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



"1. Incline your ear O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2. Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; 3. be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
4. Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6. Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
7. In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.

8. There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
9. All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10. For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
11. Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12. I give thanks to you, O LORD my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
13. For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14. O God, the insolent rise up against me;
a band of ruffians seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
15. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and
16. Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.
17. Show me a sign of your favour,
so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me."

The psalms do a great deal in the way of teaching us how to pray. We learn from the psalms how to tell God sincerely of our needs. This is certainly what the psalmist does here. We should remember how good and great God is, and that fact alone encourages us to pray. We can also learn from the particular requests that are made in this psalm, and from the words that are used in expressing them.

The greatness of human needs

Because we cannot live as we ought without God's help, we need to learn to come to God with a humble attitude and confess that we are "poor and needy" (verse 1). "All day long" and every day we need the help of the Lord (verse 3). Then there are special days of "trouble" (verse 7) when our need is urgent. The psalmist could say that in the past the Lord had "delivered (him) from the depths of Sheol" (verse 13), perhaps referring to a time when he came very close to death, or when the powers of evil against his life were at their strongest. He brought urgently to God the fact that evil and violent people who gave no place to God in their lives were attacking him (verse 14).

The greatness and goodness of God

The psalmist knew that he could say of the one to whom he prayed, "You alone are God" (verse 10), "You are my God" (verse 2). I know that "you --- are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you" (verse 5), "a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger" (verse 15). There is no other like him because he is Creator and Lord of all. There are no works like his (verse 8). As the Bible often says, he does "wondrous things" (verse 10) that no other can do. So there was every reason for the writer of the psalm to say, "I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever" (verse 12). When we realise how much we have to thank God for, and when we stop to think of his goodness and greatness and love, we are helped to pray on in trust and confidence.

Great requests

It is good to go through the actual requests made in this psalm, as they are requests that we often have to make as well. In danger, whether of body or soul, we need to ask for God's protection and salvation (verse 2). God is the Source of gladness and joy when we are discouraged (verse 4), as well as of grace and forgiveness when we realise our failures and sins (verse 5). In trouble, of whatever kind, we can ask him to be near and support us (verse 7), to turn to us and give us strength to face our trouble (verse 16, and see Psalm 46:1-3). We should want that support not just for our own sakes, but that the world may see that God helps and comforts those who trust in him (verse 17). Perhaps the most important of all the prayers of this psalm is that of verse 11, the prayer that God will teach us his way so that we may walk in it faithfully, and that we may do so with "an undivided heart".

Great words

Often we just want to pray in our own words. That is good. But there are times when it is helpful to us and to those who pray with us to use words of the prayers of others that may inform our minds and express our needs better than we could do ourselves. This is especially true of expressions of the praise of God that are found in various parts of the Bible. The writer of this psalm used words that are found in other Psalms and in other parts of the Bible. For example, with verse 1 read Psalm 40:17, with verse 4 read Psalm 25:1, with verse 8 read Exodus 15:11, with verse 14 read Psalm 54:3, and with verse 15 read Exodus 34:6. The prayer that Jesus taught was given to teach us not only to pray but how to pray and what we should ask for (Luke 11:1-4). It is worth memorising not only the Lord's Prayer as many of us have done in childhood, but some of the great prayers of the Psalms or of the New Testament like Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-12 and Hebrews 13:20-21.

Prayer Make verse 11 your sincere prayer today.

For further thought and study

a. Consider other passages of the Bible like verse 9 which speak of the purpose of God that people of all nations should know him and come to worship him. In the Old Testament look up Psalm 66:1-4, Isaiah 2:2-4, Zechariah 8:21-23 and Malachi 1:11, and in the New Testament Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8 and Romans 10:14. What should we, as Christians, do about this today?

b. With what verse 11 says about "an undivided heart" compare Jeremiah 32:39 and what the apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 about his one great ambition; and contrast what Psalm 12:2 says about a "double heart", and in the New Testament what James 1:7-8 says about a "double-minded and unstable" person. Notes

1. The words in verse 2, "I am devoted to you" need not be understood as a boast of special godliness, but express something similar to "your servant who trusts in you" in the second part of the verse.

2. The prayer in verse 17 for a "sign" of God's favour need not be a miraculous sign, but some action of God that shows that he has heard and is answering the psalmist's prayer.