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Psalm 85

When grace and truth embrace

What do you do when you’ve badly squandered God’s grace and feel utterly unworthy of more? What else can you do other than cast yourself again on the God who graciously restores penitent sinners?

Yahveh, you once delighted in your land
restoring Jacob’s prosperity.
2 You forgave your people’s iniquity
and pardoned all their sin.
3 You held back all your fury
and turned away from your burning anger.

4 Turn our lives around again, God our savior.
Let go of your anger against us.
5 Will you be outraged forever
holding onto your wrath for all time?
6 Won’t you give us life again
so your people can rejoice in you?
7 Show us your unfailing love, Yahveh
grant us your saving help.

8 I’m listening to what Yahveh our God says.
He promises well-being to his people—
to all who trust in him.
But let them not return to their folly.
9 Yes, he’s about to rescue those who revere him
so his glory may reside in our land.
10 Grace and truth embrace—
doing right and doing well kiss.
11 Loyalty will spring up from the earth
and righteousness look down from heaven above.
12 Yahveh himself will grant us the good life
with our land yielding its harvest.
13 Doing right will precede him
making a path for him to walk.

The psalmist is seemingly writing after the Babylonian exile, when the Jews struggled to rebuild in a situation far harder than before it. Regardless, the psalm offers one ground alone for seeking restoration from God—that he graciously pardons and restores rebels, as the psalm’s opening verses recount. Indeed, his covenant promised Israel not only punishment for violators, but also restoration for penitents.

And God doesn’t just forgive and grant material blessing. He also promises to unite grace and truth, righteousness and well-being, among his people. We find it virtually impossible to hold grace and truth, mercy and justice, together as one. Some even insist that whatever you gain of mercy you lose of justice. The Bible rejects that thinking, but we hold justice and mercy, grace and truth, together only to the degree that we’re one with the God in whom they are one.

So this union is God’s doing. As his people embrace his saving grace by faith, they know all-encompassing harmony and his glory inhabits their land. This happens as God’s will is done on earth—human loyalty sprouts from the ground and divine righteousness beams down from above. This redemption—yielding a prosperous, righteous and harmonious land—is what his people are to seek as they await his coming.

Prone to wander and leave the God I love, Lord, I seek forgiveness and restoration. Keep me clinging to your grace, refusing to be drawn back into my foolish ways, till doing right means doing well, your grace and truth become one in me and your glory fills my life. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

I’m listening to what Yahveh our God says.
He promises well-being to his people—
to all who trust in him.
But let them not return to their folly.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.