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Psalm 85 While the whole of the Book provides God’s people with language for praise and mourning and prayer, I think Psalm 85 is especially tailored to the work of corporate worship. So imagine with me the congregation of Israel all standing and looking to a priest or some other leader in the Temple who will guide them through several “movements” of the service.

To begin, verse 1 remembers a time when God was “favorable” to His land, when He “restored” the fortunes of Jacob (NRSV). And though the first singers of this psalm were certainly referring to a specific event in their history (perhaps the return from Babylonian exile), it is impossible now to know for sure what they were talking about. Granted, one of the greatest tasks of the preacher is to discern an original context in order to make faithful applications of a text today, but the poetic genre of the psalms lends itself to be adapted to many situations and many times and many places.

Picking up at v2, the people continue to recall that God forgave and pardoned and withdrew His wrath and turned from anger. Note that these are all actions God completed in the past. This is important because Yahweh is a god who interacts with history. The only way God’s people have experienced Him or come to know about Him and His character is by witnessing God’s in-breaking of time itself. “What has God done,” right? Testimonies, therefore, are a crucial aspect of our worshiping life together. And in these first three verses, the whole congregation stands as a witness to God’s goodness.

Just as an aside, you might notice that word “Selah” in the margin of v2. It occurs seventy-one times in Psalms but its meaning is uncertain. Maybe it comes from the Hebrew “to lift up,” and so it is a direction for the community, at this point, to raise their eyes or their voice in song. Or maybe it means “to bend,” and so the people are supposed to either bow or kneel as an expression of humility. Or maybe it was just a cue to pause; maybe there was a musical interlude and the people were supposed to reflect and silently meditate. Whatever the case may be, a preacher might point out the fact that at least this psalm (and many others, of course) was intended for a corporate worship setting. It is something to be read/prayed/sung with other people, and so we need some direction to worship God well.

Getting back to where we left off, remember that the people have just borne wit