Psalms 86
Psalm 86 Kingcomments Bible Studies


The remnant of the ten tribes is back in Israel (Psalm 84). Inner restoration has taken place (Psalm 85). Psalm 86 shows us what takes place in their hearts during this tribulation, just as with Hezekiah in Isaiah 38.

The psalm begins in Psa 86:1-7 and ends in Psa 86:14-17 with the distress of this remnant. In between is the desire of the remnant to know better the ways of the LORD (Psa 86:11) and their thanksgiving (Psa 86:12). That is, in fact, the focal point of this psalm.

Their distress is caused by Assyria which is used as a disciplinary rod (Isa 10:5) to test Israel. It has to answer the question of Psalm 121: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come?” (Psa 121:1).

Prayer in Trouble

For “a Prayer of David” (Psa 86:1a) see at Psalm 17:1.

This psalm is the only psalm of David in the third book of Psalms. David, the man after God’s heart, is a type of the remnant of Israel which is now being tested. David has sinned and is disciplined for it, but he repents and is restored.

Psalm 85 is about the inner restoration of the people as a whole; in Psalm 86 we find an individual testing resulting in personal restoration. Indeed, the confidence of faith must be present in each believer personally. He or she must be able to say: the LORD is my Shepherd (Psa 23:1; cf. Gal 2:20).

David is in great distress, he is “afflicted and needy” (Psa 86:1b; cf. Isa 38:14). “Afflicted and needy” is an expression that refers both to the condition of the Lord Jesus on earth and to the condition of the remnant in the end time, with whom the Lord identifies Himself (cf. Psa 69:29; Psa 109:22; Zep 3:12). The Lord Jesus speaks at length about this condition in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

David is physically afflicted and lacks spiritual strength. In such a situation a person can do no better than turn to God. That is what David does. In his prayer, he turns to the “LORD”, Yahweh. With this he appeals to the faithfulness of God to His covenant with him.

He asks Him to incline His ear. That is an appeal to His benevolence to listen to him. He also asks Him to hear him. That is an appeal to His saving, redeeming power to deliver him from his distress. His prayer is marked by great insistence, but not by compulsion. He is a supplicant, not a claimant. This is the proper mind for drawing near to God.

He asks for the preservation of his soul, that is of his life. His pleading ground is who he is before God: His “godly man” (Psa 86:2a). “Godly man” in Hebrew is chasid, which means one who is faithful to the covenant, which is the new covenant. It is one who takes refuge in the blood of the new covenant, the blood of Christ, and on that basis trusts in the LORD (Psa 86:2b). That is the pleading ground of the psalmist. This is how David approaches God and asks for His protection. It is not about merit, but about what is the basis of the relationship.

The awareness of God’s favor does not make him haughty, but humble and little. He knows that the almighty God is his God and that he is His “servant” (cf. 2Sam 7:5). He does not serve God by force, but willingly. Those who realize that they are in God’s favor will want to serve Him out of gratitude. In his service for God, David trusts in the LORD. To Him David asks that He redeems or saves him. This is the meaning of the name Jesus: ”the LORD saves”.

The remnant of Israel here takes the title “servant” of the LORD (Psa 86:2; 4; 16). To understand this, it is necessary to see that this title is used in three ways in the book of Isaiah.
Firstly, in Isaiah 40-48 we find Israel as the failing servant of the LORD.
Secondly, in Isaiah 42 and Isaiah 49-61 we find Christ as the perfect Servant of the LORD.
Finally, in Isaiah 62-66 we find the remnant as the servants of the LORD, connected with the perfect Servant.

Here in Psalm 86 we find the remnant as the servants of the LORD, putting their trust in the Lord, Adonai, the sovereign Ruler. Then in Psalm 87 we hear what the LORD says about the remnant.

David asks the “Lord”, Adonai, to be “gracious” to him (Psa 86:3). He addresses God seven times in his prayer with Adonai (Psa 86:3; 4; 5; 8; 9; 12; 15). This word is contrasted with “servant”. A servant serves his master and commander (Adonai), while also being able to count on the protection of his master. The Lord, Adonai, is good to His servants. God, Elohim, is good toward His creatures. The LORD, Yahweh, the God of the covenant and faithfulness to it, is good toward His godly ones.

The name Adonai emphasizes the incomparable greatness of God. David is deeply aware that only that great Ruler can deliver him from his distress. He is also aware that God is not obligated to do so. Therefore he asks God to be gracious to him. He does not stop asking Him, he cries out to Him “all day long”. This also shows the trust that he has in God’s response.

When that Lord, Adonai, delivers him, He will thereby make glad his soul (Psa 86:4). Once more David calls himself “Your servant”. He serves God with joy. At the same time he indicates how much he knows himself to be dependent on Him. God is the Lord and he is His servant. That is why he lifts up his soul to Him. Only He can help and make him happy.

