Psalm 85

The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.

The composition, identified as a psalm, is attributed to the sons of Korah, probably meaning the descendants of the Levite who rebelled against the divinely granted authority of Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 16:1-3; 26:10, 11)

The psalmist acknowledged what YHWH had done in the past. He had been favorable to or taken delight in his land. This could have included the security and bountiful harvests the Israelites enjoyed. The restoration of Jacob’s “captivity” is probably to be understood to mean Israel’s restoration to a former condition of well-being, free from oppressive burdens or foreign domination.

The divine favor the Israelites experienced upon being liberated from an undesirable state indicated that God had forgiven their guilt (“lawlessness” or “lawless deeds, LXX), covering over all their sin. He had also ceased to be angry with them, turning away from his “burning anger” or rage.

The psalmist pleaded, “Turn us, O God of our deliverance, and nullify your indignation toward us.” This “turning” probably refers to a turning of the Israelites back to the secure and prosperous state of the past. They would then cease to be people with whom their God, to whom they looked for deliverance, was displeased or angry.

The unfavorable situation in which the Israelites found themselves seemingly was not a new development. This prompted the psalmist to raise the question as to whether God would continue to be angry for all time to come or prolong his anger from generation to generation.

It appears that the psalmist confidently looked to YHWH to make his people alive, refreshing them with his favor. This would make it possible for them gratefully to rejoice in him as their God, their dependable helper.

The psalmist prayed that YHWH would show his steadfast love, compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX) to his people and grant them deliverance, freeing them from their existing distress. Their deliverance would be an expression of God’s compassionate care for them.

The psalmist wanted to hear what YHWH would speak to him, confident that the message would be favorable for his people. God would speak “peace to his people, even to his holy ones.” This speaking of “peace” probably denotes promising well-being and security. To continue enjoying “peace” or well-being, the people would have to avoid turning back to folly or divinely disapproved ways. According to the extant text of the Septuagint, the people to whom God would speak peace are “holy ones” and “those turning [their] heart to him.”

For those fearing YHWH or having reverential regard for him, deliverance proved to be near. Deliverance would mean that “glory” would again dwell in the land of God’s people. This “glory” could refer to the splendor of a prosperous state. The other possibility is that the reference is to God’s glory, for he would again be with his people and his blessing would include the land.

As personifications of divine attributes, steadfast love, compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX) and “truth” would meet, assuring that God’s compassionate concern and his “truth,” unfailing dependability, or faithfulness would prevail in the land and be experienced by his people. Righteousness, uprightness, or justice and peace would “kiss each other,” as would friends when they meet. This would mean that the people could expect to be recipients of just and impartial treatment and live in peace or a secure state of well-being.

The situation would then be such that from every quarter the people would experience the beneficent effects of God’s attributes. “Truth,” faithfulness, dependability, or trustworthiness would spring from the ground as does vegetation. From the heavens or the sky, “righteousness,” uprightness, or justice would look down.

YHWH would be giving what is good (kindness, LXX), and the land would be producing abundantly. It would then be as if righteousness, uprightness or justice marched before him and cleared the way for his steps. This could indicate that divine justice would prepare the way for all the blessings that would follow. (For additional comments, see the Notes section.)


Concerning the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

Verse 2(3) ends with “selah,” a transliterated term of uncertain significance. The Septuagint rendering is diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.”

In the Masoretic Text, the concluding verse literally reads, “Justice [or, righteousness] before his face will go and set his footsteps in [the] way [or, for a way].” This verse has been rendered in various ways. “Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.” (ESV) “Righteousness, before him, shall march long, — that he may make, into a way, the steps of its feet.” (Rotherham) “Righteousness will go before the LORD and prepare the path for him.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Justice goes before Him as He sets out on His way.” (Tanakh) “Justice will march in front, making a path for you to follow.” (CEV) “Justice will walk before him, treading out a path.” (NJB) “Prosperity will march before the Lord, and good fortune will follow behind.” (NAB) “Justice will go in front of him, and peace on the path he treads.” (REB)