The Collision of Grace and Justice – Psalm 85:1-13

We have had so many topical messages lately that I decided to return to an expository lesson today. The Lord blessed in my study yesterday, so I am quite certain it is the Lord’s will for us. I’d like to slowly journey through these thirteen verses and offer one explanation of what they say. Since this is primarily devotional material, not historical or doctrinal, I’m aware that it might be open to various interpretations. But with the Lord’s blessings and with a particular object in mind, you are going to hear my understanding.

I will begin by pointing out that Bible scholars are divided about who and when this Psalm was written. Spurgeon, in his exhaustive “Treasury of David” said that he thought it was David, the son of Jesse. But I’m of the opinion that David usually identified those Psalms which were his. Without a specific preface no one can be certain, leaving the field wide open to simpletons like me. Maybe its because we recently spent so much time in Nehemiah, but that is where my heart leads me.

Verses 1-7.

In the first seven verses the Psalmist looks behind him and then around him. He rejoices in God’s recent blessings, while recognizing that he and his neighbors are still standing in jeopardy – they are still sinners and in the hands of an angry God. And that leads him into a little expostulating with the Lord. “Expostulation” is a word most of us generally understand, but rarely can define. It is old and somewhat obsolete. It means to “earnestly discuss or examine something with the hope of changing someone’s mind.” Isn’t the Psalmist trying to change God’s mind without actually coming out and saying so? “O God of our salvation… Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.” I will come back to this statement in a couple minutes.

The Psalmist begins by saying, “LORD (Jehovah), thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.” Beginning with this, I think I can hear a prayer of Ezra, one of his fellow priests or even Nehemiah. Lord, you have so blessed Canaan and the people of Israel that you have brought us back from our captivity in Babylon, restoring us to the land you promised to Abraham and gave to the children of Jacob. The Psalmist recognizes the Lord as “Jehovah” – the covenant-making God. Yes, He is the eternal “I am,” and he is the omnipotent, triune Elohim, but this is the God of grace as well. I can see Ezra standing between the rebuilt temple and the remnant of Judah thanking the Lord for the smile of His great blessings.

“Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.” By the very circumstances, it appears that God has forgiven Israel for her national transgressions. Through her captivity, she has thrown aside her idolatry and communion with the idolatrous nations around her, standing once again under the windows of Heaven. She has in a type, passed through the tribulation of her captivity and appears to have entered a potential millennium in the presence and blessing of her Messiah.

Notice the phrase “thou has covered all their sin.” It is not the same word as “atonement,” which speaks of a covering, but it is similar, and “forgiveness” is a word understood in any language. The Lord had removed His wrath and had turned Himself from the anger which is more fierce than any other we might imagine. But recognize that the Psalmist is speaking of Israel as a nation – “thy people,” “Jacob,” “thy land.” There is Judah back in the land, with many people taking up residence in Jerusalem. Sanballat and Tobiah have been kicked out of the temple and even from the city. Israel is getting back to business, in the much the same way as she had during the days of Solomon. But how long will the Lord be pleased with the people upon whom he had bestowed his grace? Not long.

Our speaker, a prophet of God, could already see the writing on the wall. O Jehovah, you have turned away your wrath, but we, as individuals, also need to be turned. “Turn US, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.” And notice that not only does the writer refer to God’s grace and mercy, but he also recognizes the need for God’s sovereign power. The sinner is incapable of successfully turning himself. “Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.”

Like Israel at various points in her history, the Lord has been gracious towards the United States. This nation has been highly blessed in so many ways – God has given us religious liberty, blessed us economically, blessed our farms and our businesses; we have prospered as a nation. But as we see more and more, despite bringing the country out of captivity, our citizens are still captive to sin. God’s prophets should be able to see the hand of God forming into a fist ready to strike once again.

“Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?” Revive us again, Lord, as it was in the days of America’s Great Awakening. Take us back to those days when the Bible was actually read, learned and respected. Give us governmental leaders with a modicum of Biblical morality. Return us to when men, women and teenagers, trembled at the thought and sight of God, because they understood the wretchedness of their sins.

The Psalmist could see the problem, but he acknowledged that the solution was not in the people themselves. “Lord the answer is in thee.” “Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.” There is a huge difference between national salvation and personal salvation. One is temporary, while the second is eternal. And it seems to me that there are many Americans who are hoping and praying for the first, while rejecting the second – which is really the core of the problem. Without God’s grace converting the citizens of this country, the nation as a whole is doomed experience what Israel experienced in her captivity.

Verses 8-9.

Having stated his complaint and argued his need, our prophet stepped back, hoping he hadn’t gone too far. “I will hear what God the LORD will speak.” “Lord, I will shut my mouth now. Perhaps I have already said too much.”

Was our speaker one of those guys who, when he got passionate, he couldn’t stop talking – arguing? But then it hit him…. I’m talking to the LORD here. God told Job to shut up, when he was expostulating. I hope that I haven’t gone too far. Oops. “I will hear what God the LORD will speak.” And with that he not only shut is mouth, but he leaned forward to listen to what God had to say. And he said to his own heart, “for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints.”

Not knowing for sure who this psalmist is, we can’t be sure at what point in Israel’s history he stood. And we have no idea how much of the scripture was available to him or how much he knew. The best guess is that he had little more than the Pentateuch – the books of Moses. Then again he might have had many of the historical books and even some of the books of Wisdom. But one thing we know for sure, he didn’t have the blessing of the New Testament.

