Psalm 86 A Prayer of David - Calling upon God in the Day of Trouble
Introduction Psalm eighty six is one of the five Psalms in the Psalter that bear the title of a prayer. The others are Psalm seventeen, ‘A prayer of David’; Psalm ninety, ‘A prayer of Moses the Man of God’; Psalm one hundred and two, ‘A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD’, and Psalm one hundred and forty two, ‘Maschil of David, when he was in the cave; a Prayer’. Also, it is the only Psalm bearing David’s name in Book III.
Despite its title, scholars question whether David actually composed this Psalm. The title, it is suggested, may be simply indicating a Psalm after the Davidic tradition of prayers and that it offers little new or different from earlier and other Psalms of David. It is assumed that the content of the Psalm has therefore been brought together on the basis of what has been written elsewhere. So, according to this view, while the content may be David like, someone else was the composer. It is acknowledged though, that the beauty of the Psalm is in the ‘mosaic’ arrangement of the phrases and truths which the psalmist brings together to form this prayer.
However, just because the Psalm repeats and reflects what David wrote elsewhere hardly seems a sufficient reason to deny his authorship. As Spurgeon wrote:
‘David composed it, and no doubt often expressed himself in similar language; both the matter and the wording are suitable to his varied circumstances and expressive of the different characteristics of his mind. In many respects it resembles Psalm 17:1-15, which bears the same title, but in other aspects it is very different; the prayers of a good man have a family likeness, but they vary as much as they agree’ (Treasury of David, C. H. Spurgeon).
Derek Kidner, who in his introduction to the Psalms gives a succinct and excellent rebuttal to critical scholars regarding the authenticity and antiquity of titles in the Psalms, says of Psalm eighty six: ‘This is, in more senses than one, a lonely prayer of David, the only poem of his in the third book. Its form is simple, with an opening and closing supplication punctuated by a deliberate act of praise—deliberate, because the final verses reveal no abatement of the pressure, and no sign, as yet, of an answer’ (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary – TOTC Vol 16 Psalms 73–150, An Introduction And Commentary, Derek Kidner).
In our consideration of the Psalm, we will accept what the title conveys, that David is indeed the author of this earnest and yet elegant prayer just as he is of almost half of the Psalter.
One other thing to mention before moving to the detail of the Psalm. Why does this Psalm, the only one in Book III bearing David’s name, appear in the middle of this second collection of Psalms for the sons of Korah? If it was, like the others around it, complied for the sons of Korah you would expect it to say so, but that is not the case. Psalm eighty six however, may well be located here because it continues the theme of an appeal for ‘mercy’ based on the LORD’s covenant faithfulness. Psalm eighty five is a national lament for His mercy while Psalm eighty six is an appeal to know it personally. Psalm eighty six certainly is a prayer according to the assurance that ‘His salvation is nigh them that fear Him’ as stated in Psalm eighty five verse nine. Another suggestion is that the truth expressed in Psalm eight six verse nine anticipates what is unfolded in Psalm eighty seven when Zion will be exalted and the Gentile nations reckoned as belonging to her. It is then that they will worship before the LORD and glorify His Name.
Perhaps both of these themes, the LORD’s covenant mercy and the worship of the nations, place David’s prayer appropriately between Psalm eighty five and eighty seven.
Once again, I suggest a threefold division of the Psalm to help us in our understanding of its message and truth:
Vs 1-7 – The Call of a Humble Servant – LORD Hear Me Vs 8-13 – The Commitment of a Grateful Servant – LORD Teach Me Vs 14-17 – The Confidence of a Persecuted Servant – LORD Show Me
The reason for this three titled outline is that the psalmist supplication for divine grace in preservation expressed in verses one to seven and again in verses thirteen to seventeen ‘frame’ the central part of his prayer which consists of a hymn of praise (vs 8-10) leading to a vow of thanksgiving (vs 11-12).
Vs 1-7 – The Call of a Humble Servant – LORD Hear Me
David is in deep need, as he so often was in his fugitive years. In summary, in this first section and again in the third he is appealing with all earnestness for divine favour (vs 3, 16) to be known in divine deliverance (vs 2, 16) from the godless, who he describes as ‘proud’ and ‘violent’ (v 14). The background to the Psalm then is one of persecution.
