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Foundational Monotheism in Psalm 86

The first ten verses of Psalm 86 read this way:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.

Old Testament scholars rightly point out that ancient Israel was, at best, reluctant to embrace monotheism.  Indeed, the bulk of the history that we find in books such as Judges, I & II Kings, and I & II Samuel revolves around Israel’s recurring unfaithfulness to Yahweh and its pursuit of the Baals.

So given that checkered national history, I find the transition from verses 8 through 10 of Psalm 86 especially interesting.  Note the claim of verse 8:  “among the gods there is none like you.”  So:  other gods exist, it’s just that none of them are as strong or wise as the Lord.

But the affirmation changes at the the conclusion of verse 10:  you alone are God.  He’s not the best god; he is the only God.

And the source of that affirmation?  God’s deeds.  Verse 8 declares “no deeds can compare to yours” while 86:10 states that “[you] do marvelous deeds.”  God alone is God not because he gives the best philosophy or embodies the greatest wisdom, but because he has invaded history.  He is a God of concrete involvement in human life.

And what is the Psalmist’s hoped-for outcome of this monotheistic revelation?  The next verse, 86:11, tells us:  “give me an undivided heart.”

One God, active in history, demands our full heart, surrendered in obedience.

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