God’s grace in the midst of judgment (Psalm 86)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

Although God’s judgment takes the fore in Book 3 of the Psalms, we also find God’s grace. “Be gracious to me, O Lord,” Psalm 86 implores, “for you, O Lord are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you” (Ps. 86:2, 5). The psalm comes from someone feeling worn down by opposition from those more powerful. “I am poor and needy” (Ps. 86:1). “The insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life” (Ps. 86:14). “Those who hate me” are a constant threat (Ps. 86:17).  “Save the child of your serving girl” (Ps. 86:16b).

The psalm does not claim righteousness, but rejoices that God is “slow to anger” (Ps. 86:15). It asks only for God’s grace. “Turn to me and be gracious to me” (Ps. 86:16a). “In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me” (Ps. 86:7).

At times all of us face opposition at work. Sometimes it is very directly personal and dangerous. We may be oppressed by others, or we may be at fault, or a mixture of both. We may feel unworthy in our work, unloved in our relationships, incapable of changing either our circumstances or ourselves. No matter the source of opposition to us—even if we have seen the enemy and it is us—we can ask for God’s grace to save us. God’s grace cuts through the ambiguity that surrounds our life and work and shows us a sign of God’s favor (Ps 86:17) beyond what we deserve.

Of course, God does not save anyone—neither ourselves or our enemies—for the purpose of inflicting further harm. With grace comes reform. “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (Ps. 86:11a). The psalmist’s petition is for him- or herself, but accepting God’s grace means turning ourselves to him ahead of ourselves. “Give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you O Lord my God, with my whole heart” (Ps. 86:11-12).

With God’s heart, we also become merciful, even to those who oppose us. The psalm asks that opponents “be put to shame” (Ps. 86:17) for their hatred, but that in doing so they will “come and bow down before you, O Lord” (Ps. 86:9) and so also come into God’s grace. Grace means mercy not only for us, but also for our opponents, to show God’s power to his enemies so that his name is glorified (Ps. 86:9).