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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
Psalms 86

 

 

Verses 1-5

Psalms 86:1-5

The fulness and variety of these petitions deserve careful consideration.

Notice:—

I. The invocations. Five times in these verses of the text does the Psalmist invoke God, and that by three several names: "Jehovah," "my God," "Lord." (1) "Jehovah." The word implies eternal, timeless being, underived self-existence. It was given as the seal of the covenant, as the ground of the great deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The national existence rested upon it. The vitality of Israel was guaranteed by the eternity of Israel's God. (2) "My God." The word implies the abundance and fulness of power, and so may be found, and often is found, on the lips of heathens. It contemplates the almightiness rather than the moral attributes or covenant relations of God as the ground of our hopes. This general conception becomes special on the Psalmist's lips by the little word which he prefixes to it: "my God." (3) The word "Lord" is not, as a mere English reader might suppose, the same word as that which is rendered Lord" in the first verse. That is "Jehovah." This means just what our English word "lord" means: it conveys the general idea of authority and dominion.

II. The petitions which these verses give us. They are all substantially the same, and yet they so vary as to suggest how familiar all the aspects of the deliverance that the Psalmist desired were to him. (1) There is, first, the cry that God would hear, the basis of all that follows. Then there is a threefold description of the process of deliverance: "preserve," "save," "be merciful." Then there is a longing for that which comes after the help, a consequence of the hearing: "Make the soul of Thy servant glad."

III. The pleas on which these petitions are based. (1) The Psalmist pleads his necessities. He is "poor and needy," borne down by the pressure of outward calamity, and destitute of inward resources. (2) He pleads his relation to God and his longing for communion with Him. "I am holy." The word simply means "one who is a recipient or object of mercy." The plea is drawn, not from the righteousness of the man, but from the mercy of God. (3) Finally, because our necessities and our desires derive their force as pleas from God's own character, he urges that as his last and mightiest appeal. The name of God is the ground of all our hope, and the motive for all His mercy.

A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 257.


In this passage we are looking at one of God's saints in the holiest of all, in the immediate presence of his God and King.

I. The first thought that strikes us is, David takes his right place. He says, "Bow down," as though he would say, "I am a worm, and no man." I cannot claim an audience. If Thou wouldst hear, Thou must bow down Thine ear, as a tender Father, to catch what Thy frail child has to say.

II. Look at the "fors" of the passage. There are five. (1) "For I am poor and needy." If we come to God at all, we must come as beggars. There are two words in the Greek language which indicate poverty. One indicates respectable poverty, the poverty of a man in humble circumstances, who is working hard to get his bread. The other signifies "beggary," the state of the man who has got nothing, who is utterly bankrupt. In describing the particular kind of poverty-stricken people He receives, our Lord uses the word to indicate abject bankruptcy; and unless we come into the Divine presence in the position of paupers, we cannot get the blessing. (2) Notice the second "for:" "Preserve my soul, for I am holy." The first "for" is the "for" of the bankrupt; the second is the "for" of the saint. There is no contradiction here: in my own moral character a poor beggar, grovelling in the dust; in God's own Divine purpose something nobler than the bright spirits that stand around His throne, heir of God and joint heir with Christ, bound to the everlasting Deity by indissoluble bonds. (3) "Be merciful unto me, O Lord, for I cry unto Thee daily." This third "for" points out to us what is to be the law of our life. If we want to be kept in constant safety, we must be calling unto Him "daily." (4) "Rejoice the soul of Thy servant, for unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul." The Psalmist begins by asking the Lord to "bow down His ear unto him," but he goes on till he gets to such a point of believing expectation that he dares to lift up his soul into the presence of God. It is lifted up in order that it may become a partaker of God's joy. God is the centre of eternal joy. "At Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.' (5) "For Thou, Lord, art good and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee." We are so poor in our mercy. The richness of God's mercy lies in this point: the Lord never gives a mercy till He has taken care that it shall be a real mercy. His favours shall only be received by those who will take them in His own way, and thus the blessing is doubled.

W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, 1st series, p. 220.


Reference: Psalms 86:3.— G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 248.



