Psalm 86


This is a psalm of lament by David, where he laments on the fact that God is good and always ready to forgive those who come in Him in repentance. He describes God as compassionate, always ready to help those in trouble and always ready to comfort them.


‘A prayer of David.’

Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding about the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.

1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.

2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.

3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.

4. How it was used.

The heading tells us that this is simply a prayer of David.

‘Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you. You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.’ Psalm 86:1-5

David begins by asking God to hear his prayer and answer them. He feels poor and needy, that is, he pours his heart out to God because spiritually speaking he needs God’s help in his life, Matthew 5:1-12. He’s desperate for God’s help and so, he asks God to ‘guard his life’, in other words, without God’s help, he felt he would die.

He acknowledges that he is faithful to God, this doesn’t mean he was sinless, but when compared to those who were his enemies, he was faithful to God. Because he had given his life to the Lord, he begged the Lord to work in his life.

David is God’s servant and he fully trusts God, that is he feels he is firmly rooted in God. Because God is his God, he can ask for mercy, which demonstrates his total reliance on God and no-one else.

Because David was faithful to God, he could cry out to God all day long, Romans 12:1-2 / 1 Thessalonians 5:17. He knows that it’s only God who could bring him joy, which again, is an expression of total trust in God.

He knows that God is not only a merciful God but a God who is forgiving, good and abundant in love. This again, speaks of his total trust in God and God’s character.

‘Hear my prayer, LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvellous deeds; you alone are God.’ Psalm 86:6-10

Once again, David asks God to hear his prayer and listen to his cry for mercy, Psalm 5:1. He knows when he’s in times of distress, he can confidently turn to God in prayer and God will answer his prayers, James 1:6-7.

He now compares God to the other so-called gods, unlike them, God can be trusted, He is merciful, good, ready to forgive and abundant in love.

The manmade gods such as Baal, Ashtoreth, and Dagon were gods that were bitter, vengeful and cunning, 1 Kings 18:26-29, but David knew his God was the exact opposite, they were nothing compared to the Almighty God, their deeds don’t even come close to the deeds of God, 1 Corinthians 8:5-6.

David says that God made all the nations come and worship Him and they will bring glory to His Name. David knows that God isn’t just the ruler and master of Israel, but He’s also ruler and master over all nations, Isaiah 2:2-3 / Isaiah 60:3-14.

This is another reason why God was different from those other gods, because they were restricted to certain areas and places, whereas God Almighty isn’t restricted, He’s everywhere, Psalm 139:7-12. It’s only God and God alone who truly is great and who does marvellous deeds, which can’t be matched by any other god.

‘Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead. Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me—they have no regard for you. But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother did. Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.’ Psalm 86:11-17

Because of David’s close relationship with God and because He knows God really well, he now asks God to teach him His ways. Although he saw himself as faithful to God, he wants to learn to rely on God’s faithfulness, that is, in order to really live, he wants to learn to walk in God’s truth, John 14:6.

He knows the only way he could ever truly walk in God’s ways was to have a heart that was totally surrendered to Him. When he totally surrenders to God and His ways, then he will truly be able to fear God.

He didn’t want to be tossed back and forth with the theologies which came from these other so-called gods, he wanted to dedicate the totality of his mind, heart, soul and strength to God alone, Hosea 10:2 / Philippians 3:13.

When he totally surrenders to God and His ways, then he will truly be able to praise God with all his heart and glorify His Name forever.

David reminisces over the times in his past, when God showed him mercy and delivered him from the depths, the realm of the dead. Because of the compassionate nature of God, David knows that He is willing to help those who put their trust in Him.

The realm of the dead is Sheol, there are, in fact three Biblical words, the meanings of which are often confused because people tend to use them very loosely. Two of the words are in the New Testament are Greek words. The Third word, is an Old Testament Hebrew word.

For instance, in the New Testament we have the following.

1. ‘Gehenna’, which occurs 12 times, and, in the Authorised Version, it’s always translated ‘hell’.

2. ‘Hades’, which occurs 10 times, and which is also always translated, ‘hell’.

3. The third word is the word ‘Sheol’, found in the Old Testament, and which sometimes is erroneously said to be the word that corresponds to ‘Gehenna’.

You clearly see the confusion that has been created about the meaning of this word when you understand that, in the Authorised Version, out of the 65 instances it occurs, 31 times it has been translated ‘hell’ and 34 times it has been translated ‘the grave’!

Now, although the word ‘Sheol’ literally means ‘The Place of the Dead’, you don’t need much intelligence to recognise that ‘Hell’ and the ‘Grave’ aren’t the same place! When a body is placed in the grave, it hasn’t been consigned to ‘Hell’!

But there is a history behind this inconsistent rendering of the word ‘Sheol’. Whilst the translators of the Authorised Version believed ‘Hell’ to be the place of punishment for the wicked, they withdrew from the idea of saying that good people also go to ‘Sheol’, and so in passages that related to the death of good people, they decided to translate ‘Sheol’ as ‘the grave’!

However, in Hebrew theology and, in Old Testament teaching, ‘Sheol’ is described as the place to which all the dead go, both good and bad. It’s defined as ‘the place of departed souls’.

In the account of King Saul’s visit to the medium at Endor, the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel is recorded as saying to Saul, ‘Tomorrow, you and your sons shall be with me’. 1 Samuel 28:19.

Even the Oxford Dictionary is close to the truth as far as the meaning of the word is concerned. It says that ‘Sheol’ is, ‘The abode of the dead’.

Furthermore, in the Old Testament, ‘Sheol’ is described as a gloomy place, in which an individual is farther away from God than he was during his lifetime. We are told that, ‘the living know that they will die, but the dead do not to know anything,’ Ecclesiastes 9:5, and, according to Psalm 115:17, ‘The dead do not praise Yahweh, nor any who go down into silence.’

David describes his foes as arrogant, ruthless, and having no regard for God, they wanted him dead. Clearly, David felt that his life was in real danger.

He contrasts his foes with God and once again, he says that God is the total opposite of them. unlike his foes, God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, Exodus 34:6 / Psalm 103:8.

Notice that David never appeals to God on the basis of his own goodness, but he appeals on the basis of God’s mercy. Because David knows the real nature of God, he was confident that God would show him mercy. He didn’t rely on his own strength as God’s servant, but the strength of God, Ephesians 6:10.

Notice the high compliment which David gives his mother, he says, he serves the Lord just as his mother did. The Scriptures tell us nothing about his mother, or even mentioned here name, but she must have been a godly woman who served the Lord, 1 Samuel 17:12–14.

It appears that David didn’t expect God to answer his prayer straight away and so, he asks God for a sign of His goodness. In other words, he asks for a signal from God which would be a sign to his foes that God was with him and against them, which would result in them being ashamed of what they were doing.

David ends by reminiscing again, over the times God had helped him and comforted him in the past. He’s confident that God will help and comfort him in his current circumstances because He has done it time and time again in the past.


Compared to all the other so-called gods and compared to David’s foes, David tells us that God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, God’s prophets quoted these words over and over again, Exodus 34:6 / Numbers 14:18 / Nehemiah 9:17 / Psalm 86:15 / Psalm 103:8 / Psalm 145:8 / Joel 2:15 / Jonah 4:2.

When we read these verses, we read about the character and nature of God Himself, He is compassionate, merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abundant in love and faithfulness and forgiving.

Who doesn’t want to have a close relationship with a God who is like that? God longs to show mercy to people, but people must be repentant towards Him, Exodus 34:5-9 / Hebrews 6:4-6.

Go To Psalm 87


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 1:1