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Psalm 86


A Psalm of Supplication and Trust
MT Intro
A Prayer of David
Prayer for Mercy, with Meditation on the Excellencies of the Lord Prayer for Deliverance from Personal Enemies A Prayer For Help Prayer in Time of Trial
(Verse numbers from LXX)
86:1-5 86:1-5 86:1-7 86:1-2 86:1-2b
86:6-10 86:6-7   86:6-7  
  86:8-10 86:8-11 86:8-10  
86:11-13 86:11-13   86:11-13 86:11
    86:12-13   86:12-13
86:14-17 86:14-15 86:14-17 86:14-17 86:14
  86:16-17     86:16b-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, Ps. 86:1,2,3,4

2. righteous God, Ps. 86:5,6

B. This Psalm has a surprising universal element in Ps. 86:9 (cf. Ps. 22:27; 46:10; 47:9; 57:5,11; 64:9; 65:8; 66:1-7; 67:2-5; 98:23; 99:2-3 102:15). 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, Ps. 86:1-7

2. hymn of praise to God, Ps. 86:8-10

a. His transcendence

b. His uniqueness (monotheism)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. save, Ps. 86:16 - same as #4

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

E. Notice the vocatives.

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

2. O You my God (Eloah), Ps. 86:2

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

4. O God (Elohim), Ps. 86:10,14

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

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

The other names/titles used are

1. God (El), Ps. 86:15

2. Your name (BDB 1027), Ps. 86:9, 11, 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 Ps. 86:9 is the central key verse. To me, Ps. 86:8 is theologically the key verse and Ps. 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.



 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.

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. Ps. 86:3,4,6,7).

▣ "O Lord" This is YHWH (i.e., the name is defined in Exod. 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 (Ps. 86:1,3,6,11), Elohim (Ps. 86:2,10,12) and Adon (Ps. 86:4,8, 9,12). 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 (Ps. 86:7)

2. to witness (Ps. 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. Ps. 34:6; 35:10; 40:17; 70:5). In this Psalm it is possibly a reference to the King.

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. Ps. 86:4 (twice), 13,14; see notes online at Ps. 3:2 and Gen. 35:18

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

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

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

2. he trusts in YHWH, Ps. 86:2

3. he prays to YHWH, Ps. 86:3,4,5

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

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 Ps. 4:5.

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

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. Ps. 123:1) and offering one's total self to Him (cf. Ps. 25:1; 143:8; Lam. 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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. merciful, Ps. 86:15 - BDB 933

7. gracious, Ps. 86:15 - BDB 337

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

9. abundant in faithfulness/truth, Ps. 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 Ps. 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 Rom. 10:9-13. See Special Topic: What Does It Mean to "Receive," "Believe," "Confess/Profess," and "Call Upon?"

 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.

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

86:7 "In the day of my trouble" The psalmist's plight is described further in Ps. 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 Gen. 35:18)

3. they have not set You before them

4. those who hate me, Ps. 86:17b


86:8 "There is no one like You" This is an affirmation of monotheism (cf. Ps. 86:10b), see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM. This reflects Exod. 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!

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 (Gen. 1:26-27) and God has promised to redeem all fallen humans (Gen. 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. Deut. 32:8 in the LXX, which asserts YHWH gave each nation a national angel, cf. Deut. 29:26; Daniel 10).

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

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

 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.

86:11-13 This stanza calls on YHWH (two imperatives) to provide what His faithful follower needs—instruction 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!

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

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 Gen. 4:26 (cf. Gen. 12:8; 21:33; Ps. 80:18; 145:1-2; Dan. 9:19; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 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 Ps. 86:5 and Special Topic: "The Name" of YHWH.

▣ "forever" See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).

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. Deut. 32:22).

 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.

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. Ps. 54:3, similar in Ps. 36:1).

86:15 See notes at Psalm 86:5.

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

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

86:17 Does this verse imply a plea for those of Ps. 86:14 to repent or is it a call for public justice? Psalm 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 Ps. 86:1-3?

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

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

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

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

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

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