Bible Commentaries
Psalms 86

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 86:0


A Psalm of Supplication and TrustMT IntroA Prayer of DavidPrayer for Mercy, with Meditation on the Excellencies of the LordPrayer for Deliverance from Personal EnemiesA Prayer For HelpPrayer in Time of Trial(Verse numbers from LXX)
Psalms 86:1-5Psalms 86:1-5Psalms 86:1-7Psalms 86:1-2Psalms 86:1-2b
Psalms 86:2-4
Psalms 86:3-5
Psalms 86:5-6
Psalms 86:6-10Psalms 86:6-7 Psalms 86:6-7
Psalms 86:7-8
Psalms 86:8-10Psalms 86:8-11Psalms 86:8-10
Psalms 86:9-10
Psalms 86:11-13Psalms 86:11-13 Psalms 86:11-13Psalms 86:11
Psalms 86:12-13 Psalms 86:12-13
Psalms 86:14-17Psalms 86:14-15Psalms 86:14-17Psalms 86:14-17Psalms 86:14
Psalms 86:15-16a
Psalms 86:16-17 Psalms 86:16-17

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This is categorized as a “personal lament.” A righteous follower of YHWH calls on his righteous God to act on his behalf.

1. righteous author, Psalms 86:1, Psalms 86:2, Psalms 86:3, Psalms 86:4

2. righteous God, Psalms 86:5, Psalms 86:6

B. This Psalm has a surprising universal element in Psalms 86:9 (cf. Psalms 22:27; Psalms 46:10; Psalms 47:9; Psalms 57:5, Psalms 57:11; Psalms 64:9; Psalms 65:8; Psalms 66:1-7; Psalms 67:2-5; 98:23; Psalms 99:2-3; Psalms 102:15). This verse is the theological center of the chiasm (i.e., a Hebrew poetic structure).

C. A possible outline would be:

1. author's theological complaint, Psalms 86:1-7

2. hymn of praise to God, Psalms 86:8-10

a. His transcendence

b. His uniqueness (monotheism)

3. hymn of praise to God, Psalms 86:11-17, for His immanence

D. There are 15 imperatives of request in this Psalm.

1. incline Your ear, Psalms 86:1 - BDB 639, KB 692, Hiphil imperative, cf. Psalms 17:6; Psalms 31:2; Psalms 71:2; Psalms 102:2; same verb in imperfect in Psalms 88:2

2. answer me, Psalms 86:1 - BDB 772, KB 851, Qal imperative

3. preserve my soul, Psalms 86:2 - BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative, cf. Psalms 25:20

4. save, Psalms 86:2 - BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil imperative, cf. Psalms 28:9; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 59:2; Psalms 71:2

5. be gracious, Psalms 86:3 - BDB 335, KB 334, Qal imperative

6. make glad the soul, Psalms 86:4 - BDB 970, KB 1333, Piel imperative

7. give ear, Psalms 86:6 - BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil imperative

8. give heed, Psalms 86:6 - BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil imperative

9. teach me, Psalms 86:11 - BDB 34, KB 436, Hiphil imperative, cf. Psalms 25:4, Psalms 25:12; Psalms 27:11

10. unite my heart, Psalms 86:11; Psalms 86:11 - BDB 402, KB 405, Piel imperative

11. turn to me, Psalms 86:16 - BDB 815, KB 937, Qal imperative

12. be gracious to me, Psalms 86:16 - same as #5

13. grant strength, Psalms 86:16 - BDB 678, KB 733, Qal mperative

14. save, Psalms 86:16 - same as #4

15. show me a sign, Psalms 86:17 - BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative

E. Notice the vocatives.

1. O Lord (YHWH), Psalms 86:1, Psalms 86:3, Psalms 86:6, Psalms 86:11, Psalms 86:17

2. O You my God (Eloah), Psalms 86:2

3. O Lord (Adon), Psalms 86:4, Psalms 86:5, Psalms 86:8, Psalms 86:9, Psalms 86:15

4. O God (Elohim), Psalms 86:10, Psalms 86:14

5. O Lord my God (Eloah), Psalms 86:12; Eloah also in Psalms 86:2

6. O grant (no name/title) giver, Psalms 86:16b

The other names/titles used are

1. God (El), Psalms 86:15

2. Your name (BDB 1027), Psalms 86:9, Psalms 86:11, Psalms 86:12

These all reflect a vibrant prayer for help to Israel's Deity!

