Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryPsalms 86
on the Whole Bible
This psalm is entitled "a prayer of David;" probably it was not penned
upon any particular occasion, but was a prayer he often used himself,
and recommended to others for their use, especially in a day of
affliction. Many think that David penned this prayer as a type of
Christ, "who in the days of his flesh offered up strong cries,"
David, in this prayer (according to the nature of that duty),
I. Gives glory to God,
II. Seeks for grace and favour from God, that God would hear his
ver. 1, 6, 7),
preserve and save him, and be merciful to him
ver. 2, 3, 16),
that he would give him joy, and grace, and strength, and put honour
He pleads God's goodness
ver. 5, 15)
and the malice of his enemies,
In singing this we must, as David did, lift up our souls to God with
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
7 In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt
This psalm was published under the title of a prayer of David;
not as if David sung all his prayers, but into some of his songs he
inserted prayers; for a psalm will admit the expressions of any pious
and devout affections. But it is observable how very plain the language
of this psalm is, and how little there is in it of poetic flights or
figures, in comparison with some other psalms; for the flourishes of
wit are not the proper ornaments of prayer. Now here we may
I. The petitions he puts up to God. It is true, prayer accidentally may
preach, but it is most fit that (as it is in this prayer) every passage
should be directed to God, for such is the nature of prayer as it is
Unto thee, O Lord! do I lift up my soul, as he had said
In all the parts of prayer the soul must ascend upon the wings of faith
and holy desire, and be lifted up to God, to meet the communications of
his grace, and in an expectation raised very high of great things from
1. He begs that God would give a gracious audience to his prayers
Bow down thy ear, O Lord! hear me. When God hears our prayers it
is fitly said that he bows down his ear to them, for it is
admirable condescension in God that he is pleased to take notice of
such mean creatures as we are and such defective prayers as ours are.
He repeats this again
"Give ear, O Lord! unto my prayer, a favourable ear, though it
be whispered, though it be stammered; attend to the voice of my
supplications." Not that God needs to have his affection stirred up
by any thing that we can say; but thus we must express our desire of
his favour. The Son of David spoke it with assurance and pleasure
Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me; and I know that thou
hearest me always.
2. He begs that God would take him under his special protection, and so
be the author of his salvation
Preserve my soul; save thy servant. It was David's soul that was
God's servant; for those only serve God acceptably that serve him
with their spirits. David's concern is about his soul; if we
understand it of his natural life, it teaches us that the best
self-preservation is to commit ourselves to God's keeping and by faith
and prayer to make our Creator our preserver. But it may be understood
of his spiritual life, the life of the soul as distinct from the body:
"Preserve my soul from that one evil and dangerous thing to souls, even
from sin; preserve my soul, and so save me." All those whom God will
save he preserves, and will preserve them to his heavenly kingdom.
3. He begs that God would look upon him with an eye of pity and
Be merciful to me, O Lord! It is mercy in God to pardon our sins
and to help us out of our distresses; both these are included in this
prayer, God be merciful to me. "Men show no mercy; we ourselves
deserve no mercy, but, Lord, for mercy-sake, be merciful unto
4. He begs that God would fill him with inward comfort
Rejoice the soul of thy servant. It is God only that can put
gladness into the heart and make the soul to rejoice, and then, and
not till then, the joy is full; and, as it is the duty of those who are
God's servants to serve him with gladness, so it is their
privilege to be filled with joy and peace in believing, and they
may in faith pray, not only that God will preserve their souls, but
that he will rejoice their souls, and the joy of the Lord will
be their strength. Observe, When he prays, Rejoice my
soul, he adds, For unto thee do I lift up my soul. Then we
may expect comfort from God when we take care to keep up our communion
with God: prayer is the nurse of spiritual joy.
II. The pleas with which he enforces these petitions.
1. He pleads his relation to God and interest in him: "Thou art my God,
to whom I have devoted myself, and on whom I depend, and I am thy
in subjection to thee, and therefore looking for protection from thee."
2. He pleads his distress: "Hear me, for I am poor and needy,
therefore I want thy help, therefore none else will hear me." God is
the poor man's King, whose glory it is to save the souls of the
needy; those who are poor in spirit, who see themselves empty and
necessitous, are most welcome to the God of all grace.
3. He pleads God's good will towards all that seek him
"To thee do I lift up my soul in desire and expectation; for
thou, Lord, art good;" and whither should beggars go but to the
door of the good house-keeper? The goodness of God's nature is a great
encouragement to us in all our addresses to him. His goodness appears
in two things, giving and forgiving.
(1.) He is a sin-pardoning God; not only he can forgive, but he is
ready to forgive, more ready to forgive than we are to repent. I
said, I will confess, and thou forgavest,
(2.) He is a prayer-hearing God; he is plenteous in mercy, very full,
and very free, both rich and liberal unto all those that call upon
him; he has wherewithal to supply all their needs and is openhanded
in granting that supply.
