God puts sinners back together, and God in His mercy puts backsliders back together again. How He does this is truly remarkable, and as we enter into the spirit of this psalm we find ourselves right at the heart of the gospel.
“Lord, thou hast been Favourable unto thy land: Thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, Thou hast covered all their sin. Selah . . .” (Ps. 85:1–13)
Summary of the Text:
The text divides this way. The first three verses recall the Lord’s mercies to Israel in time past (vv. 1-3). In the next section, the psalmist pleads with God concerning Israel’s current afflictions (vv. 4-7). He pauses in the next verse to resolve that he will hear what the Lord says to him (v. 8). And then, in the conclusion of the psalm, he rejoices in the salvation that he knows is coming (vv. 9-13).
Lord, in the past You have released Jacob from her troubles (v. 1). At the center of this deliverance, You have forgiven them (v. 2). Because forgiveness was granted, then wrath was turned away (v. 3). The past faithfulness of God provides one of the very best present arguments to use with God. “God, turn Your people away from their sin (v. 4). Why extend Your anger (v. 5)? We have had enough.” If You revive Your people, then they will be able to rejoice in You (v. 6). Show us mercy, Lord. Grant us salvation (v. 7). The petition is submitted, and then the petitioner submits himself (v. 8). Oftentimes a certain kind of prayer goes unanswered because the petitions are submitted while the petitioner isn’t. Fear God, and salvation is right at hand (v. 9). So is glory. Mercy and truth have met (v. 10), and righteousness and peace have kissed (v. 10). Truth grows out of the ground, and righteousness smiles down on us (v. 11). The Lord gives what is good, and the land will bear much increase (v. 12). Righteousness will then lead the way (v. 13).
The Deliverance Argument:
Considering how many times God inspired this argument to show up in Scripture, this must be an argument He really loves. The argument goes this way. God, why do You love delivering Your people in the way back history books? We believe those history books, but why do You seem so reluctant to deliver us in the same way?
Why does God love to hear this argument from us? He wants us to mean what we say. He wants us to want what we say we want. For example, we are currently in the middle of a hard winter. But why does God give us a hard winter? Because it is His infallible method of giving us the most glorious spring ever. So what is that spring?
The Marker of Joy:
When God revives His people, the indicator that this has happened is joy. Revive us again so that we may rejoice in you (v. 6). When David is forgiven, he looks forward to being restored to the joy of his salvation (Ps. 51:12). When we really love Jesus, not having seen Him, and when we have not seen Him but yet believe in Him, what happens? The result is that we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8). When we pray for reformation and revival, we are not asking to be brought into a state of mild contentment. We are not seeking in tepid complacency. We do not want a room temperature reformation.
How Is This Possible?
An unrighteous man once came to the Prince of Peace, and identified Him to the soldiers by kissing Him. Unrighteousness kissed peace, and this led to the chain of events that culminated in righteousness and peace kissing each other. This is the kind of kiss we are talking about—the kiss of friendship. In the case of Judas, it was pretended friendship.
We have four great attributes of God mentioned here, and the trick—in a sinful world—is how to get them all together. Mercy and peace appear to go well together. Righteousness and truth seem like natural companions. But how is it that mercy and truth have met together? How can righteousness and peace greet one another with a holy kiss? This is only possible in one place, and that place is the cross of wood upon which Jesus died.
Where do mercy and truth meet? They meet in the paths of the Lord, and the paths of the Lord are always related to the hill of Golgotha. “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Ps. 25:10). We see the two as natural companions, but only because of the gospel. “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name” (Rom. 15:8–9). With mercy and truth offered to both Jew and Gentile, we see God’s intention of making one new man out of the two.
This is a welding job that could not be accomplished by any other means than the vicarious, substitutionary death of Christ on the cross for sinners. When we look at that cross, we see the most incongruous elements fused together in a white hot deliverance. We see the love of God and the hatred of God, together as one. We see the mercy of God and the truth of God with joined hands. We see the righteousness of God and the peace of God embracing each other. It is only here, in a substitutionary death, that the ultimate terror of sinful men and women may become their ultimate delight. How is it possible for us to treasure a cross?
We see the unrighteousness of man and the righteousness of Christ. And then, in a glorious exchange, we see the unrighteousness of Christ on our behalf and the righteousness of wretches because of the purity of His life. It is all there. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is how everything can be made right. It is the only way anything can be made right.
Truth as a Thick Lawn:
When the Spirit of God has done His work, and the people of God are restored as they ought to be, what is the result? Truth grows out of the ground like it was grass (v. 11). Righteousness looks down from heaven on us and smiles. Think of the truth of God growing like the thickest of lawns, and all your little kids running barefoot on it. Think of God’s pleasure resting on you—but it is His righteous pleasure resting on you.
Remember to contrast this with the warnings (Lev. 26:19). God can make the heavens like iron and the earth brass. And do not try to evade the covenantal promises of God by pretending that there is no longer cause and effect.
The reason we tend to walk in trepidation and fear is that we want righteousness and peace to be friends somewhere other than in the vicarious death of Jesus. We want mercy and truth to get along somewhere other than in the blood of the covenant. But that is in no way possible. Let us return to the beginning. God is the one who has devised this glorious way of putting sinners back together. He is the one who has settled upon this device for putting backsliders back together again.