F. The structure of individual Psalms is difficult to categorize. If this Psalm is an acrostic (see NASB Study Bible, p. 829), then Psalms 86:9 is the central key verse. To me, Psalms 86:8 is theologically the key verse and Psalms 86:9 is the logical extension. Monotheism was the uniqueness of Israel in the ANE (with two brief exceptions, one in Egypt and one in Assyria). See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan, and Special Topic: Monotheism.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 86:1-5 1Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me; For I am afflicted and needy. 2Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man; O You my God, save Your servant who trusts in You. 3Be gracious to me, O Lord, For to You I cry all day long. 4Make glad the soul of Your servant, For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 5For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.

Psalms 86:1 “Incline” This is a metaphor derived from the verb “to bend” or “to turn” (BDB 639, KB 692). It calls on YHWH to hear His servant's plea (cf. Psalms 86:3, Psalms 86:4, Psalms 86:6, Psalms 86:7).

“O Lord” This is YHWH (i.e., the name is defined in Exodus 3:14, see Special Topic: Names for Deity). This is the covenant name for Deity. It is a form of the verb “to be.”

There is a play between YHWH (Psalms 86:1, Psalms 86:3, Psalms 86:6, Psalms 86:11), Elohim (Psalms 86:2, Psalms 86:10, Psalms 86:12) and Adon (Psalms 86:4, Psalms 86:8, Psalms 86:9, Psalms 86:12). These represent different concepts of deity.

1. YHWH - God as Savior, Redeemer

2. Elohim - God as Creator, Sustainer, Provider

3. Adonai - God as master, owner, husband

“answer” This was not a prayer for information but the assurance of God's personal presence and care. The psalmist has experienced this and, for whatever reason, does not now! It is a plea for God to act in a visible way.

1. to deliver (Psalms 86:7)

2. to witness (Psalms 86:8-10)

“For I am afflicted and needy” This phrase (BDB 776 and BDB 2) could be understood in a spiritual sense to refer to the faithful remnant (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE REMNANT, THREE SENSES, cf. Psalms 34:6; Psalms 35:10; Psalms 40:17; Psalms 70:5). In this Psalm it is possibly a reference to the King.

Psalms 86:2 “preserve my soul, for I am a godly man” There are two terms used to describe the psalmist.

1. soul - lit. nephesh, BDB 659, cf. Psalms 86:4 (twice), 13,14; see notes online at Psalms 3:2 and Genesis 35:18

2. godly one/man - BDB 339, see notes online at Psalms 16:10; Psalms 50:5

This begins a series of reasons why God should act on the psalmist's behalf.

1. he is godly, Psalms 86:2 (hasid, BDB 339, faithful to the covenant, related to hesed, BDB 339)

2. he trusts in YHWH, Psalms 86:2

3. he prays to YHWH, Psalms 86:3, Psalms 86:4, Psalms 86:5

4. because God is also hesed, Psalms 86:5, Psalms 86:15.

In the OT, death was not seen as a reunion with God but a place of silence and joylessness. The psalmist wants to praise God in worship. The concept of what happens in the afterlife is developed (i.e., progressive revelation) in the NT. Thank God for Jesus and the NT!

“save” In the OT this referred to physical deliverance. See SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM) (OT).

“who trusts in You” See notes online at Psalms 4:5.

