Psalm 86:8-11

8. Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord! nor any that can work as thou workest. 9. All the nations which thou hast made shall come and worship before thy face, O Lord! and shall give glory to thy name. 10. For thou art great, and thou alone, O God! doest wondrous things. 11. Show me thy ways, O Jehovah! I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.


8. Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord! Here the Psalmist may be considered either as bursting forth into thanksgivings, after having obtained what he desired, or else as gathering courage and new strength for prayer. The latter opinion I am most inclined to adopt; but perhaps it may be preferable to regard both views as included. Some understand the word Mwhla, Elohim, as denoting angels -- There is none like unto thee, O Lord! among the angels -- as if David compared them with the Most High God; but this does not seem to agree so well with the passage. He does not humble the angels, representing them as inferior gods, that they may give place to the power of God; but he holds up to contempt and derision all the false gods in whom the heathen world imagined some help was to be found;1 and he does this because they could supply no evidence of their being gods from their works. Had he distributed the power of working between them and the true God in different degrees, assigning less to the former and more to the latter, he would not have attributed to God that which is naturally and exclusively his own. He therefore affirms, without qualification, that no characteristic of Deity could be perceived in them, or traced in any works performed by them. In calling us to the consideration of works, he clearly shows, that those who indulge in ingenious speculations about the occult or secret essence of God, and pass over the unequivocal traces of his majesty which are to be seen beaming forth in bright effulgence in his works, do but trifle and spend their time to no purpose. As the Divine nature is infinitely exalted above the comprehension of our understanding, David wisely confines his attention to the testimony of God's works, and declares that the gods who put forth no power are false and counterfeit. If it is objected that there is no comparison between God and the silly inventions of men, the answer is obvious, That this language is employed in accommodation to the ignorance of the generality of men. The effrontery with which the superstitious exalt the spurious fabrications of their own brain above the heavens is well known; and David very justly derides their madness in forging gods to themselves, which in reality are no gods.

9. All nations which thou hast made shall come.2 If any would rather limit what is here stated to David's present case, this view does not seem liable to any material objection. He, in fact, often enhances the Divine goodness of which he himself had experience by the like magnificent strain. It may, however, be fitly extended to the universal power of God; but whether he speaks of the grace that was bestowed upon himself alone, or treats, in general, of the works of God, we must bear in mind what has been observed in another place, that whenever he celebrates the prevalence of true godliness among the heathen, he has an eye to the kingdom of Christ, prior to whose coming God gave only the initial or dawning manifestation of his glory, which at length was diffused through the whole world by the preaching of the Gospel. David was not ignorant of the future calling of the Gentiles; but this being a doctrine with which Jewish ears were not familiar, that people would have felt it a disagreeable announcement, to have been told that the Gentiles should come to worship God indiscriminately with the children of Abraham, and, all distinction being removed, become partakers with them of heavenly truth. To soften the announcement, he asserts that the Gentiles also were created by God, so that it ought not to be accounted strange if they, being enlightened also, should at length acknowledge Him who had created and fashioned them.

10. For thou art great, and thou alone, O God! doest wondrous things. In this verse there is again repeated the cause which will bring all nations to worship before the Lord, namely, the discovery made of his glory by the greatness of his works. The contemplation of God's glory in his works is the true way of acquiring genuine godliness. The pride of the flesh would always lead it to wing its way into heaven; but, as our understandings fail us in such an extended investigation, our most profitable course is, according to the small measure of our feeble capacity, to seek God in his works, which bear witness of him. Let us therefore learn to awaken our understandings to contemplate the divine works, and let us leave the presumptuous to wander in their own intricate mazes, which, in the end, will invariably land them in an abyss from which they will be unable to extricate themselves. To incline our hearts to exercise this modesty, David magnificently extols the works of God, calling them wondrous things, although to the blind, and those who have no taste for them, they are destitute of attraction. In the meantime, we ought carefully to attend to this truth, That the glory of Godhead belongs exclusively to the one true God; for in no other being is it possible to find the wisdom, or the power, or the righteousness, or any of the numerous marks of divinity which shine forth in his wonderful works. Whence it follows, that the Papists are chargeable with rendering, as much as in them lies, his title to true Godhead nugatory, when despoiling him of his attributes they leave him almost nothing but the bare name.