David knows the sovereign Ruler – whom he again addresses as such (Adonai) – as One Who is “good” (Psa 86:5). It is useless to call upon a God who is not ‘good’. God is not an impassive ruler who stands far above worldly events and certainly above puny human beings. No, He is “good”. That is His Being toward His creation and people and especially toward His servants who call upon Him.

Up to this point the psalmist has prayed on the basis of his condition – afflicted and needy (Psa 86:1b) – because he was a godly man (Psa 86:2a), because he trusted in the LORD as a servant (Psa 86:2b), because he calls out to the LORD all day long (Psa 86:3). In Psa 86:5 he gives a reason beyond himself: he prays on the basis of Who the LORD Himself is, namely that He is abundant in lovingkindness (chesed = covenant faithfulness).

He is “ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon” Him (cf. Exo 34:6). These attributes of the sovereign Ruler cannot fail to evoke admiration in the heart of the believer. So much tenderness and overwhelming readiness to bless is expressed here. God is not a hard, demanding God, but a forgiving and giving God. And that He is “to all who call upon” Him. Whoever is in need and calls upon Him, will come to know Him in this way.

When David has said this, he renews his prayer, turning again to the “LORD”, Yahweh (Psa 86:6). He asks him to “give ear” to his “prayer”. He does not whisper this prayer, but he lets hear “the voice of” his “supplications”. Surely God cannot keep His ears closed to these loud pleas? Surely He will pay attention to it?

“In the day of my trouble”, that is now, and every time there is such a day, he calls upon the LORD (Psa 86:7). It is a habit. God is his only refuge. All that surrounds him and all that is in him is distress, oppression. He can only cry out to God, because no one else can help him.

Then suddenly his soul seems to come to rest. He says to God: “For You will answer me.” This assurance is the basis of his crying out. It is the confidence that God is listening to his prayer. Otherwise, what sense does it make to cry out to God (cf. Jam 1:6-7)? This confidence is based on the fact that the psalmist knows the LORD, he knows His abundant lovingkindness (Psa 86:5). Therefore, he knows that God will most certainly answer his prayer. It is also God’s intention in our lives that days of trouble become days of prayer (cf. Psa 50:15).

No One Is Like You

Then David appeals again to the “Lord”, Adonai, the sovereign Ruler (Psa 86:8). But the distress is gone. Adonai is not to be compared with any god, by which may be meant both judges and idols (Psa 82:1; 6; 1Cor 8:5-6; cf. Exo 15:11). Nor are His works to be compared with any other. By this David is saying that God can do whatever he asks of Him. He can only ask Him, for there is no one else. And He alone is also able to do it, for no one else can do it.

God is above everything, including every comparison. He not only made His people, but He made “all nations” (Psa 86:9; cf. Acts 17:26a). He is truly the “Lord”, Adonai, the sovereign Ruler. Therefore, not only His people, but all the nations will come and “worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name”. This looks forward to the realm of peace, to the time of the reign of the Messiah, where this will be truth (Zec 14:16; Rev 15:4). All that He does is not only of Him and through Him, but also to Him, to His honor and glory (Rom 11:36).

Because He is the Creator, even of the nations, He has the right to be magnified by the nations, for He created everything and everyone to His glory (Isa 43:7). This is further elaborated in Psalm 87.

We see the greatness of God in the wondrous deeds He has done and is still doing (Psa 86:10). Just look at creation (Psa 139:14). Each creation day is full of wondrous deeds that are seen to this day despite the Fall. And then His wondrous deeds in the lives of the patriarchs, the wondrous deeds of the deliverance of His people from Egypt and of the guidance and care of His people in the wilderness. We see His wondrous deeds in the lives of countless people who come to repentance and faith. David experienced countless wondrous deeds of grace and salvation (Psa 9:2). Those who know this from their own experience say with David to God: “You alone are God.”

Teach Me and I Will Give Thanks to You

The psalm begins and ends with distress. The emphasis is on the middle section. That part, Psa 86:8 and Psa 86:10, describes the greatness of God, with in between the emphasis on Psa 86:9, namely that all nations will honor God. This is also the main theme of Psalm 86 (cf. Isa 45:23). It is not primarily about the psalmist’s need, but about God’s glory. The question is no longer whether God will deliver – that is certain, see Psa 86:12 and Psa 86:13 – but how God will deliver. Therefore the psalmist wants teaching from the LORD: “Teach me Your way, O LORD” (Psa 86:11).

Now that peace has come in the heart, David longs to know the way of the LORD that will lead all nations to worship the LORD (Psa 86:11; Psa 86:9). This includes that the LORD will strike down David’s enemies. He also wants to learn the way the LORD is going with him. It is the LORD’s way with him, not the other way around, David’s way with the LORD. When he learns the LORD’s way for him, he will walk in God’s truth, which means he will go his way in faithfulness to the LORD.

