Bible Commentaries
Psalms 86

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-17

Psalms 86:0

A Prayer of David

1          Bow down thine ear, O Lord, hear me:

For I am poor and needy.

2     Preserve my soul; for I am holy:

O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee.

3     Be merciful unto me, O Lord:

For I cry unto thee daily.

4     Rejoice the soul of thy servant:

For unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

5     For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive;

And plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.

6     Give ear, O Lord, unto 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.

8     Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord;

Neither are there any works like unto thy works.

9     All nations whom thou hast made

Shall come and worship before thee, O Lord;
And shall glorify thy name.

10     For thou art great, and doest wondrous things:

Thou art God alone.

11     Teach me thy way, O Lord;

I will walk in thy truth:
Unite my heart to fear thy name.

12     I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart:

And I will glorify thy name for evermore.

13     For great is thy mercy toward me:

And thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.

14     O God, the proud are risen against me,

And the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul;

And have not set thee before them.

15     But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious,

Long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.

16     O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me;

Give thy strength unto thy servant,
And save the son of thine handmaid.

17     Shew me a token for good;

That they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed:

Because thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me.


Contents and Composition.—We have first presented to us in this Psalm a succession of invocations and entreaties to God, supporting themselves on one hand upon the need of the suppliant and His covenant relation, and on the other upon God’s compassion and accessibility (Psalms 86:1-7). There next follows the joyful acknowledgment of God’s incomparable exaltation, to which as well as to His power the heathen will submit themselves (Psalms 86:8-10). Then comes a prayer for direction in the way of God, which the poet promises to follow out of lasting gratitude for the deliverance vouchsafed to him, (Psalms 86:11-13). Finally we have an entreaty preceded by a complaint against godless enemies, spared by God’s patience (Psalms 86:14-15), which implores help for the offerer, so that his haters may be ashamed and know that it is really God who has helped His pious servant (Psalms 86:16-17).

The whole Psalm gives the impression of a pretty late composition. Familiar expressions and phrases from the words of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, loosely connected, are found throughout, and yet not altogether without evidences of a peculiar treatment. It is remarkable that in Psalms 86:14, in the passage taken literally from Psalms 54:5, זֵדִים is found instead of זָרִים, and yet the acknowledgment of God in the nations of the world as the Supreme God is spoken of in Psalms 86:9. It is quite uncertain to what event the deliverance mentioned in Psalms 86:13 refers. We have no grounds afforded us for supposing the return from exile (Olshausen), or for connecting the verse with 2Ma 13:21, (Hitzig), not to mention the deliverance of David from the plans contrived by Saul (Köster and Clauss last), since we have no reason to assume that David was consoled by the Korahites by a Psalm constructed out of his own words (Hengstenberg). It is even questionable whether it was a past event, and whether the præterite, though not to be taken as prophetic præterite, and therefore as future (De Wette), may yet not be regarded as conveying an optative sense, and therefore be rendered by the imperfect, (Ewald, Baur). It is to be remarked that the appellation of God, Adonai, is here used seven times, and three times in Psalms 130:0. It seems, however, too rash an opinion to consider this circumstance as indicating a tendency to a later adonaic style of Psalm-poetry, in imitation of the Elohim Psalms (Delitzsch).

[The superscription of this Psalm presents a curious phenomenon. It ascribes the authorship to David, being the only instance in the whole of the Fourth Book. It occurs also in the midst of a group of Psalms of the sons of Korah. The opinion that David himself was the composer is now almost universally abandoned. But is it necessary to assume that it was composed in David’s lifetime? Hengstenberg, who maintains rightly the originality of the superscription, feels bound to maintain that it was. But he is willing to depart from the literal application of the language, as he supposes that it was composed by the sons of Korah for David’s benefit. The character of the Psalm suggests that we may use the same freedom of interpretation in another direction. For the looseness of connection and the liturgical rather than poetical form, as Delitzsch has remarked, seem to bespeak a late origin. It may be called “a prayer of David” because it expresses the spirit of a number of his Psalms which are of a predominantly supplicatory character, and are indicated by the same title תְּפִלָּה, and chiefly, because his sayings constitute a large portion of it. Among English commentators Perowne abandons the idea of a Davidic composition, and maintains a late date. Alexander appears undecided, though he considers the circumstances described suitable to David’s frequent situations of suffering. Wordsworth thinks that a Psalm of David is inserted in the midst of the Korahite ones, to confirm the equal authority of the latter.—J. F. M.]

