PSALM 85–A MEDITATION FOR ADVENT TWO

A key theme for the second Sunday of Advent is peace.  Jesus is our peace, and God’s plan is all about peace–for the individual, for the family, for the church, for the entire world.  Is this peace promised in the Bible spiritual, or is it political?  The answer is yes.  Those who seek peace in only the spiritual things of life but deny sociological, economic, and political peace are missing the plan God has for all people.  Likewise, those who neglect the spiritual peace of true enlightenment in Christ Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge of an eternal purpose only to clamor for everyone to start beating their swords into ploughshares will always have a missing element in life; they will always feel like something isn’t quite right.  IMG_0105

As with most lectionary readings, the text skips around a bit, omitting verses 3-7, which is too bad.  These skipped verses reflect that the pslamist and the people have been delivered by the Lord in the past, but now they are need again for a second rescue.  Because of that, I place this psalm’s date as sometime after the return from exile, perhaps in the time period of Nehemiah and Ezra.

[1] LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
[2] You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah

Take note of the parallelism.  It is a common Hebrew poetic device.  Verse one says the same thing twice.  It is not two different points, it is the same thing, restated.  Likewise, verse two.  To be favorable to the land is the same thing as restoring fortunes, and to forgive iniquity is the same thing as covering sins.  Too often preachers and exegetes will attempt to wrangle too much from parallelism, thus rendering the text neutered if its original, and powerful meaning.

Here the meaning is clear.  There is a linkage between the act of restoration in the land and the forgiveness of sin.

[8] Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.

Not condemnation, not judgment, not fear, not rules, not law, not an unending video loop of all our transgressions played out for everyone to see (Romans 8:1), none of these things are what the Lord wants to speak to us about.  He will speak peace.

[9] Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Salvation is not near to all, just those who fear him.  Also note the link between salvation and glory.  Who is the glory for?  The second line here is fascinating.  Glory certainly refers to the Hebrew idea that when the Lord comes to rescue, he will be present in the land and his glory, the glory that settled on the tabernacle, the temple, and which left in the sad days of Ezekiel–will return to the land.  I do not diminish that concept one iota.  However, if someone sits with this text for a moment and feels the pull of the psalmist’s words, I think he or she will feel that part of that glory is for the people of God.  A borrowed glory to be sure, but glory for the saints none the less.

[10] Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

This is one of my favorite images in all of the Bible.  This might be a chiasm.  I can’t prove it, but it sure looks like one to me.  Stead fast love, which is covenantal divine love crosses over to match with peace while faithfulness and righteousness are fairly easily recognized as near cognates.

The kiss is a beautiful thought.  It is not a romantic kiss, but more a kiss of greeting.  Some have scorned translating the word here as ‘kiss’ and instead prefer the idea of ‘linking arms.’  Whichever one you take they are both signs of friendship and trust, the sign of blessing which the Lord has for his people.  Greet one another with a holy (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 13:12) kiss–the kiss of “shalom” as the peace of God.

But now I must digress.  For the past week I have seen the opposite of peace played out in Ferguson and New York as people hurt.  Why is there a lack of peace?  Because we are not righteousness.  We are not faithful.  We do not keep our promises.  We do not meet one another on friendly terms (kiss).  Justice is the byproduct of righteousness and love.  We lack justice because we lack the moral and spiritual power that makes justice a possibility.

[11] Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
[12] Yes, the LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
[13] Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

The Psalm finishes with another image.  It moves from a lovely kiss to an agricultural vision.  Faithfulness is now seen as a crop growing, while righteousness is rain and sunshine that makes the growth possible.  From this arrangement, the Lord blesses the harvest and makes it bountiful.  What a poetic view of life.  Taken at face value, we are being taught here that righteousness–a right view of society, law, faith, family–righteousness is the nurturing agent from which faithful people grow.  The opposite is probably true.  Unrighteousness nurtures faithlessness.

2 thoughts on “PSALM 85–A MEDITATION FOR ADVENT TWO

  1. I must admit, I was somewhat confused at the beginning of your definition of peace. I guess I believe that the World interprets political peace and economic peace different than a believer interprets it. And, although saddened by lack of political peace or economic peace, I do have Spiritual peace that understands it is result of lack of righteousness and faithfulness in this world. Prayer is my answer to this sadness because I put my trust in God. Thank you for your blogs. Forgive for the times I read them and do not thank you.

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    1. no, thank you gloria for reading them! i appreciate that, and your comments as well. peace is a tough one, because so much of our lives are spent in turmoil that we we can’t ‘define’ peace because of the poverty of our experiences. at least, that is what i think is the problem. we (by we, i mean most of us) have adopted a philosophy of life that assumes struggle, conflict, and a darwinian spirit of competition with everyone about everything. again, thanks for commenting and reading.

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