Verse 9

Psalms 86:9

This Psalm is not usually numbered, but it might well be, amongst the penitential psalms. Its pensiveness is that of contrition. From the Divine attributes which it accentuates, and from its expressions, as well as from the tone that runs through it, we see a tender conscience, healed and lowly, sensible of fault, rejoicing in forgiveness. The Psalmist dwells on God's mercy, on His longsuffering, on His readiness to forgive, as only they dwell who have the broken and contrite heart.

I. Observe that wherever you find contrition you find a light peculiarly its own, an unusual brightness, a lofty hope; a vision of God amazing in its clearness, and a vision of man remarkable for its brightness and its faith. We cannot by searching find out God, but we can by trusting.

II. Observe the hope which is expressed in the text, "All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee.' It is a great dream; it is a dream of universal religion—one creed for every variety of man, in all conditions, in all stages of civilisation; one vision of God to charm them; one song of praise and triumph rising over all mankind. Concerning this hope, we remark: (1) that all the holy have cherished it; (2) that it has been marvellously realised in the history of the world in the past; (3) that it is a consummation devoutly to be wished. (4) Think what might have been accomplished already if the Church had done her work.

III. Notice the lessons which these things enforce. (1) Let us repent of our despair and believe in the truth of God; (2) let us repent of the little we have done to speed forward the work; (3) let us labour at home and abroad, expecting not failure, but the thirty-fold, the sixty-fold, the hundred-fold, promised by our Lord.

R. Glover, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 260.



Verse 11

Psalms 86:11

In the expressions "teach," "fear," "walk," we have religion presented to us in the three aspects of knowledge, feeling, and conduct; in other words, religion in the head, in the heart, and in the feet. Religion affects the whole circle of man's activity. As knowledge, it illumines his intellect or guides his thinking in relation to those matters of which religion takes cognisance; as feeling, it awakens right promptings within him in relation to those matters; as conduct, it furnishes rules for his doing.

I. Religion as a matter of knowledge, a process of instruction. "Teach me Thy way, O Lord." (1) The Teacher: "the Lord." Religious illumination comes from God, the Father of lights. He graciously assumes the character of Teacher to men in the way of salvation. To this end He has provided for them a great lesson-book, none other than the Bible. When we read this book, we sit, in effect, like Mary of old, at the feet of the Divine Teacher to learn "His way." (2) The learner: man. Man displays the first essential of a true learner: a keen desire for his lesson. The scholar casts himself at the feet of his Divine Teacher, and entreats to be taught. Meekness and fear—that is, docility and reverence—are qualities in the pupil which unlock the secrets of the Divine heart.

II. Religion in the heart, or religion as a matter of feeling. Religion here has made its way from the head into the heart; from the light of knowledge it has become the warmth of emotion. The particular emotion into which the knowledge develops is fear. (1) This is not fear in the sense of terror or dismay, but love. It is heart-fear, not conscience-fear. It is the child-disposition, sweet, trustful, and penetrated with holy, subduing reverence. (2) The condition of its development. The essential condition of this beautiful disposition is a heart at peace with all its passions, in thorough harmony with God.

III. Religion in the life, or as a matter of conduct. Divine truth is first light in relation to men; this truth or light received into the hearts of men becomes converted into love; and this love becomes a mighty propelling force, impelling them irresistibly along the line of truth and righteousness.

A. J. Parry, Phases of Christian Truth, p. 158.


This prayer begins with a general request, and then points it to a particular object: "Unite my heart"—make it one; and for what?—"to fear Thy name."

I. "Unite my heart." Who that knows the fickleness and inconsistency of the human character, of his own character, will not join in this prayer? Anything is better for a man than a distracted, unharmonised, inconsistent character. To spend precious time in counteracting and crossing out ourselves is more than any of us can afford in this short life, in which so much is to be done. One very prevailing form of this inconsistency is a trifling, wavering, inconstant spirit, the standing idle in the marketplace of the world of a man who has not yet found his vineyard to work in, or who, having found it, is weary of the work. It is very often incident to youth and inexperience. With the young especially one of the first conditions of unity of heart is a humble and conscientious adoption of opinions. Do not entangle yourselves, in the battle before you, with armour which you have not proved. Better defence to you will be the simple sling and stone of one conviction tried by your own experience than all the panoply of Saul.

