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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 86

Verse 1



"This is the only Psalm of David in the Third Book of the Psalter."[1] Of course, Kidner here was following the superscription which thus assigns it. Jones also accepted this, stating that, "There is no sufficient grounds for disputing David's authorship of it."[2] Rawlinson likewise affirmed that, "The Psalm contains nothing, either in matter or style, to make the ascription unlikely."[3]

This being true, why then, do most modern commentators reject the Davidic authorship of this Psalm? Delitzsch declared that, "It can be called `A Psalm of David' as having grown out of Davidic and other model passages."[4] He then went on to point out at least 30 allusions and/or quotations from other Biblical passages, saying that, "Almost everything is an echo of the language of other Psalms or of the Law,"[5] McCaw referred to the psalm as "A Mosaic."[6] We agree with Miller's comment that, "It may be that others have borrowed from this Psalm."[7] Nothing in our own studies has convinced us that modern scholars are actually competent to decide such questions upon the basis of the limited information available to them. In the very nature of the problem, they have to do a lot of "guessing"; and the guesses of the ancient authors of the superscription are just as good as the "guesses" men offer so generously today.

Psalms 86:1-5


"Bow down thine ear, O Jehovah, and answer me;

For I am poor and needy.

Preserve my soul; for I am godly:

O thou my God save thy servant that trusteth in thee.

Be merciful unto me, O Lord;

For unto thee do I cry all the day long.

Rejoice the soul of thy servant;

For unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive,

And abundant in lovingkindness unto all them that call upon thee."

An unusual feature of this psalm is that, "Each petition is accompanied by a reason why the petition should be granted."[8] Note the reasons given in Psalms 86:1, "I am poor and needy"; and in Psalms 86:2, "for I am godly." etc.

"I am poor and needy" (Psalms 86:1). "These words do not necessarily reveal the financial circumstances of the psalmist; they indicate the need of help from God, in this case help because of the arrogant and violent men of (Psalms 86:14-17)."[9]

"For I am godly" (Psalms 86:2). We cannot allow these words in the mouth of David in the sense of their ordinary meaning. What is meant is that he was loyal to God,[10] that "I am devoted to you and trust you,."[11] or simply that he belonged to the covenant people of Israel.

"Unto thee do I cry ... I lift up my soul" (Psalms 86:3-4). These are "reasons why" the psalmist believes God should hear his petition.

"Thou, Lord, art good ... ready to forgive ... abundant in lovingkindness" (Psalms 86:5). The wonderful goodness, mercy, lovingkindness, and readiness of God to forgive the penitent - all of these are abundant encouragements indeed for men to seek God in prayer. With such a God, ready and willing to help us, who should neglect to pray?

Verse 6


"Give ear, O Jehovah, unto my prayer;

And hearken unto the voice of my supplications.

In the day of my trouble, I will call upon thee;

For thou wilt answer me.

There is none like unto thee among the gods, O Lord;

Neither are there any works like unto thy works.

All nations whom thou has made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord;

And they shall glorify thy name.

For thou art great, and doest wondrous things:

Thou art God alone."

The supremacy of the One God, his eternal omnipotence, his unlimited authority, his very uniqueness - all these are encouragements for me to seek God and turn to him for help, for forgiveness and salvation. There is none other from whom men could expect the slightest help or attention of any kind.

"There is none like unto thee among the gods" (Psalms 86:8). "It is probable that David is here speaking of angels,"[12] was the opinion of Kidner; but we cannot accept this. Nowhere in the entire Bible, as far as this writer has been able to determine, are angels called "gods." The evil judges Of Israel were sarcastically called `gods'; and aside from that, only the false deities of the pagan world are referred to as `gods.' Besides that, it would be utterly meaningless for the psalmist to have declared that there were none among the "angels" like God! How could Almighty God be thus compared to his creatures? We appreciate Miller's discernment: "Psalms 86:8 is a reference to pagan gods."[13]

"All the nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee" (Psalms 86:9). Such an expression as this is indeed worthy of David himself. Not only is God extolled here as the creator of all nations, but there is anticipated the magnificent promises of the New Testament that "In the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow ... and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).

"Thou art great... Thou art God alone" (Psalms 86:10). In the same verse, the wonderful works of God are mentioned. Such works of God as the Creation, the ordering of the whole cosmos with clock-like precision, and the providential oversight of all men and of all nations - such wonderful works as these surpass, by far, the most fantastic and extravagant false claims in the mythological falsehoods of the pagan gods.

Only the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, in short, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and of the New Testament is indeed God alone. This is the most important fact known to mankind. Is there really and truly an omnipotent GOD who created and sustains all things? who holds every man ever born accountable for his deeds, and who at the end of the age will summons the myriads of the earth to the Judgment of the Great Day, and upon that occasion will appoint every man to the eternal destiny which he deserves?

If one is looking for the "Sixty-Four Trillion Dollar Question," we have just stated it. As Robert Flynt, the president of the University of Scotland once said, "Is there any such thing as the supernatural? In the final analysis, all other questions finally fade into the cosmic background." It is the genius of the Holy Bible that this soul-searching question is intelligently and logically answered. YES! God is, and is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

Verse 11


"Teach me thy way, O Jehovah; I will walk in thy truth:

Unite my heart to fear thy name.

I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart;

And I will glorify thy name forevermore.

For great is thy lovingkindness toward me;

And thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest Sheol.

O God, the proud are risen up against me,

And a company of violent men have sought after my soul,

And have not set thee before them.

But thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious.

Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

Oh turn unto me, and have mercy upon me

Give thy strength unto thy servant,

And save the son of thy handmaid.

Show me a token for good,

That they who hate me may see it, and be put to shame,

Because thou, Jehovah, has helped me and comforted me."

"Teach me thy way ... I will walk in thy truth" (Psalms 86:11). "David is here praying for God to help him form the right habits."[14] Anchor Bible renders this verse: "Teach me your way, that I may walk faithful to you alone."[15]

"Great is thy lovingkindness toward me" (Psalms 86:13). We have often commented upon David's frequent use of this term in psalms that are admittedly his; and we find the term in this psalm no less than three times in Psalms 86:5,13,15.

"The proud ... a company of violent men ... who set not thee before them" (Psalms 86:14). The evil men described here were proud (arrogant), violent (ruthless), unbelievers who took not God into their thoughts.

"But thou, O lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness" (Psalms 86:15). This verse is a quotation verbatim from Exodus 34:6b.

"Save the son of thy handmaid" (Psalms 86:16). Delitzsch explained this "The psalmist calls himself the `son of thy handmaid,' as having been born into his personal relation to God, as a servant, a relation that came to him by birth. How beautifully does the word "Lord" come in here for the seventh time. He is even from his mother's womb the servant of the Sovereign Lord, from whose omnipotence he can therefore look for a miracle on his behalf."[16]

"Show me a token ... that they who hate me may see and be put to shame" (Psalms 86:17). The Anchor Bible's translation of this is

Work a miracle for me, O Good One,

That mine enemies might see and be humiliated.[17]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 86". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.