George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 3

Psalm 86

1. Title

A Prayer of David. There are some details in the second half of the psalm (vv. 8a, 9, 16b) which are hardly characteristic of David. Yet this title is not to be ignored.

It may be suggested that vv. 1-7 comprise an original psalm of David (cp. Psa. 132:3-9, a psalm of David enclosed in a psalm of Hezekiah: see G. Booker, Songs of Degrees, p. 165), which Hezekiah appropriated — because it was so suitable to himself also — and to which he added vv. 8-17. Hence this psalm’s inclusion in the Korah (Hezekiah) group, making a total of 12.

This is one of five psalms called specifically a prayer. It is not easy to see what 17, 86, 90, 102, and 142 have in common. And in what respect are they more evidently prayers than a score of others? There is no obvious answer to this question.

2. Structure

The two halves of the psalm (1-7, 8-17) are remarkably homogeneous, for both emphasize the gracious kindness of the Lord; but vv. 8-17 are able to celebrate more specifically (e.g. vv. 9,10,13,17) God’s ready response to faith.

3. Historical setting

It is not easy to identify what precise circumstances evoked vv. 1-7 as David’s prayer. The entreaties are of a very general nature, and no real details emerge as clues.

The entire psalm has eloquent relevance to the exciting days of Hezekiah.

For I am poor and needy, in his sickness and deep political trouble.
Preserve my soul. These are the words of a dying man (Isa. 38:1,2).

For I am holy. The NIV renders chasid as “devoted” (i.e., to God). What better ground for a petition for help than this? And Hezekiah (like David) knew that he had that foundation.

O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee:

“Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him” (2 Chron. 32:7).
I cry unto thee daily. David, thrice daily (Psa. 55:17; cp. Luke 18:1).
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. Neither David nor Hezekiah could lift up a heave offering in the House of the Lord. Circumstances were against them. But this alternative was better; for one may lift up his soul to God no matter where he might be!
For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive: and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee. The third, along with vv. 3 and 4b, of three strong reasons. So the petitions are irresistible, even by Omnipotence!
In the day of my trouble will I call upon thee. Possible references to: (a) David’s sickness, and Absalom’s rebellion; and (b) Hezekiah’s sickness, and Sennacherib’s invasion.

For thou wilt answer me. Can anything be expressed in a more certain manner? The faith of these men of God was breathtaking at times!
Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord. David did not have occasion to face the challenge of polytheism. But Hezekiah had it hurled at him time and again (Isa. 36:18-20; 37:8-13, 18,19,37).
All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord: and shall glorify thy name. 2 Chron. 32:23 again:

“And many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he [Yahweh, not Hezekiah!] was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.”
For thou art great, and doest wondrous things. After the Exodus, Israel never saw anything else to compare with the annihilation of the Assyrians:

“Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (Isa. 37:36).

Thou art God alone, in contrast to the many presumptive “gods” of the nations.
I will walk in thy truth. God’s covenants of promise, also called His mercy (v. 15). Hezekiah relied especially on God’s great promise to David (2 Sam. 7; Isa. 38:18,19).

These words are echoed in Psa. 26:3. This was the prayer of Hezekiah also in 2 Kings 20:3:

“I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.”
I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart.

“The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord” (Isa. 38:20).

And I will glorify thy name for evermore. Both David and Hezekiah believed emphatically in the Messianic kingdom, and in themselves as types of Messiah.
Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell (“the depths of Sheol”: RSV, NEB; or “the depths of the grave”: NIV). Here is Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery:

“I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years... Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth” (Isa. 38:10,17,18).
O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul; and have not set thee before them. This is a remarkably vivid description of the crude threats of the Assyrians and their allies against God’s beleaguered city.
The son of thine handmaid is found elsewhere only in Psa. 116:16, which is another Hezekiah psalm. While not especially appropriate to David, such a phrase is quite fitting for Hezekiah, in the light of the initial application of Isa. 7:14 (Whittaker, Hezekiah the Great, pp. 1-6).
Shew me a token (sign: RSV) for good; that they which hate me (i.e., the Assyrian enemy) may see it, and be ashamed. Hezekiah saw a vision of the Glory of the Lord as surety of his own miraculous recovery. The Glory was also the overpowering accompaniment of the devastation of the Assyrian camp. In the aftermath of Assyrian depredations, God granted an astonishingly productive Year of Jubilee (Isa. 37:30,31).

