Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Prayer for God's Mercy

[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 thee?

7 Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.

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.

—Psalm 85 KJV Bible

The psalm subscription states it is for the "sons of Korah." Korah was a great-grandson of Levi and a younger contemporary of Moses. Korah took part in an attempted revolt against Moses' and Aaron's leadership of the Israelites, forgetting that Moses and Aaron had been appointed by God to lead. As proof of this, God caused the earth to open, swallowing all of the rebels and their tents. Following that, an additional 14,700 died in a plague because of their grumbling against God (Numbers 16). The three sons of Korah—Assir, Elkanan and Abiasaph—stayed loyal to God, did not rebel, and so did not die (Exodus 6:24; Numbers 26:11). The descendants of these were also described as the "sons of Korah." Some later became singers in the Temple choir (2 Chronicles 20:19). Twelve of the psalms (42-49, 84-85, 87-88) are specifically dedicated to the "sons of Korah," possibly because of their musicality, or possibly as a reference to those who remain faithful to God even in the most difficult times.

This psalm was written during some national setback. Some suggest this was around 520 BC, just after the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon. The song recalls the deeds of God in the past, reflects on the distress of the present, and reassures concerning the nation’s deliverance in the future.

If the psalm was written following the exile, then verses 1 through 3 reference the time in which Cyrus, the King of Persia, sent the Jews back to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Prior to their exile, God had become increasingly angry with His people because they were not obeying his commands. Finally, God allowed the King of Babylon to conquer the land, capture Jerusalem, and take most of the population back to Babylon as slaves. After 70 years, the king of Persia conquered Babylon and became possessor of all its property, including the descendants of Jacob/Israel. King Cyrus’ act of returning the people was viewed as a sign that God had forgiven the sins of the people.

The Hebrew "selah" is used in verse 2 of the psalm. The word is thought to be a musical notation to the choir director and musicians. It loosely translates as a break in the song or an instruction to pause and reflect, perhaps with a musical interlude. Some translators suggest the phrase "stop and listen." Others say that a more concise translation would be "let those with eyes see and with ears hear." The word "selah" has been compared to the word "amen" in that it stresses to the listener the importance of the preceding passage. The word "selah" is used in thirty-nine of the psalms.

Verses 4 through 7 observe that, though the people had returned to their Promised Land, God was still angry with them. The ruined temple in Jerusalem had not yet been rebuilt. They may not have had much rain, so their crops would have been small and food was scarce. And some of their old enemies may have begun attacking them because they were unable to defend themselves. In these verses the people ask for God’s help to make things better.

In verse 8 the psalmist pledges to listen to and obey the commands of the God Jehovah. Those who do this, God’s “saints” (the Hebrew “chasid,” meaning those who are kind or pious or devout) will have God’s peace. Those who have not learned the lesson of dependency on God, those who turn back to the old ways of disobedience, are destined again to “folly” (the Hebrew “kislah,” meaning stupidity or confidence).

In verse 9 through 13 the psalmist tells the people what it will be like when they are obedient to God. In that time God’s “salvation” (the Hebrew “yesha,” meaning deliverance, rescue, salvation, or safety) will come to those that “fear” God (the Hebrew “yare,” meaning a moral, reverential fear). Then the “glory” of God’s presence will stay among the people.

God’s loyal, steadfast, faithful love (the Hebrew “checed”) will be combined with God’s firmness, faithfulness and truth (the Hebrew “emeth”). Also, God’s sense of rightness or righteousness (the Hebrew “tsedeq”) will be joined with God’s completeness, soundness, and peace (the Hebrew “shalom”). Truth and righteousness will abound.

Then Jehovah will give all good things to the people and the crops and livestock will thrive and increase. All will know of God’s righteousness and will desire to follow in His teachings.

Many consider verses 9 through 13 to be messianic in that they speak of a future time when God’s glory will reign in the land and God walk be among His people. It is suggested that this will truly be fulfilled in the Messiah’s millennial reign.

O LORD, I thank You for Your blessings. Forgive me when I fail to do the things You say. Help me to walk in your path so that I may prosper and may serve You better.


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