The author of this psalm was living in a time when things were low in a spiritual sense. Yet he was aware that such a state of affairs had existed before and that the Lord had restored his people previously. Therefore he prays that the Lord would restore them again. The psalmist makes it clear that spiritual deprivation is a judgement from the Lord against the sins of his people, Israel. He had been angry with them and punished them; still he loved them and wanted to restore them, which he did by forgiving their sins and hiding them from his sight (vv. 1-4).
We may wonder how sins can be hidden from an all-knowing God. They are hidden in the sense that they are covered through a provision of which God approves. The only adequate covering is the merits of the sacrifice of Jesus; through his atoning death, we can be forgiven, and then we are accepted by God.
The knowledge that God had been gracious in the past did not depress the psalmist regarding the present. He did not assume that all possibility of knowing God’s blessing had gone. Instead he used those past restorations as an argument for God to do it again. After all, God’s character had not changed. This was the case with regard to his response to their sin (he punished them), and the fact that he had acted in this way led the psalmist to expect that restoration could also be given to them. Therefore he prayed for another restoration.
God does not resent such a petition. Indeed it is a petition that he delights in because it focuses on his mercy. It is worth imitating the arguments that the psalmist uses in his prayer. He suggests that prolonged anger does not exalt the mercy of God. Nor does living in such a state produce joy in the Lord among his people. Therefore in order for his people to praise him, he must reveal his loving care for them and deliver them (vv. 4-7).
The psalmist knows the words that a restoring God will say – he will speak words of peace, assuring his restored people that they are forgiven. At the same time, he will warn them about the foolishness of departing from him again (v. 8).
What is such restoration like? The psalmist explains it in verses 9-13. He begins by observing that a sense of nearness and intimacy with God characterises those who have been restored. Spurgeon, in commenting on verse 9, says that ‘Faith knows that a saving God is always near at hand, but only (for such is the true rendering) to those who fear the Lord, and worship him with holy awe.’ What greater glory can there be than to have God as one’s closest companion! And when a church or a community experience restoration together, they enjoy something that can only be described as glorious.
In verses 10 and 11, the psalmist depicts four attributes of God happily working together to bless the restored Christian. Previously, when under judgement, God’s attributes seemed very threatening to his people. Now having been restored, they see that all of God is working on their behalf. That is what salvation is.
Because they have been restored, they can anticipate further supplies of divine blessing (vv. 12-13). Everywhere they go the outworkings of grace will be there in abundance. The Lord will lead them in the paths of righteousness as the Good Shepherd. What marvellous grace to restored backsliders!