“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10).
If God demanded righteous according to truth without mercy there could be no peace. This is true because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
If God only cared about mercy and peace, then truth and righteousness would be neglected. There would be little incentive for righteous behavior.
Tom Wacaster comments, “In human governments, the balance between truth and mercy are difficult to achieve. If punishment is inflicted to the full measure, then there is no mercy shown, and hopelessness sets in. On the other hand, if mercy is shown and justice is ignored, the unlawful go unpunished and lawlessness reigns. It is only in the Divine government that mercy and truth come together in exact proportion” (Wacaster, The Songs and Devotions of David, Vol. 4, p. 221).
Many believe that these things ultimately and perfectly meet in Jesus Christ. Tom Wacaster comments, “It is only in the Divine government that mercy and truth come together in exact proportion. This finds its ultimate fulfillment in the atonement of Christ our Lord” (Wacaster, p.221). Adam Clark comments, “Truth requires righteousness; mercy calls for peace. They meet together on the way; one going to make inquisition for sin, the other to plead for reconciliation. Having met… their mutual claims are blended together in one common interest; on which peace and righteousness immediately embrace… Now where do these meet? In Christ Jesus. When were they reconciled? When He poured out His life on Calvary? (Clark’s Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 486). “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Righteousness and peace kiss. Albert Barnes comments, “As friends and lovers do; as they do who have been long separated; as they do who after having been alienated and estranged, are made friends again… they have now been united … and have embraced each other as friends do; that is, they blend together in beautiful harmony” (Barnes Notes, Vol. 4, p. 351).
God’s mercy does not out-run His truth. Tom Wacaster comments, “Mercy and truth are inseparably linked together. If God is to maintain His holy and righteous nature, mercy can only be extended so far as truth allows. He will never contradict His own word, nor will He grant mercy contrary to His divine promises” (Wacaster, p.221). He means what He says. He does not lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:1-2). He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
“Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase” (Psalm 85:11-12).
God provides what man needs. Albert Barnes comments, “There is not an intended contrast between the two clauses of this verse, as if truth came from the earth, and righteousness from heaven; but the idea is that they would come in a manner that might be compared with the way in which God’s other abundant blessings are bestowed, as springing on the one hand from the fertility of the earth, and on the other hand from the rain, the dew, and the sun-beam” (Barnes, pp. 350-351). God provides His word; man must provide the right type of heart (cf. Luke 8:11-15). Through God’s provisions, man can be saved (Romans 1:16).
Some see this as a reference to the fullness of truth which came through Jesus. Tom Wacaster comments, “Perhaps we are being somewhat bold to suggest that this is a prophetic reference to the coming Messiah. Did not He say that He is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6)? Who would argue that God’s mercy and truth met ultimately in Christ?… If the language is NOT prophetic, it certainly finds its greatest application in Jesus our redeemer” (Wacaster, p. 222).
“Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our path” (Psalm 85:13).
Some believe that this foresees John’s ministry. Albert Barnes comments, “The idea seems to be, that in order to his appearing, there would be a proclamation of righteousness, and a preparation for his advent by the diffusion of righteousness among the people… Thus John proclaimed the coming of the Redeemer, ‘Repent ye, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Barnes, p. 351). Tom Wacaster comments, “Our opinion is that there is a prophetic note here concerning the work of John the Baptist” (Wacaster, p. 223).
Others believe that this refers to Jesus’ ministry. James Burton Coffman comments, “This says that righteousness shall go before God; and the only time that ever happened on earth was in the instances in which Jesus Christ lived his life during the incarnation before God during his earthly ministry” (Coffman, web link) Adam Clark also is of this opinion (Clark, p. 487). He references Romans 3:25, which reads, “Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).
While we may have some uncertainty about some specific details, the basic message is clear. God is a God of truth and righteousness; God is also a God of mercy and peace. There is absolute unbending truth. There is also the offer of mercy contained within this truth. Moreover, the Bible teaches that the ultimate fulfillment of these things is found in Jesus Christ (whether or not such He is primarily in view in this context).