NOTES ON PSALM 85
The outstanding peculiarity of this Psalm is its sudden transitions of feeling. Beginning with exuberant thanksgiving for restoration of the nation (vv 1-3), it passing, without intermediate gradations, to complaints of God’s continued wrath and entreaties for restoration (vv 4-7), and then suddenly rises to joyous assurance of inward and outward blessings (vv 8-13).
The condition of the exiles returned from Babylon best corresponding to such conflicting emotions. Nehemiah supplies precisely such a background as fits the Psalms.
A part of the nation had returned, but to a ruined city, a fallen Temple, and a mourning land, where they were surrounded by jealous and powerful enemies. Discouragement had laid hold on the feeble company; enthusiasm had ebbed away; the harsh realities of their enterprise had stripped off its imaginative charm; and the mass of the returned settlers had lost heart as well as faith.
It falls into three parts of increasing length – the first of three verses (1-3) recounts God's acts of mercy already received; the second (4-7) is a plaintive prayer in view of still remaining national afflictions; and the third (8-13), a glad report by the psalmist of the Divine promises which his waiting ear had heard, and which might well quicken the most faint-hearted into triumphant hope.
Note the repeated use of the word “turn” (vv 1, 3, 4, 8) four times.
The prayer of verse 4, compare with verse 1, “turned” and now he is praying for God to “turn” us again. The restoration was incomplete – both in regard to the bulk of the nation who still remained in exile, and in regard to the depressed condition of the small part that had returned. The petitions of verse 5 look back to verse 3.
The partial restoration of the people implied a diminuation rather than a cessation of God’s wrath, and he beseeches Him to complete that which He had begun. The prayers of verses 4-7 are founded upon the facts of verses 1-3, which constitute both grounds for the supplicant’s hope of answer and pleas with God.
The mercies received are incomplete, and His work must be perfect. He did not mean to bring His people back and then leave them in misery. So the contrast between the bright dawning of return and its cloudy day is not wholly depressing. (Good ill – a day that dawns with bright sunshine, then clouds up and rains.) For the remembrance of what has been heartens for the assurance that what is shall not always be. That prayer is spiritual defiance of what is, in the name of what God has promised.
God leaves no work unfinished. He never leaves off till He is done. His beginnings guarantee His endings. This Psalm is rich in teaching as to the right way of regarding the incompleteness of great movements, which, in their incipient days, were evidently of God. It instructs us to keep the Divine intervention which started them clearly in view; to make the shortcomings, which mar them, a matter of lowly prayer; and to be sure that all which He begins He will finish, and that the end will fully correspond to the promise of the beginning.
A “day of the Lord” which arose in brightness may cloud over as its hours roll, but “at eventide it shall be light,” and none of the morning promise will be unfulfilled.
The third section (vv 8-13) brings solid hopes based upon Divine promises, to bear on present discouragements.
In verse 8, the psalmist, like Habakkuk (2:1), encourages himself to listen to what God will speak. The word, “I will hear” expresses resolve or desire. Faith prayer will always be followed by patient and faithful waiting for response from God.
“Salvation” here is to be taken in its widest sense. It means, negatively, deliverance from all possible evils, outward and inward; and, positively, endowment with all possible good, both for body and spirit.
“Glory” – the manifest presence of God
Verses 10-13 – the exchanges of righteousness and faithfulness
In verse 10 righteousness and truth (faithfulness) are seen principally as a Divine attribute. In verse 11, it is conceived as human virtue. It “springs out of the earth,” that is, it is produced among men. All human virtue is an echo of the Divine, and they who have received into their hearts the blessed result of God’s faithfulness will bring forth in their lives fruit like it in kind.
The same idea in verse 12
God gives that which is good, and thus fructified by bestowments from above, earth yields her increase. His gifts precede men’s returns. Without sunshine and rain there are no harvests.
Note verse 13
A wedding between the Divine and the human, between the heavenly and the earthly.
