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Deeper Commentary


Psa 86:1

A Prayer by David.
Hear, Yahweh, and answer me, for I am poor and needy-
David had seen himself as "poor and needy", needing grace after his sin with Bathsheba and its consequences (Ps. 40:17; 70:5; 86:1; 109:16,22). He wished Solomon to likewise have pity on the "poor and needy" amongst the Gentiles, those who had likewise repented (Ps. 72:13). And David was especially desirous to himself see the "poor and needy" blessed and accepted as he had been (Ps. 82:3,4; 113:7). It is our personal experience of needing grace which leads us to have a heart for those like us, the poor and needy. Any other motivation will ultimately not abide. Solomon appears to glorify his mother Bathsheba for likewise pitying the poor and needy (Prov. 31:9,20).

Psa 86:2

Preserve my soul, for I am Godly. You, my God, save Your servant who trusts in You-
Psalm 86 is a Psalm where David constantly speaks of his need for God’s forgiveness (Ps. 86:3,5,15,16). And yet David in the same Psalm can say: “Preserve my soul; for I am holy” (Ps. 86:2). He again has this sense of his own integrity and imputed righteousness, in the midst of realizing his need for God’s grace and forgiveness.   David's repentance is a pattern for ours, day by day. See on Ps. 41:12.

Psa 86:3

Be merciful to me Lord, for I call to You all day long-
Prayer is part of the atmosphere of spiritual life, not something hived off and separate- it is an expression of our spirit. Thus there are verses which speak of many daily prayers as being just one prayer (Ps. 86:3,6; 88:1,2); prayer is a way / spirit of life, not something specific which occurs for a matter of minutes each day. The commands to "pray without ceasing" simply can't be literally obeyed (1 Thess. 5:17). "Watch and pray always" in the last days likewise connects prayer with watchfulness, which is an attitude of mind rather than something done on specific occasions. This is not to say that prayer in no sense refers to formal, specific prayer. Evidently it does, but it is only a verbal crystallization of our general spirit of life.

Psa 86:4

Bring joy to the soul of Your servant, for to You, Lord, do I lift up my soul-
There is a repeated Biblical theme that the believer's relationship with the Father too is essentially mutual. David lifts himself up to God (Ps. 25:1; 28:2; 86:4), and asks God to lift up Himself in response (Ps. 7:6; 10:12; 94:2).

Psa 86:5

For You, Lord, are good and ready to forgive; abundant in grace to all those who call on You-
As noted on :1, David feels he can say he is "holy" ["Godly"], and yet feels in need of forgiveness and grace. His sense of holiness was therefore because he believed righteousness could be imputed. Or we could conclude that one can still feel basically "Godly" even when having sinned and needing forgiveness.

Psa 86:6

Hear, Yahweh, my prayer; listen to the voice of my petitions-
David's prayer for help in time of trouble (:7) was therefore associated with a feeling the need for forgiveness (:5). Presumably this Psalm dates from a time when he faced distress and danger as a consequence of his sin with Bathsheba. He believed his sin had been forgiven, and at the time rejoiced in the grace shown him. And yet he still feels the need to ask for forgiveness. This is not necessarily a collapse of faith (although it could be). Rather is it a quite normal abiding realization that he has sinned and needs forgiveness. Just as we may sin against a person and be forgiven, and yet still feel the need later to again ask their forgiveness for that sin. This is not necessarily a lack of faith in the forgiveness granted, but a quite natural abiding awareness of our status before that person.

Psa 86:7

In the day of my trouble I will call on You, for You will answer me-
See on :6. He asks God to save him in the language of Israel’s Red Sea deliverance, speaking of it as “the day of my trouble” (Ps. 86:7,8 = Ex. 15:11). He saw how their circumstances and his were in principle the same; he personalized the Scripture he had read. Likewise David invites us to come and see the works God did at the Red Sea, commenting: “there did we rejoice in him” (Ps. 66:5,6).

The intention of David's Psalms was to share his experience of God's grace and salvation with others. This Psalm is very clear- David is saying 'May this be true for you as it was for me'. And this is really the basis of all our witness. It was David who had been answered in his 'days of trouble', and set on high (Ps. 20:1). His desire was fulfilled- for this verse of the Psalm clearly was reapplied to the "day of trouble" of the Assyrian invasion (s.w. Is. 37:3) and also to the Babylonian traumas of the exiles (s.w. Jer. 16:19; 30:7; Nah. 1:7; Hab. 3:16). See on Ex. 25:8.

 "Troubles" is the word used of Jacob's time of trouble (Gen. 35:3; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1). David's experience of trouble was representative of how the exiles and all God's people could ultimately follow the path of Jacob to deliverance out of exile and from his strong enemies. But in Ps. 71:20 David sees his deliverance from the day of trouble as ultimately being in the resurrection of the body, being 'brought up again from the depths of the earth'.

