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The psalmist in his predicament will sometimes quote the Lord’s recorded words back to him, at times with an audacious tone of holding YHWH accountable to his prior commitments. At other times, as in the eighty-sixth psalm, the intention seems more benign. Stricken by the persistent assault of his adversaries, the poet places YHWH’s self-revealing words—traced by the biblical witness back to the revelation to the divine name recorded in the early chapters of the book of Exodus—over against the unyielding facts of his distress.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  (Psalm 86:15 NRSV)

It is curious that the psalmist should counterpoise YHWH’s patient love to relentless attack. Clearly he is not invoking the slow pace of divine anger with regard to his enemies, for he should doubtless prefer to see them vaporized in a moment. Rather, there may be a covert admission of his own unworthiness for God’s rescue. He makes his rather urgent appeal in the language of slow provocation because he hopes that YHWH’s own patience with him will have kept him on the list of persons for whom God’s favor can reasonably be anticipated.


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