort to His words, familiar as they have so long been to His people, and expound and apply them for the instruction and consolation and warning and exhortation of themselves and others. For His word as a testimony to His truth not only agrees in all its parts with itself, it satisfies also the needs of His people, and answers perfectly the purposes of God. For it reveals His thoughts of salvation and peace, and announces their actual fulfilment in the world by the advent of righteousness, which it shows to be caused not merely by His general dispensation of favor and mercy, but specially by His glory dwelling upon earth. And thus the history of revelation becomes a history of redemption, and all of a Messianic character.


It is good to hear the word of God, but His people must also govern their lives thereby.—We cannot meditate upon the mercy of God, without being reminded of the sins of ourselves and others; may both of them urge us to true penitence and to lively faith!—In spite of all the tokens of God’s mercy, sin has not yet disappeared from the world; but mercy is still stronger than sin.—The well-being of a nation is derived from the dwelling of God’s glory in it.—God has thoughts of peace in relation to His people, and fulfils them in conformity with His truth, but always in harmony with His righteousness.—Many ask to be spared from the anger of God, and most dread the consequences of sin, but salvation is high only to those who fear God.—God must bless the land if it is to yield its fruit; but the best fruits are those of righteousness, which are pleasing to God, and are the results of His working.—Whatever we have on earth that is good comes down from heaven.

Starke: The nearer men are to repentance the nearer are they to mercy; but the further away they are from conversion, the less do they receive of this treasure.—God’s mercy makes a joyful heart.—Honor paid to God results from His fear, and is largely increased by surpassing tokens of His help.—Righteousness is a fair ornament in a land, and a strong pillar upholding the government, the country, and the people; but righteousness and peace must stand together.—Frisch: God’s anger and displeasure will be averted in accordance with the conditions laid down by Himself, if men seek first in Him the grace of conversion, and not till then the alleviation and removal of punishment.—Tholuck: The sense of mercy must ever be as abiding as the feeling of guilt is deep.

Guenther: Let us learn at last what promotes the peace of a country, and cease seeking in the clouds and in the soil the causes of death and public calamities, and discern above the clouds the chastening hand of God, who visits in His merciful anger for our conversion the sins which are committed upon earth by His human children.—Taube: The cry of faith in distress is prompted by a knowledge of the former mercy of God towards His people; the look of faith and hope is inspired by listening to His word.—Detlefsen: Let us honor our God (1) by humble gratitude for His help, (2) by firm reliance upon His promises, (3) by a pious walk before Him.

[Scott: Having spoken unto the Lord in prayer we should compose ourselves to hear Him speak to us by His word; and to expect an answer by His Spirit or in His providence. He will certainly speak peace to His people whom He has separated and sanctified to Himself.

Barnes: Those who have been afflicted and restored should feel themselves exhorted not to return to their former course of life, (1) by their obligations to their Benefactor, (2) by the remembrance of their own solemn vows when in affliction, (3) by the assurance that if they do return to their sin and folly, heavier judgments will come upon them.—J. F. M.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 85". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-85.html. 1857-84.
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