For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 85.
I think that Psalm 85 was composed after Israelites had returned to the land of Israel from exile. Their captivity was turned, which may mean that it was reversed. They believed that their sins were forgiven by God. And yet, they did not feel fully restored. They wanted to be turned even more (vv 4, 6), perhaps implying that their turning thus far was incomplete. And they hoped that God would stop being angry at them. They wanted to hear a message of peace from God—-whether that was through a cultic prophet, the Torah, prophetic messengers, or whomever (it’s debated).
There would be restoration, and the restoration somehow coincides with certain attributes or principles: mercy, truth, righteousness, and peace. What results is the prosperity of the land.
It’s unclear to me if the message of Psalm 85 is that Israel’s restoration follows her practice of righteousness, or if righteousness is the result of God favoring Israel (grace, if you will). In favor of the former view, v 13 says that righteousness prepares the way for him, presumably God, which may imply that Israel’s righteousness is prior to God’s activity on Israel’s behalf and presence in Israel. V 8 affirms that God will speak peace and yet exhorts people not to turn (there’s that word again) to folly. Does that mean that God desires to bless God’s people, and yet that will be contingent on Israel’s practice of righteousness? V 9 says that God’s salvation is close to people who fear God. Does that indicate that the path to salvation is fearing God and practicing righteousness?
Or does the practice of righteousness flow from God’s grace? Do vv 10-12 describe what happens when God is near: righteousness, truth, and peace are the fruit? Peter Craigie and Erhard Gerstenberger present a picture in which agents from God work together for the community’s well-being, which (in my opinion) regards the righteousness, truth, and peace as a divine work, not so much as something that humans conjure up. Moreover, vv 10-12 appear to describe a paradise in which the people hold to truth and righteousness looks down from heaven with approval. Could human beings attain this sort of paradise by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, or does God bring it about?
Within the Hebrew Bible, we see both sorts of concepts, often in the same books. In Deuteronomy 30, Israel takes the initiative of turning to God, and God then restores her to her land and circumcises her heart. In Jeremiah 4:4, Judah is told to circumcise her hearts, yet Jeremiah 31:33 foresees God writing God’s law on the hearts of Israel and Judah. Ezekiel 18:31 exhorts Israel to get a new heart and a new spirit, but Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 show God promising to give Israel a new heart that is yielded to God’s commandments.
Perhaps grace—-which means God’s forgiveness and transformation—-coincides with some willingness on our part. But God is eager to speak peace to us.