You, Lord, showed favour to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.
Restore us again, God our Saviour,
and put away your displeasure towards us.
Will you be angry with us for ever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
Psalm 85 sounds like it came from the period after the return from exile. Of course, the Jews return from Babylon was a time of great excitement as God fulfilled his promises (Jeremiah 29:10). God had restored Jacob’s fortunes and shown favour to the land – the restoration itself showed that God had forgiven their sin because it was due to their sin that they had ended up being exiled in the first place. But after a while it felt flat. Yes, they were in the land that God had promised to Abraham, but it wasn’t the same. In a sense the exile was not yet over (Nehemiah 9:36). The Temple was a shadow of its former self, the tribes were still scattered and for much of the time they were going to live under foreign rule.
The Psalmist cries out, appealing to what God has done on the past, appealing to God’s promises (vv. 4–7). As modern, Western Christians we can probably empathise with the Psalmist. It’s tempting to look back at better days when every church was full and mighty preachers stalked the land. Now there seems to be a constant assault on Christian values, open hostility and ridicule and a seemingly unstoppable decline in church attendance, though of course, the glories of the past and the problems of the present are easily exaggerated.
The Psalm ends though not nostalgically looking at some golden age or a tarnished present but looking to the future that God has in store. God’s promise is peace (v. 8). The Hebrew word ‘shalom’ speaks not just of absence of conflict but of a flourishing in every dimension of our life together. God’s future is worth looking forward to. All our dreams of justice and joy will meet in loving embrace when heaven and earth reach out towards each other in perfect partnership (vv. 10, 11).