The Righteous One Resting On The
Compassionate Heavenly Father

a brief study of Psalm 86, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 8 May 2009

Psalm 86 is, as the title suggests, “A Prayer of David.” From the content, it looks like David must have been experiencing some distress. We do not know what the occasion was, but David, together with all the saints, and especially with the Greater David, would have experienced much occasions of distresses, sufferings and persecution. Indeed, this psalm, written under the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ, no doubt expresses our Lord’s own mediations, as He hung on the cross—perhaps after the three hours of darkness during which He experienced hell on our behalf. In verse 13, we read, “thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.” For David and for all believers these words, when applied to themselves, would refer to deliverance from eternal death. But for our Lord, this could only be a reference to His experience of suffering the wrath of God on our behalf.

Well, whatever the case may be, we may entitle this Psalm, “The Righteous One in the Day of Trouble Resting on the Compassionate Heavenly Father.”

The Righteous One is Christ and all untied to Him by faith who sing this psalm by faith.

This psalm is a prayer, and it is notoriously difficult to discern the structure of a heartfelt prayer because it is an outpouring of the heart. Hence, almost every commentary will give you a different structure, whether or not they are familiar with Hebrew poetry.

We may break the psalm up into 5 parts.

·  From verses 1-6, there is a series of petitions to the Father to bow down His ear. The key phrase is “Bow down thine ear.”

·  In verses 7-10, is a statement of faith that God is the alone living and true God. “Thou art God alone” is the key phrase.

·  Verses 11-13 is a request to be taught the way of the Lord.  We may subtitle this “Teach me thy way.”

·  In verses 14-15, is a statement of confidence in the mercies of the LORD against the backdrop of persecution. The key words are “Thou… art a God full of compassion.”

·  In verses 16-17, we have another series of petitions, this time to ask for the Lord’s mercy directly. The key phrase is “Have mercy upon me.”

Let’s look at these 5 parts very briefly.

1. Bow Down Thine Ear

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.

Notice this stanza contains a series of petitions, each one with a reason attached, “Bow down thine ear” (v. 1a), “for I am poor and needy” (v. 1b); “Preserve my soul” (v. 2a), “for I am holy” (v. 2b); “Be merciful unto me” (v. 3a), “for I cry unto thee daily” (v. 3b), etc.

This is the art of prayer. Prayer is not only about asking, but about persuading. Of course God does not need to be persuaded, but we need to be persuaded and encouraged that God will hear our prayers.

Here in this paragraph we are given an example of how we may in prayer appeal to our present needs (v. 1); our holiness (v. 2); our importunity (v. 3); our desire to praise the Lord (v. 4); and also God’s goodness and mercy (v. 5).

Of course, there is none holy but Christ, for which reason, Christ would be most qualified to take these words on His lips. But we may appeal to the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, to our being set apart unto God, and to our integrity in seeking to be holy as God is holy.

Such as strive to walk in holiness can have great assurance that the Father will hear their cries as they are brought to Him through the mediatorship of Christ. On the other hand, those who live in hypocrisy or refuse to walk in the way of the Lord can have no confidence that his prayers will be received by the Father.

2. Thou Art God Alone

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.

Although the major part of prayer may indeed consist largely of petitions, as our Lord demonstrated in the Lord’s prayer, we must not forget that prayer is basically our soul’s conversation with our heavenly Father.

Therefore even when we use the Lord’s prayer, for example, we should enlarge the petitions, to speak with love and gratitude with our Father to acknowledge who He is to us.

In fact, you may look at this second stanza of this psalm as an elaboration of the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be thy name.”

Let us learn to do so, acknowledging God’s greatness and power and that He is the alone living and true God, and therefore worthy of all honour, glory and praise.

But now we come to another petition…

3. Teach Me Thy Way

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.

This, beloved brethren and children, is a petition that we must learn to make. “Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.

As God’s children, we must desire to glorify Him, especially when He has shown us great mercy in redeeming us, who were hitherto children of wrath.

