Thursday, October 8, 2015

"God Save the King?": Learning to Pray Psalm 20

Psalm 20 is a royal psalm that asks for God’s continued protection and support for the LORD’s annointed king or messiah as he leads God’s people in their mission to bless the nations. The context is important. Psalm 18 and 21 are also royal psalms. These three royal psalms wrap around Ps 19 that proclaims the power of Torah. Torah and kingship are key related themes in the book of psalms and are foundational for helping us as God’s people to understand our security in God and our guide.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
    and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
    The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
    with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
    but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!

The king served as the LORD’s agent for guiding and leading the LORD’s kingdom on earth. The king was to model faithfulness to the LORD’s instruction as he lead God’s people to embody God’s holy character before the nations.

Psalm 20 is a prayer for the success of the king as he defends God’s people from enemies. Vv. 1–5 are the petitions for the LORD’s help and vv. 6–9 are statements of assurance of God’s help.
In vv. 1–5, the king faces a trying time. The language in these verses implies that it is a time of war. In the Old Testament, Israel was a tiny nation surrounded by the superpowers of the day (usually Egypt, Assyria, Babylon or a combination of these three). The security of Israel depended on the power of the LORD. The king presented the human agent through whom God worked. This is not a violent prayer of a militaristic society that plots to dominate its neighbors. The wars of Israel’s kings were matters of self-defense in the advancement of God’s ultimate mission of extending his blessings of peace and justice to the world. In our day as God’s people, such a prayer is not for use in the advancement of any nation's self-interest but for protection for God’s people, the church of Jesus, against forces that may seek to thwart its kingdom advancing work.

The prayer of vv. 1–5 recognizes that success depends fully on the LORD whose sanctuary was in Zion in Jerusalem. It was not about battle plans or weapons. The faithfulness of the king is emphasized (v. 3).

Verses 6–9 anticipate God granting the king victory. God will answer the king from the sanctuary. Again verse 7 affirms the key stance of God’s people: trust in the LORD rather than gaining a false security through the best weapons developed by human inventiveness. Chariots and horses functioned as the tanks or perhaps even as the airforce of the day.

Those who trust merely in human tactics and military might will fall before the LORD and God’s people will stand. Verse 9 ends the psalm with a final plea for the LORD’s saving actions.

As we ponder this prayer for the king, let us remember our Lord and Messiah Jesus through whom God conquered the grave, the power of sin, and injustice. King Jesus accomplished this through willing submission to death on a cross rather than through wielding any type of human power or using divine privilege. He trusted the LORD. As we represent God’s kingdom in our day, let us do so in the confidence that God will hear our prayers for protection and victory too.

What does this psalm teach us about trusting the LORD for victory?

How does this psalm teach us to pray for protection for God’s people, the church of Jesus?

What provides false security for us today?

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