Psalm 85 was written on behalf of the nation of Israel, but the principles applied to the individual then and the individual Christian today. Apparently, the Jewish nation had been beset by some great oppression or domination. Some believe that this points to a time after the Babylonian Captivity. Regardless of what the precise event may have been, God had come to their rescue and, due to God’s mercy, the Psalmist wrote his song of thanksgiving and praise.
In the first three verses, the writer specifically thanked God for what He had done for the people. “O LORD, You showed favor to Your land; You restored the captivity of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. Selah. You withdrew all Your fury; You turned away from Your burning anger.” For the Jewish people, a relationship with God always included the land that He had given them. The land had been promised to them through Abraham. It was the Promised Land. For the Jewish people then, and now, their identity as a nation was, and is, tied directly to the land in a way that is foreign to anyone else. Today’s problems in resolving the conflicts of the Middle East are tied directly to the importance of the land for the Nation of Israel.
Although God had shown mercy to His people Israel, the next four verses clearly show that the turning away of God’s wrath was not total, “Will you be angry with us forever, will You prolong Your anger to all generations?” Israel may have been God’s people in the Old Testament period, but that fact did not give them free license to do whatever they wanted to do.
God’s blessings have always been tied to faith and obedience, and that has never changed. Verse 4 stated, “Restore us, O God of our salvation, and cause Your indignation toward us to cease.” When people sin, be they a nation or individuals, there will always be some consequence for that sin. When a sinner recognizes the sin, that is a first step, but the ability to overcome sin does not rest solely in the individual. “I know my problem, and I will fix it myself” is an attitude that will lead to failure. Success against the temptation to sin must be based the submission, the surrender, of a person’s will to God.
In the time of Psalm 85, Israel was still in a weakened state as a result of their sin. It’s important to note that a nation, or an individual, may have physical strength and influence in the world; but spiritually they are living lives of sin. Eventually, that inner rot will result in a complete collapse of everything. The psalmist recognized that their only hope rested in a full restoration of the relationship that God had established. Israel had severed that relationship – not God. They had to approach the Lord God in genuine repentance. The Psalmist wrote in verse 9, “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.
“Forgiveness and salvation have always been conditional. In verse 8 he wrote, “I will hear what God the LORD will say; for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; but let them not turn back to folly.” The Psalmist saw the hope, but he recognized the conditional nature of God’s mercy. Throughout Israel’s history, God had said “IF” you follow and love me, “THEN” I will bless and protect you.
For a Christian, one thought should come to mind – “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The Psalmist’s expressions of faith involved a great trust in God. The Gospel was still the “mystery of the ages”, and the Gospel Message was still long centuries away. Yet, the psalmist understood that God is love, and that love would be showered upon those that were, faithful to Him.
Another great contrast can be seen in the psalm. True peace comes from righteousness, yet true righteousness would not be achieved until after Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. For the nation of Israel, the Law of Moses was a schoolmaster that taught that real perfection and righteousness could not be achieved by man alone. True peace with God will only come in Christ Jesus.
Yes, today a Christian can approach the throne of grace with boldness and confidence – not from personal righteousness and purity – but through the perfection of Jesus Christ. Where there was fear and trembling in the Law, there is comfort and peace in having the love of a Father for His children.
There is one final message that was true then and now. If any person turns away from the covenant relationship that existed between that person and God, the result will be judgment. Jesus’ sacrifice turns away the wrath of God. However, if a person rejects Jesus Christ, then that person is exposed again to the wrath that God holds for sin. What a terrible thing to have the relationship and love of God, and then throw it away. The nation of Israel did that in the Old Testament period, and they paid for their faithlessness. If that was true then, how much more will a person face judgment that accepted and later rejected the gift of God?