4. A psalm of Messiah

This should be read with reference to Christ in Gethsemane.
For thou, Lord, art ready to forgive. The words are not inappropriate, considering how near Jesus came to turning away from the crisis of his mission.
Among the gods (elohim) there is none like unto thee, O Lord. Possibly this means: ‘In the congregation (cp. “assemblies of violent men” in 86:14) of the mighty judges (82:1,6), there are none who act righteously.’

Neither are there any works like unto thy works. These “works” are men and women new-born in Christ — for example, Psalm 145:10-13:

“All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord: and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.”

Rev. 15:3,4 is not only the Song of Moses (Exod. 15:1,11), but also the Song of the Lamb (cp. with Psa. 86:2,8-10).
All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord. The fulness of the Kingdom, when God’s house will have become “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa. 56:7; Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46; cp. Psa. 22:27-29 and Rev. 15:4)!
Unite my heart to fear thy Name. Consider the divided inclinations even in the heart of Jesus: “Not my will, but thy will, be done” (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). “Only a powerful motive could make a man’s heart one perfect whole” (L.G. Sargent).
I will glorify thy name. This was the dominant idea in all Christ’s life: John 12:28; 13:31; 14:13; 15:8, 17:1,4; etc.

For evermore. The full meaning of this is at present simply inconceivable.
Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. This signifies not only deliverance from death but also from all the misery of the day of crucifixion: “O my Father... let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39; Mark 14:35,36; Luke 22:42).
Assemblies of violent men is easily transformed, in this context, into the Jewish Sanhedrin (cp. Psa. 22:16).

Men... have not set thee before them. The words imply that they knew this duty but deliberately backed away from it; they were “enlightened rejectors” of God’s Law and — especially — of Jesus, God’s special representative set down in their midst.
Mercy and truth. Without the sacrifice of Christ, there would be no fulfillment whatsoever of any of the Covenants of Promise.
Give thy strength unto thy servant. An angel — probably Gabriel (the “Strong One of God”) — strengthened God’s Servant Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43).

The son of thine handmaid. This can be a description — in the fullest sense — of the Messiah and of no one else. Mary was the only true handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38,48).

Save anticipates the very name of Jesus (Luke 1:31), “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Shew me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed. This “token”, or sign, would have been the radiant Glory in the face of Jesus on the night of his arrest. Those who came to the garden to arrest him did see it, and “went backward and fell to the ground” (John 18:6; cp. Psa. 27:1,2; 42:11). And this in turn became an earnest of the shame of all Jerusalem when the Lord’s resurrection was proclaimed (Acts 2:37; Mic. 7:10).

Thou, Lord, hast... comforted me. The LXX has parakaleo, i.e., the Comforter, or the Holy Spirit.

5. Other details

Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me. As one might do to hear the feeble words of the sick or dying (cp. Psa. 31:2). These words of David might especially have appealed to Hezekiah in an equally hopeless situation (2 Kings 19:16).

For I am poor and needy (Psa. 40:17). Here is “the poor in spirit”, whom Christ blessed (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20,24). The man who is truly poor in spirit is the man who has learned to trust in God alone. He does not have to be taught that he is sick and in need of a physician; he already knows that only too well!
Be merciful unto me, O Lord. This was quoted by that amazing Canaanite woman, who came to Jesus seeking a miracle of healing for her daughter (Matt. 15:22). And note the rest of the verse: “thou son of David”!

Lord is Adonai (i.e., Master, or Sovereign), as in vv. 4,5,8,9,12, and 15. But these are (at least, according to the Companion Bible: Appendix 32) seven of the passages where the original Yahweh was altered by the Sopherim.
For thou, Lord, art... ready to forgive, implying: just as soon as repentance makes forgiveness possible.
Among the gods. Compare Psa. 115:3-7; 135:13-17.
All nations... shall come and worship before thee. Note the various nations of Psa. 87:4 — all ready to declare themselves spiritual “sons of Zion”.

And shall glorify thy name. Compare vv. 11 and 12. Verse 15 quotes Exod. 34:6,7 — the primary exposition of the Name of the Lord. God’s Name is most significantly revealed in His character and purpose — not in mere Hebrew word-analysis (see “Explanatory Notes” at the beginning of Book 1).
Teach me thy way, O Lord = “the way of his steps” in Psa. 85:13.

Unite my heart. This was the apostle Paul’s heartfelt longing (Rom. 7:14-21). And it was also an important element in the New Covenant:

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts: and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).
On Sheol, see notes and references, Psa. 6:5.
Shew me a token for good. That is, ‘Show me some sign that — though my enemies mean evil against me — thou, O God, meanest it for good.’

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me: But God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
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