How may we glorify God? Only if we walk in His fear in the way that He has appointed for us. If our lives are no different from the rest of the world, then how do we glorify Him? If an unbelieving friend were to stay at your home for a week, what will his impression be at the end of the week? Will he think that your family is no different from the average unbelieving family, or will he think that there is something different in your home?

I think if it is the latter, we need to pray this petition more. We should pray this petition not only in times of trial as the psalmist is doing, but as a regular part of our prayer for ourselves.

We need to learn to walk in the way of the Lord in His fear, both in our public meetings and in private.

But thank God that despite our failures, the Lord continues to show us mercy for He is full of compassion.

4. Thou Art a God Full
of Compassion

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, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.

All the trials and sufferings that we experience in this life are come upon us because of sin. Whether they are suffering on account of persecution or on account of illnesses, they have their foundation in sin. Christ our Lord had no sin, but He was bearing our sin. He was suffering the consequences of sin on our behalf. He did not deserve to suffer at all. But He put himself into harm’s way for our sake.

The rest of us, on the other hand, deserve the pain and sorrows that we experience in our lives because we have sinned against God. And God would chastise us in order that we may be beautiful vessels of his redeeming grace.

But God’s chastisement is always tempered with grace, compassion, longsuffering, mercy and truth. And we should also acknowledge it. We should not only talk about our pain and sorrows, we should acknowledge God’s mercy and compassion, even that He has not dealt with us according as our sin deserves.

This is how we will be able to give thanks in all circumstances as the apostle Paul teaches us. We may not be able to thank God for the pain. That would be very unnatural and hypocritical. If we are honest we want to be freed of all pains. But it is good for us to acknowledge in prayer that the Lord has not dealt with us as we deserve.

But that does not mean we cannot plead for mercy. God will indeed show mercy to His children, it pleases Him to dispense mercy in answer to prayer, so we see in the final stanza of this psalm another petition.

5. Have Mercy Upon Me

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 helped me, and comforted me.

I am always intrigued by the phrase “son of thine handmaid.” I know this is a common Hebrew expression, but when it is used in Sacred Scripture, it begs the question, “does it not, as to who is this, the LORD’s handmaid?” David’s mother is hardly known, and many believers have unbelieving parents. Who then is this “the handmaid of the Lord”, both here and in Psalm 116. I believe the answer may be found in Luke 1:38 in Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel when he told her that she would conceive and bear the son of God. What was Mary’s reply? Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

I believe that the phrase “son of thine handmaid” both in our text and in Psalm 116 is intended by the Holy Spirit to be a reference to Christ the God man.

But in any case, we may certainly use our Lord’s petition. He had it written for our use. Because of our mystical union with Christ, we may legitimately speak of ourselves as the “sons of thine handmaid,” not because we have any direct relationship with Mary, but because “we dwell in [the Son], and he in us” (1Jn 4:13).

So let us learn to cry for mercy and strength. But let us also learn to ask for ‘a token for good.’ What is a token for good? A token for good is basically a sign or a turn of event that shows that the Lord is working on our behalf.

Those of us who have been believers for a while will know it as a fact that very often we may have no indication of God’s answer to our prayer for long seasons. We pray that the Lord will move the government of our land to deal with sin. We pray for the church that she may grow in the bond of love. We pray for the conversion of a loved one. We pray for reconciliation with a friend who has fallen out with us due to a misunderstanding. But years past, and God does not seem to be answering our prayers.

What do we do? I think there are times when it is appropriate for us to pray that the Lord will show us tokens for good in regard to our prayer.

Could the ugly events surrounding the AWARE saga be in fact a token for good to wake up the government and Christians from our complacency? Could a letter from the offended brother be a token for good in answer to prayer for reconciliation? Could the increase in attendance at prayer meeting be a token for good in answer to prayer for growth in the church?

David and the greater David prayed for the token that their enemies might see and be ashamed in the realisation that they are up against one who is on the Lord’s side.

May the Lord grant us tokens of good not only that His enemies may see and be ashamed that they are fighting against the Lord, but that we may be encouraged to continue to trust the Lord through all the trials that the Lord may bring along our way both corporately and individually. Amen.

—JJ Lim