A summary of the three main ideas in this first section (vs 1-7) are:
Vs 1-4 – His Cry to the LORD V 5 – His Confidence in the LORD Vs 6-7 – His Conviction before the LORD
Vs 1-4 – His Cry to the LORD
David is needing and desiring the manifestationof divine grace and so he prays: “Be merciful [or gracious] unto me, O Lord” (v 3). Knowing deliverance through divine favour will rejoice his presently distressed soul (v 4), a distress which causes him to cry ‘all the day’ and ‘lift up’ his ‘soul’ to his Lord in expectation that deliverance will come (vs 3-4). He appeals daily for, I suggest, three things from the LORD which will manifest His favour toward him and in so doing, he gives God three sound reasons why He should act for him. David prays for:
The LORD’s compassion in answering him because he is ‘poor and needy’ (vs 1).
The LORD’s faithfulness in preserving him because he is ‘holy’ or ‘beloved’ (v 2a).
The LORD’s power in saving him because he ‘trusts’ in God (v 2b).
It is always important to observe the names and titles for God used in the Psalms or anywhere else in the Old Testament. David here addresses God by using four different titles. He is the LORD, Jehovah (vs 1, 6, 11, 17). He begins and ends his prayer addressing God by His personal Name. As Jehovah He is the all-powerful, unchanging LORD of eternity and history. Also, he is Adonay that is sovereign Lord or Master (vs 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 15). This is particularly significant in this Psalm because David is speaking as ‘Thy servant’ (vs 2, 4, 16); therefore his prayer is made in the context of a servant and Lord Relationship. Thirdly he speaks of God as in Elohim (vs 2, 10, 12, 14). Elohim is plural and points to the majesty and glory of God as well as His plurality. Finally he addresses God once as El (v 15) and this title indicating that He is God all powerful.
So the Psalm begins, “Bow down Thine ear, O LORD, hear me”. He uses a similar expression at verse six, “Give ear, O LORD, unto my prayer” and at verse sixteen he says: “Turn unto me, and have mercy upon me”. The latter suggests, as we will see later, the idea of ‘turn Thy face toward me to look upon me in grace’.
This section then is framed with the Psalmist appealing for the LORD’s attention. He prays first that He would ‘bow down’ His ear (v 1) and then that He would ‘give ear’ (v 6). “Bow down Thine ear” is an appeal to the LORD to ‘incline’ His ear in order to hear and answer David’s prayer (Cp. 2 Kgs 19:16; Psa 17:6; 40:1). The LORD said to Moses: “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth Mine hand upon Egypt” (Ex 7:5). Stretch translates the same word that is here translated as ‘bow down’. David is saying to the LORD ‘stretch’ down to me, extend or bend toward me. ‘Give ear’ at verse six means ‘to listen’, he wants the LORD to ‘attend’ or pay attention to the voice of his supplications, thus to listen carefully to him. Putting these two expressions together we see that David is saying, LORD extend down toward me and listen to me carefully.
David prays as one who is ‘poor’ or afflicted because of persecution and ‘needy’ as one without the personal resources of strength or ability to meet his own need and bring about his own salvation. He is dependent upon the LORD for deliverance. He needs in his humility and before the face of an arrogant and strong adversary, God’s compassion.
And so David prays: “O Thou my God, save Thy servant that trusteth in Thee”. He, as a trusting, servant appeals for divine power in deliverance from the danger he faces and the distress he is in. He expects, waits and longs for God to save him.
V 5 – His Confidence in the LORD
David prays with assurance because of what his Lord is like. He prays according to God’s self-revelation. In the previous message on Psalm eighty five we stressed the significance of the LORD’s ‘mercy’ because of His covenant faithfulness based upon the revelation of His great Name which is reflected in David’s prayer (vs 5, 15). The LORD proclaimed His Name to Moses in Mount Sinai:
‘And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness [lovingkindness], and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation”’ (Ex 34:6-7 Bold words are the same as in Psa 85:7, 10; 86:5, 13, 15 translated ‘mercy’, this significant word conveying the LORD’s lovingkindness or steadfast love).
David is not claiming any sense of merit or deserving before his Lord. He is conscience of his own failings and need for forgiveness, but as one who calls upon a gracious God, he is assured that He is ‘good and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee’ (vs 5, 15).
Vs 6-7 – His Conviction before the LORD
David is sure that the LORD will answer him as he has prayed (v 1). The Revised Standard Version translates verse seven, “In the day of my trouble I call on thee, for thou dost answer me”. David said elsewhere: ‘This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles’ (Psa 34:6) and ‘In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears’ (Psa 18:6).
