The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 85

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 16, 2013

ISRAEL’S COMFORT IN SORROW

THIS psalm is a liturgical composition dating from the post-Exilic period. It reflects the griefs and hopes of the post-Exilic community in Israel. The decree of their liberation from Babylon had filled the Exiles with joy, but their homecoming had been full of disappointment. Instead of joy and peace, unsettlement and sadness prevailed throughout the land, and men were wondering why the Lord had brought them back from Babylon only to the disillusionment of Juda. We find in the psalm the same spirit which breathes in the beginning of the books of Aggaeus (Haggai) and Zachary (Zechariah). If the Lord had great designs for Israel when He used Cyrus to set the Exiles free, why does He not begin to accomplish them? Has the divine anger which handed over Jerusalem and its people to the Chaldeans (Babylonians) not been appeased by the sufferings of the Exile? Is that anger about to burst forth against His unhappy people once more? Is there no hope that the old greatness of Israel will be restored? Surely the wonders of the past, and, above all, the grace of liberation from captivity will not end in the destruction of Israel!

The poem falls easily into three parts. In the first (Ps 85:2-4) the graces and mercies of the liberation from the Exile are recalled. We can imagine this part of the psalm as sung by a portion of the people gathered together for worship, by a choir, or by the priests.

The second part of the psalm is (Ps 85:5-8). Here another choir implores the Lord to complete the mercies which the Liberation had begun. Surely He will not be again angry with His people as He had been before the Exile. Surely His wrath will not blaze forth unto the destruction of Israel again! It is time for the Lord to show His gracious favour again, that Israel may live and praise Him.

In the third section (Ps 85:9-14) a soloist sings a prophetic message of comfort for Israel. As if listening to the words of Yahweh the prophet sings. His song is an oracle of hope. Help from the Lord is at hand. The words of Yahweh are words of peace—of rest and of security. The Peace and the Glory of the Lord will soon be seen again in Israel. A wonderful picture of the Lord’s benignant rule is drawn in familiar Messianic colours. Justice, Truth, Graciousness, Peace, as Yahweh’s ministering Angels, will rule everywhere in the land. The earth will be fruitful beyond all hope. Wherever the Lord walks abroad in the land Justice goes before Him and Peace follows in His train. The hope that painted a picture like this at a time of deepest political depression could spring only from the unshakeable conviction that God was on the side of Israel.

The structure of this poem should be compared with that of Ps 124—where the prophetic portion is wanting, and also with that of 93 and 79.

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