Psalm 20 – The LORD Saves His Anointed
The title of this psalm is the same as several others: To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. Yet the psalm itself is different, notably because it is in the voice of a multitude that prays on behalf of the King of Israel as he is ready to go into battle. This is seen in the way the psalm speaks in the first-person plural (We) in Psalm 20:1-5 and 20:7-9. The first-person singular (I) of 20:6 is likely the response of either David himself or the High Priest on his behalf.
Yet since this is A Psalm of David, perhaps David took a moment of spontaneous prayer by the people on his behalf and shaped it into a song to remember and recall the spiritual strength and glory of that moment.
A. The people pray for the King.
1. (1-2) May the LORD answer and help.
May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble;
May the name of the God of Jacob defend you;
May He send you help from the sanctuary,
And strengthen you out of Zion;
a. May the LORD answer you: This was a prayer from a multitude or congregation (based on the use of we in 20:5) that God would answer the prayers of one, who in context is the king readying for battle.
i. We know that “you” refers to one person, because it is in the singular. “You is singular throughout, identified in verse 6 as the Lord’s anointed.” (Kidner)
ii. The picture is that of King David, before battle – perhaps something like the battle with the Syrians in 2 Samuel 10 – at the tabernacle of God and offering prayers and sacrifices. Here the onlooking multitude responds to the king’s prayer with the cry, “May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble.”
iii. “It is one of the most stirring of the Psalms, by its tense awareness of life-and-death issues soon to be resolved.” (Kidner)
iv. With the eye of faith, we see that this also speaks to the great battle fought by one greater than King David – by Jesus, the Son of David and the King of Kings. We can imagine this prayer being offered prophetically for Jesus as He pointed Himself toward the cross, where He would fight the greatest battle against sin, death, and Satan’s power.
b. Answer you in the day of trouble…defend you…send you help…strengthen you: After the pattern of Hebrew poetry, this idea is intensively expressed by the use of repetition with slight variation. David was about to lead Israel into battle, and he needed the help of God in each of these ways.
i. Because King David was about to lead Israel as a whole into battle, the language is full of references appealing to the LORD as the God of Israel.
· The LORD: Using Yahweh, the covenant name of God.
· The God of Jacob: Remembering Israel’s patriarch.
· From the sanctuary: Calling to mind the tabernacle, the center of Israel’s worship.
· Out of Zion: Referring to the hills of Jerusalem.
ii. “This word for sanctuary is simply ‘holiness’, a synonym here for Zion, where already God’s ark, but not yet His Temple, signified His presence.” (Kidner)
iii. The prayer that God would strengthen you out of Zion is fitting for more than the field of battle. It is also appropriate for the church pulpit, which is a field of battle in a spiritual sense. “This verse is a benediction befitting a Sabbath morning, and may be the salutation either of a pastor to his people, or of a church to its minister.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3) May the LORD receive sacrifice.
May He remember all your offerings,
And accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah
a. May He remember all your offerings: Sacrifice was commonly made at important moments, such as on the eve of battle. This is a prayer that the LORD would see and receive the sacrifices King David would make before war.
i. All your offerings: “The minchah, which is here mentioned, was a gratitude-offering. It is rarely used to signify a bloody sacrifice.” (Clarke)
b. May He remember…and accept your burnt sacrifice: This reminds us that not all sacrifices are accepted before God. If they were not offered with faith and in accordance with the Levitical system, they would not be remembered or accepted by God.
i. Burnt sacrifice: “The olah here mentioned was a bloody sacrifice. The blood of the victim was spilt at the altar, and the flesh consumed.” (Clarke)
ii. The place of faith was important in the Old Testament sacrificial system. The one who brought the offering had to trust in the ultimate, perfect sacrifice that God would one day provide, the one that each animal sacrifice pointed toward (Genesis 22:8, 22:14).
iii. “The prayer for acceptance of the burnt offering is very graphic, since the word rendered ‘accept’ is literally ‘esteem fat.’” (Maclaren)
c. Selah: The idea in the Hebrew for this word (occurring 74 times in the Old Testament) is for a pause. Most scholars think it speaks of a reflective pause, a pause to meditate on the words just spoken. It may also be a musical instruction, or a musical interlude of some kind.
i. We take this Selah as an opportunity to consider Jesus, and see that this prayer was appropriate for Him as He faced the cross. The prayer was worthy to be prayed – that God would indeed remember and accept the offering Jesus made on the cross, which could rightly be called a burnt sacrifice, as it was burned with the fire of God’s righteous judgment, and Jesus held nothing back in this sacrifice.
3. (4) May the LORD grant fulfillment.
May He grant you according to your heart’s desire,
And fulfill all your purpose.
a. May He grant you according to your heart’s desire: In this moment, King David had one desire – to defend the people of God and the kingdom in covenant with God. Therefore it was good to pray, “May He grant you according to your heart’s desire.”
i. When our desires are in accord with the plan and will of God for us, we can pray this same prayer with confidence. We can also look for God to bring our desires more and more into conformity with His, in the course of our Christian growth.
b. And fulfill all your purpose: Since David’s purpose was victory for the people of God, this was a good and necessary prayer to pray.
i. We see this statement also applied to the great desire and purpose for the King of Kings as He went to battle to accomplish our salvation. We look to Jesus, struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane and say to Him, “May He grant You according to Your heart’s desire, and fulfill all Your purpose.”
ii. On a personal level, we also see that God gives each one a purpose to fulfill in His great plan of the ages. The key to a life of fulfilled desire and achieved purpose is to find our place in His great plan, instead of hoping to make God an actor in our plan.
