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Sunday, July 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 86

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This psalm purports to be a psalm of David; and there is nothing in the psalm that is contrary to this supposition. Why it has its place among the psalms which are designated as the compositions of “the sons of Korah,” and had not its place among those which are ascribed to David Ps. 1–70 we have no means of ascertaining. It is not said, however, that those were the only psalms of David, and there is no improbability in supposing that he may have composed others. It is not improperly named “a prayer,” since it is made up mostly of petitions, though this is true of others which are called “psalms,” and though it is true that this one has so much of praise in it that it might also (as it is in the margin) be designated a psalm. The occasion on which it was composed is unknown, but it has been commonly supposed that it was written in the time of the persecutions under Saul. DeWette regards it as a national song composed in a time of national trouble.

This psalm does not admit of any minute subdivision. It is made up of earnest prayers, with reasons why those prayers should be answered; and perhaps the leading practical suggestion which would properly follow from the psalm is, that it is proper for us, in our prayers, to urge reasons why they should be answered: the reasons why we pray at all. We cannot, indeed, suppose that we can suggest anything which would not occur to the divine mind, but in all our prayers there is some reason why we pray; there are reasons why we ask the particular things which are the burden of our supplications, and it cannot be improper, in order that our own minds at least may be suitably impressed, to mention those reasons when we come before God.

Verse 1

Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me - See the notes at Psalms 5:1.

For I am poor and needy - This is the reason here assigned why God should hear him. It is not a plea of merit. It is not that there was any claim on God in the fact that he was a poor and needy man - a sinner helpless and dependent, or that it would be any injustice if God should not hear, for a sinner has no claim to favor; but it is that this was a condition in which the aid of God was needed, and in which it was proper or appropriate for God to hear prayer, and to render help. We may always make our helplessness, our weakness, our poverty, our need, a ground of appeal to God; not as a claim of justice, but as a case in which he will glorify himself by a gracious interposition. It is also to be remarked that it is a matter of unspeakable thankfulness that the “poor and needy” may call upon God; that they will be as welcome as any class of people; that there is no condition of poverty and want so low that we are debarred from the privilege of approaching One who has infinite resources, and who is as willing to help as he is able.

Verse 2

Preserve my soul - Preserve, or keep, my life; for so the word rendered soul means in this place, as it does commonly in the Scriptures.

For I am holy - Margin, “One whom thou favorest.” The Hebrew word - חסיד châsı̂yd - means properly, benevolent, kind; then, good, merciful, gracious; and then pious, godly. Psalms 30:4; Psalms 31:23; Psalms 37:28. The ground of the plea here is, that he was a friend of God; and that it was proper on that account to look to him for protection. He does not say that he was holy in such a sense that he had a claim on that account to the favor of God, or that his personal holiness was a ground of salvation; but the idea is, that he had devoted himself to God, and that it was, therefore, proper to look to him for his protection in the time of danger. A child looks to a parent for protection, because he is a child; a citizen looks to the protection of the laws, because he is a citizen; and so the people of God may look to him for protection, because they are his people. In all this there is no plea of merit, but there is the recognition of what is proper in the case, and what may he expected and hoped for.

Save thy servant - Save him from threatening danger and from death.

That trusteth in thee - Because I trust or confide in thee. I go nowhere else for protection; I rely on no one else. I look to thee alone, and I do this with entire confidence. A man who does this has a right to look to God for protection, and to expect that God will interpose in his behalf.

Verse 3

Be merciful unto me, O Lord - It was mercy after all that he relied on, and not justice. It was not because he had any claim on the ground that he was “holy,” but all that he had and hoped for was to be traced to the mercy of God.

For I cry unto thee daily - Margin, as in Hebrew, “All the day.” The meaning is, that he did this constantly, or without intermission.

Verse 4

Rejoice the soul of thy servant - Cause me to rejoice; to wit, by thy gracious interposition, and by delivering me from danger and death.

For unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul - Compare the notes at Psalms 24:4. The idea is that of arousing himself, or exerting himself, as one does who makes strenuous efforts to obtain an object. He was not languid, or indifferent; he did not put forth merely weak and fitful efforts to find God, but he bent his whole powers to that end; he arouses himself thoroughly to seek the divine help. Languid and feeble efforts in seeking after God will be attended with no success. In so great a matter - when so much depends on the divine favor - when such great interests are at stake - the whole soul should be roused to one great and strenuous effort; not that we can obtain his favor by force or power, and not that any strength of ours will prevail of itself, but

(a) because nothing less will indicate the proper intensity of desire; and

(b) because such is his appointment in regard to the manner in which we are to seek his favor.

Compare Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 13:24; Luke 16:16.

Verse 5

For thou, Lord, art good ... - This is another reason why God should hear his prayer; and it is a reason which may be properly urged at all times, and by all classes of persons. It is founded on the benevolence of God; on the fullness of his mercy to all that invoke his name. We should call in vain on a God who was not merciful and ready to forgive; but in the divine character there is the most ample foundation for such an appeal. In his benevolence; in his readiness to forgive; in the plenitude of his mercy, God is all that a penitent sinner could wish him to be. For if such a sinner should endeavor to describe what he would desire to find in God as a ground of appeal in his prayers, he could not express his feelings in language more full and free than God has himself employed about his own readiness to pardon and save. The language of the Bible on this subject would express, better than any language which he could himself employ, what in those circumstances he would wish to find God to be.

Verse 6

Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer ... - See the notes at Psalms 5:1.

Verse 7

In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee - That is, I do it now; I have done it; I will do it. The language implies a habit, or a steady purpose of mind, that in all times of trouble he would make God his refuge. It was this fixed purpose - this regular habit - which was now the ground of his confidence. A man who always makes God his refuge, who has no other ground of reliance, may feel assured that God will interpose and save him.

For thou wilt answer me - This also implies a fixed and steady assurance of mind, applicable not only to this case, but to all similar cases. He had firm confidence in God at all times; an unwavering belief that God is a hearer of prayer. This is a just foundation of hope when we approach God. Compare James 1:6-7.

Verse 8

Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord - Among all those which are worshipped as gods there is no one that can hear and save. The psalmist, in respect to prayer, and to help to be obtained by prayer, compares his own condition with that of those who worshipped false gods. He had a God who could hear; they had none. A true child of God now in trouble may properly compare his condition in this respect with that of those who make no profession of religion; who do not profess to worship God, or to have a God. To him there is a throne of grace which is always accessible; to them there is none. There is One to whom he may always pray; they profess to have no one on whom they can call.

Neither are there any works like unto thy works - That is, as done by those “gods.” There is nothing they have done which can be a ground of confidence that can be compared with what thou hast done. The allusion is to the power, the wisdom, and the skill evinced in the works of creation, and in the merciful interpositions of Providence. From these the psalmist derives a proof that God is able to save. There is no such argument to which the worshippers of false gods can appeal in the time of trouble.

Verse 9

All nations whom thou hast made shall come ... - In this verse the psalmist expresses his belief that the conviction which he entertained about the ability of God to save - about his being the only true God - would yet pervade all the nations of the earth; that they all would yet be convinced that he was the true God, and would come and worship him alone. So clear to him seemed to be the evidence of the existence and perfections of God that he did not doubt that all people would come yet to see it also, and to acknowledge him. Compare Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 60:3-14; Psalms 2:8; Psalms 72:17.

And shall glorify thy name - Shall honor thee as the true God. They will renounce their idols; they will come and worship thee. This belief - this hope - is held out through the entire volume of revealed truth. It cheered and encouraged the hearts of the saints of the Old Testament and the New; and it may and should cheer and encourage our hearts. It is not less certain because it seems to be long delayed. To the view of man this is all that is certain in the future. No man can predict what will occur in regard to any of the existing political institutions on the earth - either the monarchies of the old world, or the republics of the new. No man can tell in reference to the arts; to the sciences; to social life; to manners; to the cities and towns which now exist on the earth, what they will be in the far distant future. Only one thing is certain in that future - that the kingdom of God will be set up, and that the Redeemer’s throne will be established over all the earth; that the time is to come when “all nations shall come and worship before God, and shall glorify his name.”

