By James Boice
Theme: The Harmony That Only God Can Bring
In this week’s lessons we find encouragement from the knowledge of God’s past faithfulness, and the hope of future blessings because of who he is.
Scripture: Psalm 85:1-13
The devil is the great disrupter. He has brought disharmony to the universe. But God brings harmony. In these verses four great attributes of God meet together—love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace—and then like conquering generals they march side by side to a victory that is the sure and certain hope of God’s people. The stanza suggests three harmonies.
1. The harmony in God. When we speak of mercy and truth as well as righteousness and peace being reconciled in God because of the work of Jesus Christ, we imply that somehow they are in conflict. But the qualities in God are never in conflict, and the psalm is certainly not speaking of a conflict. On the contrary, love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace are always at home in God, and it is from this divine harmony that all other harmonies come. We have peace only when we rest in him.
2. Harmony between heaven and earth. The second harmony is between God and man, which is what verse 11 suggests when it speaks of faithfulness springing from the earth and righteousness looking down from heaven. We may see this as God’s gift of righteousness from above and our response of faith reaching up to receive God’s righteousness and then issuing in faithfulness. But the picture is probably not as specific as this. The verse is better seen as pointing to a state in which God’s people live in faithful obedience to God and are blessed by him. When that happens, salvation has indeed come to a people and the glory of God dwells in their land.
3. A harmony in man. The third harmony is in man himself. For these qualities—love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace—are not among the incommunicable attributes of God, meaning that they are uniquely God’s and cannot be shared with man. They are communicable qualities. They can be shared and therefore can and must appear in those who are God’s people. Moreover, when they appear in us, we find that we are at peace not only with God, but also with ourselves and one another. In fact, we become peacemakers in an otherwise cruel, warring and disharmonious world.
Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England between the execution of Charles I and the reestablishment of the monarchy under Charles II, loved the psalms, and one of the psalms he loved was this one. On September 16, 1656, he was reading Psalm 85 in Whitehall, the day before the meeting of the second Parliament of the Protectorate. It was a Tuesday. On Wednesday Parliament was opened, and Cromwell addressed the members with a talk based in part on these verses: “Yesterday I did read a psalm, which truly may not unbecome both me to tell you of and you to observe. It is the 85th Psalm; it is very instructive and significant; and though I do but a little touch upon it, I desire your perusal and pleasure.” He then expounded on these verses as an expression of his vision and hope that by their faithfulness to God righteousness might reign in England and a better, finer, happier and more harmonious age might come.1 That was never perfectly achieved, of course. But it was in part and still is wherever the people of God turn from their folly and are revived by him.
1Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904), p. 259.
- What four attributes of God are described in verses 10-13? How does the Bible define each one?
- Explain the three harmonies suggested in these verses.
Application: How is the Lord impressing upon you the need to demonstrate the four attributes mentioned today?
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