Knowing the way of the LORD is not a matter of the intellect. David asks the question because he has a desire to walk His way in the light of the LORD. At the same time, he asks: “Unite my heart.” He asks for an undivided heart, a heart that is fully focused on God (cf. Jer 32:39; Eze 11:19-20).

He knows his own weakness and vulnerability. He knows how easily he is distracted by the temptations outside and inside. That’s why he asks the LORD to make his heart strong. He asks the LORD for the strength to love Him with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his strength (Deu 6:5).

A united heart is the same as “one thing” that Mary and Paul chose (Lk 10:42; Phil 3:14). With them the Lord Jesus is central, He owns their heart, the center of their existence, from where He governs their lives. This is contrasted with what James calls in his letter ‘wavering’, which literally means ‘double-minded’ (Jam 1:8; Jam 4:8). There is no double-mindedness (1Kgs 18:21), but full devotion to the Lord and His interests.

David asks for a united heart “to fear Your Name”. Fearing the LORD is the evidence of a wise heart (Pro 1:7). When the fear or awe of the Name of God fills the whole heart, the whole life is focused on honoring God. Then things are sought and done that glorify God.

A heart completely filled with the fear of God says to Him what David does here: “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart” (Psa 86:12). Here we see that the fear of God is not anxiousness, but awe that is expressed in reverence. Nor is it a desire of a moment. David “will glorify” God’s name “forever”. It will never end.

The giving thanks to God is the great privilege of the redeemed of all ages. The church may do this in a special way on the first day of the week when it gathers around the Lord Jesus. There He starts the song of praise, in which the faithful then join (Heb 2:12).

The occasion for the eternal thanksgiving is God’s “lovingkindness” which is “great” toward him (Psa 86:13). David experienced that great lovingkindness. Here again, lovingkindness refers to the blessings that the LORD gives on the basis of His covenant. That covenant is the new covenant on the basis of the blood of Christ, which is the blood of the new covenant (Mt 26:28). That is the only reason God can show His lovingkindness.

For God has “delivered” his soul “from the depths of Sheol”. Deliverance from death and the realm of the dead is a personal matter. One can only partake of it personally, not as a member of a nation or a group. Whoever has a share in it will never forget to give thanks for it. It is the greatest gift a person can receive: the deliverance from death. This is not about the resurrection from the dead, but about the life that has been saved from the danger of death.

Help and Comfort

The “arrogant” are the proud people, the show-offs (Psa 86:14). Prophetically we can think of the Assyrians (Isa 36:4-10). David is surrounded by such people. He points God to them. It is “a band of violent men” who want to kill him. It’s a whole mob, not just a few. These people, he tells God, “have not set You before them”. They have no regard for God, but pursue their own interests. People like David stand in their way. Therefore, he must be eliminated.

Opposite to these band of violent men David places the “Lord”, Adonai, the sovereign Ruler (Psa 86:15). Compared to Him those boasters and evil doers are dwarfed. They do not keep Him in mind, but he knows the Lord as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (cf. Psa 86:5). This is the name that the LORD revealed in grace to Moses in Exodus 34 (Exo 34:6-7).

He appeals to Him to turn to him, asking again to be “gracious” to him (Psa 86:16). He asks not only for protection from the arrogant and violent of Psa 86:14, but also for the strength of God to stand firm against them. He makes this appeal to God’s power again as “Your servant”.

David also points to his mother as a pleading ground for his redemption when he asks God: “Save the son of Your servant.” The name of his father, Jesse, is mentioned several times. The reference to his mother is one of two references we have to her in Scripture (Psa 86:16; Psa 116:16). That David calls her “Your handmaid” means that she was a God-fearing woman, who served God and taught him in the things of God.

David had a God-fearing mother (Psa 22:9) and from his mother’s womb he was brought up God-fearing (cf. 2Tim 1:5). Possibly he is also thinking back to his birth and that God set him apart from his mother’s womb for Himself and His people and watched over him (cf. Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15).

That he mentions her in this prayer may be because he remembers how he used to seek and find comfort from her in his distress. In the last verse of the psalm, he speaks about the comfort he will receive from the LORD. Someone who gives comfort can sympathize, which gives relief from the pressure and pain that someone may experience.

At the end of his prayer, which, as we have seen, consists of several prayers, he asks God to show him “a sign for good” (Psa 86:17). By this David asks for such a visible action of God in his favor that God’s hand must be recognized in it. It means an intervention of God through which David is saved and his enemies are defeated.

Nor is the sign intended for himself, but for his haters. When they see that sign, they will be ashamed, when He, the LORD, has “helped” and “comforted” him. David does not doubt the help and comfort of God. The help he will receive from God is a comfort to him after all the affliction and need in the day of his trouble.

© 2022 Author G. de Koning

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