Psalm 85 A Psalm for the Sons of Korah - 'Revive us Again'
Outline Vs 1-3 An Acknowledgement - God’s Past Mercy Remembered Vs 4-7 An Appeal - God’s Present Mercy Needed Vs 8-13 An Assurance -God’s Future Mercy Anticipated
Background Circumstances Edward Hayes Plumptre in his book, Biblical Studies deals with ‘The Psalms of the Sons of Korah’ in the eighth chapter. He believes ‘that they belong, one and all of them, to the reign of Hezekiah’ and in particular he suggests that the background of Psalm 85 reflects the prevailing circumstances after the Assyrian invasion of Judah when the LORD wrought a remarkable victory for His people (Cf 2 Kgs 18-19; 2 Chron 32:1-23; Isa 36-37). The Assyrian captivity of the Northern kingdom and invasion of Judah was, as we know, the climax of the LORD’s judgments on Israel as foretold by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 7:17-21; 8:1-10).
Over against this, the general view of many commentators is that the background to Psalm 85 is probably the Babylonian captivity meaning that the Psalm was written sometime after the exiles returned either somewhere during the period of those approximately eighteen years when the building of the temple ceased and the people were in difficult circumstances because the hand of the LORD was upon them as we learn from the prophesies of Haggai and Zechariah (Cf Ezra 1, 3-4; 5:1-2; Haggai 1-2 & Zech 7-8), or during the time of Ezra or even more possibly Nehemiah (Ezra 9-10; Neh 1).
Yet another possible background is suggested by Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
'It is true a captivity is mentioned in Psalm 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 … 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' (The Treasury of David by C. H. Spurgeon).
One last option I’ll mention is from Mr Flanigan. He suggests in his commentary:
Evidently then, there is no complete consensus on the background circumstances of this Psalm. However if we consider it in light of any of the above it makes sense and, while we may not know the exact situations referred to, its central message is clear.
Audience Experience One other thing to highlight before getting to the detail of the Psalm itself. We must understand this Psalm and indeed the Psalms in general concern the praise and prayers of those who are in covenant relationship with the LORD. I’m referring of course to the Mosaic covenant. In this Psalm as we shall see the author is earnestly pleading for the LORD’s covenant faithfulness to be realized in the experience of Israel. This is important to grasp so that we don’t read more than is intended into the language of the Psalm, particularly in the first three verses.
Vs 1-3An Acknowledgement - God’s Past Mercy Remembered
The opening part of the Psalm recounts how the LORD’s mercy has been realized in the past experience of ‘Jacob’ and this is why the psalmist makes his earnest appeal for revival in the nation’s present situation (vs 4-7). “Thou hast shown thyself merciful to Thy land” is the idea in the first line. The LORD had reminded His people back in the Pentateuch that “the land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23). Israel sinned in their stewardship by not giving His land its Sabbath rest (Lev 25:1-7) and so during their captivity in Babylon the land rested and enjoyed its Sabbaths (2 Chron 36:20-21).
Interestingly, it is as the prophet Isaiah warns Judah and Israel of the coming Assyrian invasion that we read of the land identified as Immanuel’s land:
'Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: and he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel' (Isa 8:7-8).
This reflects the prophecy of Isaiah chapter seven verse fourteen concerning the virgin born Son who would be called Immanuel and as we know, Matthew records how the birth of Jesus is the fulfilment of that very prophecy (Matt 1:21-23).
The psalmist refers to the LORD’s favour unto His land in association with restoring the fortunes of Jacob, His people. The two stand together. They are the people of His land. The Psalmist in what appears to be prophetic words in the third part of the Psalm anticipates a future restoration when glory will dwell in ‘our land’ (v 9) and its fruitfulness will be realized again (v 12).
The LORD forgave, He lifted from Israel His wrath experienced because of their iniquity and He hid their sins, the cause of His fierce anger. The forgiveness and covering are understood in light of His covenant mercy or steadfast love. This was why Moses pleaded for the people at the golden calf and at Kadesh-barnea (Ex 32:10-14, Num 14:11-20; Neh 9:15-32). It was at the latter place he reminded the LORD:
"And now, I beseech Thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as Thou hast spoken, saying, The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy mercy, and as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now" (Num 14:17-19).
Moses is reminding the LORD of His covenant mercy which reflects what the LORD proclaimed of Himself in Mount Sinai (Ex 20:5-6; 34:6-7). The forgiveness and covering referred to here are within the context of the LORD’s covenant faithfulness and are to be understand nationally rather than individually.
