The Book of Psalms

Wednesday: An Appeal to the Compassionate God

Psalm 86:1-17 In this week’s lessons, we learn that David bases his prayers for mercy on the character of God.
Looking to God’s Character

David’s prayer incorporated arguments why God should answer him. Yesterday we looked at arguments based on David and David’s need. Today we examine four reasons based on God and God’s character.

5. “For you will answer me” (v. 7). Earlier (in v. 1) David had asked God to hear and answer him, but here he asserts his confidence that God will answer. In other words, he is praying because he knows that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Prayer is not an empty exercise. It works.

6. “For you are great and do marvelous deeds” (v. 10). Sixth, not only is God a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God, but he is also a God who is able to do what the one who is praying asks. God is great and powerful and consistently does great deeds. Many of the psalms rehearse these deeds, though David does not take time to do so here.

7. “For great is your love toward me” (v. 13). The seventh of these requests gets near the heart of the psalm’s major theme, which is God’s mercy, for it pleads as a reason for God to answer prayer the fact that God in his mercy has already set his love upon the one praying. In Hebrew the word translated “love” is the powerful word hesed, which refers to covenanted love, that is, love that is promised in a covenant relationship. God had established a covenant like this with David. Our equivalent would be the fact that God has made us his sons and daughters by the new birth.

Family relationships have family privileges, which is why Jesus said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11)!

8. “For you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me” (v. 17). The final argument for why God should answer David’s prayer is that God helped David in the past, perhaps even as he had been praying. It is consistent with our every past experience of God to ask for mercy now.

That brings us to the major theme of the psalm, which we have been touching all along but have not tackled directly. It is the mercy of God to which David is appealing in virtually everything he says. How did David know that God is merciful? The answer is that God had revealed it. He had revealed it clearly, and David is appealing to that clear revelation.

After Moses had interceded for the people of Israel so that God would not destroy them because of their having made the golden calf, there is a chapter of Exodus in which we are told of three great prayers Moses made. God had said that he would send his angel to lead the people to the promised land (Exod. 33:2). But this was not enough for Moses. As Moses looked at things, to be led by an angel was less than being led by God, and he did not want any lessening of the special relationship between God and the people that they had enjoyed previously. They were sinners—Moses as well as the others. Any relationship between themselves and God would have to be on the basis of the mercy of God and not their deserving. Still they must be led by God or not at all. So Moses began to pray. Tomorrow we will look at Moses’ prayer in detail.

Study Questions
  1. What reasons does David give for why God should answer his prayer?
  2. How did David know that God is merciful?

Reflection: Does your prayer life reflect the confidence that great is God’s love for you, and that he genuinely knows and cares about your needs?
Application: List with thanksgiving the times God has answered requests, demonstrated love, or comforted you.

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