Revive Us Again (Psalm 85)
Illustration: Twilight Zone “A Nice Place to Visit.” After being gunned down during a burglary, Mr. Valentine, is ushered into eternity. To his surprise he experiences all the things he had been craving in this life (luxurious penthouse, fancy suits, all the alcohol he could want, an endless supply of money and women). But as the episode nears the end, he finds that his eternity is empty. It doesn’t leave him satisfied. He tells his guide, “I don’t think heaven is for me. I think I belong in the other place.” His host responds, “What makes you think this is heaven?”
Millennials crave a meaningful existence. They have less money, but they spend twice as much on self-improvement. As anxiety and depression are on a steady rise in America, Christianity (and religion in general) is in steady decline. Eighteenth century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, said, “The more a cultivated reason gives itself over to the aim of enjoying life and happiness, the further the human being falls short of true contentment.”
Achieving the dream life often leaves one feeling empty. Money, fame, relationships, and power never bring the value we expect. We always need a little bit more of whatever we’re chasing.
We are not defined by worldly success. Our identity is not found in what we have, but who we are. And who we are is much deeper than our surface appetites. Our ultimate goal is only achieved in the enjoyment of God.
Listen to God’s promises with great expectations this Advent season.
Author: The Sons of Korah wrote twelve psalms (Num. 26:10f). Part temple doorkeepers (Ps. 84:10; 1 Chr. 9:17f), part served as singers and musicians.
Context: Probably reflects Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity. Similar to last week (Psalm 80), written from a place of longing. Hoping for a better future. Reflection upon God’s past mercies and pleading for present mercies.
Read Psalm 85.
Many have idealistic views of a golden age. We think that some previous generation had it so much better than us. These same people spend all their lives complaining about the present (Eccl. 6:10). Is that how this psalm begins?
1. Remembering God’s Past Favor (1-3)
After remembering the land blessings (1), the authors reflect upon the spiritual blessings that accompanied their initial return from Babylon (2). Their iniquity was forgiven. Their guilt was removed. Their sin was covered. They were able to enjoy these blessings because God withdrew his wrath and turned from his hot anger (3).
They aren’t dreaming about a golden age, but remembering what truly happened. Although, God’s purposes were incomplete, his past favor is worthy of praise. What they had already experienced had ongoing and everlasting effects.
Our prayers should reflect upon what God has already accomplished in our lives. If this was important under the Old Covenant, how much more relevant is it under the New Covenant? We ought to remember God’s past favor towards us. We provide an opportunity to do that in the Lord’s Supper every week. Don’t let the routine of it remove the sincerity of practice.
The authors transition from remembering to…
2. Pleading for God’s Present Mercies(4-7)
Israel was aware of God’s mercy in bringing them back into the land, but they also knew how far their experience fell short of the past. Instead of complaining and murmuring, they plead for God to show more mercy.
Verses 4 and 7 bracket this section with references to “salvation,” while verses 5-6 question God’s delay. These questions may sound like impatience, or even challenge of God’s promises, but v.8 proves they’re not lacking confidence in God’s “steadfast love.” They know they are deserving of God’s anger, but they also know that it will end.
How is their experience consistent with the attributes of God’s long suffering patience and short-lived anger?
Calvin Let us therefore learn, that although God may not immediately grant us manifest tokens of his returning favour, yet we must not cease to persevere in earnest prayer. If it is objected, that then God has promised in vain that his anger would be of short duration, I answer, that if we entertain suitable views of our own sins, his anger will assuredly appear to be always of short continuance; and if we call to remembrance the everlasting course of his mercy, we will confess that his anger endures but for a moment. As our corrupt nature is ever relapsing into the wanton indulgence of its native propensities, manifold corrections are indispensably necessary to subdue it thoroughly.
Salvation is the work God delights to do. Judgment is not pleasurable (Ezek. 18:32). Let us boldly come to the throne of grace pleading to know more of God’s work of salvation in our home, church, and community.
3. Listening for God’s Promised Peace(8-9)
8 Anticipation of peace. This is the word of God that speaks things into existence. When God declares peace, he is creating it for his chosen people (Isa. 57:18-21). This declaration of peace reached its climax on the first Christmas when the angels gathered in chorus to sing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Lk. 2:14).
The saints are the recipients of God’s steadfast love (7). Both noun and verb derive from the same Hebrew root (חסד). Because of who we are, we ought to remember not to turn to folly.
9 Salvation near those who fear him. Fear is connected to the beginning stages of God’s redemption. Although they have already been delivered from Babylon, they have entered a time of lean harvest. A healthy fear of God had brought them back to the land, and now they are waiting for the blessings of his glory to return.
These blessings are not merely for ethnic Israel. Jesus has granted this promise to all who enter the covenant through him (John 17:22). Listen to God’s promises with great expectations this Advent season.
4. Expecting God’s Future Harmony (10-13)
Scripture doesn’t provide a lot of details about what heaven is going to be like. Please ignore the New York Times Bestsellers that attempt to fill in the gaps! However, the Bible does indicate that we will finally find a satisfaction beyond anything we can experience in this life.
What will God’s promised restoration look like?
10 The people are longing to see the attributes of God stirred up. God’s justice and mercy met at the cross of Jesus Christ. This was the only way to preserve God’s holiness and show mercy to sinners. But it isn’t only the attributes of God that are being stirred up, it’s the fruit of our salvation as well.
Kidner Here, then, are the fruits of atonement rather than the act of it. There may in fact be already in this verse a suggestion that the partnered qualities face each other from heaven and earth respectively, as God’s grace and earth’s response through grace. Certainly this is so in the remaining verses, with their prospect of mutual joy and unbroken harmony.
11 Faithfulness and righteousness are highlighted again. The vertical relationship with God is established so that his people can be faithful to him.
12 The Lord gives the good and the land gives the fruit. It is the same word in Hebrew connecting the “good” to the harvest crop. God sends the fall rain which enables the harvest. This is literal, of course, but it also serves as a metaphor for the covenant restoration taking place. The fertile ground signifies God’s favor has returned.
13 Righteousness prepares the way. Righteousness is personified as preparing the path. This verse transitions from the enjoyment of salvation’s blessings to following the path that righteousness has cleared.
Listen to God’s promises with great expectations this Advent season.
Poythress The forgiveness of Israel in the Old Testament anticipates the permanent forgiveness of Christ (Col. 1:13-14).