To say the obvious, the LORD’s mercy is because of who He is. He proclaimed His Name to Moses in the mount. In these opening verses it is not Israel’s repentance that the psalmist talks about, but the evidence of the LORD’s mercy. It is never deserved, earned or merited no matter how contrite the repentance or how sincere the earnest pleading. The LORD is faithful to Himself, always. Yet, that is why when we repent, He responds and when we cry to Him He hears. We will look closer at the idea of covenant mercy when we reach verse seven, but a great example of the breadth of His mercy to those who had no covenant relationship with Him is seen in the experience of the people of Nineveh in the story of Jonah. The sulking angry prophet complains to the LORD:
'But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, “I pray Thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil”' (Jonah 4:1-2).
We are reminded from the psalmist prayer that the experience of past mercy is a sound reason for crying to God for mercy in present difficulties and trials. We knew His mercy when we came as sinners to the Lord Jesus. The evening I got saved my prayer to God was, ‘Lord if there is still mercy left for me, please save me’. He hears the cry of the penitent. Think of David’s appeal in his repentance: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Psa 51:1) and Paul reminds us:
'But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour' (Tit 3:4-6).
How we need His mercy through life and how we and the world needs it at the present time. Let us cry for divine intervention in this current crisis. The evil in our world, the forces of nature and the reality of death all combine to remind us how much we need the mercy of God’s love. People so often question the motives and character of God in the face of catastrophe, yet they fail to realize that if God removed His restraint and abandoned this world to its fate, the outcome would be unthinkable. As we survey times of crisis throughout history, whether because of war or disease or natural disaster, we get a glimpse of just how bad things can be and are reminded how dependent we are upon the mercy of a loving, almighty and sovereign God.
It was Corrie Ten Boom who said so powerfully: “There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still”. She spoke from first-hand experience having endured the evil of the Nazis Ravensbrück concentration camp. So let us pray remembering that God regards the prayers of His people and scripture tells us that ‘the eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry’ (Psalm 34:7).
Before moving to the next part of the Psalm, I think the words of David Kidner are well worth quoting regarding these opening lines:
These phrases, and especially those of verses 2 forward show that Israel is not pining for past glories, which are often an optical illusion (cf. Eccl. 6:10), but remembering past mercies. This is realistic; it is also stimulating: it leads to prayers (4–7) rather than dreams’ (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary – TOTC Vol 16 Psalms 73–150, An Introduction And Commentary, Derek Kidner).
Vs 4-7 An Appeal - God’s Present Mercy Needed
The psalmist not only recalls what the LORD has done in the past, he pleads for salvation in the present. Once again Israel are under the LORD’s displeasure. The psalmist is appealing to God for not only His anger to cease, but for the nation to be turned back to Him. His prayer is, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Thy indignation toward us!” (RSV v 4). His burden and plea is for revival so that “Thy people may rejoice in Thee” (v 6). He is longing for renewed fellowship and restored relationship with the LORD. In God alone is the hope of salvation. Only He can bring deliverance to His people. We sense the author’s feelings of intense longing by his two questions in verse five. His pain and concern come through as he asks “Wilt Thou be angry with us forever?”
“Revive us again” is his appeal. He is saying, let us live again. This can be translated: “Wilt Thou return and give us life”. Perhaps I can illustrate the idea from the story of Jacob. Jacob’s heart was broken after being deceived into thinking that Joseph was dead (Gen 37:35). His life from then on was an existence. What a day it was when as a gray headed old man he heard the most remarkable news and saw the evidence to make it believable! His sons ‘told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them’ and then we read that ‘when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived’ (Gen 45:27). The energy and enthusiasm for living returned to Jacob! A lost relationship was about to be restored! The psalmist prays for revival to the end “that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?” Joy would be the result. Particularly, joy in the LORD. It would not be just a celebration that wrath was past and their fortunes restored, but they would praise the LORD, they would give Him the glory and live under His Lordship and rejoice in His blessing. The LORD through His prophet Isaiah speaks the answer to the psalmist prayer:
'For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him' (Isa 57:15-19).
In this ‘Church Age’ the word revival is largely used with reference to times when the gospel prospers in a marked way. The most famous in Ulster being the ‘Fifty Nine Revival’. Richard Land, the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina says helpfully, “what America must have is heaven-sent, Spirit-filled revival. This is not going to happen without God’s people getting on their knees before God … It must start with personal revival that ripens into an awakening that culminates in a reformation” (The Baptist Courier, Oct 1st 2008). The point Mr Land makes is that revival begins with us. In understanding the Old Testament there are many things we must ‘filter’ through the truth of the New Testament. We draw on the principles, but we cannot always make direct comparison. So to be clear, I’m not suggesting that believers today are in any sense under God’s wrath as described in this Psalm. Such an idea cannot be supported from the New Testament. God’s wrath in the New Testament context is with reference to the ungodly (Rom 1:18; Col 3:5-7). At the same time the New Testament tells us that God disciplines His children (Heb 12:5-11), refines believers through trial (1 Pet 1:7) and as the messages to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia show, Christ calls for repentance when and where necessary (Rev 2:4-5, 15-16; 3:3, 19).