Psalms 86:3 “to You I cry all day long” This referred to prayer throughout the day (cf. Psalms 22:2; Psalms 25:5; Psalms 88:9).

Psalms 86:4 “I lift up my soul” This is an idiom for recognizing YHWH's place of power (i.e., on high, in heaven, cf. Psalms 123:1) and offering one's total self to Him (cf. Psalms 25:1; Psalms 143:8; Lamentations 3:41).

The cultural background could be

1. sacrifices were lifted to YHWH

2. Jewish prayer was offered with the head, eyes, and hands lifted to heaven

Psalms 86:5 This is a summary of the character of YHWH (cf. Psalms 86:10, Psalms 86:15). There are several of these summaries throughout the OT (cf. Exodus 34:6; Jonah 4:2; Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:13; Psalms 86:15; Psalms 103:8; Psalms 145:8).

Man's hope is in the settled, loving character of YHWH. He is

1. good - BDB 373 II (cf. 1 Chronicles 16:34; 2 Chronicles 5:13; 2 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Chronicles 30:18; Ezra 3:11; Psalms 25:8; Psalms 34:8; Psalms 100:5; Psalms 106:1; Psalms 107:1; Psalms 118:1, Psalms 118:25; Psalms 135:3; Psalms 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11; Nahum 1:7)

2. ready to forgive - BDB 699, adjective found only here (cf. Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 130:4 for usages for the related noun)

3. abundant in lovingkindness - BDB 912 I construct BDB 338 (cf. Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 103:8; Psalms 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2), see SPECIAL TOPIC: LOVINGKINDNESS (HESED)

4. great, Psalms 86:10 - BDB 152 (cf. Psalms 77:13)

5. do wondrous deeds, Psalms 86:10 - BDB 810, see Special Topic: Wonderful Things

6. merciful, Psalms 86:15 - BDB 933

7. gracious, Psalms 86:15 - BDB 337

8. slow to anger, Psalms 86:15 - cf. same parallel verses as #3

9. abundant in faithfulness/truth, Psalms 86:15 - cf. same parallel verses as #3

“to all who call upon You” The scope of YHWH's love and offer of acceptance is surprising in an OT Psalm. The same universal promise is repeated in Psalms 86:9. God welcomes all who approach Him in faith and worship. See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

“Calling upon” God was an act of faith expressed in public worship in Joel 2:32 and quoted by Paul in Romans 10:9-13. See Special Topic: What Does It Mean to “Receive,” “Believe,” “Confess/Profess,” and “Call Upon?”

Verses 6-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 86:6-10 6Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; And give heed to the voice of my supplications! 7In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, For You will answer me. 8There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours. 9All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And they shall glorify Your name. 10For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God.

Psalms 86:6-7 These are parallel to Psalms 86:1. They express the psalmist's confidence in YHWH's personal presence and care.

Psalms 86:7 “In the day of my trouble” The psalmist's plight is described further in Psalms 86:14. These enemies are described in several ways.

1. arrogant men have risen up against me

2. an assembly of violent men have sought my life (nephesh, see note online at Genesis 35:18)

3. they have not set You before them

4. those who hate me, Psalms 86:17b

Psalms 86:8 “There is no one like You” This is an affirmation of monotheism (cf. Psalms 86:10b), see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM. This reflects Exodus 15:11.

“among the gods” This is the Hebrew term elohim, used of spiritual beings (angels). This term is also used of human judges in the OT. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.

“Nor are there any works like Yours” YHWH is the God of creation. He is the only creator, all other beings are created. He is the God who acts. The idols of the nations cannot see, hear, or act!

Psalms 86:9 “All nations whom You have made shall come” If there is only one creator God and all humans are made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) and God has promised to redeem all fallen humans (Genesis 3:15), then God's love for all humans must be the focus of God's redemptive activities. See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

This verse expresses the assertion that YHWH created the nations (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8 in the LXX, which asserts YHWH gave each nation a national angel, cf. Deuteronomy 29:26; Daniel 10:0).