Psalms 86:2-12. I am holy.—The expression has reference to the covenant-relation (Hupf.) and not to piety as a virtue. The accusation that the Psalmist makes a boast of the latter (De Wette) is unfounded. Geier already has had occasion to combat it, and translated: beneficiarius; and the Dutch Bible: gunstgenoot. [In Psalms 86:3, כָּל־חַיֹּום is capable of being translated either: daily, as E. V. has it, or: all the day, as it is given in the margin. The latter as indicating a depth of need which the former fails to do is to be preferred. On Psalms 86:9 Alexander says: “The common relation of Jehovah to all men as their Maker shall be one day universally acknowledged, not in word merely, but in act, the most expressive part of worship, involving a recognition of the previous display of God’s perfections, in the language of Scripture, His name. This prospective view of the conversion of the world to its Maker, shows how far the Old Testament writers were from cherishing or countenancing the contracted nationality of the later and the less enlightened Jews. Comp. Psalms 22:27-28; Psalms 45:12; Psalms 45:16; Psalms 47:9; and Jeremiah 16:19; Zephaniah 2:11; Zechariah 14:9; Zechariah 14:16.”—J. F. M.] The expression: unite my heart, in Psalms 86:11, is peculiar. It is equivalent to: unite all my powers and impel them towards one object (Calvin, Geier, and others). It is the whole, undivided heart which is demanded in connection with love in Deuteronomy 6:5; Deuteronomy 10:12, and in connection with the fear of God it appears here and in Jeremiah 32:29, as לֵב אֶחָד. The contrast is exhibited in James 4:8. It is a less tenable explanation which understands a heart one with God (J. H. Michaelis following older expositors). The whole heart is also mentioned in connection with thanksgiving in Psalms 86:12. The translation of the Vulgate: lætetur (after Sept., Syr.) rests upon a false derivation from חָרָה.

Psalms 86:13 ff. The underworld [E. V.: lowest hell] is employed as in Deuteronomy 32:22, to denote the world beneath in the bowels of the earth (Ezekiel 31:14 f.), under the earth, Exodus 20:4, comp. Philippians 2:10, not as the lowest (Sept., Vulg.) or deepest (Köster, Ewald). There is nothing to indicate any allusion to different degrees of descent. Deliverance from a position in which life was endangered is the subject of the verse.—Son of thine handmaid may allude to the servants born in the house, Genesis 14:14; Genesis 17:12; Exodus 23:12 (Geier, Olshausen, Hitzig, Delitzsch) so that the Psalmist does not describe himself as the servant of God in general (Hupfeld), but as being born into this relation.—Token for good in Psalms 86:17 is not a miracle which the Psalmist implores in order to effect his deliverance (De Wette, Olsh.), but an evidence of the Divine favor (Geier, Hengst., Delitzsch, Hupfeld), a token of good intentions, not: for good fortune, or: “that it will be well with me,” (Luther), but one from which it will be clear that God purposes good with regard to him. [Hengstenberg: “What the Psalmist speaks of, according to the preceding context and the conclusion of the Psalm, is simply help and comfort, by which all his enemies may see that it is not without good ground that he calls God his God.”—J. F.M.]


1. The hope that our prayers will be heard by God is grounded partly on our misery and helplessness (Psalms 35:10; Psalms 37:14; 40:18; Psalms 74:21); partly upon our covenant relation to Him. With regard to the latter, we have not only been able to receive most competent testimony of the goodness and placability of God (Exodus 34:6), of His incomparable exaltation (Exodus 15:11), and of His power (Deuteronomy 3:24), but have also made actual proof of the truth of these declarations, and of the credibility of these attestations.

2. A true servant of this Almighty Lord not merely bears in his heart the hope that many yet in the world will be converted to Him (Psalms 22:18; Jeremiah 16:19), but, as included in the terms of the covenant of grace (Psalms 4:4; Psalms 16:10), he labors earnestly for his own sanctification. He prays therefore especially for direction in the ways of God (Psalms 25:4; Psalms 25:8; Psalms 25:12; Psalms 27:11), and for strength to enable him to walk in conformity therewith. And in this he includes a prayer for a heart single to God’s fear, so that the whole heart may be yielded up in true gratitude. The help implored and received thus gains a significance beyond his own experience, and becomes a token for others also.


It is well for men to complain to God of their distress; it is better to confess their own inability to relieve it; it is best for them to rely upon God’s mercy, and to entreat mighty proofs of His goodness.—Believers must not become presumptuous or secure on account of their covenant relation, but find in it reason both for humility and for reliance upon God.—Let him who knows God ever learn of Him, and let him who loves God please Him better day by day. The more deeply true piety is stamped upon our own lives, the more distinctly is it made a token for others.—It is of no consequence to us, that our enemies are put to shame, unless they, at the same time, give glory to God.—How little do we regulate our conduct in view of the incomparable power, goodness, and faithfulness of God!

Starke: The righteous have to suffer much, therefore they must pray much.—How useful is affliction! It forces us to pray; it excites us to ardent importunity in our prayers; it supports and strengthens faith.—The anguish of guilt and the sense of God’s anger are a deep hell, from which none but God can rescue us.—There is need of great self-denial in refraining from asking a sign from God for our own sakes, which would be to tempt God; but we must ask for the sake of God’s glory.

Osiander: As it is the duty of the servant to obey his master, so is it the part of the master to defend and protect his servant.—Arndt: When God does not lead and conduct men they wander, and God has His own peculiar way.—Frisch: The more thou givest God the honor, and showest thy reliance upon Him, the readier will he be to help thee.—Richter (Hausbibel): The best and most indispensable token of mercy which a believer can have is the witness and seal of the Holy Spirit. But God also vouchsafes to them a special token, namely, deliverance from the snares of the world, so that even unbelievers themselves must acknowledge: God is with them!

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 86". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.