Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Petition of the Hitherto Favoured People for a Restoration of Favour
The second part of the Book of Isaiah is written for the Israel of the Exile. It was the incidents of the Exile that first unsealed this great and indivisible prophecy, which in its compass is without any parallel. And after it had been unsealed there sprang up out of it those numerous songs of the Psalm-collection which remind us of their common model, partly by their allegorizing figurative language, partly by their lofty prophetic thoughts of consolation. This first Korahitic Jahve-Psalm (in Psa 85:13 coming into contact with Psa 84:1-12, cf. Psa 84:12)), which more particularly by its allegorizing figurative language points to Isa 40:1, belongs to the number of these so-called deutero-Isaianic Psalms. The reference of Psa 85:1-13 to the period after the Exile and to the restoration of the state, says Dursch, is clearly expressed in the Psalm. On the other hand, Hengstenberg maintains that "the Psalm does not admit of any historical interpretation," and is sure only of this one fact, that Psa 85:2-4 do not relate to the deliverance out of the Exile. Even this Psalm, however, is not a formulary belonging to no express period, but has a special historical basis; and Psa 85:2-4 certainly sound as though they came from the lips of a people restored to their fatherland.
The poet first of all looks back into the past, so rich in tokens of favour. The six perfects are a remembrance of former events, since nothing precedes to modify them. Certainly that which has just been experienced might also be intended; but then, as Hitzig supposes, Psa 85:5-8 would be the petition that preceded it, and Psa 85:9 would go back to the turning-point of the answering of the request - a retrograde movement which is less probable than that in shuwbeenuw, Psa 85:5, we have a transition to the petition for a renewal of previously manifested favour. (שׁבית) שבּ שׁבוּת, here said of a cessation of a national judgment, seems to be meant literally, not figuratively (vid., Psa 14:7). רצה, with the accusative, to have and to show pleasure in any one, as in the likewise Korahitic lamentation- Psa 44:4, cf. Psa 147:11. In Psa 85:3 sin is conceived of as a burden of the conscience; in Psa 85:3 as a blood-stain. The music strikes up in the middle of the strophe in the sense of the "blessed" in Psa 32:1. In Psa 85:4 God's עברה (i.e., unrestrained wrath) appears as an emanation; He draws it back to Himself (אסף as in Joe 3:15, Psa 104:29; Sa1 14:19) when He ceases to be angry; in Psa 85:4, on the other hand, the fierce anger is conceived of as an active manifestation on the part of God which ceases when He turns round (השׁיב, Hiph. as inwardly transitive as in Eze 14:6; Eze 39:25; cf. the Kal in Exo 32:12), i.e., gives the opposite turn to His manifestation.
The poet now prays God to manifest anew the loving-kindness He has shown formerly. In the sense of "restore us again," שׁוּבנוּ does not form any bond of connection between this and the preceding strophe; but it does it, according to Ges. 121, 4, it is intended in the sense of (אלינוּ) שׁוּב לנוּ, turn again to us. The poet prays that God would manifest Himself anew to His people as He has done in former days. Thus the transition from the retrospective perfects to the petition is, in the presence of the existing extremity, adequately brought about. Assuming the post-exilic origin of the Psalm, we see from this strophe that it was composed at a period in which the distance between the temporal and spiritual condition of Israel and the national restoration, promised together with the termination of the Exile, made itself distinctly felt. On עמּנוּ (in relation to and bearing towards us) beside כּעסך, cf. Job 10:17, and also on הפר, Psa 89:34. In the question in Psa 89:6 reminding God of His love and of His promise, משׁך has the signification of constant endless continuing or pursuing, as in Psa 36:11. The expression in Psa 85:7 is like Psa 71:20, cf. Psa 80:19; שׁוּב is here the representative of rursus, Ges. 142. ישׁעך from ישׁע, like קצפּך in Psa 38:2, has ĕ (cf. the inflexion of פּרי and חק) instead of the ı̆ in אלהי ישׁענוּ. Here at the close of the strophe the prayer turns back inferentially to this attribute of God.
