>David’s Prayer, Psalm 86

>Back at the end of Psalm 72, we read, “The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.” But fourteen psalms later in Psalm 86, another prayer of David appears.

David’s prayers echo with emotions and images that touch the common chords on the harp strings of human hearts.

He begins Psalm 86 confessing not only his weakness and need, but also his faith.

Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you–you are my God (1-2).

The language of David’s psalms seem to indicate that he sometimes struggled with depression. That is evident as this prayer immediately pleads for God’s grace.

Be gracious to me, O LORD,
for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace,
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me (3-7).

In the midst of a difficult situation or emotional depression, David cries to God “all the day.” He doesn’t merely form his lips into rote prayer; he lifts up his very soul to the Lord. And he lifts it up before the throne of grace is the hope that God will “gladden the soul” of his servant.

David acknowledges that God can do this because he is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love” to all who call upon him. He begs God to “give ear” to his prayer and to “listen” to his “plea for grace”; pleading with confidence that, in his day of trouble, God will answer him.

David then confesses God’s almighty status and actions: There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours (8).

He prophesies that “all” the nations God has made “shall come and worship” before the Lord, glorifying his name (9).

This verse brings to mind Revelation 21’s beautiful imagery describing the nations and kings of earth entering the holy city:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life (22-27).

Psalm 86:9 also brings to mind Philippians 2’s wonderful confession about how everyone will one day acknowledge Christ’s lordship:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (9-11).

Every tongue will confess Christ as Lord and the nations will bring their glory (but no sin) into the holy city because God is “great” and does “wondrous things” for he alone is God (10).

David’s plea for instruction and union with Christ is worth memorizing and regularly praying:

Teach my your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name (11).

I’m touched by the language of uniting our hearts to Christ’s. It seems that this isn’t simply an emotional union; it is a union with the purpose: fearing God’s name. Fearing God’s name does not mean to live in terror of God, although he is the only one who has the power to destroy the soul and appropriately should be feared! But rather, it means being aware of his almighty power and living a life that lovingly and obediently reflects due reverence to God.

After this plea for instruction and a united heart, David breaks into a paean of praise:

I will give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol (12-13).

David is able to praise God so exuberantly because he has witnessed God’s deliverance in the past and is confident he will deliver him again. “The depth os Sheol” could be a battle incident when enemy forces overwhelmed him and death appeared certain, or it could be a physical illness when he felt as if he would die, or it could be the depths of despair when he may have longed for death. In any hopeless scenario, God is our loving heavenly father who rescues us and pours out upon us his never failing love.

God had promised David the throne of Israel, but David had to fight many enemies before and after the fulfillment of that promise. His life was a series of conflicts with others.

O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them (14).

We don’t have to be waiting for God to establish our earthly kingdom to feel oppressed by others. The wicked of the world are always “insolent” and “ruthless,” but even fellow belivers sometimes misunderstand or misrepresent us. Family members fail us. But God is gracious!

But you, O lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant,
and save the son of your maidservant.
Show me a sign of your favor,
that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me (15-17).

God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abouding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” He will give strength to his struggling servants and save those suffering here in the shadowlands.

In his great mercy, God may even evidence his love to us in such an obvious way that those who plague us may see the irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.

The psalm ends with a personal past tense statement; this emphasizes that God’s deliverance as sure as if it has already occurred: God has “helped me and comforted me.”

What a blessing this morning to pray again with King David, who was not only the king of Israel, but also the king of poetical prayers!

© Glenda Mathes, 2010

Unless otherwise stated, all scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

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