Today, the entire Bible is spread around the entire world. It can be found in far away place like Iran, India, Pakistan and Japan. And it is certainly universally found throughout North America. It is almost ubiquitous. We are shocked to meet a person who knows nothing about the Lord Jesus. Unfortunately sometimes we do. But sadly – disastrously – most Americans are not willing to say, “I will hear what God the LORD will speak.” They aren’t interested in picking up those ubiquitous Bibles to read and study. And they are not interested in any church which actually put the Bible first in their public service. Most Americans are far more interested in offering their opinions to God, than listening to what He has to say.

If they would listen to the Lord – truly listen – they and society in general might find something called “peace.” “I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints.” We can understand why the non-Christian is so worried about viruses and North Koreans and Chinese cyber attacks. It makes sense that the lost man has things which terrify him. In fact he should be afraid. But it tears my heart apart that so many of God’s saints will not listen when God speaks of His peace. Is it because even the Lord’s saints keep returning to their folly and sins – verse 8? “But let them not turn again to folly.”

“Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.” After the nation of Israel, America has got to be one of the most blessed countries in the history of humanity. Especially so, because in no other place is God’s salvation so near at hand as it is here. The gospel is available in so many different ways these days.

But there are two criteria which must be met before that salvation can be personally experienced. “Surely his salvation is nigh them that FEAR him.” Where there is no fear of the Lord there will be no salvation by grace. By that I mean, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” without God’s salvation. There is so much evangelical, neo-evangelical Christian religion which appears to be just like any other religion in the world, that I fear there is no salvation in them. “Surely Christ’s salvation is nigh to them that respect Him, reverence Him, listen to Him and obey Him.” I worry about those professing Christians who have no time to come to God’s house to worship Him. And what about those professing Christians who can’t be bothered to read God’s Word or to humbly speak with him in prayer? COVID is separating the God’s sheep from the goats by giving people excuses to serve Him.

The purpose of God’s salvation, whether the recipients of that salvation fully understand…. The purpose of God’s salvation is that God’s “glory may dwell in our land.” And IF those professed saved people are not striving to bring God that glory, then I must doubt the presence of God’s salvation in them.

Verses 10-13.

At this point our song-writer turns into a theologian – with wonderfully deep theology. Having referred to “salvation,” his heart leaps to a higher level, rejoicing in that deliverance personally. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” If it were not for the miracle of grace, there would be a huge collision between those four powerful forces. If it were not that all four of these things are found in God our Saviour, there might have been an explosion that made Hiroshima seem like a pop-gun.

As I said the other day, mercy refers to God’s withholding His hand of judgment from those who deserve it. But the truth is, judgment is deserved. It is not only deserved, but the very nature of the holy God demands that the judgment be administered. In God’s salvation mercy and that judgment meet as friends – something which is naturally impossible. When righteousness and peace kiss as friends we have essentially the same thing. God’s righteousness demands that sinners die the second death, just as it was promised to Adam. But in that second death – eternal separation from God – there is the total absence of peace. In truth, justice and righteousness “shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Earlier we read from Romans 3 where Paul declares His judgment upon sinners, and the salvation of those sinners who but their faith, love and trust in Him. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

Notice once again those words from Romans 3:26 – God can be both just and the justified of the believer. Divine justice demands the eternal death and judgment of the sinner. But through justification those sinners are declared righteous. How is that possible? Through the propitiation made possible in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. When the sinless Son of God, took upon Him the sins of His elect, bearing them to the cross – the place of judgment – an invitation was given to mercy and peace to join the party. In the sacrifice of Christ, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

After thanking Jehovah for the blessing he had poured out on Israel, the Psalmist expresses his concerns about the on-going sinfulness of his country-men. He expostulates with the Lord about His on-going anger. “How can you bless us as a nation without blessing us as individuals?” How can you show mercy toward us temporarily without saving our eternal souls? “Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.” And then when he shuts up to listen to the Holy Spirit’s revelation, he begins to see it. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

Verse 11 – “Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” I can see the fulfilment of this verse in our country through the salvation of individual sinners. But I think I see it more in future Israel. During the tribulation, when at first the nation of Israel is making friends with God’s enemies, eventually the wrath, to which so many of God’s prophets have referred, begins to reign down. And for God’s elect, the seeds of God’s Word will begin to sprout; Israel will begin to see things as the Lord meant them to be seen. And mixed with those huge hail stones and fire from heaven, so will descend God’s righteousness. The message of the 144,000, the 2 witnesses and 2,000 years of gospel preaching will begin to bear fruit. Here and there some of the people of Israel will see by faith and trust the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Joining them will be a few of the Gentiles of the world. And when Christ returns, that truth and that righteousness will meet together again, resulting the salvation of the entire nation which remains.

“Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.” Let me give you something to reflect on today as you nod off toward your Sunday afternoon nap… For a thousand years following the return of Christ, there will be peace on earth and relatively little death. What will the population of the world be after 600 years with no wars, famines and pestilences? Will God slow down human birth rate? Will there be population control? There have been fools who have argued against the Millennium based on population statistics and charts. There could be many answers to that kind of question. But one is found in this verse – “Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.” During that period when Christ rules and reigns on earth, the soil of this planet will be more productive than it has ever been. There will be no problem sustaining the teeming billions of people during that time.

And then to summerize it all, we have the last verse. “Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.” The Psalmist, perhaps looking that the problems which existed just after the return from Babylon, was having a hard time visualizing the world of the future. Yes, God had blessed the nation in the past, but it didn’t take an exceptional holy man to see that the people were still the same old sinners. When he leaned back, or was it forward anxious to hear what God was going to say, he was shown the Messiah/Saviour and also the future kingdom of that Messiah. “Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.”

Our writer was a Jew, and he was thinking of his own nation, perhaps not realizing that His God intended to bring people like you and me under His grace. Now the question remains, ARE you under that grace? Or will you hear – “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Be gracious and merciful, “turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.”