“Righteousness, which in verse 10 was regarded as exercised by men, and in verse 11 as looking down from heaven, is now represented both as preceding God’s royal progress, and as following in His footsteps. “Righteousness will make His footsteps a way,” that is, for men to walk in. All God’s workings among men, which are conceived as His way, have righteousness stamped upon them. That absolute, inflexible righteousness which guides all Divine acts. But the same righteousness which precedes, also follows Him, and points His footsteps as the way for us. What a wonderful thought that is, that the union between heaven and earth is so close that God’s path is our way.”
Alexander McLaren, The Expositor’s Bible
One of the mysteries = confusion and uncertainty in life are found in the Bible, assuring us of guidance
1) God’s nature to reveal
2) Man’s nature to receive I. Guidance Is Promised Not just good judgment or common sense; not evaluation but revelation II. Personal As to the Guide – “He” led them – What we need more than guidance is a Guide. Our Lord does more than till us; He leads us. God told Moses, “My presence shall go with thee.” Jesus said, “I am with you always.” In a final analysis we are to seek the Guide rather than the guidance. For in finding the Guide we will also find guidance. God gave Abraham a Guide rather than guidance – “a land that I will show you.”
When God puts us in a situation demanding wisdom and guidance, His purpose is to use that situation to draw us to Himself. Guidance is not the end in itself – finding the will of God is not the issue, but the God of that will. In Exodus 33, when God gave guidance but not a Guide, Moses stopped. As to the guidance, “no man can walk securely by light guaranteed to another.” (John 21:21, 22; Peter and John; 1 Kings 13)
How does guidance come?
- Internal conviction
- External confirmation A. Conditions – He leads the leadable 1. Meekness, teachable spirit 2. Obedience 3. Patience B. Manner 1. Inner conviction 2. Outward confirmation 3. Intuition 4. Bible 5. Circumstances (open doors, shut doors) C. Test 1. Revealed – leave husband 2. Right 3. Reasonable a. What reason can know b. Don’t contradict reason
PSALM 139:23, 24
1) Thoughts demand a never-ending scrutiny lest they degenerate into something that is utterly unwholesome. If there is anything that is in the least unwholesome, may God help him to see it, remove it, and walk in the way of life – keep him from “every way that leads to pain” – the way of sin.
2) Wicked: (atsab) idol; to work, to fashion, to pain, grieve or cause to travail 1 Chronicles 4:10 – Every idol is a maker saying, Here God is grieved.
3) Very beautifully does the lowly prayer of searching and guidance follow the psalmist’s burst of fire. It is easier to glow with indignation against evildoers than to keep oneself from doing evil. Many secret sins may hide under a cloak of zeal for the Lord.
The Psalm began with declaring that Jehovah had searched and known the singer, and it endswith asking for that searching knowledge. (“I want to know about me what you, God, know about me.”)
Thoughts are the inner life, ways the outer life. Both must be submitted to him.
There are two ways in which men can walk.
1) The one is a “way of grief or pain” – all sin is a blunder. And the inclination to such ways is “in me,” as everybody who’s honest knows. 2) The way of everlasting is not in me – but be led into it, no inclination
Lead me = we can’t find it ourselves
He prays against the danger of self-delusion. The fact of searching in v 1 turns into a “petitionary” search me.
Every wicked way is a way of grief, trouble and sorrow.
True faith is like gold; it will endure a trail. Presumption is but a counterfeit.
1) Intrepidity – determined to explore the recesses of his own heart. Do you have the courage to enter your own heart?
2) Integrity – wished to know all his sins that he might be delivered from them.
3) Wisdom - David wished to be thoroughly acquainted with himself
- He was confident God could see through all the despair
- God could remove sin
In searching yourself you know where the tender points are and will avoid those.
- Prayer – How do I stand with you, Lord?
- Greatest deception is not deceiving others, but self.
- The humility of David
I have searched myself and find no fault, but Your eyes are sharper, etc.
Verses 1-3 – a matter of fact made a matter of prayer
A prayer of:
1) Self-examination - Insight of God - Desire for help of God – Look me through and through, tell me what you think of me
2) Self-renunciation (“wicked way” – try me)
3) Self-dedication (“lead me” – a submission entirely to divine guidance in the future)
The evil way – naturally in us; removed by God
The everlasting way – we need to be led into it
Wicked way in me – Human life is determined from within. The way is first in us.
The greatest test of life is with regards to leadership – Who’s going to lead?
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