Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.
2. I cry to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3. He will send from heaven and save me,
he will put to shame those who trample on me. Selah
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.

4. I lie down among lions
that greedily devour human prey;
their teeth are spears and arrows,
their tongues sharp swords.

5. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens,
Let your glory be over all the earth.

6. They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my path,
but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
7. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
8. Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn.
9. I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

11. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
Let your glory be over all the earth."

This is a psalm that begins with the picture of a person in great need, turning to God in trust, who, however, was not content just to find help and deliverance. He wanted God's glory - God's greatness and truth and lovingkindness - to be known among all the nations of the earth. Often we rush to God to 'get a problem solved', often for selfish reasons. Here the psalmist teaches us that however overwhelming our situation or however deep our problem, the glory of God must be our ultimate motive in our search for salvation. That search must therefore be according to God's word and God's law. In God alone I must trust, and from him alone comes my help (Psalm 121:2).

Need for God

As in many of the psalms, the writer of this psalm begins with earnest intercession, the cry for help because oppressive people are trampling all over him (verse 3). They are like lions wanting to devour him (verse 4 - compare 10:9 and 17:12). They are like people coming against him with "spears and arrows", and their threatening words are like "sharp swords". They are like hunters who use nets and pits to catch their prey (verse 6 - compare 35:7).

Trust in God

The enemies of the psalmist are strong and terrifying, but he knows that he can turn to God. Although he realises he has no right to God's help, yet he knows that God is merciful. He probably remembered the levitical injunction to meet with God at the "mercy seat", the place of God's special presence in the temple. He clings to that, as a Christian would to the teaching of "grace", and so cries, "be merciful --- be merciful". He has turned to God for refuge before, and, as a mother bird shelters her young ones with her wings, he can say, "in the shadow of your wings I will trust" (verse 1 - compare Deuteronomy 32:11-12, Ruth 2:12 and Matthew 23:37). Moreover, he is sure that his troubles, like "destroying storms", will pass. Evil people will not continue to prosper, but will be caught in their own net, and fall into the pit that they have made to catch others (verse 6). God's steadfast love and faithfulness will be like two guardian angels sent to help him (verse 3). So he can say with confidence that God's purpose for him will not fail to be fulfilled (verse 2), as he trusts and obeys his God.

The glory of God

It is good that this psalmist, when he prays, thinks more of the greatness of God than he does of his own need. God's steadfast love is as high as the heavens, his faithfulness reaches to the clouds. In other words they are greater than any human person can realise or words describe. So he wants not just to be delivered out of his difficulties. He wants God's greatness to be realised by others. For himself he was determined to sing God's praise, even so early in the morning that he, as it were, would wake up the dawn rather than the dawn waking him. More than that, he wanted God's glory - the love and truth and power and wisdom of God - to be known all over the earth. He wanted people of all nations to hear of his great God and to come to trust and serve him.

Meditation: Use the refrain of verses 5 and 11 as meditation, and think what it means to make that a prayer from the heart.

For further thought and study

a. In what way is the prayer of the later part of this psalm like the beginning of the Lord's Prayer? What does it teach us about our praying?

b. What should it mean for the individual Christian and for an individual congregation anywhere in the world to say that they want God's praises to be sounded among all the nations on earth? In short, what are the missionary implications?

c. What does it mean for God to fulfill his purposes for us (verse 2), and what are the conditions of those purposes being fulfilled in our lives? See Psalm 37:3-5, Romans 8:28 and Philippians 1:6.


  1. The heading of the psalm is in most ways like Psalm 56. "Do not destroy" is probably a tune to which the psalm was sung, although it is possible that there may have been an act of dependence on God for his pardon and mercy, and escape from his judgment. The use of the words in Isaiah 65:8 may indicate that it was a song sung when the grapes were harvested, or the link may be with the prayer of Moses in Deuteronomy 9:26. The heading also connects the psalm with the difficulties that David experienced hiding in caves in days when he was escaping from Saul (see 1 Samuel 22:1-5 and 24:1-22).
  2. Verses 7-11 of the psalm are the same as 108:1-5 and verse 10 is the same as 36:5. We have seen in relation to other psalms that there are verses found in one psalm repeated in another, as people would have realised that words used in prayer and thanksgiving in one situation were appropriate to another. So it is with hymns and songs that we sing, and above all with God's word in the Scriptures that can constantly be applied to the different situations that we face in life.
  3. The harp and lyre were both stringed instruments regularly used by Hebrew people, especially in their worship, and often referred to in the Old Testament.