· Jesus knew this fulfilled desire and purpose, shown by His prayer in John 17: I have finished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).
· The Apostle Paul knew this fulfilled desire and purpose, shown by these words toward the end of his earthly life: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
4. (5) May the LORD answer prayer.
We will rejoice in your salvation,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners!
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.
a. We will rejoice in your salvation: This was the confidence the people had in King David’s success. They had so much trust in God’s deliverance that they had already planned to set up our banners of joyful celebration.
i. “Here the raising of the banners signifies God’s victory over the enemies.” (VanGemeren)
ii. The banners are “Our flags of defiance to the enemy, or our tokens of triumph to God’s glory, who hath given us the victory.” (Trapp)
b. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions: Once again the prayer demonstrates the confidence that God would hear and fulfill the prayers of His king.
i. This was true both of David and the Son of David (John 17:1-5); of the King of Israel and the King of Kings. Jesus prayed for success in His work on the cross, and it was unthinkable that the Father would not answer the prayers of the Son.
B. The triumph of the LORD’s Anointed.
1. (6) The LORD saves His anointed.
Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.
a. Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed: Here King David expressed the great confidence that God would answer the prayers of His people. God would save (rescue) the king (His anointed).
i. His anointed: In a sense, all of the kings of Israel were God’s anointed because they were all appointed to their office by a literal anointing of oil poured upon their head. This literal anointing with oil was a picture of the spiritual anointing with the Holy Spirit needed for their duty of leading the people of God as king. In saying “His anointed,” David refers to himself as king.
ii. His anointed: At the same time, it was also understood that there would come an ultimate Anointed One, the perfect King of Israel – the Meshiach, the Christ, the Messiah (as in Psalm 2 and others). It was true of David and Israel in his day that the Lord saves His anointed and his people; it is even more perfectly true of the ultimate and perfect Anointed One, Jesus Christ.
iii. “The verb ‘saves’, from the same root as ‘victorious,’ could yield the translation ‘the LORD gives victory to his anointed.’” (VanGemeren) Kidner also notes that saves (in Psalm 20:6 and 20:9) comes from the same root in Hebrew as the name of Jesus.
iv. Indeed, the LORD saves His anointed:
· The Father saved the Son from sin.
· The Father saved the Son from pride.
· The Father saved the Son from self-reliance.
· The Father saved the Son from doubt.
· The Father saved the Son from failure.
· The Father saved the Son from death, by raising Him from the dead.
b. He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand: This confirms and strengthens the idea that the LORD saves His anointed.
i. He is saved by an answer; God is not silent to His anointed.
ii. He is saved from heaven; God hears and sends help from His throne.
iii. He is saved with power, with the saving strength.
iv. He is saved with skill and favor, with the strength that comes from His right hand.
v. Each of these was true for King David, but even more perfectly true of the Son of David, the ultimate anointed of the LORD.
2. (7) Trusting in the name of the LORD.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
a. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: David knew what kings and their people usually trusted in – human strength and the ways it is often expressed (in chariots and in horses).
i. If writing today, David might say something like, “Some trust in nuclear weapons and some trust in tanks.” It is part of human nature to put our trust in such things.
ii. “Chariots and horses are very terrible, especially to raw soldiers unaccustomed to their whirling onset; but the Name is mightier.” (Maclaren)
iii. Part of the reason David refused to trust in chariots and horses was because God had commanded it so, commanding in the Law of Moses that the Kings of Israel would not multiply horses for themselves, either for use in cavalry or to pull war-chariots (Deuteronomy 17:16).
b. But we will remember: David drew a strong contrast. “They trust in those things, but our trust is in God.”
i. “In the spiritual war, in which we are all engaged, the first and necessary step to victory is, to renounce all confidence in the wisdom and strength of nature and the world; and to remember, that we can do nothing, but in the name, by the merits, through the power, and for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and our God.” (Horne)
ii. “Alas, how many in our day who profess to be the Lord’s are as abjectly dependent upon their fellow-men or upon an arm of flesh in some shape or other, as if they had never known the name of Jehovah at all.” (Spurgeon)
c. But we will remember the name of the LORD our God: David put his trust in the person, the character of God. He didn’t carry the name of the LORD as a magical incantation; rather the name speaks of the comprehensive character of God and is an expression of His faithfulness to His covenant with Israel.
i. “By the name of God is generally understood, in Holy Writ, the various properties and attributes of God: these properties and attributes make up and constitute the name of God. As when Solomon says, ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it and is safe.’” (Melvill, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. This – the character and faithfulness of God – was stronger to David and Israel than thousands of chariots or horses.
iii. Therefore, we sense a triumphant defiance in David when he says, “But we will remember.” He acknowledges how easy it is to forget, and how counter-intuitive to human nature it is to trust God instead of human strength and resources.
3. (8-9) The triumph of those who trust in the LORD.
They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stand upright.
May the King answer us when we call.
a. They have bowed down and fallen; but we have risen and stand upright: David’s trust in God could be justified on many grounds, but one of those was the simple truth that David found that trusting God works, he learned that this faith leads to success. Those who trusted in chariots and horses have bowed down and fallen. Those who remembered the name of the LORD have risen and stand upright.
b. Save, LORD! May the King answer us when we call: The rescue David confidently sang of had not completely come. He still needed to cry out, “Save, LORD!” He still had his trust in the anticipated answer of the LORD.
i. “This is the language of faith, not after the battle, but before it.” (Morgan)
ii. “The final phrase, literally ‘in the day of our calling’, has a telling echo of the opening verse.” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org