Show me a sign of your goodness; my enemies will see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped and comforted me.Psalm 86:17 (CSB)
Have you ever asked God for a sign? We all have, I’m sure, whether for comfort or guidance. Sometimes we are desperate for assurance and confirmation, to know we are not alone. Psalm 86 is a desperate prayer from a desperate man. David describes himself as poor and needy in the opening verse. He is in great distress, in need of mercy. His life is in danger. Arrogant people are attacking him. There is even a gang of ruthless men intent on killing him. In the last verse he implores God to show him a sign of His goodness and favour.
All through this prayer we see David reminding himself of what is really important. He’s not allowing his problems to overwhelm his perspective. He’s seeking God’s goodness, reminding himself of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty and love. What I find interesting about his plea for a sign in verse 17 is that he doesn’t really ask it for himself. Obviously he wants God to show up and show him something good, but did you catch why? It’s for the sake of his enemies. God’s help and comfort would put those ruthless men to shame.
When you read this verse in Hebrew, there is something else that’s striking. Most translations use the word “show” or “send” or “give”, but the verb used here means to make or do. It literally reads “make with me a sign.” There is involvement of the speaker. He is asking God to use him to make a sign of His goodness to others. Like those pianos sitting in public spaces, begging to be played, David entreats God to move His fingers across the keys of his life. He wants to become a living song of praise to show what God is like.
I looked at Psalm 86:17 in a lot of translations to see if any of them brought this out. I had to search high and low. None of the more common translations seemed to pick up on this. Interestingly, I finally found it in the most literal translation I have as well as in the most loosely paraphrased one. Young’s Literal Translation from the late 1800s says:
Do with me a sign for good, And those hating me see and are ashamed, For Thou, O Jehovah, hast helped me, Yea, Thou hast comforted me!Psalm 86:17 (YLT1898)
“Do with me a sign for good.” What a beautiful, simple, heart-felt prayer. I hear it echo in Isaiah’s willingness when he prays, “Here am I, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) Eugene Peterson’s translation, “The Message” also has a beautiful way of wording this verse:
Make a show of how much you love me so the bullies who hate me will stand there slack-jawed, As you, GOD, gently and powerfully put me back on my feet.Psalm 86:17 (MSG)
It’s not just some lightning bolt sign from heaven being asked for here. David is willing to be a part of the process. God at work in his life is the sign! It reminds me a little bit of when Jesus said, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NIV)
Do you need to be put back on your feet today? I can testify with David that God can do it — gently and powerfully! Maybe you’ve been attacked and bullied, and it feels like the whole world is against you. Maybe you’re suffering the torment of a divided heart and have turned your back on God. He hasn’t turned His back on you though! He is waiting to make a show of His love for you. His heart is full of signs and tokens of His goodness that He longs to share with you AND to show others through you! All the things David extols God for in these verses — His compassion, His mercy, His grace, His faithful love, His slowness to anger, His strength and might — all these attributes of God can become themes in our own stories. We can become a living illustration to point people to the inexhaustible goodness of God! Is there a better way to build a life?