“they shall glorify Your name” Gentiles responding in faith and worship will glorify YHWH's love and redemption (cf. Isaiah 66:23c).

If Psalms 86:14-15 refers to rebellious Jews, the contrast with believing Gentiles is even more powerful!

Verses 11-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 86:11-13 11Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. 12I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And will glorify Your name forever. 13For Your lovingkindness toward me is great, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

Psalms 86:11-13 This stanza calls on YHWH (two imperatives) to provide what His faithful follower needsinstruction and a united, pure heart. In return the follower will “teach,” “walk,” “fear,” “give thanks,” and “glorify” YHWH. This is the covenant order: God provides, faithful followers respond.

“Your way. . .Your truth. . .Your name” These are obviously in a parallel relationship. Biblical faith is

1. a daily lifestyle

2. cognitive truth

3. a person to completely trust in/on

I usually say it is a person (Jesus) to welcome; truths about that person to believe (the Bible); and a life like that person's to live! All of these elements are necessary for a full, complete, and mature biblical faith!

Psalms 86:11, Psalms 86:12 “unite my heart. . .with all my heart” This is a Hebrew idiom for total allegiance and dedication (i.e., Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 32:39; Ezek. 11:33; Ezekiel 18:31; Ezekiel 36:26).

Psalms 86:12 “I will give thanks. . .I will glorify” These two verbs are cohortatives.

1. give thanks - BDB 392, KB 389, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

2. glorify - BDB 457, KB 455, Piel cohortative

“Your name” Calling on YHWH's name (i.e., His person, character) goes back to Genesis 4:26 (cf. Genesis 12:8; Genesis 21:33; Psalms 80:18; Psalms 145:1-2; Daniel 9:19; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9-13). These are acts of faith, worship, and thanksgiving. Faithful followers publicly call out to the invisible God of creation and redemption. See Special Topic at Psalms 86:5 and Special Topic: “The Name” of YHWH.

“forever” See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

Psalms 86:13 “delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” The verb (BDB 664, KB 717) is a Hiphil perfect and, therefore, could be understood as past, present, or future (only context can determine). Sheol is the holding place of the dead. The Jews buried their loved ones, therefore, it was viewed phenomenologically as being in the center of the earth. See Special Topic: Where Are the Dead?

The psalmist's reference has been understood in several ways.

1. sickness

2. covenant enemies (fellow Jews)

3. external enemies (the surrounding nations)

4. future end-time sense (eschatological)

The term “depths” is literally the adjective “lowest” (BDB 1066, cf. Deuteronomy 32:22).

Verses 14-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 86:14-17 14O God, arrogant men have risen up against me, And a band of violent men have sought my life, And they have not set You before them. 15But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. 16Turn to me, and be gracious to me; Oh grant Your strength to Your servant, And save the son of Your handmaid. 17Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Psalms 86:14 God's faithful followers have enemies! Who these are is uncertain. Whoever they are, they do not know nor recognize God or His people (cf. Psalms 54:3, similar in Psalms 36:1).

Psalms 86:15 See notes at Psalms 86:5.

Psalms 86:16 This is parallel to Psalms 86:1 and 3.

“save the son of Your handmaid” This is an idiom for a godly family who serves YHWH (i.e., Psalms 116:16).

Psalms 86:17 Does this verse imply a plea for those of Psalms 86:14 to repent or is it a call for public justice? Psalms 112:10 may relate to this verse.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How does the psalmist describe himself in Psalms 86:1-3?

2. Explain how Psalms 86:8 fits Israel's unique view of the oneness and onlyness of YHWH.

3. Explain the universal emphasis of Psalms 86:9.

4. List the names for deity used in this Psalm and their theological significance.

5. Define monotheism and its implication to Psalms 86:5 and 9.

6. List the characteristics of YHWH in Psalms 86:5, Psalms 86:10, Psalms 86:15.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 86". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.