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(Sunday between June 19 and June 25 if after Trinity Sunday)
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Psalm 86 has been chosen to accompany the reading of Hagar’s story in Genesis 21 principally because of v. 16 with its reference to the Lord’s giving strength to Yahweh’s servant and saving ‘the child of your serving girl’. In the psalm with its parallel line structure these two statements refer to the deliverance of the psalmist. The reference to the ‘servant girl’ is to the psalmist’s mother. However, read in the context of the story in Genesis 21 it could refer to Ishmael and Hagar. If we do read it in that light the psalm then becomes an extended statement of trust by an outsider in a God who cares deeply for them: Ishmael in this case as speaker of the psalm.

Psalm 86 is a psalm attributed to David. It stands out as such in the midst of a collection of psalms associated with the Korah priests. The psalm is often seen as a recapitulation of earlier Davidic collections (Pss 3-41 and 51-72; cf. e.g. v. 2 with Ps 25:20; v. 4b with Ps 25:1; v. 6a with Ps 55:1 etc.). Connections with earlier psalms and other texts have often led to the conclusion that Psalm 86 is something of a compendium of other biblical texts. Stress on the psalmist as Yahweh’s ‘servant’ in vv. 2, 4 and 16 recalls the designation of David as such (cf. esp. Ps 78:70; and 18:1; 36:1; and later Psalm 89). In vv. 8-13 David proclaims Yahweh as great recalling the picture of Yahweh among the gods (v. 8; cf. Psalm 82) and the nations coming to Yahweh’s abode (v. 9; cf. Isa 2:2-4; Mic 4:1-3). The expression of trust that is a major theme of the psalm is built on creedal elements in vv. 10 and 13 which echo statements in the two petitions (vv. 5, 15; cf. Exod 34:6-7, 10). Even if this psalm is largely a compendium of other texts it nevertheless is a fine statement of trust in the Lord. It echoes the quiet confidence of the preceding Psalms 84-85.

The psalm divides into three sections. In vv. 1-7 the psalmist seeks Yahweh’s aid in a time of some unspecified difficulty. The basis of the psalmist’s prayer is twofold. It is based first on the psalmist’s own need (vv. 1-4) but then, in vv. 5 and 7, on Yahweh’s nature as good, forgiving and abounding in loyalty to all who call on the Lord. The section is enveloped by reference to the Lord ‘answering’ the psalmist’s prayer. In v. 1 it is part of the psalmist’s plea but in v. 7 the psalmist speaks more confidently of an answer being forthcoming. In vv. 8-13 the psalmist then moves on to praise the Lord above all others as sovereign over all nations and as one who does wondrous things. This is an expansion of the basis for the prayer in vv. 5 and 7 now expressed as praise and thanksgiving. In the midst of this praise and statement of trust, the psalmist adds a different plea, not to do with their difficulty per se but rather to do with the nature of the psalmist. They ask to be taught the Lord’s way and to be given ‘an undivided heart to revere God’s name’ that they might walk in the Lord’s truth (v. 11). The psalmist not only prays for deliverance, i.e. for their own release from trouble, but in order to follow the one they trust more fully.

The final section of the psalm (vv. 14-17) returns to the original plea for deliverance elaborating only slightly on the problem. Apparently the psalmist is beset by ‘the insolent’, i.e. someone or group opposing the psalmist for some reason. Not only do these people oppose the psalmist but they do not set Yahweh before them (v. 14c) which could either mean they do not worship Yahweh at all or they do not regard Yahweh’s goodness, forgiveness or loyalty as relevant in this situation. The psalmist wishes to be delivered from them and in the process have those who hate the psalmist put to shame. The section also returns to the theme of the Lord’s ‘servant’ (v. 16; cf. v. 2 in the first section). Thus the psalmist, as Yahweh’s servant, puts him/herself over against those who do not set Yahweh before them (v. 14c). The section ends with a statement that implies the psalmist may have already experienced some response from Yahweh by way of comfort (v. 17c). This is matched by a similar statement at the end of the second section (v. 13b).  It may be that the psalmist has already experienced Yahweh’s deliverance during the utterance of the psalm. Alternatively, the psalmist may confidently anticipate Yahweh’s action given their strong trust in the Lord.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

Verses 8-13 with some adaptation could become (part of) the prayer of adoration. The prayer could be said responsively or read by all in unison.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Several verses also lend themselves to a time of confession or a statement of forgiveness in the service. Verses 1-2 could be used to complete the prayer of confession being said by all. Alternatively vv. 15-17 can be adapted for the same task:
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.
Show me a sign of your favour.
Verses 4-5 could then be adapted to commence the statement of forgiveness:
Gladden the soul of your servants,
for to you, O Lord, we lift up our souls.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
You proclaim in Jesus Christ:
‘Your sins are forgiven’.
Thanks be to God.
Old Testament reading: Genesis 21:8-21

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