Psalm 21 – The Joyful King
The title of this psalm is the same as several others: To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. It logically connects with the previous one, Psalm 20. It would seem that the victory prayed for and trusted in has been realized, and now David thanks God for the victory given.
“There the people prayed for the king; here they give thanks for him: there they asked that his desires might be fulfilled; here they bless Jehovah, who has fulfilled them; there the battle was impending; here it has been won, though foes are still in the field.” (Alexander Maclaren)
A. A grateful, joyful king.
1. (1-2) The king’s joy in God’s strength.
The king shall have joy in Your strength, O Lord;
And in Your salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
You have given him his heart’s desire,
And have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
a. The king shall have joy in Your strength, O Lord: King David had many reasons to take joy in the strength of God. Perhaps this joy came from preservation and success in battle or some other deliverance.
i. The tone of the opening of this psalm is passionate. “The shoutings of the early Methodists in the excitement of the joy were far more pardonable than our own lukewarmness. Our joy should have some sort of inexpressibleness in it.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The king: “The ancient Jewish Targum (the Chaldean paraphrase of the Old Testament) and Talmud render the word king in verse 1 by melek mashiach (King Messiah), which means that the Jews in an early period understood these words to be spoken of the Messiah. A change came in the Middle Ages as a result of a judgment by Rabbi Solomon Isaaci, known as Rashi (b. a.d. 1040). He endorsed the early view but suggested it be dropped, saying, ‘Our old doctors interpreted this psalm of King Messiah, but in order to meet the Schismatics [that is, the Christians] it is better to understand it of David himself.’” (Boice)
b. You have given him his heart’s desire: The strength and salvation of God came to David in response to both the desire of his heart and his spoken prayers (the request of his lips).
i. This speaks to the special place answered prayer has in the life of the believer. Every Christian should know the thrill of frequent, wonderful answers to prayer. When a Christian does not enjoy the blessing of answered prayer, it is because he is prayerless, he is praying wrongly, or he has some hindrance in prayer.
ii. There are many things that can hinder prayer in the life of the believer, things which would prevent him from saying with David, “You have given him his heart’s desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips.” Unanswered prayer should be regarded as a warning signal that there may be a problem in one or more of the following reasons for unanswered prayer:
· Not abiding in Jesus (John 15:7).
· Unbelief (Matthew 17:20-21).
· Failure to fast (Matthew 17:21).
· Husband not honoring his wife (1 Peter 3:7).
· Not asking (James 4:2).
· Selfish praying (James 4:3).
· Disobedience (1 John 3:22).
· Not praying in God’s will (1 John 5:14-15).
· Unconfessed sin (James 5:16).
· Cold, passionless prayer (James 5:16-18; 2 Kings 20:5).
· Prayerlessness or a lack of persistence in prayer (Luke 18:1-7; Psalm 55:17).
· Sin against others (Matthew 5:23-24).
· Lack of unity (Matthew 18:19).
· Not praying in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14).
· Pride (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34).
· Lying and deceitfulness (Psalm 17:1).
· Lack of Bible reading and Bible teaching (Proverbs 28:9).
· Trusting in the length or the form of prayer (Matthew 6:7).
iii. The avoidance of these things does not earn or merit God’s response; He is not in debt to us if we avoid them. Yet they are clearly hindrances to answered prayer.
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 thank God for the strength and salvation He has shown in our lives, and for the glorious way He answers prayer. We, like King David of old, take joy in such a great and loving God.
2. (3-7) Reasons for the king’s joy.
For You meet him with the blessings of goodness;
You set a crown of pure gold upon his head.
He asked life from You, and You gave it to him—
Length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great in Your salvation;
Honor and majesty You have placed upon him.
For You have made him most blessed forever;
You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
And through the mercy of the Most High he shall not be moved.
a. You meet him with the blessings of goodness: King David could see that the goodness of God had come to meet him. God brought it to him, more than David chasing down these blessings of goodness.
i. It was certainly true that God went before David with blessings, and that David recognized and praised Him for it. Yet often it did not seem like that in the many long years between his anointing for the throne as a young man and when he finally took the throne of Israel.
ii. God’s goodness and grace come to meet us all the time.
· The grace of His love loves us before we ever loved Him.
· The grace of restraint keeps us back from committing sins that would put us even more out of reach of the Gospel.
· The grace of salvation comes out to meet us, bringing us the goodness of God and making us able to receive the Gospel.
· The grace of ministry prepares us a thousand ways for what God has for us in the future.
· The grace of service prepares the ground where we will work before we ever get there.
b. You set a crown of pure gold upon his head: David wore the crown both of the throne of Israel – God’s special nation – and the crown of victory. Its nature of pure gold shows how special the nation and the victory were.
i. It was undeniably true of King David that he let God put the crown on his head. Though in some sense he had the right and the reasons to forcibly take the crown from Saul, he waited for God to place it upon his head.
c. He asked life from You, and You gave it to him: David went into battle praying that God would preserve his life, and now he celebrated the answer to that prayer. In the life-and-death danger of battle, David was given life and length of days.
i. “While the gift of life…for ever and ever might have implied to an Old Testament reader either a hyperbole…or an allusion to the endless dynasty promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:16, the New Testament has filled in the picture firmly with the figure of the ultimate king, the Messiah, for whom the whole stanza is true without exaggeration.” (Kidner)
d. His glory is great in Your salvation: David knew the exaltation that came to kings and victors in battle; but here he declared that this glory, this honor, this majesty he enjoyed came from God and not from himself.
e. You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence: David proclaimed that he was most blessed forever, but it was the presence of God Himself that was his greatest blessing and gladness. David was more thrilled with the presence of God than with the crown of royalty or victory.
f. The king trusts in the Lord, and through the mercy of the Most High he shall not be moved: David declared his trust in the mercy of God, and that it would continue to preserve and bless him in the future.
i. Each of these things was certainly true of King David, but they are also – or perhaps even more so – true of David’s greater Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ the Son of David. We can apply each line in Psalm 21:3-7 to Jesus, victorious after His great work on the cross.