4. He pleads God's good work in himself, by which he had qualified him
for the tokens of his favour. Three things were wrought in him by
divine grace, which he looked upon as earnests of all good:--
(1.) A conformity to God
I am holy, therefore preserve my soul; for those whom the Spirit
sanctifies he will preserve. He does not say this in pride and vain
glory, but with humble thankfulness to God. I am one whom thou
favourest (so the margin reads it), whom thou hast set apart for
thyself. If God has begun a good work of grace in us, we must own
that the time was a time of love. Then was I in his eyes as one
that found favour, and whom God hath taken into his favour he will
take under his protection. All his saints are in thy hand,
Observe, I am needy
yet I am holy
holy and yet needy, poor in the world, but rich in faith. Those
who preserve their purity in their greatest poverty may assure
themselves that God will preserve their comforts, will preserve their
(2.) A confidence in God: Save thy servant that trusteth in
thee. Those that are holy must nevertheless not trust in
themselves, nor in their own righteousness, but only in God and his
grace. Those that trust in God may expect salvation from him.
(3.) A disposition to communion with God. He hopes God will answer his
prayers, because he had inclined him to pray.
[1.] To be constant in prayer: I cry unto thee daily, and all the
It is thus our duty to pray always, without ceasing, and to continue
instant in prayer; and then we may hope to have our prayers heard which
we make in the time of trouble, if we have made conscience of the duty
at other times, at all times. It is comfortable if an affliction finds
the wheels of prayer a-going, and that hey are not then to be set
[2.] To be inward with God in prayer, to lift up his soul to
Then we may hope that God will meet us with his mercies, when we in our
prayers send forth our souls as it were to meet him.
[3.] To be in a special manner earnest with God in prayer when he was
"In the day of my trouble, whatever others do, I will call
upon thee, and commit my case to thee, for thou wilt hear and
answer me, and I shall not seek in vain, as those did who cried, O
Baal! hear us; but there was no voice, nor any that regarded,"
1 Kings 18:29.
|Petitions and Praises; Prayer for Mercy and Grace.
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
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
15 But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and
gracious, longsuffering, 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 show me a token for good; that they which hate me may see
it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast holpen me, and
David is here going on in his prayer.
I. He gives glory to God; for we ought in our prayers to praise him,
ascribing kingdom, power, and glory, to him, with the most humble and
1. As a being of unparalleled perfection, such a one that there is none
like him nor any to be compared with him,
Among the gods, the false gods, whom the heathens worshipped,
the angels, the kings of the earth, among them all, there is none
like unto thee, O Lord! none so wise, so mighty, so good;
neither are there any works like unto thy works, which is an
undeniable proof that there is none like him; his own works praise him,
and the best way we have of praising him is by acknowledging that there
is none like him.
2. As the fountain of all being and the centre of all praise
"Thou hast made all nations, made them all of one blood; they
all derive their being from thee, and have a constant dependence on
thee, and therefore they shall come and worship before thee and
glorify thy name." This was in part fulfilled in the multitude of
proselytes to the Jewish religion in the days of David and Solomon, but
was to have its full accomplishment in the days of the Messiah, when
some out of every kingdom and nation should be effectually brought in
to praise God,
It was by Christ that God made all nations, for without him was not any
thing made that was made, and therefore through Christ, and by the
power of his gospel and grace, all nations shall be brought to
worship before God,
3. As a being infinitely great
"Therefore all nations shall worship before thee, because as King of
nations thou art great, thy sovereignty absolute and
incontestable, thy majesty terrible and insupportable, thy power
universal and irresistible, thy riches vast and inexhaustible, thy
dominion boundless and unquestionable; and, for the proof of this,
thou doest wondrous things, which all nations admire, and whence
they might easily infer that thou art God alone, not only none like
thee, but none besides thee." Let us always entertain great thoughts of
this great God, and be filled with holy admiration of this God who
doeth wonders; and let him alone have our hearts who is God alone.
4. As a being infinitely good. Man is bad, very wicked and vile
no mercy is to be expected from him; but thou, O Lord! art a God
full of compassion, and gracious,
This is that attribute by which he proclaims his name, and by which we
are therefore to proclaim it,
It is his goodness that is over all his works, and therefore should
fill all our praises; and this is our comfort, in reference to the
wickedness of the world we live in, that, however it be, God is good.
Men are barbarous, but God is gracious; men are false, but God is
faithful. God is not only compassionate, but full of compassion, and in
him mercy rejoiceth against judgment. He is long-suffering
towards us, though we forfeit his favour and provoke him to anger, and
he is plenteous in mercy and truth, as faithful in performing as
he was free in promising.