11. Show me thy ways, O Jehovah! David now rises higher, praying that he may be governed by the spirit of sound understanding, in order to his living a holy life, and that he may be strengthened in his endeavors thereto by the spirit of fortitude. He tacitly contrasts the ways of God with all the counsels which he could derive from carnal reason. In submitting himself to God, and in imploring Him to be his guide, he confesses that the only possible way by which we can be enabled to live a holy and an upright life is, when God goes before us, while we follow after him; and, accordingly, that those who deviate, let it be never so little, from the law through a proud conceit of their own wisdom, wander from the right path. This he more fully confirms, by adding immediately after, I will walk in thy truth. He pronounces all to be guilty of vanity and lying who observe not this rule of truth. Farther, his prayer to be taught in the ways of the Lord does not imply that he had been previously altogether ignorant of divine truth; but well aware of the much darkness -- of the many clouds of ignorance in which he was still enveloped, he aspires after greater improvement. Let it also be observed, that he is not to be understood as speaking only of external teaching: but having the law among his hands, he prays for the inward light of the Holy Spirit, that he may not labor in the unprofitable task of learning only the letter; according as he prays in another place,

"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law," (Psalm 119:18.)

If a prophet so distinguished, and so richly endued with the graces of the Holy Spirit, makes such a frank and cordial confession of his own ignorance, how great our folly if we feel not our own deficiency, and are not stirred up to greater diligence in self-improvement from the knowledge of our slender attainments! And, assuredly, the more progress a man has made in the knowledge of the true religion, the more sensible will he be that he is far from the mark. Secondly, it is necessary to add, that reading or hearing is not enough, unless God impart to us inward light by his Spirit.

In addition to this, the Psalmist desires that his heart may be framed for yielding obedience to God, and that it may be firmly established therein; for as our understanding has need of light, so has our will of uprightness. The original words which I have translated, unite my heart, are translated by some, rejoice my heart, as if the verb were from the root, hdx, chadah, to rejoice;3 but it rather comes from dxy, yachad, to unite -- a sense which is very suitable to the passage before us.4 This word contains a tacit contrast, which has not been sufficiently attended to, between the unwavering purpose with which the heart of man cleaves to God when it is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the disquietude with which it is distracted and tossed so long as it fluctuates amidst its own affections. It is therefore indispensably requisite, that the faithful, after having learned what is right, should firmly and cordially embrace it, that the heart may not break forth in impetuous desire after unhallowed lusts. Thus, in the word unite, there is a very beautiful metaphor, conveying the idea, that the heart of man is full of tumult, drawn asunder, and, as it were, scattered about in fragments, until God has gathered it to himself, and holds it together in a state of steadfast and persevering obedience. From this also, it is manifest what free will is able to do of itself. Two powers are ascribed to it; but David confesses that he is destitute of both; setting the light of the Holy Spirit in opposition to the blindness of his own mind; and affirming that uprightness of heart is entirely the gift of God.

1 The word for "and propitious" is xlow, vesallach, which Bythner renders, "and a pardoner." It is from xlo, salach, he forgave, pardoned.

2 "Among the gods, i.e., among the gods of the Gentiles, such as Baal, Baal-berith, Baal-zebub, Dagon, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Milcom, Nisroch, and especially, as R. Kimchi thinks, the heavenly bodies, the sun and the stars. Some commentators suppose that it may mean, among angels, or among princes. There is good reason for doubting, however, with Parkhurst, whether the word Alaim ever positively means princes, judges, or magistrates; and the passage (Judges 13:22) quoted by Buxtorf, to show that it sometimes means an angel, only proves that Manoah intended to say that he had seen God in the person of his angel. Comp. Psalm 89:7; 96:5." -- Cresswell.

3 "This verse has been considered, with great probability, as a prediction of the calling of the Gentiles under the messiah. See Romans 15:9." -- Warner.

4 The reading of the LXX. is, "Let my heart rejoice," with which the Syriac agrees; and this sense is adopted by several critics, as Muis, Dr Durell, and others.


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