· Victorious Jesus was met with the blessings of goodness when He ascended to heaven.
· Jesus wears the crown, both as King of Kings and glorious conqueror – and His crown is of pure gold.
· Jesus asked life from God the Father, and as God’s Holy One was delivered from the grave.
· Jesus gloried in the salvation extended to Him from the Father – not a salvation from sin, but a victory over sin and death.
· Jesus rejoiced in the presence of His Father, even though there was a sense in which it was turned away from Him on the cross.
· Jesus continues to trust in His Father and will not be moved.
ii. “Napoleon crowned himself, but Jehovah crowned the Lord Jesus; the empire of the one melted in an hour, but the other has an abiding dominion.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We think particularly of what Psalm 21:6 tells us of Jesus: For You have made him most blessed forever; You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence. This verse tells us that even though Jesus was a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), yet at the same time He was a man who knew what it was to be most blessed forever and exceedingly glad.
iv. “He was the Prince of Peace, even when he was despised and rejected of men. Deep as were his griefs, we may reckon Jesus of Nazareth among the happiest of men.” (Spurgeon)
v. We can think of many reasons why Jesus is so happy:
· He never sinned, and sin is the mother of sorrow.
· He never was pained by His conscience.
· He never endured in Himself hatred, envy, bitterness or unforgiveness.
· He had perfect peace in the wisdom and power of God the Father.
· He was a giving, generous man who knew the joy of giving.
· He completely finished His work and knew the satisfaction of that.
· He is the source of all blessing and knows the joy of blessing others.
· He rejoices over every sinner that comes to repentance.
· He rejoices in seeing His people at work for Him.
· He rejoices in the sufferings they endure for Him.
B. The judgments of God defend His people.
1. (8-10) What God will do to His enemies.
Your hand will find all Your enemies;
Your right hand will find those who hate You.
You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger;
The Lord shall swallow them up in His wrath,
And the fire shall devour them.
Their offspring You shall destroy from the earth,
And their descendants from among the sons of men.
a. Your hand will find all Your enemies: David recognized that even though he was victorious in battle, God was not done finding and judging His enemies.
i. The time of Your anger: “The expression, ‘the time of thine anger,’ reminds us that as now is the time of his grace, so there will be a set time for his wrath…. There is a day of vengeance of our God; let those who despise the day of grace remember this day of wrath.” (Spurgeon)
b. The Lord shall swallow them up in His wrath: David confidently expressed his confidence that God would judge His enemies, and he expressed that confidence in the strongest terms – even that God would also judge the posterity of those who fight against Him.
i. “We pity the lost for they are men, but we cannot pity them as enemies of Christ.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The fire shall devour them: “Those that might have had Christ to rule and save them, but rejected him, and fought against him, even the remembrance of that will be enough to make them to eternity a fiery oven to themselves.” (Henry, cited in Spurgeon)
2. (11-12) Why the enemies of God deserve judgment.
For they intended evil against You;
They devised a plot which they are not able to perform.
Therefore You will make them turn their back;
You will make ready Your arrows on Your string toward their faces.
a. For they intended evil against You: The strong statements of judgment in Psalm 21:8-10 seem to demand an explanation. Why such a severe judgment? Because they intentionally rebelled against God and His people, even though their plans were bigger than their ability to perform (they devised a plot which they are not able to perform).
i. “Intentional evil has a virus in it which is not found in sins of ignorance; now as ungodly men with malice aforethought attack the gospel of Christ, their crime is great, and their punishment will be proportionate.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We find comfort in the truth that they devised a plot which they are not able to perform. Many threaten and confidently announce the demise of God’s work in our day, but they most definitely are not able to perform it.
b. You will make them turn their back: David sees – and perhaps literally saw – the enemies of God running away on the field of battle, with their back turned against the advancing armies of God.
c. You will make ready Your arrows on Your string toward their faces: David saw the enemies of God as helpless before the ready arrows and taut bow string of the war-like, judging God. His arrows are aimed right at their faces.
i. “The judgments of God are called his ‘arrows,’ being sharp, swift, sure, and deadly.” (Horne)
ii. This reminds us how near the judgment of God actually is against those who reject Him, and how it is only His great mercy that prevents the release of His arrow of judgment against them. It is a great (but rarely regarded or understood) sin that man ignores and presumes upon this great mercy.
3. (13) Praising the God of strength.
Be exalted, O Lord, in Your own strength!
We will sing and praise Your power.
a. Be exalted, O Lord, in Your own strength: David worshipped God directly here. He exalted the Lord who had this great strength within Himself, and never needed to rely on another for strength.
i. “Exalt thyself, O Lord – thy creatures cannot exalt thee.” (Clarke)
b. We will sing and praise Your power: After the direct statement of praise, David expressed the determination that he and the people of God would continue to praise God, and to do so in song.
i. The psalm’s end is consistent with the tone throughout. It is full of praise to God for the blessings of victory, deliverance, and answered prayer. This attitude should always be among the people of God.
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org