It’s not certain when this psalm was written. Charles Spurgeon seems to have thought it was written by David, but I tend to agree with the scholars who say it was written after the Babylonian captivity.
The psalmist writes,
You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger. (1-3)
This could easily refer to God’s restoration of the people to the promised land after the 70 years of exile had passed. And yet, it seems it was still a time of trouble. The psalmist continues by pleading,
Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. (4-7)
Perhaps this was in reference to the fact that despite their return to the land, all was not yet well in Jerusalem. The walls were destroyed, and raiders often came in to wreck havoc among the people. (Nehemiah 1:1-3)
And so the psalmist prays for God’s mercy in the situation. But then he says something important. He said,
I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants — but let them not turn to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. (8-9)
So often we pray for mercy, but it would be well to remember that peace only comes to those who repent. We cannot ask for God’s mercy if we’re willfully turning our backs on him and returning to the sin that destroyed us in the first place.
This is not to say that God will wait until we are completely sinless before he shows us mercy. But he does want our hearts. He wants to know that we are taking steps in his direction, rather than continuing on our old path.
We may fall, but as long as we’re going in the right direction, he will help us up and keep leading us on.
And as we follow him, we’ll find blessing.
As the psalmist wrote,
The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (12-13)
I like how the New King James puts the last verse.
Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway.
How about you? Are you walking along the pathway of repentance?