19 May 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
19 May 2022 (Psalm 85)

‘Righteousness will look down from the sky’ (Psalm 85: 11) … sunrise over Wexford town and the Slaney estuary seen from Ferrycarrig (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 85:

Psalm 85 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 84. In Latin, the psalm is known as Benedixisti Domine terram tuam. In Judaism, it is called a psalm of returned exiles. The Jerusalem Bible describes it as a prayer for peace.

Psalm 85 is one in a group of psalms at the end of Book III within the 150 psalms, from Psalm 84 to Psalm 89. These psalms attempt to provide hope to the exilic Israelite community. But, despite their celebration of the historic traditions of the Jewish people, they remind the reader that these elements no longer provide the hope they once did.

Four psalms of this group – Psalms 84, 85, 87 and 88 – are attributed to the Korahites, who are described as the doorkeepers of the tabernacle in the Book of Chronicles.

The psalm could have been written before or after the exile in Babylon (6th century BCE). It is attributed to the sons of Korah.

Psalm 85 is described as a ‘prayer for the restoration of God’s favour,’ a promise that concludes the reading from the Prophet Hosea. Many are familiar with verse 7 through its repetition in the versicles and responses at Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer:

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

The psalmist recalls God’s restoration of his people (‘Jacob’) and how God forgave their sins (verses 1-3). But things have become difficult again, and the psalmist prays that God may again show his favour to his people, restoring them to their land, ending his anger with them, reviving them so they may rejoice, showing them his love and giving them life and salvation (verses 4-7).

The psalmist then asks God to give peace to the people when they return to his worship. This is a prayer that hopes for peace, steadfast love and faithfulness. In contrast with Hosea’s description of an unfaithful people, the psalmist prays for a future in which:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground
and righteousness will look down from the sky.

As a sign of God’s blessings to the people, both spiritually and materially, the yield of the land will increase (verses 8-12).

The image in verse 10 of Justice and Peace or ‘righteousness and peace’ kissing (צֶ֖דֶק וְשָׁל֣וֹם נָשָֽׁקוּ) was a popular theme in art work from the Middle Ages through the 18th century. These include paintings by Tiepolo, Lanfranco, Pompeo Batoni, Nicolas Prévost, and Laurent de La Hyre. The verse was also engraved on a papal tiara which Napoleon gave to Pope Pius VII.

However, the Hebrew root n-š-q (נשק) has several translations, including ‘kiss’, ‘fight’, and ‘fought against each other,’ and the word may describe a dynamic type of contact, whether positive or negative. The Midrash understands this interaction in a turbulent context, relating it to God taking counsel with his ministering angels about whether to create the first human.

While the superscript attributes this psalm to the sons of Korah, commentators are undecided about the period in which the psalm was written. One suggestion is that it was written at the end of the reign of Saul. Others suggest the setting of Psalm 85 corresponds to the description in the Book of Nehemiah in which only part of the Jewish nation returns from the Babylonian captivity.

Jewish commentators suggest the sons of Korah are speaking prophetically about the conclusion of the Babylonian exile. They pray that God will also return the Jewish people from their current exile and remove his anger from them altogether. The image of kindness and truth meeting alludes to the interrelationship between Israel’s truth and God’s righteousness. When Israel adheres to the truth, God will respond with righteousness; he will send rain to produce abundant harvests.

According to the Midrash Tehillim, the land referred to in this psalm is the Land of Israel, ‘a land that the Lord your God looks after. The eyes of the Lord your God are always on it’ (Deuteronomy 11: 12). God waits for the people to perform the mitzvot or Biblical commandments associated with the Land – such as tithing the crops and observing the Shmita (Sabbatical Year) and Yovel (Jubilee Year) – and when they do, both they and the land will find favour in God’s eyes.

In the Sephardic tradition, Psalm 85 is recited after Kaddish (Titkabel) during the afternoon service on Yom Kippur eve. Sephardi Jews also recite this psalm along with numerous others on Yom Kippur itself.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the beginning of Psalm 85 is recommended as an introit or antiphon for Mass on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent.

Themes from verses 9 to 11 were paraphrased in John Milton’s hymn ‘The Lord will come and not be slow.’

The psalm has also been quoted in nonviolent movements. In 1993, the Catholic bishops in the United States quoted the verse ‘for he will speak peace unto his people’.

‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other’ (Psalm 85: 10) … a sculpture in the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 85 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.

1 Lord, you were favourable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin.
3 You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation towards us.
5 Will you be angry with us for ever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
so that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Advocacy in Brazil.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (19 May 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, made up of nine dioceses across Brazil. May we learn from them and be inspired by their ministry.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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