GOD IS THE GREATEST LISTENER. David appealed for the LORD’s attention, he needed His ear, and he needed Him to listen. All of us know the benefit of confiding in someone we trust and can trust in times of trial and difficulty. Just being able to tell our troubles to a listening ear brings relief to the mind and comfort to the soul. A good listener listens! He or she does so respectfully, carefully, but above all sympathetically. It doesn’t mean they have answers or can solve the difficulties, but the fact they are there to talk to when needed is everything. But, even the best of human friends have limits. One thing though is sure, the greatest listener of all is there for us even when no one else is. What a comfort it was to the psalmist and it is to us knowing that we can at any time and in every situation appeal to God to ‘lend us His ear’ and tell Him our burdens. To quote again David’s words from Psalm thirty four, ‘the eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry’ (Psa 34:15). But it’s not only that God is there and that He listens, He hears the prayers of his people, yes even our whispers and words of our hearts. Remember Hannah, ‘she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard’ (1 Sam 1:13). God listens as He did to Hannah, He hears, He knows, He understands and even greater still, He cares. As believers in the church age, we have a comfort and privilege greater than that ever known by Old Testament saints. Whether in persecution, grief, pain or discouragement we are assured of what Paul writes to the saints in Rome:
‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God’ (Rom 8:26-27).
And of what the writer to the Hebrews said:
‘Seeing then that we have a Great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need’ (Heb 4:14-16).
The well-known hymn tells us:
What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a Friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness, Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge-- Take it to the Lord in prayer; Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer; In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.
Joseph Scriven (1819-1886).
Vs 8-13 – The Commitment of a Grateful Servant – LORD Teach Me
Two things stand out in this section. David first expresses his adoration as he considers who his God is as opposed to all other supposed gods (vs 8-10). Then he expresses his submission to Jehovah in whose way he will walk and whose name he will glorify (vs 11-13).
Vs 8-10 – The Adoration of a Worshipful Heart
None like Thee (vs 8, 10) When Moses and Israel crossed the Red Sea they sang a song of victory in which they proclaimed: “Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Ex 15:11) and David said in response the LORD’s covenant promise to him: “Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like Thee, neither is there any God beside Thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears” (2 Sam 7:22).
The proof and evidence of the first line of verse eight is what is stated in the second line. The works of his Lord demonstrate His reality, glory and sovereignty. His works of judgment and of salvation from the Exodus to the Conquest and throughout Israel’s history declared Him as absolutely supreme and all powerful. He said to Moses concerning that fateful night of judgment in Egypt: “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” (Ex 12:12).
God is without rival. He has no peers. He has no equals. He alone is God: ‘“To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal?” saith the Holy One’ (Isa 40:25). There is no one for as David says, “Thou art God alone” (v 10). All the gods of nations then and now are gods of human imagination and satanic deception; Jehovah is alone the God of revelation. He is the God who is really there, who has really spoken and who has really revealed His power and glory! “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa 45:22). The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians: ‘As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him’ (1 Cor 8:4-6).
Glorifying Thy Name (v 9) The nations will yet worship and glorify the Name of the Lord. God has made of one blood all nations (Acts 17:26). Thank God for the spread of the gospel in this present era and its effect among the nations of earth. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples before His ascension: “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk 24:46-47). There is a voice of worship rising from them today, but it is ever the voice of a small minority among the millions that make up their number. A day is coming when that will change as is indicated here by David. Polytheism and the darkness of paganism will be eradicated. Atheism and humanism that dominates western culture and thinking will fade away. The Gentile nations will come to the LORD and glorify His Name.
This will happen when the ‘Monarch of the smitten cheek’, to borrow a line from William Blane’s poem, will finally bear the glory.
We read in Isaiah chapter forty one how the LORD through His prophet challenges the nations in the darkness of their idolatry to prove their gods are real and to the gods they worship He says: “Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you” (Isa 41:23-24). Then He says this: “For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counsellor that, when I asked of them, could answer a word. Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion” (Isa 41:28-29).
The question then arises, what hope is there for the nations of earth? Who will illuminate their minds from the grip of superstition and the darkness of deception? Who will bring light and justice where darkness and injustice reign? The LORD has the answer. His beloved Son and Servant:
‘Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth; I have put My Spirit upon Him: He shall bring forth judgment [justice] to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment [justice] unto truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for His law’ (Isa 42:1-4).
Yes, the assurance to this Servant is: “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee, and give Thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa 42:6-7).
