In this psalm prayers and holy meditations, engaged in with the view of nourishing and confirming faith, together with praises and thanksgivings, are intermingled. It having been difficult in the judgement of carnal reason for David to escape from the distresses with which he was environed, he sets in opposition to its conclusions the infinite goodness and power of God. Nor does he simply request deliverance from his enemies; but he also prays that the fear of God may be implanted and firmly established in heart.

A Prayer of David.


Psalm 86:1-7

1. Incline thy ear, O Jehovah! answer me; for I am poor and needy. 2. Preserve my soul, for I am meek:1 O my God! save thy servant who trusteth in thee. 3. Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah! for daily2 do I cry to thee. 4. Make glad the soul of thy servant; for to thee, O Lord!3 do I lift up my soul. 5. For thou, O Lord! art good, and gracious, and of great mercy to all who call upon thee. 6. Listen, O Jehovah! to my prayer, and attend to the voice of my supplications. 7. In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.


1. Incline thy ear, O Jehovah! Neither the inscription nor the contents of this psalm enable us to conclude with certainty what dangers David here complains of; but the psalm in all probability refers to that period of his life when he was persecuted by Saul, and describes the train of thought which then occupied his mind, although it may not have been written until after his restoration to a state of outward peace and tranquillity, when he enjoyed greater leisure. He does not without cause allege before God the oppressions which he endured as a plea for obtaining the divine favor; for nothing is more suitable to the nature of God than to succor the afflicted: and the more severely any one is oppressed, and the more destitute he is of the resources of human aid, the more inclined is God graciously to help him. That despair therefore may not overwhelm our minds under our greatest afflictions, let us support ourselves from the consideration that the Holy Spirit has dictated this prayer for the poor and the afflicted.

2. Preserve my soul, for I am meek. Here the Psalmist adduces two other arguments by which to stir up God to grant him succor, -- his own gentleness towards his neighbors, and the trust which he reposed in God. In the first clause he may seem at first sight to make some pretensions to personal worth; yet he plainly shows that nothing was farther from his intention than to insinuate that by any merits of his own he had brought God under obligations to preserve him. But the particular mention made of his clemency or meekness tends to exhibit in a more odious light the wickedness of his enemies, who had treated so shamefully, and with such inhumanity, a man against whom they could bring no well-founded charge, and who had even endeavored to the utmost of his power to please them.4 Since God then has avowed himself to be the defender both of good causes and of those who follow after righteousness, David, not without good reason, testifies that he had endeavored to exercise kindness and gentleness; that from this it may appear that he was basely requited by his enemies, when they gratuitously acted with cruelty towards a merciful man. But as it would not be enough for our lives to be characterised by kindness and righteousness, an additional qualification is subjoined -- that of trust or confidence in God, which is the mother of all true religion. Some, we are aware, have been endued with so high a degree of integrity, as to have obtained among men the praise of being perfectly just, even as Aristides gloried in having never given any man cause of sorrow. But as those men, with all the excellence of their virtues, were either filled with ambition, or inflated with pride, which made them trust more to themselves than to God, it is not surprising to find them suffering the punishment of their vanity. In reading profane history, we are disposed to marvel how it came to pass that God abandoned the honest, the grave, and the temperate, to the enraged passions of a wicked multitude; but there is no reason for wondering at this when we reflect that such persons, relying on their own strength and virtue, despised the grace of God with all the superciliousness of impiety. Making an idol of their own virtue they disdained to lift up their eyes to Him. Although, therefore, we may have the testimony of an approving conscience, and although He may be the best witness of our innocence, yet if we are desirous of obtaining his assistance, it is necessary for us to commit our hopes and anxieties to him. If it is objected, that in this way the gate is shut against sinners, I answer, that when God invites to himself those who are blameless and upright in their deportment, this does not imply that he forthwith repels all who are punished on account of their sins; for they have an opportunity given them, if they will improve it, for prayer and the acknowledgement of their guilt.5, But if those whom we have never offended unrighteously assail us, we have ground for double confidence before God.

3. Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah! The Psalmist again betakes himself to the mercy of God. The word Nnx, chanan, which I have rendered have mercy, is substantially the same as to gratify, to do a pleasure. It is as if he had said, I bring no merit of my own, but humbly pray for deliverance solely on the ground of thy mercy. When he speaks of crying daily, it is a proof of his hope and confidence, of which we have spoken a little before. By the word cry, as I have already had occasion frequently to remark, is denoted vehemence and earnestness of soul. The saints do not indeed always pray with a loud voice; but their secret sighs and groanings resound and echo upwards, and, ascending from their hearts, penetrate even into heaven. The inspired suppliant not only represents himself as crying, but as persevering in doing so, to teach us that he was not discouraged at the first or second encounter, but continued in prayer with untiring earnestness. In the following verse, he expresses more definitely the end for which he besought God to be merciful to him, which was, that his sorrow might be removed. In the second clause, he declares that there was no hypocrisy in his crying; for he lifted up his soul to God, which is the chief characteristic of right prayer.

5. For thou, O Lord! art good and propitious.6 We have here a confirmation of the whole preceding doctrine, derived from the nature of God. It would avail the afflicted nothing to have recourse to him, and to lift up their desires and prayers to heaven, were they not persuaded that he is a faithful rewarder of all who call upon him. The point upon which David now insists is, that God is bountiful and inclined to compassion, and that his mercy is so great, as to render it impossible for him to reject any who implore his aid. He calls God propitious, or ascribes to him the attribute of pardoning sin, which is a modification of his goodness. It were not enough for God to be good in general, did he not also extend to sinners his forgiving mercy, which is the meaning of the word hlo, salach. Farther, although David magnifies the plenteousness of God's mercy, yet he immediately after represents this plenteousness as restricted to the faithful who call upon him, to teach us that those who, making no account of God, obstinately chafe upon the bit, deservedly perish in their calamities. At the same time, he uses the term all, that every man, without exception, from the greatest to the least, may be encouraged confidently to betake himself to the goodness and mercy of God.

6. Listen, O Jehovah! to my prayer. From the earnest repetition of his former requests in this and the subsequent verse, it is evident that he was oppressed with no ordinary degree of grief, and also agitated with extreme anxiety, From this example, we are taught that those who, having engaged in prayer once, allow themselves immediately to give over that exercise, provided God does not at once grant them their desire, betray the coldness and inconstancy of their hearts. Nor is this repetition of the same requests to be thought superfluous; for hereby the saints, by little and little, discharge their cares into the bosom of God, and this importunity is a sacrifice of a sweet savor before Him. When the Psalmist says, God will hear me when I cry in the day of trouble, he makes a particular application to himself of the truth which he had just now stated, That God is merciful and gracious to all who call upon him.

1 "Hezekiah, in the season of distress, 2 Kings 19:16, begins his prayer with these words: which may have occasioned the tradition of the Jews that he made use of this psalm on that occasion." -- Warner.

2 In our English version it is, "for I am holy." Cresswell would rather render, "for I am merciful and pious." "That," says he, "is the meaning of the Hebrew word, which the Septuagint and Jerome have rendered by holy. The Psalmist supplicates God's favor upon five several grounds, namely, his destitution, (verse 1;) his mercifulness and goodness, (verse 2;) his trust in God, (verse 2;) his prayerfulness, (verses 3, 4;) and God's goodness, (verse 5.") -- Cresswell.

3 "Ou, tout le jour." -- Fr. marg. "Or, all the day."

4 Here, and in all the verses in this psalm where ynda, Adonai, occurs, many MSS. read hwhy, Yehovah. We have before observed, (volume 1, page 13, note 2, and page 195, note,) that the Jews, out of reverence to the incommunicable name Jehovah, pronounce ynda where hwhy is in the text. It is, therefore, not improbable that hwhy is the true reading in all these places.

5 "Veu que luy qui estoit homme innocent, voire qui s'estoit efforce de tout son pouvoir a leur faire plaisir." -- Fr.

6 "Quia illis ad manum est deprecatio." -- Lat. "Car ils ont en main la priere et recognoissance de leur faute." -- Fr.


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