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Psalm 86

Servant song

We can bring all our challenges—physical, mental, interpersonal or financial—to God, knowing that he cares and will meet our needs, provided we truly submit to him as Lord and Master.

A David psalm.

Bend your ear and answer me, Yahveh
poor and helpless as I am.
2 Protect my life for I’m devoted to you.
You’re my God—
save your servant who trusts in you.
3 Have mercy on me, Master
for I cry out to you all day long.
4 Fill your servant’s heart with joy, Lord
for I pour out my heart to you.
5 You’re so kind and forgiving, Master
rich in love for all who call on you.
6 Hear my prayer, Yahveh
listen to my pleas for help.
7 When I’m in trouble I call on you
because you answer my prayers.

8 None of the gods is like you, Lord.[1]
None has done anything
comparable to what you’ve done.
9 All the nations you’ve made
will come and bow before you, Master
and honor your name.
10 For you’ve shown your greatness
by doing the impossible.
You alone are God!
11 Teach me your ways, Yahveh
that I may walk in your truth.
Make me single-hearted
revering your name.
12 I will praise you with all my heart
and glorify your name forever
Lord my God.
13 Your unfailing love for me is profound
rescuing me from the worst possible death.

14 An insolent rabble is after me, God—
a gang of thugs is determined to kill me
and they pay no attention to you.
15 But you, Lord
are a merciful and compassionate God
slow to get angry
overflowing in grace and truth.
16 Graciously turn to me
and give strength to your servant—
save your servant-girl’s son.
17 Give me a sign of your favor, Yahveh
so all who hate me will see to their shame
that you’ve helped and comforted me.

Though he desperately needs God’s help, David explains his problem only in the poem’s final section because, as dangerous as they are, his enemies aren’t determinative of the situation’s outcome. The two deciding factors are its two other players, God and himself.

David focuses on Yahveh, who is so great he blows all the competition out of the water. While the gods are arrogant, demanding, petty and short-fused, God is their opposite in all those respects. They’re also impotent next to him who, as creation’s Lord, can do the impossible and will yet rule over the nations in glory. So God holds the title, undisputed.

David repeatedly emphasizes his being God’s servant, calling God “Lord” or “Master” seven times. Servanthood is at the core of his identity: by definition, servants have no resources or power of their own, and masters were responsible to protect and provide for their servants in the ancient world.

This poem’s chiastic, or reverse-image, structure highlights its center point, in verse 11. God must teach David his way so he can live with integrity, single-heartedly obeying and revering him. This is the linchpin binding Master and servant together. It isn’t enough that everything looks good on the outside. Our hearts must be fully yielded to God as well.

Lord, deliver me from thinking I’m okay so long as I can keep up appearances. Make me single-hearted, no rival gods sharing the throne of my heart with you. Help me revere your name and walk with integrity so I can bring all my needs to you, knowing that you’ll answer my prayers. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Teach me your way, Yahveh
that I may walk in your truth
make me single-hearted
revering your name.


[1] For a discussion of who these gods are, see Psalm 82.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.