Psalms 85 August 13, 2017
“A Prayer for Completion”
by Nathan Holloway
The Psalms give expression to the practical experience of believers. Psalm 85 expresses the tension we fill with the roller coaster of our Christian life. We long for a day when our life with God will be stabilized. Here the Psalmist prays for the completion of redemption.
Psalm 85 opens with remembrance of God’s gracious dealing with people in the past. He forgave their sin and restored them from captivity. Specifically, verse 2 celebrates the LORD has forgiven His people’s sins. Forgiveness is spoken of with the words forgave and covered. Forgave speaks of God lifting sin away from His people and covered speaks of atonement. The combined meaning is that God has removed the sin of His people by lifting it away from us and not counting sin against us.
In the Bible, God’s past acts of grace towards his people are often used as motivation to repent and seek forgiveness in the present. The Psalmist follows this pattern here. His remembrance of God’s past acts of grace leads him in verse 4-7 to request a new act of grace.
He prays for restoration and revival. The restoration prayed for, is a return to a right relationship with God where His anger is no longer against us. The revival is a coming to life again; meaning an experience where once again the people enter into the fullness of life with God that allows one to live in the joy of the LORD. He appeals to God in verse 7 on the basis of His steadfast love to grant salvation to His people. The Psalmist is asking God on the basis of his covenant faithfulness to complete His work of redemption.
Many believe that this song is written or adapted for the time of the restoration of the Babylonian captivity. In that event, Israel experienced God’s forgiveness and they experienced restoration. However, they also remained under foreign rule. As we read in Nehemiah and Esther, they still had enemies to deal with. As we read in Ezra, they still had sin that was besetting them.
In other words, Psalm 85 is the prayer of a people who have already experienced redemption, but had not yet experienced full redemption. They were in need of once again for forgiveness and deliverance. This is the same situation we face today. In Christ Jesus, we have experienced forgiveness of our sins. He has lifted our sins away and placed them on Jesus as our substitute who “became sin for us” (II Corinthians 5:21). However, we find our selves still struggling with sin. We still find ourselves in a world that fights against God’s people. We still find ourselves in a world under the curse. It is because we have not received the completion of redemption that we ask God in remembrance of the past for a new and completing work of redemption.
The second section of the Psalm opens with the Psalmist anticipating in hope the Lord’s answer to the prayer. We see in verse 8-9 that the Psalmist is longing for this deliverance as he waits for it. Yet, we also see that the Psalmist is hopeful. This too is our experience. We long for the return of the LORD while at the same time we have confident hope that He will complete His work of redemption.
In verses 10-12 the answer from the Lord is anticipated. He anticipates a day when God’s moral attributes of righteousness and truth are reconciled with His gracious attributes of steadfast love and peace. In that day, God’s righteousness and truth will be poured out on His people not in judgment but in gracious blessing. Verse 13 concludes that this will happen when the LORD Himself comes down.
Well, the good news is that the Psalmist’s prayer was answered. We can certainly point to many times where God turns from His wrath on Israel, gives His blessing, rain falls, and a great harvest comes. Yet there is a greater answer to this Psalm in Christ. It is in Christ Jesus that God’s grace and His righteousness met and formed a perfect harmony. The Scriptures teach us that God is righteous and must judge sin. Yet it also teaches that God is gracious and forgives sin. How can God do both? Romans 3 (vs. 21-26) teaches us that God’s righteousness and mercy can meet in harmony in Christ and His death for us on the cross. It is through Christ’s death as our substitute that God can righteously lift our sins from us because they have been placed on Christ.
There is also an answer that we still anticipate. We anticipate a day as described in these verses where all is made right forever. When will that day be? It will be when Christ Jesus returns. This means that we still live in anticipation and hope for the completion of God’s work of redemption.
What does this Psalm now mean for us today? While the Psalm teaches us to remember God’s gracious dealing with us in Christ and to look forward to the final work of redemption, it also teaches us to live in hope for the present. This hope encourages us to persevere in the present despite the struggles we face.