II. While on this matter, it seems in the course of our subject to put in a warning against two mistaken lines of conduct which we see around us: (1) a listless apathy to the formation and expression of opinion; a carrying out of an idea that a man may be consistent by being nothing. It is not thus that we pray that our hearts may be united. Better even be inconsistent among the energies of life than faultless, because motionless, in the slumbers of death. (2) The other alternative is that of cherishing an artificial consistency, for mere consistency's sake. It is lamentable to see men punctiliously upholding an accredited opinion which we have reason to know they do not themselves hold. It is by such men and such lives that mighty systems of wrong have grown up under the semblance of right; it is in spite of such men that the God of truth has broken these systems to pieces one after another, and has strewn the history of His world with the wrecks of these fair-seeming fabrics.

III. "Unite my heart to fear Thy name." If we would be consistent men, God must be first in everything. (1) If this is so, the first consequence will be that our motives will be consistent. The fear of God will abide as a purifying influence in the very centre of our springs of action, His eye ever looking on us, His benefits ever constraining us. (2) Union of the heart in God's fear will save us from grievous or fatal inconsistency in opinion. He whose heart is united to fear his God, though not exempt from other men's failings, is saved from other men's recklessness, and has a tenderer and a safer conscience in the matter of forming and holding opinion.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 256.



Verse 17

Psalms 86:17

I. "Show me a token for good." The want thus expressed is a spiritual want; the prayer therefore is for spiritual relief. It is a token of love to his soul, a token of spiritual and eternal good, for which the Psalmist prays.

II. Suppose that some particular tendency of our evil nature has long held us in bondage, and that we are conscious of what the Apostle calls "a sin which easily besets us." What in such a case would be the right use of the words before us? Surely they should suggest to us an earnest prayer to God to show us one of His special tokens, to encourage our weak faith, to animate our feeble efforts, by a season of unwonted success—I mean by enabling us but for once so to overcome our sin, that we may see for ourselves how near help really is, and how surely He hears our prayers.

III. It may be said indeed, and said truly, that such tokens ought not to be needed. We must beware of perverting the text so as to suppose that our Christian faith is to be built upon so unstable a foundation as the impressions and feelings of our own minds, or that our struggles with evil can safely be postponed until some such special help be vouchsafed to us.

IV. The time, and the manner, and the degree of our comfort in spiritual things, as in earthly, must be left implicitly at God's disposal. While this is remembered and confessed, the prayer of the Psalmist is safe and wise. What God desires is that we should seek our happiness in Him; and then He sets no bounds to prayer or expectation.

C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 223

I. Look, first, at Divine help. "Thou, Lord, hast holpen me!" (1) It is in the very nature and disposition of God to give help. (2) Sin is a hindrance to our reception of Divine help, but for the removal of this obstacle God has made a large provision in the redemption which He has provided. (3) God's ability to help is perfect, and His resources unlimited, almighty. (4) God helps by various agencies; and these are chosen by His own wisdom, superintended by His own eye, and made efficient by His own power. (5) God helps us individually. (6) God helps us perfectly and efficiently.

II. Look, next, at godly consolation. "Thou hast comforted me." (1) God comforts by the undergrowth of small alleviations in trouble. (2) God comforts by calling our attention to some solace present with us which we have overlooked. (3) God comforts us by revelations of a bright future. (4) God comforts us in trouble, and He comforts us by taking away trouble. (5) God comforts us by the direct action of His mind Upon our mind; by His word, especially by His word of promise; and by our fellow-men, especially by our fellow-Christians. (6) God comforts us by drawing us near to Himself. (7) God gives help and comfort from the sanctuary.

S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 120.


References: Psalms 86:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1559. Psalms 87:2.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 249. Psalms 87:3.—A. M. Fairbairn, The City of God, p. 349. Psalms 87:6.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 382. Psalm 87—A. B. Bruce, Expositor, 1st series, vol. x., p. 134.



 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 86:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/psalms-86.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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