Psalm 86:1–13, 15–16comment (0)
March 8, 2012
By James R. Barnette
Related Scripture: Psalm 86:1-13, 15-16
Bible Studies for Life
Associate professor of religion, Department of religion, Samford University
I Call on You
Psalm 86:1–13, 15–16
This Psalm has been described as a lonely “prayer of David” for two reasons. First it is his only poem in the third book of Psalms (Psalms 73–89). Second the poem depicts a David who feels cornered by an unidentified enemy from whom he needs deliverance.
Hear Me (1–7)
David includes himself among those for whom God has special concern. The word “devoted” is from the same root word “hesed,” meaning “steadfast love.” David sees himself as a son of the covenant who belongs wholly to the Lord. “Devoted” is the equivalent of “saints” in the New Testament, those set apart by and for the Lord. David is declaring that he belongs to God, an identity further affirmed by the repeated phrase “your servant.”
The focus is not only on David’s identity with God but also on God’s identity. Hence the occurrences of the emphatic “you” in verses 2 and 5. The petitions in verses 3 and 6 point to a critical attribute of God that David is seeking: “mercy.” David notes other celebrated attributes of his Lord: forgiveness, goodness and abounding love. Because God is merciful, good, forgiving and loving, David appeals to Him for help. By verse 7, the repeated verb “answer” indicates growing assurance that his prayer will be answered. There are at least 14 personal requests in the Psalm, which reminds us that effective praying is specific. Hence David’s growing confidence God will answer his sincere cries for help.
Teach Me (8–13)
The focus on God’s identity becomes even stronger in this section. David proclaims the incomparability of God and His mighty acts. “Among the gods, there is none like you” is the confession of a man who truly knows God and remembers Israel’s confession at the Exodus (see Exodus 15:11). During 10 years in the wilderness of Judea, David learned much about God’s nature and the way that He works in His people’s lives. Verse 9 indicates that nations will one day recognize God’s sovereignty and respond by worshiping or “bowing down” and bringing glory to His name. Verse 10 is the climactic declaration of God’s greatness, punctuated by the two occurrences of the emphatic “you.” The phrase “marvelous things” recalls the Exodus, that most celebrated demonstration of God’s rule over and care for His people.
“Unite my heart” acknowledges a yearning for an undivided heart, one fixed wholly on the Lord. Unlike a fragmented heart that is divided by all manner of distractions and temptations, a united heart is one whose ultimate love is in God alone and whose motivation is to be His devoted servant (see James 1:8; 4:8). This yearning is portrayed beautifully in the Thomas Ken hymn “Awake, My Soul”: Direct, control, suggest, this day/All I design, or do, or say/That all my powers, with all their might/In Thy sole glory may unite. With this united heart, David promises to praise God forever for delivering him from the grave of Sheol. This deliverance from the pit of death offers a foreshadowing of future resurrection.
Help Me (15–16)
“The son of your maidservant” means “your devoted servant.” Children born to servants were considered especially faithful since they were brought up in the servant’s household (see Genesis 14:14). Since David was the Lord’s faithful servant, it was his Master’s duty to protect and deliver him. The “sign” in verse 17 is the deliverance that David prays for and anticipates. Among the prayers for mercy and comfort, it is significant that he also prays for “strength.” While David is confident in the “sign” of God’s ultimate deliverance, he is spirited enough to want to “man up” and do his part to drive back the enemy.
Ultimately David’s prayer is one of trusting the God to whom he submits. In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus taught them to submit their lives — “thy will be done.” As in David’s case, such submission is possible because we trust that God rules the world — “thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” Like David, we strive to live out our faith in a broken world that opposes us and God. This reality means we wait with David as we pray — “thy kingdom come.”