Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 7, 2014

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 Commentary

Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

Psalm 85 is essentially a prayer for God to restore God’s people.  It, in fact, uses the word “restore” twice.  In verse 1 the poet recalls how God “restored the fortunes of Jacob.”  And in verse 4 she pleads, “Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.”  What’s more, even verses 6-7’s beating heart of Psalm 85 uses similar language when the psalmist prays, “Will you not revive [italics added] us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”

The poet’s awareness of his need for such restoration is heightened by his memories of God’s earlier faithfulness.  Many scholars believe the poet wrote Psalm 85’s during Israel’s early post-exilic period.  The poet, after all, remembers God’s showing favor to God’s land (1), forgiving God’s people’s iniquity and covering their sins (2), as well as setting aside God’s wrath and turning away from God’s anger (3).  Quite simply, the psalmist remembers a time when God’s salvation was unmistakable in the life of the worshiping community.  God had completed God’s judgment.  God had withdrawn God’s wrath.  Israel was blessed.

So in order to help worshipers enter into something of the experience of the psalmist’s contemporaries, those who teach and preach Psalm 85 may want to invite worshipers to reflect on times when they especially felt God’s salvation.  When did they experience God’s forgiveness?  When was God’s unfailing love especially tangible in their lives?

Yet while Israel experienced such blessings in her past, as the poet pens this psalm Israel’s circumstances have changed.  God’s anger, which God had earlier set aside, has reappeared. God’s favor (1) has turned to “displeasure” (4).

Yet the poet promises God’s displeasure doesn’t get the last word.  The third section of this psalm that begins in verse 8 seems to inject a new voice into the conversation.  Clearly this speaker is not God, but a human being, perhaps some kind of worship leader.  Yet verse 8 implies that he speaks not his own wisdom, but what God reveals to him.  And what God has shown him is God’s plans and purposes for “his people, his saints.”

One of the questions with which those who preach and teach Psalm 85 must grapple is whether verses 8-13 speak of the poet’s current reality or about something yet to happen in the future.  Do the faithful already experience God’s well-being, salvation and glory?  Or must we wait to know God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and glory?  And are those promises just for people, or are they for God’s whole cosmos?

The answer to both questions is, of course, “Yes!”  Because of what God has done, especially in Jesus Christ, not just people but also God’s whole creation has already experienced God’s salvation, glory, love and faithfulness.  Even now “love and faithfulness meet together,” not just in the Lord but also in God’s adopted sons and daughters.

Does this psalm have at least implied implications for the shape of our worship liturgies?  Think about the shape of some of those liturgies.  God’s children come together in praise and thanksgiving as we remember myriads of God’s blessings, not just during the past week but also throughout the history of not only us, but also God’s whole creation.  However, worshipers move from praise and thanksgiving to a time of lament and confession, admitting the ways we’ve made God angry and begging for God’s healing touch.  Then we move to a proclamation and consideration of God’s gospel promises, especially as they come to us and through Jesus Christ, our Lord and, by God’s grace, our Savior.

In this season of Advent for which the Lectionary appoints Psalm 85, preachers and teachers will want to note how eschatological themes echo throughout the psalm.  It speaks, after all, of God’s coming to God’s adopted sons and daughters.  This psalm describes God’s redemptive move towards God’s people.

In Advent, God’s people profess God has already moved towards us in the person of Jesus Christ.  Though we in some ways live in the realities alluded to in verses 4-7, our Savior has come to us with peace (8) and salvation (9).  In Jesus Christ, “love and faithfulness meet together” and “righteousness and peace kiss each other.”  In him we see God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

Yet, of course, the evil one, though vanquished by Jesus’ death and resurrection, continues to wreak havoc.  God’s people still cry out for God’s complete restoration.  So we look forward to God’s coming again, to the return on Jesus Christ, when “the land” (12) in the new creation will be renewed.  In Advent we especially lean forward toward that day when God’s salvation will mean the whole renewed creation, including God’s adopted sons and daughters, will fully experience God’s love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace.

Illustration Idea

While we sometimes assume that pigs are relatively intelligent, a friend’s experience suggested otherwise.  He was a successful hog farmer who was relatively progressive in his treatment of his animals.

However, one grim afternoon the building in which he fed his hogs burned down.  While firefighters tried to quench the flames, they arrived too late to save the building.  A number of hogs that were trapped in the burning building were killed.

The farmer managed to save a few of them by chasing them out of the building and away from the flames.  However, the hogs were remarkably persistent in “returning to their folly” (8).  Since the farmer was unable to confine them away from the building, some of the panicked hogs managed to run right back into the burning building where they died.


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