“This psalm reflects the tension of living between promise and fulfillment.” (Broyles # 4)
We’ve all known it. That tension. I can remember the time, when I was 23 years old, when Miriam had said yes to my proposal of marriage in January 1975. We had then made a promise to each other to be married in August of that year. Yes, the tension was there between promise and fulfillment. Not necessarily a bad thing, but present anyway.
This tension is expressed for the Israelites in our psalm for today, this tension between what is and what is hoped for in the future. So, the psalmist begins, describing what some consider to be the period just after the Babylonian exile when God acted on their behalf and brought them back to their homeland:
1 You, Lord, showed favour to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
3 You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.
What wonderful activities of their gracious and good God towards them, considering that it was their sin and rebellion and idolatry that had originally caused God’s wrath and ended them up in captivity. Just consider again what he did for them:
- He showed favour to them
- He restored their fortunes
- He forgave their iniquities
- He covered all their sins
- He set aside his wrath
- He turned aside from his fierce anger
Such mercy, such grace! They were home after being exiles in a foreign land (Babylon) and they rejoiced. Psalm 126 expresses that joy at this almost unbelievable event:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
But then comes the tension. The psalmist continues in Psalm 85:
4 Restore us again, God our Saviour,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
It seemed that God had restored the people back to their homeland, but there was need for much more. Broyles explains:
“The Hebrew petition translated, restore us … can also mean ‘turn us.’ Its ambiguity thus reflects both the people’s need for physical restoration in the land and their need for personal conversion to Yahweh … This twofold need in the early post-exilic period is confirmed by other OT passages. First, although God had opened the door for the exiles to return to their homeland, since the early post-exilic period was marked by agricultural hardships (Haggai 1:6, 9-11; 2:15-17; Joel 1:4, 12) there was still the need for physical restoration in the land. Second, in Isaiah 40-45 God had promised he would return to redeem Zion (Isaiah 52:8-9) but the people appeared to have assumed God would do this automatically regardless of the people’s heart. Hence, in the third section of Isaiah (56-60), God repeats the same promise and makes explicit the condition: ‘to those in Jacob who repent of (or ‘turn from’) their sins (59:20). Psalm 85 thus fits this period of post-exilic restoration that marked the end of God’s wrath on Judah’s iniquity (vv. 1-3), but because Judah continues to be in need of ‘turning’ (i.e., repentance), God’s anger is prolonged (vv. 4-5).” (# 4)
What restoration has God marvelously done in your life? Maybe given you a good job? Maybe restored a broken relationship? Maybe He has healed you? Whatever, He is now looking for your response to turn away from the things that displease him to live a life pleasing to him.
In Romans Paul speaks of us not showing contempt for the riches of [God’s] kindness, forbearance and patience. Instead, he says we need to realize that God’s kindness is intended to lead [us] to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
Father, thank you for the many ways you have restored me. May I always respond by allowing you to search my heart and then turning to you in repentance. In Jesus name. Amen.