Advent Psalm reading for December 7, 8, 9, & 10: Psalm 85
Advent Reflection on Psalm 85 Overview
For the rest of this week, Psalm 85 is the psalm reflection. In this first post, I will outline the psalm’s context and comment on its place in the liturgy. In subsequent posts, I will consider the psalm in light of accompanying readings from both testaments.
The Liturgical Selection: A Focus on Hope
The liturgy selects only verses 1-2 and 8-13, which omits the lament in this psalm. In a season of advent, we may want to move toward hope. However, it is entirely unlike humanity to be so monolithic. One of the things I appreciate most about the Psalter is that it presents such diverse expressions of lament and praise and song and beauty and poverty and disfigurement and compassion and love and loss. It is a collection of poetry that captures a near-full reflection of the human emotional spectrum.
Psalm 85 is part of a group of psalms attributed to the Korahites. These are northern texts closely related to the Asaph collection of psalms. The Korahite collection includes Psalms 42, 44-49, 84-85, and 87-88.
The Faithfulness and Forgiveness of God
The first verse attests to the faithfulness of YHWH, the Hebrew God. God is faithful to show favor, redeem, restore, and forgive.
For the leader. Of the Korahites. A psalm.
O LORD, You will favor Your land,
restore Jacob’s fortune;
You will forgive Your people’s iniquity,
pardon all their sins; selah
In the Hebrew Bible, forgiveness is the right of God. It was not common for a person to ask forgiveness of another person; perhaps this is why there is so much emphasis on grace and compassion. However, God pardons, forgives, and is called upon to forgive. This opening sets the context for the reader. We are asked to consider the following in light of God’s capacity for forgiveness and restoration. The word “selah” that comes at the end of the second verse is an untranslated Hebrew word that asks the reader to pause and reflect on what they have just read (or heard, as was the case in an aural culture like the ancient world).
From Lament to Plea for Divine Intervention
The advent liturgy takes us immediately to the eighth verse, but I want to pause to consider the lament following our selah reflection.
You will withdraw all Your anger,
turn away from Your rage.
Turn again, O God, our helper,
revoke Your displeasure with us.
Will You be angry with us forever,
prolong Your wrath for all generations?
Surely You will revive us again,
so that Your people may rejoice in You.
Show us, O LORD, Your faithfulness;
grant us Your deliverance.
Immediately after considering God’s tendency to forgive and intention to restore, the psalmist pleads with God to do just that. He asks God to revoke anger and act according to the faithfulness described in the first verses. And why? so that God may be praised. Returning to the advent liturgy, in the next verse, the psalmist quiets himself to listen to God. He reflects on God’s promises and mentions the responsibility of God’s people—to not be foolish, respect and wait upon God, live in truth, and make way for justice.
Let me hear what God, the LORD, will speak;
He will promise well-being to His people, His faithful ones;
may they not turn to folly.
His help is very near those who fear Him,
to make His glory dwell in our land.
The following two verses are beautifully poetic and positivistic.
Faithfulness and truth meet;
justice and well-being kiss.
Truth springs up from the earth;
justice looks down from heaven.
Using simile to personify abstract concepts: faithfulness, truth, justice, and well-being (shalom) profoundly demonstrates the strength of the connection between justice and faithfulness and truth and peace. Then, the psalmist marries cosmic truth and justice. Whereas we just witnessed a kiss between shalom/well-being and justice, the following lines show a loving gaze between truth and justice in which the heavens and earth are united. The imagery in these verses wraps God’s justice, truth, faithfulness, and peace with heartfelt love. God’s compassion will bring forgiveness and resolve to the psalmist.
Agricultural Abundance as a Metaphor for God’s Generosity
The concluding verse confirms an agricultural awareness: the greatest blessing that may be given is an abundance of food and prosperity in the richness of the land. This farm-to-table imagery portrays an image of bountiful generosity, not unlike the joyous Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol or C. S. Lewis’s Father Christmas showering the creatures of Narnia with gifts and leaving springtime in his wake.
The LORD also bestows His bounty;
our land yields its produce.
Justice goes before Him
as He sets out on His way.
God, YHWH, comes in generosity, blessing the land with fruitful bounty, and this abundant generosity is found in the wake of God’s justice, which we have just reflected on as a concept inseparable from faithfulness, truth, peace, and love. The imagery in Psalm 85 captures the heart of a generous spirit.
Coming Up on An Advent Psalm Reflection
Tomorrow, I will read Psalm 85 in light of the accompanying liturgical readings.
You can find the entire series, along with a link to the readings on the Advent Psalm Reflections page.
*The translations are JPS from Sefaria.org
Dr. Erica Mongé-Greer, holding a PhD in Divinity from the University of Aberdeen, is a distinguished researcher and educator specializing in Biblical Ethics, Mythopoeia, and Resistance Theory. Her work focuses on justice in ancient religious texts, notably reinterpreting Psalm 82’s ethics in the Hebrew Bible, with her findings currently under peer review.
In addition to her academic research, Dr. Mongé-Greer is an experienced University instructor, having taught various biblical studies courses. Her teaching philosophy integrates theoretical discussions with practical insights, promoting an inclusive and dynamic learning environment.
Her ongoing projects include a book on religious themes in the series Battlestar Galactica and further research in biblical ethics, showcasing her dedication to interdisciplinary studies that blend religion with contemporary issues.