Verse 10

For thou art great, and doest wondrous things - Things suited to excite wonder or admiration; things which lie beyond the power of any creature, and which could be performed by no one but a being of almighty power. A God who could do these things could also do that which the psalmist asked of him, for what God actually does proves that there is nothing within the limits of possibility which he cannot perform. The greatness and the power of God are reasons why we should appeal to him in our weakness, and in our times of trouble.

Thou art God alone - Thou only canst do what a God can do, or what belongs to God. In those things, therefore, which require the interposition of divine power our appeal must be to thee alone. So in the matter of salvation.

Verse 11

Teach me thy way, O Lord - That is, in the present emergency. Show me what thou wouldst have me to do that I may obtain thy favor, and thy gracious help.

I will walk in thy truth - I will live and act in accordance with what thou dost declare to be true. Whatever that may be, I will pursue it, having no will of my own.

Unite my heart to fear thy name - That is, to worship, obey, and honor thee.

(a) The end which he desired to secure was that he might truly fear God, or properly reverence and honor him;

(b) the means which he saw to be necessary for this was that his “heart” might be “united” in this one great object; that is, that his heart might be single in its views and purposes; that there might be no distracting purposes; that one great aim might be always before him.

The word rendered “unite” - יחד yāchad - occurs as a verb only in three places. In Genesis 49:6, it is rendered united: “Unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united.” In Isaiah 14:20, it is translated joined: “Thou shalt not be joined with them.” The adverb - יחד yachad, occurs often, and is rendered together, Genesis 13:6; Genesis 22:6, Genesis 22:8,Genesis 22:19; Genesis 36:7; et saepe. The idea is that of union, or conjunction; of being together; of constituting one; and this is accomplished in the heart when there is one great ruling object before the mind which nothing is allowed to interfere with. It may be added, that there is no more appropriate prayer which a man can offer than that his heart may have such a unity of purpose, and that nothing may be allowed to interfere with that one supreme purpose.

Verse 12

I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart - This is but carrying out the idea in the previous verse. He would give his whole heart to God. He would allow nothing to divide or distract his affections. He would withhold nothing from God.

And I will glorify thy name for evermore - Not merely in the present emergency; but I will do it ever onward - even to eternity. The meaning is, that he would in all cases, and at all times - in this world and in the world to come - honor God. He would acknowledge no God but him, and he would honor him as God.

Verse 13

For great is thy mercy toward me - In respect to me; or, Thou hast manifested great mercy to me; to wit, in past times. He makes use of this now as an argument or reason why God should interpose again.

(a) He had shown on former occasions that he had power to save;

(b) the fact that he had thus treated him as his friend was a reason why he should now befriend him.

And thou hast delivered my soul - My life. The meaning is, that he had kept him alive in times of imminent danger. At the same time David could say, as every child of God can say, that God had delivered his soul in the strict and proper sense of the term - from sin, and death, and hell itself.

From the lowest hell - Margin, grave; Hebrew, שׁאול she'ôl; Greek, ᾅδης Hadēs. See the word explained in the notes at Isaiah 14:9. Compare the notes at Job 10:21-22. The word rendered “lowest” means simply under, or beneath: the grave or hades beneath. The idea of lowest, or the superlative degree, is not necessarily implied in the word. The idea of the grave as deep, or as under us, however, is implied, and the psalmist means to say that he had been saved from that deep dwelling-place - from the abode of departed spirits, to which the dead descend under ground. The meaning is, that he had been kept alive; but the greatness of the mercy is designed to be set forth by having before the mind a vivid idea of the darkness, the horror, and the gloom of the world to which the dead descend, and where they dwell.

