Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Psalm 85.9-10.
Psalm 85, from which this morning’s reading is taken, begins as a plea to God for a fresh start after a time of unfaithfulness and alienation — “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85.6). And the two verses quoted above introduce God’s response. Restoration is at hand. Salvation is on its way. A new age is dawning … and here in these verses we have a description of it.
It is an age when God’s “glory” will “dwell in the land.” Once, long ago, God’s glory had been seen by Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses had asked to see it. “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you … Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by'” (Exodus 33.18-22). Then “the LORD descended in the cloud and … passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness'” (Exodus 34.5-6). The glory of God, as seen by Moses, was the goodness of God “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” And that is what the glory of the Lord that will dwell in the land will be. “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet together” says the Psalmist.
The two words “love” and “faithfulness” in Hebrew are chesed and emeth. But here is the wonder. When they are translated into Greek they become charis and aletheia — grace and truth — because chesed is steadfast, unconditional, unmerited love and favour … grace, and emeth is stability, certainty, authenticity, faithfulness … truth. And where have I met those words “grace and truth” so many times before? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
The new age for which the Psalmist pleads … the age when God’s glory will “dwell in our land” and “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet together” has begun. It dawned as Jesus was born in Bethlehem and walked the dusty roads of Galilee “full of grace and truth”.
And what about tsedeq and shalom — “righteousness and peace”? The fundamental meaning of tsedeq is “that which conforms to the norm” … so, Biblically, it means that which matches the character of God himself. Was Jesus righteous? “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him,” Jesus said. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.7, 9). Jesus was the perfect expression of the invisible God. He was “the Righteous One” (Acts 3.14). And he was the bringer and giver of peace. “Peace I leave with you;” he says. “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14.7). Shalom is no mere absence of strife and conflict. Its fundamental meaning is “totality, completeness, wholeness”. It speaks of a life of soundness, harmony and wellbeing … a trustful life, free of anxiety and care, lived in oneness with God … the life of Jesus himself, lived in the life of human beings like me. It is in Jesus that righteousness and peace kissed each other.
The “kissing” is the clue to the picture the Psalmist has in mind in this morning’s verses. He sees the fallen, spoiled world. He pleads for God to bring renewal and restoration. And in his mind’s eye, he sees four mighty kings coming from the four corners of the earth and meeting together to usher in that new age. Here from the north comes King Steadfast Love. Here from the south comes King Faithfulness. Here from the east comes King Righteousness. And here from the west comes King Peace. And as they meet they embrace and, in my mind’s eye, I see them merge and become one … the Lord Jesus Christ … the King of Glory … come to bring the love of God, the faithfulness of God, the righteousness of God and the peace of God to the whole wide world!
As terrible conflicts rage in the Middle East, I need to remember that, amidst it all, hidden from sight so much of the time, the reality is that the new age the Psalmist looked for has indeed begun.