Reflecting on Psalm 86

“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.”

– Psalm 86:1 (ESV)

Book Three of the Psalms contains Psalms 73-89, most of these written by either Asaph or the Sons of Korah. Just one is written by King David, which is Psalm 86. I’ve been reading and rereading this Psalm over the last couple of weeks, with a few thoughts coming to mind.

Before I became a Christian, I wrongly assumed many things about God. I had a completely unfounded view of what it meant to have a relationship with Him (more on that in an upcoming post) and one area where this view was wrong was in regards to prayer. My “prayers”, if you could call them that, usually consisted of a few minutes of thanking God for things He had given me (health, job, home, etc.) but the primary focus of my prayer was really on the things. I had no real sense of what a privilege it was to even be able to speak to God , and I certainly did not pray as if I were in need. My life was just fine the way it was, and out of obligation I figured that, every so often, I should tell God that I was glad that He was doing things my way.

Ugh.

Contrast this with King David, who opens this Psalm by asking God to “incline” His ear to David. I’ve been leery of trying to understand anything about the original biblical languages without a hint of any training, but I decided to dig in a bit with this Psalm anyway. Looking up this word in the Hebrew, (natah ?) it looks like it can also be translated as “to turn aside, incline, decline, bend down” (please correct me if I’ve gotten this wrong !). The King James translates verse 1 as “Bow down thine ear…” I think this is an important starting point in looking at this Psalm, and for that matter, prayer in general. David, as usual, is fully aware of who he is, and who God is. He knows he is someone in need, and He’s asking God to be gracious to bend down to even hear his request. This is in complete contrast to how I had approached prayer before becoming a Christian. I had no sense of need, just a feeling of, “Well, I guess I should get around to thanking God for everything good in my life at some point. I don’t need anything from Him though, just to be clear”.

Spurgeon translated David’s opening line this way, in a sermon on this Psalm:

“You are so high that unless You shall stoop and stoop very low, You can not commune with me. But Lord, do thus stoop. Bow down Your ear. From Your lofty Throne, higher than an angel’s wing can reach, stoop down and listen to me – poor, feeble me.”

So David begins this Psalm with a right understanding of his standing before God – as someone in need. He realizes that what he needs cannot be done through anything in his own power. He needs God Himself to bow down, to incline His ear, to condescend to our requests. David here gets it right.

We’d do well to remember the same.

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