Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 85
on the Whole Bible
Interpreters are generally of the opinion that this psalm was penned
after the return of the Jews out of their captivity in Babylon, when
they still remained under some tokens of God's displeasure, which they
here pray for the removal of. And nothing appears to the contrary, but
that it might be penned then, as well as
They are the public interests that lie near the psalmist's heart here,
and the psalm is penned for the great congregation. The church was here
in a deluge; above were clouds, below were waves; every thing was dark
and dismal. The church is like Noah in the ark, between life and
death, between hope and fear; being so,
I. Here is the dove sent forth in prayer. The petitions are against sin
and for mercy and grace,
The pleas are taken from former favours
and present distresses,
II. Here is the dove returning with an olive branch of peace and good
tidings; the psalmist expects her return
and then recounts the favours to God's Israel which by the spirit of
prophecy he gave assurance of to others, and by the spirit of faith he
took the assurance of to himself,
In singing this psalm we may be assisted in our prayers to God both for
his church in general and for the land of our nativity in particular.
The former part will be of use to direct our desires, the latter to
encourage our faith and hope in those prayers.
|Prayer in Time of Trouble.
To the chief musician. A psalm for the sons of Korah.
1 LORD, thou hast been favourable unto
thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.
2 Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast
covered all their sin. Selah.
3 Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned
thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.
4 Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward
us to cease.
5 Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine
anger to all generations?
6 Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in
7 show us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.
The church, in affliction and distress, is here, by direction from God,
making her application to God. So ready is God to hear and answer the
prayers of his people that by his Spirit in the word, and in the heart,
he indites their petitions and puts words into their mouths. The people
of God, in a very low and weak condition, are here taught how to
address themselves to God.
I. They are to acknowledge with thankfulness the great things God had
done for them
"Thou has done so and so for us and our fathers." Note, The sense of
present afflictions should not drown the remembrance of former mercies;
but, even when we are brought very low, we must call to remembrance
past experiences of God's goodness, which we must take notice of with
thankfulness, to his praise. They speak of it here with pleasure,
1. That God had shown himself propitious to their land, and had smiled
upon it as his own: "Thou hast been favourable to thy land, as
thine, with distinguishing favours." Note, The favour of God is the
spring-head of all good, and the fountain of happiness, to nations, as
well as to particular persons. It was by the favour of God that Israel
got and kept possession of Canaan
and, if he had not continued very favourable to them, they would have
been ruined many a time.
2. That he had rescued them out of the hands of their enemies and
restored them to their liberty: "Thou hast brought back the
captivity of Jacob, and settled those in their own land again that
had been driven out and were strangers in a strange land, prisoners in
the land of their oppressors." The captivity of Jacob, though it may
continue long, will be brought back in due time.
3. That he had not dealt with them according to the desert of their
"Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, and not punished
them as in justice thou mightest. Thou hast covered all their
sin." When God forgives sin he covers it; and, when he covers the
sin of his people, he covers it all. The bringing back of their
captivity was then an instance of God's favour to them, when it
was accompanied with the pardon of their iniquity.
4. That he had not continued his anger against them so far, and so
long, as they had reason to fear
"Having covered all their sin, thou hast taken away all thy
wrath;" for when sin is set aside God's anger ceases; God is
pacified if we are purified. See what the pardon of sin is: Thou
hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, that is, "Thou hast
turned thy anger from waxing hot, so as to consume us in the flame
of it. In compassion to us thou hast not stirred up all thy wrath, but,
when an intercessor has stood before thee in the gap, thou hast turned
away thy anger."
II. They are taught to pray to God for grace and mercy, in reference to
their present distress; this is inferred from the former: "Thou hast
done well for our fathers; do well for us, for we are the children of
the same covenant."
1. They pray for converting grace: "Turn us, O God of our
salvation! in order to the turning of our captivity; turn us from
iniquity; turn us to thyself and to our duty; turn us, and we shall be
turned." All those whom God will save sooner or later he will turn. If
no conversion, no salvation.
2. They pray for the removal of the tokens of God's displeasure which
they were under: "Cause thine anger towards us to cease, as thou
didst many a time cause it to cease in the days of our fathers, when
thou didst take away thy wrath from them." Observe the method, "First
turn us to thee, and then cause thy anger to turn from us." When we are
reconciled to God, then, and not till then, we may expect the comfort
of his being reconciled to us.