That said, we can and ought to pray, borrowing the language of this Psalm: “Wilt Thou not revive us again: that Thy people may rejoice in thee?” May indeed God enliven us with zeal for His things and for the glory of the Lord Jesus? How often our zeal becomes dampened, our minds distracted and our hearts discouraged. Do we not lack spiritual vitality reflected so often in our lack of interest? May the Lord restore, renew and revive His people, beginning with me! One important thing we note from the psalmist words, is that in true revival among the saints the focus will be on God and not men. Think on these well-known words:
All glory and praise To the Lamb that was slain, Who has taken our sins, And has cleansed every stain.
Revive us again; Fill each heart with Thy love; May each soul be rekindled With fire from above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Revive us again.
What a beautiful word this is. The author prays with the assurance that the LORD’s lovingkindness, like Himself, is unchanging and undiminished with time. Paul reminds us in Ephesians that mercy flows from divine love: ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us’ (Eph 2:4).
Vs 8-13An Assurance -God’s Future Mercy Anticipated
Like the prophet Habakkuk who waited on his watch tower for the LORD to respond to him (Hab 2:1-4), the psalmist waits to hear what the LORD says in, it seems, response to his prayer (v 8). Yet he does so with confidence. ‘Surely He will speak peace unto His people’. He waits with hope while warning, ‘let them not again turn to folly’. This refers, most likely, to their turning to the sin of idolatry. The psalmist speaks in these verses of hope (vs 8-9), harmony (vs 10-11) and happiness (vs 12-13).
He is confident that the LORD’s salvation is near to the one who fears Him and that yet glory will dwell in the land. The LORD’s land (v 1) is now ‘our land’. It is a gifted inheritance. This is glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land. The LORD’s presence will be realized and His blessing known with the land yielding her increase (v 12).
We remind our hearts that God still speaks peace to His people. The Lord Jesus spoke peace in the midst of a storm:
'And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto Him, “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, “Peace, be still”. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?”' (Mark 4:35-41).
May we hear His calming voice of power and authority in the midst of this present ‘storm’.
In His upper room ministry He spoke peace to His own by His promises and teaching. He said to them: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid … These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn 14:27; 16:33).
Again, may we know the comfort and assurance of His peace in our hearts through the same promises. Now the Psalmist speaks of a beautifulharmony between mercy and truth, righteousness and peace (v 10-11). What is described here is the beauty of spiritual harmony. It is harmony between heaven and earth, between the LORD and His people. Mercy will meet with truth. This is the LORD’s lovingkindness to His people will be met with faithfulness on their part; obedience to His word, submission to His Lordship and joy in His person. As a united people they will respond to the God of their salvation. Then righteousness and peace kiss each other. Like the embrace of two parted friends they will come together in joy. It is the LORD’s righteousness in His dealings with His people. His judgment is righteous, and so is His salvation. His blessings flow by His grace because of His righteousness. The result of His righteousness is the experience of ‘Shalom’ between Him and His people and between themselves. And so, ‘truth shall spring out of the earth and righteousness shall look down from heaven’ (v 11).
Verse twelve makes us think of the statement in Psalm eighty four: ‘The LORD will give grace and glory’ (Psa 84:11). The LORD in His grace will give fruitfulness which will reflect His glory in the land. Truly when this is realized, Israel will be a happy people and really know in experience what Moses said concerning them: Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the LORD, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places (Deut 33:29).
The last verse seems to suggest that righteousness like a herald shall pave the way of the LORD so that His people will follow ‘in the way of His steps’. They will walk according to the word and will of God.
Has Israel ever reached this ideal? Hardly. Just read their privileged, yet sad history. The godly though of the nation, like the psalmist here, longed for such days. This prophetic word looks to the ultimate future surely, the foundation of which was of course laid at the Cross. Certainly in our Lord’s death we see how divine love answered to truth and the satisfying of divine righteousness resulted in peace. What an infinite price He paid. But the emphasis here in verses ten and eleven is on the outcome of what He accomplished and will realized by a redeemed, restored and revived Israel in that future day of the kingdom.
In that day Israel will come into the good of the New Covenant of which Christ is the surety (Heb 7:22). The prophet Jeremiah wrote of that time:
'Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more' (Jer 31:31-34).
And the prophecy of Isaiah says concerning it:
'In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength' (Isa 26:1-4).
May this message on Psalm 85 encourage you and help to strengthen your faith in Him whose steadfast love and salvation is near to them who fear Him.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the King James Version.