5. As a kind friend and bountiful benefactor to him. We ought to praise
God as good in himself, but we do it most feelingly when we observe how
good he has been to us. This therefore the psalmist dwells upon with
He had said
All nations shall praise thee, O Lord! and glorify thy name. It
is some satisfaction to a good man to think that others shall praise
and glorify God, but it is his greatest care and pleasure to do it
himself. "Whatever others do" (says David), "I will praise thee, O
Lord my God! not only as the Lord, but as my God; and I will do it
with all my heart; I will be ready to do it and cordial in it; I will
do it with cheerfulness and liveliness, with a sincere regard to thy
honour; for I will glorify thy name, not for a time, but for
evermore. I will do it as long as I live, and hope to be doing it to
eternity." With good reason does he resolve to be thus particular in
praising God, because God had shown him particular favours: For
great is thy mercy towards me. The fountain of mercy is
inexhaustibly full; the streams of mercy are inestimably rich. When we
speak of God's mercy to us, it becomes us thus to magnify it: Great
is thy mercy towards me. Of the greatness of God's mercy he gives
this instance, Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell,
from death, from so great a death, as St. Paul
(2 Corinthians 1:10),
from eternal death, so even some of the Jewish writers understand it.
David knew he deserved to be cast off for ever into the lowest hell for
his sin in the matter of Uriah; but Nathan assured him that the Lord
had taken away his sin, and by that word he was delivered from
the lowest hell, and herein God's mercy was great towards him. Even the
best saints owe it, not to their own merit, but to the mercy of God,
that they are saved from the lowest hell; and the consideration of that
should greatly enlarge their hearts in praising the mercy of God, which
they are obliged to glorify for evermore. So glorious; so gracious, a
rescue from everlasting misery, justly requires the return of
II. He prays earnestly for mercy and grace from God. He complains of
the restless and implacable malice of his enemies against him
"Lord, be thou for me; for there are many against me." He then takes
notice of their character; they were proud men that looked with
disdain upon poor David. (Many are made persecutors by their pride.)
They were violent men, that would carry all before them by
force, right or wrong. They were terrible formidable men (so
some), that did what they could to frighten all about them. He notices
their number: There were assemblies of them; they were men in
authority and met in councils and courts, or men for conversation, and
met in clubs; but, being assembled, they were the more capable of doing
mischief. He notices their enmity to him: "They rise up against
me in open rebellion; they not only plot, but they put their plots
in execution as far as they can; and the design is not only to depose
me, but to destroy me: they seek after my life, to slay me; after my
soul, to damn me, if it lay in their power." And, lastly, He
notices their distance and estrangement from God, which were at the
bottom of their enmity to David: "They have not set thee before
them; and what good can be expected from those that have no fear of
God before their eyes? Lord, appear against them, for they are thy
enemies as well as mine." His petitions are,
1. For the operations of God's grace in him,
He prays that God would give him,
(1.) An understanding heart, that he would inform and instruct him
concerning his duty: "Teach me thy way, O Lord! the way that
thou hast appointed me to walk in; when I am in doubt concerning it,
make it plain to me what I should do; let me hear the voice saying,
This is the way,"
David was well taught in the things of God, and yet was sensible he
needed further instruction, and many a time could not trust his own
judgment: Teach me thy way; I will walk in thy truth. One would
think it should be, Teach me thy truth, and I will walk in thy
way; but it comes all to one; it is the way of truth that God
teaches and that we must choose to walk in,
Christ is the way and the truth, and we must both learn Christ and walk
in him. We cannot walk in God's way and truth unless he teach us; and,
if we expect he should teach us, we must resolve to be governed by his
(2.) An upright heart: "Unite my heart to fear thy name. Make me
sincere in religion. A hypocrite has a double heart; let mine be single
and entire for God, not divided between him and the world, not
straggling from him." Our hearts are apt to wander and hang loose;
their powers and faculties wander after a thousand foreign things; we
have therefore need of God's grace to unite them, that we may serve God
with all that is within us, and all little enough to be employed in his
service. "Let my heart be fixed for God, and firm and faithful to him,
and fervent in serving him; that is a united heart."
2. For the tokens of God's favour to him,
Three things he here prays for:--
(1.) That God would speak peace and comfort to him: "O turn unto
me, as to one thou lovest and hast a kind and tender concern for.
My enemies turn against me, my friends turn from me; Lord, do thou turn
to me and have mercy upon me; it will be a comfort to me to know that
thou pitiest me."
(2.) That God would work deliverance for him, and set him in safety:
"Give me thy strength; put strength into me, that I may help
myself, and put forth thy strength for me, that I may be saved out of
the hands of those that seek my ruin." He pleads relation: "I am thy
servant; I am so by birth, as the son of thy handmaid, born
in thy house, and therefore thou art my rightful owner and proprietor,
from whom I may expect protection. I am thine; save me." The
children of godly parents, who were betimes dedicated to the Lord, may
plead it with him; if they come under the discipline of his family,
they are entitled to the privileges of it.
(3.) That God would put a reputation on him: "Show me a token for
good; make it to appear to others as well as to myself that thou
art doing me good, and designing further good for me. Let me have some
unquestionable illustrious instances of thy favour to me, that those
who hate me may see it, and be ashamed of their enmity to me, as
they will have reason to be when they perceive that thou, Lord, hast
helped me and comforted me, and that therefore they have been
striving against God, opposing one whom he owns, and that they have
been striving in vain to ruin and vex one whom God himself has
undertaken to help and comfort." The joy of the saints shall be the
shame of their persecutors.