“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” (Psalm 85:8).
Although the background of Psalm 85 is debated by scholars, the language of the psalm reflects a time when the people of Israel had already returned from their exile in Babylon and were already settled back in their land: “you restored the fortunes of Jacob” (Psalm 85:1). Yahweh had returned Israel to their land and his compassion had been given in abundance once again to his people
The psalmist was aware of Israel’s sins and rebellion against Yahweh. He was also aware of Yahweh’s severe punishment. In his compassion Yahweh forgave the iniquity of his people and in his mercy he had pardoned all their sins. The guilt that the people had carried with them throughout their stay in Babylon had been removed because Yahweh judges, but his anger does not last forever for the God of Israel is the God of salvation, “O God of our salvation” (Psalm 85:4).
The psalmist’s awareness of God’s mercy and compassion are reflected in his words: “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin” (Psalm 85:2). These words are a reference to God’s revelation of himself to Moses as a gracious and compassionate God: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).
Once again Yahweh had shown his steadfast love for his people and his salvation was revealed in a mighty way. The psalmist was reminded again of the promises God had made to his ancestors. He yearns to hear what the Lord will speak to him in the silence of his heart.
The attitude of the psalmist is similar to the attitude of the prophet Habakkuk when the prophet was facing his crisis of faith. Habakkuk prayed to God and that led him to wait for an answer, “I will keep watch to see what he will say to me” (Habakkuk 2:1). The expression “what he will say to me” in Hebrew is “what he will say in me.” God’s answer will come through the prayers of the prophet, when he opens his heart and in the silence of his heart he hears the voice of God speaking to him.
This is what the psalmist wants to do. He wants to hear what God will say to him and what God will say will be a word of peace, a word of salvation, a word of well-being. And that word will come, not only to the psalmist, but “to those who turn to God in their hearts” (Psalm 85:8).
Like the psalmist, all of us should be ready hear what God desires to speak to us. In the silence of our hearts, we must be attentive to the coming of God, patiently listening to his voice, willing to hear and obey whatever God has to say to us, with the confidence that he will speak words of shalom, words of mercy, and words of peace.
Whatever God commands us to do, we must be willing to do. Whatever God declares to us, we should believe. Whatever God asks from us, we should surrender because whatever God commands or requires from us, he does so because it is for our good and it is for his glory.
God loves his people, and because his faithful love always seeks the best for his people, they must be assured that what he will say will contribute to the well-being of his people. Provided that they do not “go back to foolish ways.”
The last sentence of Psalm 85:8 in Hebrew is difficult to translate into English. The NRSV translates as follows: “to those who turn to him in their hearts.” The ESV translates the sentence as follows: “but let them not turn back to folly.” The HCSB translates as follows: “and not let them go back to foolish ways.”
The people of Israel had abandoned God to follow their own ways. Their rebellion was sinful and wicked. There was a great danger that some of the people might turn again and return to their former lives. The psalmist was admonishing his people (and us) that when they face the problems of this life that they must not return to their foolish ways. They have been restored to fellowship with God and as the people of God, they could not return to a life where God was not in their lives.
The message of the psalmist is still relevant today. God spoke to Israel all they needed to know in order for them to live in fellowship with him, so that they would never again return to their foolish ways, that is, go back to their rebellious ways and abandon God as their ancestors had done in the past.
But only if they don’t relapse into folly.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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