Psalm 85; D.A. Carson

Posted: June 12, 2013 by doulos tou Theou in Biblical Studies, Christianity

IT IS A WONDERFUL PAIRING: “Love and faithfulness meet together.” Then another pairing: “righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Ps. 85:10). Older readers may remember the first of these two lines in the King James Version: “Mercy and truth” meet together.

In English, “mercy and truth”are pretty distinguishable from the NIV’s “love and faithfulness.” But the underlying Hebrew, a very common pairing (as in Ps. 86:15 or Ex. 34:6 — see the meditation for March 23), could be rendered either way. The first word commonly refers to God’s covenantal love, his covenantal mercy — his sheer covenantal goodness or grace, poured out on his undeserving people. The second word varies in its English translation, depending on what is being referred to. When the Queen of Sheba tells Solomon that all that she had heard of him was “true,” literally “the truth” (1 Kings 10) — that is, that the propositional reports corresponded to reality — she uses the word here rendered “faithfulness.” A “true” report is a “faithful” report; when truth is embodied in character, it is faithfulness.

As deployed in this psalm, the categories are used evocatively. When you read the first pairing, “Love and faithfulness meet together,” it is natural to read them as descriptions of God: God is the God of covenantal grace or love and of utterly reliable fidelity. The second pairing might be taken the same way: God is both unqualifiedly righteous and the well of all well-being. In him, righteousness and peace kiss each other. But in the next verse, the second word from the first pairing and the first word from the second pairing are picked up and put together to introduce a new thought: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven” (Ps. 85:11). In the context of the whole psalm, the people’s faithfulness is apparently being linked with the Lord’s righteousness: the former springs from the earth, while the latter looks down from heaven. It is not absolutely necessary to take things that way, but the psalmist implicitly recognizes the links earlier in his poem: “You forgave the iniquity of your people. . . . Restore us again, O God our Savior. . . . Show us your unfailing love, O LORD. . . he promises peace to his people, his saints — but let them not return to folly” (Ps. 85:2-8, italics added).

However we align these pairings, it is vital to remember that love and faithfulness both belong to God, that righteousness and peace meet and kiss in him. Because of this, God can be both just and the One who justifies the ungodly by graciously giving his Son (Rom. 3:25-26). Should it be surprising to discover that among his image-bearers, love and faithfulness and righteousness and peace go hand in hand, standing together or falling together?

from D.A. Carson’s blog

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