The prayer is followed by attention to the divine answer, and by the answer itself. The poet stirs himself up to give ear to the words of God, like Habakkuk, Hab 2:1. Beside אשׁמעה we find the reading אשׁמעה, vid., on Psa 39:13. The construction of האל ה is appositional, like המּלך דּוד, Ges. 113. כּי neither introduces the divine answer in express words, nor states the ground on which he hearkens, but rather supports the fact that God speaks from that which He has to speak. Peace is the substance of that which He speaks to His people, and that (the particularizing Waw) to His saints; but with the addition of an admonition. אל is dehortative. It is not to be assumed in connection with this ethical notion that the ah of לכסלה is the locative ah as in לשׁאולה, Psa 9:18. כּסלה is related to כּסל like foolery to folly. The present misfortune, as is indicated here, is the merited consequence of foolish behaviour (playing the fool). In Psa 85:10. the poet unfolds the promise of peace which he has heard, just as he has heard it. What is meant by ישׁעו is particularized first by the infinitive, and then in perfects of actual fact. The possessions that make a people truly happy and prosperous are mentioned under a charming allegory exactly after Isaiah's manner, Isa 32:16., Isa 45:8; Isa 59:14. The glory that has been far removed again takes up its abode in the land. Mercy or loving-kindness walks along the streets of Jerusalem, and there meets fidelity, like one guardian angel meeting the other. Righteousness and peace or prosperity, these two inseparable brothers, kiss each other there, and fall lovingly into each other's arms.
(Note: Concerning St. Bernard's beautiful parable of the reconciliation of the inviolability of divine threatening and of justice with mercy and peace in the work of redemption, which has grown out of this passage of the Psalms, Misericordia et veritas obviaverunt sibi, justitia et pax osculatae sunt, and has been transferred to the painting, poetry, and drama of the middle ages, vid., Piper's Evangelischer Kalender, 1859, S. 24-34, and the beautiful miniature representing the ἀσπασμός of δικαιοσύνη and εἰρήνη of a Greek Psalter, 1867, S. 63.)
The poet pursues this charming picture of the future further. After God's אמת, i.e., faithfulness to the promises, has descended like dew, אמת, i.e., faithfulness to the covenant, springs up out of the land, the fruit of that fertilizing influence. And צדקה, gracious justice, looks down from heaven, smiling favour and dispensing blessing. גּם in Psa 85:13 places these two prospects in reciprocal relation to one another (cf. Psa 84:7); it is found once instead of twice. Jahve gives הטּוב, everything that is only and always good and that imparts true happiness, and the land, corresponding to it, yields יבוּלהּ, the increase which might be expected from a land so richly blessed (cf. Psa 67:7 and the promise in Lev 26:4). Jahve Himself is present in the land: righteousness walks before Him majestically as His herald, and righteousness ישׂם לדרך פּעמיו, sets (viz., its footsteps) upon the way of His footsteps, that is to say, follows Him inseparably. פּעמיו stands once instead of twice; the construct is to a certain extent attractional, as in Psa 65:12; Gen 9:6. Since the expression is neither דּרך (Psa 50:23; Isa 51:10) nor לדּרך (Isa 49:11), it is natural to interpret the expression thus, and it gives moreover (cf. Isa 58:8; Isa 52:12) an excellent sense. But if, which we prefer, שׂים is taken in the sense of שׂים לב (as e.g., in Job 4:20) with the following ל, to give special heed to anything (Deu 32:46; Eze 40:4; Eze 44:5), to be anxiously concerned about it (Sa1 9:20), then we avoid the supplying in thought of a second פעמיו, which is always objectionable, and the thought obtained by the other interpretation is brought clearly before the mind: righteousness goes before Jahve, who dwells and walks abroad in Israel, and gives heed to the way of His steps, that is to say, follows carefully in His footsteps.