Psalm 86, 21 June 2020

An antiphon for the winter solstice, the tune dipping and rising. Summer? See below.

Depending on your locale, dear reader, you are about to enjoy either the shortest or the longest day in the year. At South Woden Uniting we have sometimes used an antiphon tune written to mark the occasion. (For reflections on the solstice theme, see a post in June 2017.)

Half-a-dozen of the ancient psalms mention the sun and the moon for different purposes. The last psalm in Book II, for example, hopes that a just and worthy ruler would dispense prosperity and equity as long as those prominent heavenly bodies endure. (See Psalm 72.) This probably referred to Solomon in David’s times; it didn’t work out too well then — and there are several positions still vacant.

In reality, however, these songs scarce concern themselves with astronomical markers. Their focus is on people and on their relationship with a divine creative spirit whose just and loving nature is not seasonal, the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb.13:8)

The short notes in Psalms for All Seasons suggest that Psalm 86, an expression of deep trust and fervent prayer, is ‘a model for intercession in troubling times’. Got it.

In our lectionary reading — the first ten and last two verses — the poem calls on divine goodness and repeatedly expresses hope and trust ‘in time of my trouble’. In between, the omitted verses in similar mood seek deliverance. The author then offers a quite personal prayer:

Turn to me and have mercy; give strength to your servant, and save the child of your handmaid.

Ps. 86:17

If this is really a psalm by David, he graciously refers to his mother as God’s handmaid. Early commentators like St Augustine and Matthew Henry are quick to draw a parallel with Jesus, announced as the son of a woman who, in her answering song, called herself a handmaid, thus conferring servant status on herself and her son.

Maybe, but it seems to me wisdom after the event. They probably would not agree but on face value, an equally credible supposition is that the poem was written by a woman of optimistic faith praying, as millions have faithfully done, for a loved son.


At South Woden Uniting we have been turning more frequently to Together in Song as most likely to be available for use at home in neo-isolation. Bad luck; the hymnal has no setting of Psalm 86. A tiny straw in the scripture reference index at the back points to TiS 136, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, as based on verse 5 of the psalm:

O God you abound in steadfast love to all who call on you.

The title also reflects the sense of later verses, picturing the nations of the world bowing before God. The hymn gives no other access to the text of the psalm. For private devotions, however, the thoughtful lyrics by F W Faber and John Stainer’s fine music are in the right groove. It would be an encouraging and enjoyable song to include after reading the psalm.

As for the ‘Sounds of Solstice’ winter option (the music staff at top) it’s much nicer listening to real human voices, but here is the MP3 — refrain first, then the chanting tone:

Summer? The refrain in The New Century Hymnal coincidentally sends the warm message in verse 5 quoted above, and has a rise-and-fall shape to suit the Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere. Verses can be sung ad lib to either winter or summer pattern, or even some of both.

Good options. Meanwhile, this from Canada:


Psalms for All Seasons 86B is a responsorial setting whose words paraphrase the theme of the psalm, rather than a particular verse: “Be with me Lord when I am in trouble.” A good prayer, one found often in the psalms. The modern chord voicings are tempting. It gets into high gear from the downbeat:

Chords in the responsorial setting PFAS 86B, And that’s just the first two bars in 3/4. A simplified version of the same refrain may be found at 91D a few pages on.

2 thoughts on “Psalm 86, 21 June 2020

  1. Hi Brendan – i like Abounding in Love. Thanks again for your very thoughtful posts.

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