3. They pray for the manifestation of God's good-will to them
"Show us thy mercy, O Lord! show thyself merciful to us; not
only have mercy on us, but let us have the comfortable evidences of
that mercy; let us know that thou hast mercy on us and mercy in store
4. They pray that God would, graciously to them and gloriously to
himself, appear on their behalf: "Grant us thy salvation; grant
it by thy promise, and then, no doubt, thou wilt work it by thy
providence." Note, The vessels of God's mercy are the heirs of his
salvation; he shows mercy to those to whom he grants salvation; for
salvation is of mere mercy.
III. They are taught humbly to expostulate with God concerning their
1. What they dread and deprecate: "Wilt thou be angry with us for
ever? We are undone if thou art, but we hope thou wilt not. Wilt
thou draw out thy anger unto all generations? No; thou art
gracious, slow to anger, and swift to show mercy, and wilt not contend
for ever. Thou wast not angry with our fathers for ever, but didst soon
turn thyself from the fierceness of thy wrath; why then wilt thou be
angry with us for ever? Are not thy mercies and compassions as
plentiful and powerful as ever they were? Impenitent sinners God will
be angry with for ever; for what is hell but the wrath of God drawn out
unto endless generations? But shall a hell upon earth be the lot of thy
2. What they desire and hope for: "Wilt thou not revive us again
revive us with comforts spoken to us, revive us with deliverances
wrought for us? Thou hast been favourable to thy land formerly, and
that revived it; wilt thou not again be favourable, and so revive it
again?" God had granted to the children of the captivity some
reviving in their bondage,
Their return out of Babylon was as life from the dead,
Now, Lord (say they), wilt thou not revive us again, and put
thy hand again the second time to gather us in?
Revive thy work in the midst of the years,
"Revive us again,"
(1.) "That thy people may rejoice; and so we shall have the comfort of
Give them life, that they may have joy.
(2.) "That they may rejoice in thee; and so thou wilt have the glory of
it." If God be the fountain of all our mercies, he must be the centre
of all our joys.
|Divine Answer to Prayer; Blessings Given in Answer to Prayer.
8 I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak
peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn
again to folly.
9 Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory
may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace
have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall
look down from heaven.
12 Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land
shall yield her increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the
way of his steps.
We have here an answer to the prayers and expostulations in the
I. In general, it is an answer of peace. This the psalmist is soon
for he stands upon his watch-tower to hear what God will say
unto him, as the prophet,
I will hear what God the Lord will speak. This intimates,
1. The stilling of his passions--his grief, his fear--and the tumult of
his spirit which they occasioned: "Compose thyself, O my soul! in a
humble silence to attend upon God and wait his motions. I have spoken
enough, or too much; now I will hear what God will speak, and welcome
his holy will. What saith my Lord unto his servant?" If we
would have God to hear what we say to him by prayer, we must be ready
to hear what he says to us by his word.
2. The raising of his expectation; now that he has been at prayer he
looks for something very great, and very kind, from the God that hears
prayer. When we have prayed we should look after our prayers, and stay
for an answer. Now observe here,
(1.) What it is that he promises himself from God, in answer to his
prayers: He will speak peace to his people, and to his saints.
There are a people in the world who are God's people, set apart for
him, subject to him, and who shall be saved by him. All his people are
his saints, sanctified by his grace and devoted to his glory; these may
sometimes want peace, when without are fightings and within are fears;
but, sooner or later, God will speak peace to them; if he do not
command outward peace, yet he will suggest inward peace, speaking that
to their hearts by his Spirit which he has spoken to their ears by his
word and ministers and making them to hear joy and gladness.
(2.) What use he makes of this expectation.
[1.] He takes the comfort of it; and so must we: "I will hear what
God the Lord will speak, hear the assurances he gives of peace, in
answer to prayer." When God speaks peace we must not be deaf to it, but
with all humility and thankfulness receive it.
[2.] He cautions the saints to do the duty which this calls for: But
let them not turn again to folly; for it is on these terms, and no
other, that peace is to be expected. To those, and those only, peace is
spoken, who turn from sin; but, if they return to it again, it is at
their peril. All sin is folly, but especially backsliding; it is
egregious folly to turn to sin after we have seemed to turn from it, to
turn to it after God has spoken peace. God is for peace, but, when he
speaks, such are for war.