This mighty Servant of the LORD, our Lord Jesus, fulfilled the first stage of His mission by His Incarnation and work of Redemption on the Cross. He who will wear the crown of glory and bring the nations to His feet and the worship of the one true God, endured first the Cross of shame and suffering. Isaiah poignantly speaks to, and of the Servant:
‘As many were astonied at Thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men … But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed’ (Isa 52:14; 53:5).
But the Servant, who was marred beyond human likeness, will accomplish and complete mission: “Behold, My servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high” (Isa 52:12).
The outcome of the sufferings of Christ so powerfully depicted in Psalm twenty two will be that ‘all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee’ (Psa 22:27). Isaiah again ‘paints the beautiful picture’ of that coming day of the kingdom: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’ (Isa 2:2-4).
In New York City, the Ralph Bunche Park situated across from the United Nations Headquarters on First Avenue, is home to the Isaiah Wall. On the curve of the wall along the granite staircase leading to 43rd Street are etched the words of Isaiah chapter two verse four. However, the first part of the verse is left out: ‘And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people’. Evidently the designers wanted to highlight the sentiment of the part quoted. Fair enough, but the nations will learn that true peace as depicted so powerfully by Isaiah, cannot be achieved without the LORD. The United Nations won’t and can’t accomplish it, only the ‘Prince of Peace’ will bring healing and peace to the world and only those who believe in Him will enjoy it.
The prophet Malachi writes: ‘“For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My Name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure offering: for My Name shall be great among the heathen”, saith the LORD of hosts’ (Mal 1:11). Well does David say: “For Thou art great, and doest wondrous things: Thou art God alone” (v 10).
Vs 11-13 – The Submission of a Devoted Heart
Teach me Thy Way (v 11) As the nations will say in that future day, “He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths” (Isa 2:3) so David says: “Teach me Thy way, O LORD; I will walk in Thy truth”. David desires to be taught the way of the LORD and guided by His word so as to walk in His truth. He wants to live according to the will of the LORD and in harmony with Him.
To the Hebrew mind, the heart stands for the inner person, the centre of being representing the thoughts, will and emotions. So he prays: “Unite my heart to fear Thy name” or as the New English Translation reads: “Make me wholeheartedly committed to you”. He wanted his heart to be united around one focus, namely His Lord and reverence for His Name. He didn’t want his thoughts, desires and affections to be pulled and distracted by other objects and things.
I will Praise Thee (vs 12-13) David is committed to praising His Lord with, he says, “All my heart” and honouring His Name continually. His reason: “For Your lovingkindness toward me is great, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (NASB). He had been delivered from death, from the realm of the dead. His life had been persevered and he was sure it would be again. David, as we all do, owed God everything.
Vs 14-17 – The Confidence of a Persecuted Servant - LORD Show Me
V 14 – The Hunters
David now identifies the cause for his prayer and his deep dependence upon God. ‘Proud’ and ‘violent’ men who fear not God and who ‘hate’ David (v 17), are risen up and seeking his life. They want to destroy him. This could well be describing Saul and his followers who in his madness pursued and hunted David to slay him. Proud and violent sinners in their arrogance persecute the godly still. David’s enemies disregarded God and despised His servant. Their hatred of the LORD’s anointed was so great they wanted him dead. So it was for great David’s greater Son and so it is for those associated with His Name. The Lord Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20). What marked David’s enemies still marks men in rebellion against God. They are proud in their sins, violent in their actions and have no regard for the sanctity of life.
Vs 15-17 – The Hunted
David again, as he has done earlier, prays for his Lord’s gracious deliverance because he is assured by LORD’s covenant faithfulness (vs 5, 15). He asks “O turn unto me”. Previously he appealed for the LORD to extend his ear toward him and hear (vs 1, 6), now he prays for God to show him His face and look graciously upon him in his need.
He desires to see “a token for good” (v 17). God delivering His servant in His grace and by His power would show his enemies that Jehovah is his helper and comforter. This would shame them and tell them they are doomed for they are fighting not against David, but against the LORD.
Saul of Tarsus learnt that reality on the Damascus road: “Who art Thou, Lord?” he asked. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” he was answered (Acts 9:5). Persecution of believers is persecution of their Saviour. In conclusion, let us take courage by remembering that as we are on the Lord’s side, He is on ours. We read in the epistle to the Hebrews:
‘Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”. So that we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me”’ (Heb 13:5-6).
May we be encouraged through this meditation.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from the King James Version.