Verse 14

O God, the proud are risen against me - People who are self-confident, ambitious, haughty; who do not regard the welfare or the rights of others; who are disposed to trample down all others in order that they may accomplish their own purposes; these are the people who have opposed me and sought my life. This would apply either to the time of Saul or of Absalom. In both these cases there were men who would correspond to this description.

And the assemblies of violent men - Margin,” terrible.” The Septuagint and the Vulgate render this, “the synagogue of the wicked.” The word rendered violent means properly terrible, inspiring terror; then, violent, fierce, lawless, tyrants. The idea here is that they pursued their object by violence and not by right; they did it in a fierce and savage manner, or in such a way as to inspire terror. The word assembly here means merely that they were banded together; what was done was the result of a conspiracy or combination.

Have sought after my soul - After my life.

And have not set thee before them - They do not fear thee; they do not act as if in thy presence; they have no regard for thee, for thy law, for thy favor, for thy threatenings.

Verse 15

But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion ... - See the notes at Psalms 86:5. The words rendered “long-suffering” mean that there was and would be delay in his anger; that it was not soon excited; that he did not act from passion or sudden resentment; that he endured the conduct of sinners long without rising up to punish them; that he was not quick to take vengeance, but bore with them patiently. On this account the psalmist, though conscious that he was a sinner, hoped and pleaded that God would save him.

Plenteous in ... truth - That is, in faithfulness. When thou hast made a promise, thou wilt faithfully keep it.

Verse 16

O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me - Look upon me; as if God were now turned away, and were unmindful of his danger, his needs, and his pleading. The expression is equivalent to those in which he prays that God would incline his ear to him. See Psalms 86:1, Psalms 86:6, and the notes at Psalms 5:1.

Give thy strength unto thy servant - Give such strength as proceeds from thee, and such as will accomplish what thou alone canst effect. Enable me to act as if clothed with divine power. The ground of the plea here is, that he was the “servant” of God, and he might, therefore, hope for God’s interposition.

And save the son of thine handmaid - This is, as far as I know, the only separate allusion which David ever makes to his mother individually, unless the passage in Psalms 35:14 - “I bowed down heavily as one that mourneth for his mother” - be supposed to refer to his own mother. But we have elsewhere no such mention of his mother as can give us any idea of her character, and indeed it is not easy to determine who she was. The language here, however, would seem to imply that she was a pious woman, for the words “thy handmaid,” as employed in the Scriptures, would most naturally suggest that idea. If so, then the ground of the plea here is that his mother was a child of God; that she had lived for his service; and that she had trained up her children for him. David now prays that, as he had been devoted to God by her, and had thus been trained up, God would remember all this, and would interfere in his behalf. Can it be wrong to urge before God, as a reason for his interposition, that we have been devoted to him by parental faithfulness and prayer; that we have been consecrated to him by baptism; that we have been trained up for his service; that in reference to us high hopes were cherished that we might carry out the purposes of pious parents, and live to accomplish what was so dear to their hearts? He who has had a pious mother has entered on life under great advantages; he has been placed under solemn responsibilites; he is permitted to hope that a mother’s prayers will not be forgotten, but that her example, her teachings, and her piety will shed a hallowed influence on all the paths of life until he joins her in heaven.

Verse 17

Shew me a token for good ... - Hebrew, “Make me a sign for good;” that is, Do that for me in my trouble which will be an evidence that thou dost favor me, and wilt save me. Let there be such a manifest interposition in my behalf that others may see it, and may be convinced that thou art God, and that thou art the Protector and Friend of those who put their trust in thee. We need not suppose that the psalmist refers here to a miracle in his behalf. Any interposition which would save him from the hands of his enemies - which would defeat their purposes - which would rescue him when there seemed to be no help, would be such an evidence that they could not doubt that he was the friend of God. Thus they would be made “ashamed” of their purposes; that is, they would be disappointed and confounded; and there would be furnished a new proof that God was the protector of all who put their trust in him.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 86". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/psalms-86.html. 1870.
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