II. Here are the particulars of this answer of peace. He doubts not but
all will be well in a little time, and therefore gives us the pleasing
prospect of the flourishing estate of the church in the
of the psalm, which describe the peace and prosperity that God, at
length, blessed the children of the captivity with, when, after a great
deal of toil and agitation, at length they gained a settlement in their
own land. But it may be taken both as a promise also to all who fear
God and work righteousness, that they shall be easy and happy, and as a
prophecy of the kingdom of the Messiah and the blessings with which
that kingdom should be enriched. Here is,
1. Help at hand
"Surely his salvation is nigh, nigh to us, nigher than we think
it is: it will soon be effected, how great soever our difficulties and
distresses are, when God's time shall come, and that time is not far
off." When the tale of bricks is doubled, then Moses comes. It is nigh
to all who fear him; when trouble is nigh salvation is nigh, for God is
a very present help in time of trouble to all who are his; whereas
salvation is far from the wicked,
This may fitly be applied to Christ the author of eternal salvation: it
was the comfort of the Old-Testament saints that, though they lived not
to see that redemption in Jerusalem which they waited for, yet they
were sure it was nigh, and would be welcome, to all that fear God.
2. Honour secured: "That glory may dwell in our land, that we
may have the worship of God settled and established among us; for that
is the glory of a land. When that goes, Ichabod--the glory has
departed; when that stays glory dwells." This may refer to the
Messiah, who was to be the glory of his people Israel, and who
came and dwelt among them
for which reason their land is called Immanuel's land,
3. Graces meeting, and happily embracing
Mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, kiss each other. This
may be understood,
(1.) Of the reformation of the people and of the government, in the
administration of which all those graces should be conspicuous and
commanding. The rulers and ruled shall all be merciful and true,
righteous and peaceable. When there is no truth nor mercy all goes to
but when these meet in the management of all affairs, when these give
aim, when these give law, when there is such plenty of truth that it
sprouts up like the grass of the earth, and of righteousness that it is
showered down like rain from heaven, then things go well. When in every
congress mercy and truth meet, in every embrace righteousness and peace
kiss, and common honesty is indeed common, then glory dwells in a land,
as the sin of reigning dishonesty is a reproach to any people.
(2.) Of the return of God's favour, and the continuance of it,
thereupon. When a people return to God and adhere to him in a way of
duty he will return to them and abide with them in a way of mercy. So
some understand this, man's truth and God's mercy, man's righteousness
and God's peace, meet together. If God find us true to him, to one
another, to ourselves, we shall find him merciful. If we make
conscience of righteousness, we shall have the comfort of peace. If
truth spring out of the earth, that is (as Dr. Hammond expounds
it), out of the hearts of men, the proper soil for it to grow in,
righteousness (that is, God's mercy) shall look down from heaven, as
the sun does upon the world when it sheds its influences on the
productions of the earth and cherishes them.
(3.) Of the harmony of the divine attributes in the Messiah's
undertaking. In him who is both our salvation and our glory mercy
and truth have met together; God's mercy and truth, and his
righteousness and peace, have kissed each other; that is, the
great affair of our salvation is so well contrived, so well concerted,
that God may have mercy upon poor sinners, and be at peace with them,
without any wrong to his truth and righteousness. He is true to the
threatening, and just in his government, and yet pardons sinners and
takes them into covenant with himself. Christ, as Mediator, brings
heaven and earth together again, which sin had set at variance; through
him truth springs out of the earth, that truth which God
desires in the inward part, and then righteousness looks down
from heaven; for God is just, and the justifier of those who
believe in Jesus. Or it may denote that in the kingdom of the
Messiah these graces shall flourish and prevail and have a universal
4. Great plenty of every thing desirable
The Lord shall give that which is good, every thing that he sees
to be good for us. All good comes from God's goodness; and when mercy,
truth, and righteousness, have a sovereign influence on men's hearts
and lives, all good may be expected. If we thus seek the
righteousness of God's kingdom, other things shall be added;
When the glory of the gospel dwells in our land, then it shall yield
its increase, for soul-prosperity will either bring outward prosperity
along with it or sweeten the want of it. See
5. A sure guidance in the good way
The righteousness of his promise which he has made to us,
assuring us of happiness, and the righteousness of sanctification, that
good work which he has wrought in us, these shall go before him to
prepare his way, both to raise our expectations of his favour and to
qualify us for it; and these shall go before us also, and be our guide
to set us in the way of his steps, that is, to encourage our
hopes and guide our practice, that we may go forth to meet him when he
is coming towards us in ways of mercy. Christ, the sun of
righteousness, shall bring us to God, and put us into the way that
leads to him. John Baptist, a preacher of righteousness, shall go
before Christ to prepare his way. Righteousness is a sure guide both
in meeting God and in following him.