Psa 86:8

There is no one like You among the gods, Lord, nor any deeds like Your deeds-
This is a tacit recognition that there was a tendency to idolatry at David's time; and through this song he teaches against this. His argument is that Yahweh is so great that if there are any other gods around, they are insignificant. Likewise the Lord Jesus didn't state in so many words that demons don't exist; but the scale of His miracles indicated that even if they did they were effectively powerless. See on :10.

Psa 86:9

All nations You have made will come and worship before You, Lord. They shall glorify Your name-
David was perhaps the greatest example of all the Old Testament figures of wanting to see the conversion of the Gentiles, implicit as it was within the promises to Abraham. And he used his music ministry to try to spread this message. He makes this request in the context of asking for forgiveness (see on :6), and so many of the Bathsheba Psalms feature this desire to use his sin and forgiveness as an opportunity to reach out to the entire world with the message of God's grace for them.

Psa 86:10

For You are great, and do wondrous things-
As discussed on Ps. 71:19, the "great / wondrous things" performed by God were His forgiveness and salvation of a condemned sinner like David (see on :6,9). This is described in Ps. 71:19 as God doing "great things", the phrase used of the great things worked in visible miracles in Egypt (Ps. 106:21) and at creation (Ps. 136:7). But the forgiveness of people like David is no less a great miracle. Such great things are done because of His mercy / grace (Ps. 136:4).

You alone are God-
As noted on :8, this is a tacit recognition that there was a tendency to idolatry at David's time; and through this song he teaches against this.

Psa 86:11

Teach me Your way, Yahweh; I will walk in Your truth-
A passing sense of wonder at the night sky as a man glances at it for a few moments longer than usual one evening from his balcony... needs to lead to the questions in response to God's questions: Who or what is He? What is His Name, His hope for me, His ability... how should I respond? And the answers to those questions aren't in nature itself, but in God's word. "You are great and do wonders... teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in your way" (Ps. 86:10,11). The moments of wonder which God affords His creatures aren't intended to lead them into wild speculation; but rather to incite them to seek His revealed truth in His word.

Make my heart undivided to fear Your name-
See on :12. Again we see a clear faith in God's ability to work directly upon the human heart, giving us a new psychology. This is what we most urgently need, and is what the gift of the Holy Spirit is all about.
 "Undivided" is literally "one". Perhaps James is alluding here when he warns against having a double heart or mind (James 1:8).

Psa 86:12

I will praise You, Lord my God, with my whole heart; I will glorify Your name forever-
David has just asked for an undivided heart (:11), and so this promise to praise God with his "whole heart" is not because he considers he has a "whole heart". But he asks for it, and believes he will receive; and vows to give this heart to God.

Psa 86:13

For Your grace is great toward me, You have delivered my soul from the lowest Sheol-
The undivided heart David has asked for in :11 is because God's grace has been so great to him, in saving him from death. He wanted his heart to be totally full of awareness of God's grace, for ever (:12), far beyond just a passing gasp of gratitude for salvation from death. David believed death was unconsciousness, as we have often noted in the Psalms. Yet he appears to use a common term, "the lowest sheol", meaning the worst kind of death. As with the language of demons, or our usage of English words like "Monday" [moon day], language of the day can be used without actually believing in it.

Psa 86:14

God, the proud have risen up against me; a company of violent men have sought after my soul, and they don’t hold regard for You before them-
The reference may be to Saul and his men, or to the Absalom conspiracy. See on :6. The implication is that these men were not true believers in God; I noted on :8,10 David's concern that there was idolatry within Israel, and maybe this included Absalom.

Psa 86:15

But You, Lord, are a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in grace and truth-
"Mercy and truth" often refer to the promises made to Abraham. David appeals to basics in his desperate straits; the promises to Abraham, and the character of God as revealed to Moses in Ex. 34:4-6.

Psa 86:16

Show me a sign of Your goodness, that those who hate me may see it and be shamed, because You, Yahweh, have helped me and comforted me-
Again David is using the prophetic perfect, speaking of future things as if they are already received; for he asks in :17 for urgent attention and mercy from God. His request for some visible sign was in order that his enemies might be "shamed", and perhaps from that shame led to repentance.

Psa 86:17

Turn to me, and have mercy on me! Give Your strength to Your servant, save the son of Your handmaid
These words are true for David, and yet they have a strange appropriacy to the Lord Jesus in His time of desperate need. The Lord’s mind was upon His mother in His time of dying. The spirit of Christ speaks of "thy [male] servant... the son of thine handmaid" [female servant]- He saw the solidarity between Himself and His mother when on the cross, He felt they were both the servants of God. Ps. 86:8-17 has many references back to Mary's song. He had that song on His mind on the cross. Her example and her song which she had taught him as a little boy sustained His faith in the final crisis. This surely shows the value and power of the upbringing of children when young. In the Lord’s case, His mother’s influence sustained Him through the cruelest cross and deepest crisis any human being has ever had to go through. It was as if He was humming the song in His mind, which His dear mum had sung around the house as she cared for Him, cooked, sewed…