“Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.”
For years Israel turned away from God’s offers of help and His presence. He mightily brought them out of Egypt, and led them to the land that He had promised them. The occasions of His care for them are many including providing water from a rock and food in the form of bread from heaven. All the while, He appealed to them to look to Him, to trust in Him, to lean on Him for what they needed. The spectacular way He provided showed His ability to care for them.
But they refused Him. They were happy for His provision, but preferred to worship idols. For many years God warned them about what would happen if they did. He wasn’t trying to be harsh with them, He knew what was best for them. He wanted nothing but the best for them. But they ignored His warnings, and sought the idols of the nations. In fact, as they left Egypt, they brought the idols of Egypt with them.
Eventually, the LORD brought upon them all which He had warned He would. The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, and carried the residents to Babylon. In his prayer, Daniel said in Daniel 9:11, “Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore, the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.” What He said He would do, He did.
Through Jeremiah the Lord promised that the captivity would last 70 years. Daniel read this, and in Daniel 9 he prayed to the Lord with it in mind. And so, in Psalm 85:1 we read, “LORD, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.”
According to Psalm 85:2 and 3, God did four things for His people. Since mankind’s rebellion is against God, that He would even do these things is astounding. But He is the only one that can do anything to help us. He acted on behalf of Israel. He has done the same for the church.
First, the writer of the Psalm said that God had forgiven the iniquity of His people. Iniquity is intentionally doing that which God said not to do. The Israelites heard God speaking His law to them. And, the first commandment was they were to have no other gods before Him. This was what they had disobeyed, and the others, too. Ever since the law was given, all of humanity has disobeyed all of His commands. God’s law is the best thing for mankind. Do not lie, do not commit adultery, do not murder, and the rest would make this world better, if they were followed. Hebrews 10:12 says, “But this man, (Jesus) after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God…” This is the basis for forgiveness. Psalm 85:2 says God had forgiven them.
Then, Psalm 85:2 says that God covered all their sin. Sin is failing to do what should be done. David wrote in Psalm 32:1,2, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” What a blessing it is to have covered the sin of which we are guilty.
Psalm 85:3 adds, Thou hast taken away all thy wrath. Sins and iniquities have put mankind under God’s righteous wrath. He has the right to judge because it is His law that we have broken. Paul wrote in Romans 5:8,9, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
Finally, the author says in Psalm 85:3, Thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger. A man named Achan disobeyed the Lord’s command when Israel fought against Jericho. Because of his disobedience, Israel lost the battle at Ai. Judgment had to fall, and in Joshua 7:26 we read, “And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So, the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day.” Speaking of Israel, in Hosea 2:15 we read, “And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.” The valley of Achor, where God turned from the fierceness of His anger, is here called a door of hope. The sacrifice of Jesus, that place where God turned from the fierceness of His anger against our sin, is now a door of hope for mankind!
As said before, the most astounding thing is that each of these actions are ones that God took. Nothing mankind did had any part in it. God did it all. This is in keeping with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself was of His own volition. Had He not done so, we would still be in sin and iniquity, and under God’s wrath and anger.
God has done it all; forgiven the iniquity of His people, covered all their sin, taken away all His wrath, turned Himself from the fierceness of His anger. And, as the hymn says, Now cloudless peace for me.
O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A Victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.
Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.
The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me. (Anne R. Cousin)